Acoustic Guitar Magazine
See the review of Livin’ with the Blues in this 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar
Living Blues Magazine
Acoustic Guitar Magazine
See the article on Mary in the September 2013 issue of Acoustic Guitar
Reviews for “Misery Loves Company”
1/1/2012 Vintage Guitar (John Heidt)
Plays the blues with the soul and wit they were created to be played with… shows an intimacy with the music that’s felt by few. No gimmicks or tricks with a Mary Flower record. She knows the blues and plays them with the soul and wit they were created to be played with. Flower more than holds her own with such formidable guests as Curtis Salgado, Dave Frishberg, and Colin Linden. Her playing and vocals show an intimacy with the music that’s felt by few.
1/1/2012 Downbeat (Frank-John Hadley)
Superlative… such a high level of proficiency that your heart will beat faster and your blood race. One of the Top 10 roots albums of 2011, no question about it. (4 stars) Twenty years and nine albums into her recording career, Flower is a superlative fingerstyle guitarist square in the Piedmont tradition. She also excels on lap steel. Easy confidence characterizes her singing style. Following a format of duets this time, she’s joined in her subdued artistry by 10 fellow Oregonians and Nashville dobro player Colin Linden. All of the collaborations are winners. She and jazz pianist Dave Frishberg exchange sly grins laying out the cyanide-laced original “I’m Dreaming of Your Demise.” The guitarist and cellist Gideon Freudmann are at such a high a level of proficiency performing the instrumental “Devil’s Punchbowl” that your heart will beat faster and your blood race. Along with black church-trained singer LaRhonda Steele, Flower gives a moving account of the afterlife on a striking cover version of Rev. Gary Davis’s “Goin’ To Sit Down on the Banks of the River.” No slack off in authority either when Flower goes it alone on her arrangement of age-old “Scrapper’s Blues,” a salute to Chicago guitarist Scrapper Blackwell.
1/1/2012 Acoustic Guitar (Ian Zack)
There are few musicians in the genre bringing as much creative spark and low-key mojo to this century-old music…http://www.acousticguitar.com/
12/1/2011 Living Blues (Stephen A. King)
Marries acoustic blues with touches of ragtime, folk, and jazz… the interplay is always interesting, often provocative, and sometimes breathtaking. On her ninth studio recording, Misery Loves Company, Portland, Oregon, guitarist and vocalist Mary Flower continues her tradition of marrying acoustic blues with touches of ragtime, folk, and jazz, a musical admixture that truly works. Beyond the tight song arrangements, expert musicianship, and crystal clear production, Misery Loves Company’s crowning achievement is reflected in Flower’s ability to capture her musical inspiration—the rural, romantic South—in word and sound. Her unpretentious vocal style, compelling guitar work, and minimalist arrangements perfectly capture the feeling of gently floating down a slowly moving river or strolling down an isolated dirt road. Flower is not a southerner, but her songs embody the South’s mythos and mystique.
Aside from the solo performance, Scrapper’s Blues, which concludes the album, each song is set up as a duet between Flower (vocal and guitar) and a different musical guest; the array of instruments (slide guitar, bass, mandolin, harmonica, violin, tuba, cello, piano, and accordion) keeps Misery Loves Company sounding fresh and in constant motion. The instrumental interplay is always interesting, often provocative, and sometimes breathtaking as in the case of Flower’s composition Way Down in the Bottom. Her finger-picking guitar work beautifully complements Colin Linden’s echoing slide on electric dobro. Beyond this inter-guitar majesty, Flower’s haunting, laconic voice and dark lyrics, a story of descending into a dark void of despondence, make Way Down in the Bottom the centerpiece of the disc. The ragtime influenced Recession Rag (another Flower original), features the same instrumental prowess as both Flower and mandolin player Brian Oberlin provide the space for each to shine. Even songs that feature unique instrumentation for standard blues songs, Jitters (tuba), Shake Sugaree (accordion), and Devil’s Punchbowl (cello), work because the focus remains on Flower and her ability to spin a story, evoke a mood, or both (the lone exception is the violin accompaniment to Miss Delta).
