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Marla Mase’s “Miracles: Lost And Found” Reviewed

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Several years ago, Marla Mase was at Arlene’s Grocery, performing a benefit to an audience as distracted as any in the 2010s. She was startling: whether reading a newspaper, or crouching behind a chair and growling, Mase was all these women in one: rock star, performing artist, spoken word poet, chilled out whacko, brilliant interpretive dancer and all round entertainer. As a blank audience looked on she performed as great a half of hour of far reaching state of the art-ist as I’ve ever seen. I came out with the name Patti Smith on my lips; it was that sort of performance. I’ve seen Mase several times since, and to much more receptive ends, but this proved exactly how complete a performer she is. Marla has grown more professional, her ferocity is more channeled, less alarming, more distilled, her songwriting skills stronger than ever, but she has never not been very brave and that was how bravery works.

That was on stage, what has happened on record since her debut album, A Brief Night Out, in 2010, is a steady improvement in her songwriting skills, from the first masterpiece “Things That Scare me”, through “Lioness” and “Annarexia” to the astounding “Piece Of Peace”, written and recorded for a huge show in China, and then, in a slow steady build, we reach 2014’s apex  “Drown In Blue” -along with a cover of Ian Dury’s “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” so great Manny Pacquiao dubbed it one of the songs he was working out to prior to the Mayweather debacle.

If you are keeping track, that translate to album # 2, Speak, in 2012, and album # 3 Half Life, in 2014. Dropping today is album # 4, Miracles: Lost And Found. The first three albums were part and parcel of a growing inside of spoken world and rock, but Miracles: Lost And Found, is first and foremost a pop and roll album, bubblegum songs, despite ”Back To The Beginning, Part 1”, about just about everything except the same old same old. Politics (by other means), Highschool killers, mentally ill children, alzheimer sufferers, social media cluster fucks. If, as Freedy Johnstone once noted, everybody needs to write about something, Marla writes about everything.

Coming to Miracles, the songs seemed to fit into a concept but of a musical rather than mental concept: keep it short, poppy, bubblegum, T-Rex-y post-modernism. With the True Groove All Stars behind her, and co-composer Tomas Doncker by her side, the songs slip down so sweetly, it takes a while to realize how hard you are being hit. Opening song “Truth Is Coming Down” sounds like an ingénue popping out, It’s rock pop of tremendous proportions, but then you realize that truth is the miracle, and the album’s arched positioning is clearly just that: where is the truth, what does it mean? Though  “Truth Is Coming Down” isn’t the miracle, “Everyone Dies” certainly is, if not Marla’s best (I’m still holding out for “Drown In Blue”), it is certainly her biggest song. A Facebook slam about death and impermanence, an earlier version I heard was sweetly amused but the finished piece has an edginess and an anger, “We’re all fair game…” is another miracle of truthfulness. “Everyone Dies” is the most 2016 of all 2016 songs, it is the essence of life and death in social media and we see it in the rich and famous, both Lou Reed and David Bowie, died on Facebook, and personal,  I’ve had a number of deaths in my personal life that took place also on Facebook. There’s a real unhappiness to Marla here, on what is, parenthetically, a novelty song, it is, not unlike “Oh Bondage, Up Yours”, a novelty that isn’t. “Everyone Dies” is a serious attempt to see deep inside social media, where even the most life shattering events are one part entertainment and two parts gossip. it is horror as backslap. Three songs near the beginning are Familial stories as sheer terror. “Dreamland” is a jaunty, sweet song about mental degeneration through age, “A Gun” the story of a teenage mass murderer, and “Hold You” a tremulous fear stronger than fearsomeness. Mase, who has been known for a sizzling and direct sense of female sexual empowerment in the past, uses “Wake Up And Make Love to Me” (Dury again) to express it here, and the gasp worthy cutting down of trees for one, somewhat stupid, reason, is at the the heart of the environmentally atrophied “56 Trees”.

This may seem like pointed barbed wire truth to power songs, but it isn’t the point of the miracles, the miracles themselves lie in the collective power of music and friendship between Tomas Doncker, James Dellacoma and Marla herself: the father, the son and the holy ghost of True Groove. There is an epic detailedness on Miracles, you can hear it on the sizzling guitar solo during “Back To The Beginning, Part Two”, and the instrumental bridge during “A Gun” –there is a dawning power of the collective, of how years of working on musical project after musical projects, leads them to a tightness beyond tight, a musical transference of power and skill. True Groove are so attuned to their skills, that they can roll off a Marla album, a Phoebe Nir album, and the hugely anticipated James Chance album AT THE SAME TIME. Years and years of life spent on stages and in studios, makes them so synched up that the sound is organic. A comparison might be the Motown House band, it didn’t matter where Berry put them, Gaye, Smoke, Diana, did not matter –they performed at full capacity. On Miracles, one moment the All Stars are T-Rex, the next Davis circa Bitches Brew, proto-popsters, hard rockers, New Wave gems, noise merchants: you name it, you’ll find it here somewhere. It’s a great album any way , they add the miracle of friendship to the miracle of truth. Marla’s unblinking stare into the heart of darkness in 2016, hers and ours,  is saved in truth, in melody, in kinship.

Grade: A

1 Comment

  1. Aron Lifschultz on October 28, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Marla is the real deal – has been from the beginning. can’t wait to get the new tunes.

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