erasing clouds

Carolyn Mark and the New Best Friends, The Pros and Cons of Collaboration

reviewed by dave heaton

Carolyn Mark's latest album The Pros and Cons of Collaboration continues the old-time country and western drunken party-mood delivered so successfully on her last album Terrible Hostess. This time her backing band's called The New Best Friends, last time it was the Room-Mates...both names further the feeling you get from her albums that you're listening to a bunch of friends hanging out, getting drunk, and rolling through some songs. That said, The Pros and Cons has an especially crisp, professional sound to it that tells you at least the studio engineers were sober. Then again, maybe they just have the ability to come off like pros at what they do while still convincing you that they're just messing around. That's what Mark and band do on every song - in other words, this album's filled with perfect melodies and finely wrought songs that'll bounce around your head, but it also sounds like a party, with a ton of people (at least 20 in all) picking up any instrument they can get their hands on and joining in, whether it's a guitar, a violin, a ukulele or a garbage can lid.

The Pros and Cons... opens like musical theatre, with a goofy run-through of the album's melodies (that's "The Overture"), and closes in a similar way (but with a funny faux radio-announcer farewell). And there is a real theatricality to Mark's songs and the rambunctious way that they're a few places that side is pushed almost too far and the album threatens to turn into a cheese-fest (to cite the most obvious example: "The Wine Song" starts with the cheeky count-off "Wine, two, three, pour..."). But what makes this album work is the way it treads that line between goofy fun and something more substantial. The silliest moments are balanced with really moving, beautiful ballads like the introspective "Not a Doll" and "Jody and Sue." But more so than that, even the uptempo, 'strictly fun' songs are genuine. On the whole, The Pros and Cons...'s songs are no-holds-barred silly and touch-your-heart substantial at the same time (that's counter-intuitive perhaps, but true). Even a song like "Vincent Gallo" - a trifle where Mark remembers dreams she had about the song's rebellious namesake - still gets at something real about people. Then there's "Yanksgiving," where Mark and her fellow Canadians visit the U.S. for Thanksgiving and poke raucous fun at all of the flag-waving on the TV. Besides being a deft mix of acoustic folk and barroom-shaking blues-rock, the song also captures the feeling of community that embodies parties and holidays and slyly opposes it to humanity's more arrogant tendencies. That sort of many-things-at-once approach is that ultimately makes The Pros and Cons... so rewarding. There's simply a lot here - a lot of heart, a lot of humor, a lot of melody - yet it all holds together under the banner of party music.

{Mint Records:}

Issue 23, May 2004

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