While the revolving cast of talent certainly helps make Misery Loves Company a success, Flower is talented enough to pull this off without relying on outside help. Her guitar playing, finger-picking or lap slide, is, by turn, sensual, shimmering, and sublime. She overlays both guitar styles to wonderful effect in the Tampa Red song Boogie Woogie Dance and her own composition Devil’s Punchbowl. Her vocal style, seemingly free from studio effects, is warm, straightforward, and alluring. Her cover song selection is tasteful (from Son House to Muddy Waters to Reverend Gary Davis) and her own compositions, especially Way Down in the Bottom and Devil’s Punchbowl, are memorable and bear repeated listening. No doubt, listeners will find the CD’s title ironic; Misery Loves Company will actually leave most listeners “un-miserable”—deeply satisfied and enriched from the experience.
11/5/2011 Blues in Britain (Mick Rainsford)
One of the world’s finest purveyors of traditional blues… pure quality. Mary Flower has forged a formidable reputation as one of the world’s finest purveyors of traditional blues, with her heartfelt vocals and supreme guitar picking–and here she delivers twelve blues gems, eleven in collaboration with eleven different guest artists in duet mode, playing an equal mix of fine Flower originals and deftly chosen covers.
Flower opens with Muddy’s “Hard Day Blues” which is played Piedmont style with her wistful vocals complemented perfectly by Curtis Salgado’s mellifluous harp. The instrumental “Recession Rag” captures the current world mood perfectly with Flower’s mournful guitar mirrored by Brian Oberlin’s doom laden mandolin – Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” finds Flower’s plaintive vocals accentuated and echoed by her and Alan Hager’s haunting meld of straight guitar and slide – whilst “Jitters” is a “cake-walking” Crescent City instrumental replete with fine picking and superlative tuba from Mark Vehrencamp.
LaRhonda Steele adds joyous harmonies to Flower’s country gospel tinged vocals on a superb and rollicking rendition of the Reverend Gary Davis’s “Goin’ To Sit Down On the banks of the River” – Dave Frishberg’s bouncing barrelhouse piano adds a counterpoint to Flower’s haunting vocals on the Piedmont styled “I’m Dreaming Of Your Demise” – whilst James Mason’s gypsy violin and Gideon Freudmann’s cello meld mellifluously with Flower’s haunting fretwork on “Miss Delta” and “Devil’s Punchbowl” respectively.
Add in the one solo performance of “Scrapper’s Blues” where Flower captures the essence of Blackwell’s style to perfection – a hauntingly soulful rendition of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Shake Sugaree” with fine button accordion from Johnny B Connolly – and further wonderful collaborations with Colin Linden (electric Dobro) and Jesse Withers (bass), and you have a set that delivers pure quality. Enough said!
11/1/2011 Blues Bytes (Graham Clarke)
A stripped-down affair that really brings Flower’s talents, incredible technique and interpretive skills to the forefront… one of the best guitarists currently performing. http://www.bluenight.com/
You might be familiar with some of the guests on Misery Loves Company…..Colin Linden, the lone non-Portland resident on the disc, has played a prominent role in some of the best roots/blues music of the past couple of years (including producing fellow Yellow Dog artist Eden Brent’s latest effort). He did final mixing on this disc and also added electric dobro to Flower’s haunting “Way Down In The Bottom.” Harmonica player Curtis Salgado helps Flower open the disc with the laidback romp, “Hard Days Blues,” and noted jazz pianist and composer Dave Frishberg lights up her darkly humorous “I’m Dreaming of Your Demise.”
Other highlights include a gentle interpretation of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues,” that pairs Flower with guitarist Alan Hagar, “Jitters,” with tuba player Mark Vehrencamp, Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie Dance,” featuring some of Flower’s outstanding slide guitar along with bassist Jesse Withers, “Recession Rag,” with mandolin player Brian Oberlin, and “Shake Sugaree,” with Johnny B. Connolly on accordion. On the final track, “Scrapper’s Blues”, Flower goes it alone, paying tribute instrumentally to one of her musical heroes, Scrapper Blackwell.
