Mary Bue – Holy Bones
Mary Bue covers a lot of ground on a pretty short track-list with Holy Bones – engaging pop, sweet country, and rock with a grin. The Minnesota native has experienced tremendous localized success and a smattering of national attention, but Holy Bones can provide a corrective to the latter point and expand her profile more than ever before. It’s quite brave of her to shift direction so starkly six albums into a career distinguished more for its critical plaudits than any commercial success. However, this possibly foolhardy move pays off artistically and listeners can hear how her clear, free-spirit approach works up a wicked groove throughout that doesn’t stop or fade out as the release moves through its eight tracks.
“Candy” is righteous pop-rock living off jangling acoustic guitar and sizzling choruses full of angst-ridden distortion and anthem-ready lyrics. The guitars boil enough to be a few notches about fluff and the poppy parts undoubtedly encourage audience participation. Bue taps similar veins on “Cheribum” and ends up striking pay dirt with short, untamed punk reminiscent of no particular band, but rampaging with the same defiant energy characterizing the genre’s best. The tune clocks in at less than two minutes and storms through its main riff and dipping rhythms with all of the grace of a sugar-loaded construction worker. It’s not pretty in its construction, but it isn’t supposed to be.
After a storming lead-off, the album begins to burn with a nervous, understated energy highlighted by the hop-a-long country rocker of a title track and the electric gospel of “Heart’s Desire.” Acoustic and electric guitars walk hand in hand over a rhythmic push that’s all about the groove and giving buoyancy to Bue’s expressive and impassioned vocals. Mary’s voice gets classier as the record goes on and hits some slinking, scowling lows on the country-tinged slow-burn of “Archaeology”. The song gives an interesting lyrical spin to a well-worn subject and one that could have come off as cheesy in lesser hands. Somehow, however, Mary Bue handles the subject with eloquence and elegance. “Veal” is another; smoldering jam-track doused in amber, trotting through rock-y speed-ups whenever it isn’t chipping away acoustically with healthy dollops of blues and folk flourishes. “Put Up” may very well be the album’s surprise and its strongest cut thanks to its electric surf-rock leanings and experimental trappings. The concluding cut “A Million Moths” starts off as a somber, contemplative acoustic rocker before erupting in a volcanic chorus full of overdriven guitar turned up to 11.
Holy Bones is a flawed, but frequently entertaining, listen. It might be nice to hear Mary Bue and the band buckle down and focus on one thing, especially the gospel, cinematic country that is so striking on “Heart’s Desire” and “Archaeology” respectively, but despite the frequent stylistic curveballs, this is an album worth checking out. It’s impressive to hear any artist dispense with a proven formula and take bold, new journeys. At its best, Bue communicates boundless excitement to be so far outside of her traditional comfort zone and that thrill comes through on every track.