Mary Flower has enjoyed a lengthy career in music, over thirty years, travelling just under the musical radar most of the time, despite the fact that she’s one of the best guitarists currently performing. Misery Loves Company proves that fact and ranks with her best work. This is great music to enjoy while riding the porch swing on an easy Sunday afternoon.
9/27/2011 Top 21 (John Shelton Ivany)
Finger-picking guitar mastery that must be heard by everyone… One of the best albums of the year.
9/1/2011 Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange (Mark S. Tucker)
There’s a consummate melodiousness to Flower’s work… she’s like the Joni Mitchell of the blues: everything the woman does turns to beauty. http://www.acousticmusic.com/
There’s a consummate melodiousness to Flower’s work, and if we wish to risk damaging political correctness, we might want to hazard that it’s due to her gender, which sees things quite differently from the overwhelmingly male tenor of the realm’s historied denizens. On the other hand, more than once I was reminded of Bruce Cockburn’s arrangements, especially in the instrumental Devil’s Punchbowl, and Jitters sounds like a cut accidentally left off a Leon Redbone LP, so I ain’t claimin’ that Mary doesn’t know how to get down in the bayou with the best of ’em…just that she does so with a good deal of decorousness.
Part of this derives in the Piedmont style she so favors, a rag-inflected good-time mode that informs her writing, and if you don’t glance at the track menu, you’re going to have a tough time determining which came from her and which didn’t (save, of course, for the timeless classic Shake Sugaree). Hardly a surprise, then, to find out that this is a Yellow Dog CD, distributed by MVD no less, and a home richly deserved by the singer-player-writer. There are a lot of really good blues imprints out there, but Yellow Dog is one of the most unique, always a beacon of quality, intelligence, and innovation, from the sadly now-defunct Asylum Street Spankers, an ensemble of very talented cut-ups, to the rocking’ psychedelic blue-Motown of The Soul of John Black to Flower herself. When you get done with this CD, ya might wanna peek at the entire YD back catalogue. Every single disc is a winner, well chosen, lovingly presented.
11/24/2011 The Good Music Fox
A very rare kind of artist… for those of you craving some real musicianship in a crowd of amateurs, Mary Flower’s music will make your day. http://www.goodmusicfox.com/
With Misery Loves Company, Mary shows us once again that you can ally serious technique to simple rootsy style without denaturing it. The secret lies in her ability to make any of her song, as sophisticated as it might be, flow effortlessly. Though her force really is her guitar technique, Mary can take pride in having a smooth-as-honey voice that fits her songwriting perfectly and make the recorded result feel like a hot drink on a cold afternoon. There is also a special ingredient on this new album with the addition of 11 solid musicians who all came to play with Mary and added their little touch to another track.
On “I’m Dreaming of Your Demise” jazz pianist and composer Dave Frishberg lays down some bebop chord voicings while Colin Linden— known for his production work for Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn and Eden Brent on her 2010 Ain’t Got No Troubles — adds electric dobro to Way Down in the Bottom. Harmonica player Curtis Salgado — former member of both Robert Cray’s band and Santana — accompanies Mary on Hard Day Blues. Johnny B. Connolly ’s button accordion flavors Elizabeth Cotten’s Shake Sugaree while James Mason contributes a violin part to Miss Delta. Only the final track Scrapper’s Blues features Mary alone.
These collaborations all help make Misery Loves Company a richly blended cup of blues mixing traditional fingerpicking, acoustic blues and folk in their most noble form. They also show the respect and solid reputation Mary has gained over the years, gigging, recording and never disappointing. For those of you craving for some real musicianship in a crowd of amateurs, Mary Flower’s music will make your day.
11/26/2011 Rambles (Jerome Clark)
Exquisite guitar style… done in these hands, it is a thing of beauty and a cause for joy. http://www.rambles.net/
On all but one of the dozen cuts, one other person accompanies Flower on instrument (mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass, piano, accordion or tuba) or vocal harmony. Next to Frishberg, known primarily to jazz buffs, the most relatively prominent is the ubiquitous Canadian folk/blues/rock guitarist/producer Colin Linden (electric dobro on Flower’s “Way Down in the Bottom”). Blues harpist Curtis Selgado backs up Flower on the opening piece, Muddy Waters’s “Hard Day Blues,” which bears practically no resemblance to the original. It’s not just the Piedmont style versus Muddy’s Delta-derived blues; it’s also that Flower has never tried to sound like any kind of blues singer, downhome or uptown. She sings the
blues in her own straightforward, unadorned white woman’s voice, which is a fine one; once you get used to that — and the cognitive dissonance is especially acute in her rendition of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues,” in the original a primeval howl of existential terror — you realize that of course she should sing the blues her way. It’s already been sung all the other ways.
11/18/2011 bluesinthenorthwest.com (Grahame Rhodes)
Sublime… simple yet thoroughly convincing essential roots album that is pure class from start to finish. http://www.
Flower’s playing, in which she shows off her majestic finger picking and slide work, merges touches of blues, ragtime, folk and more, and with her skilled guests on board, she has created a modern, yet simple and thoroughly convincing essential roots album that is pure class from start to finish – evidence of her 35 year career in music.
She channels some Muddy Waters into her own style with the opening “Hard Day Blues”, with a driving, rhythmic guitar intro, aided and abetted by the tasteful harmonica of Curtis Salgado, whose playing is delightful; her own “Recession Rag” is a good-time instrumental with her glorious picking joined by the mandolin of Brian Oberlin. Son House’s classic “Death Letter Blues” is a joy . . . with her own lap slide and Alan Hager’s electric slide weaving in and out of each other. Brass makes an entrance on another Flower original, “Jitters”, with the tuba of Mark Vehrencamp featuring on this finger picked ragtime tune. The releases only ‘outsider’, Toronto-born, Nashville-based guitarist and producer Colin Linden comes on board for the dark and brooding “Way Down In The Bottom”, with his electric dobro shadowing more fine guitar and vocals from Mary Flower on this, another of her own songs.
The only non-instrumentalist guest, singer LaRhonda Steele, features on the gospel Rev. Gary Davis song, “Goin’ To Sit Down On The Banks Of The River” . . . the two voices creating a joyous sound indeed. Her own son, Jesse Withers, plays bass on Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie Dance”, with his mother laying down some slashing slide guitar here. Things turn a little jazzy on “I’m Dreaming Of Your Demise”, with composer and pianist Dave Frishberg contributing some bebop fills and solo.
Violin player James Mason shines on the instrumental “Miss Delta”, on top of Mary Flowers acoustic guitar chords; the Delta blues of “Devil’s Punchbowl” is another treat, where Flower has cello player Gideon Freudmann for company on another impressive and convincing instrumental. The beautiful Elizabeth Cotten song, “Shake Sugaree” is quite enchanting with Johnny B. Connolly on button accordion. This fine release ends with the only solo performance – a take on Scrapper Blackwell’s “Scrapper’s Blues” – just Mary Flower and her picked acoustic guitar, and is a fitting end to proceedings.
11/15/2011 FolkWorld (Adolf Goriup)
A masterpiece of acoustic guitar music… a breathtaking musical journey. http://www.folkworld.eu/46/e/
Curtis Salgado on harmonica and Mary on guitar start the musical walk with the classic Muddy Waters song “Hard day blues”. Their playing together is awesome and Mary’s cool singing captures the listener instantly. Mary’s subtle guitar playing allows her musical partners to join in with their own improvisations. Brian Oberlin’s mandolin dances with Mary to her self-crafted “Recession Rag” and Alan Hager takes the guitar part when Mary switches to the lap slide guitar on Son House’s “Death letter blues”, a brilliant performance. “Jitters”, another original track, features Mark Vehrencamp on tuba and Colin Linden plays electric Dobro on Mary’s hauntingly beautiful song “Way down in the bottom”. Then LaRhonda Steele sings the virtuoso harmony vocals on the Rev. Gary Davis song “Goin’ to sit down on the banks of the river”. Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie dance” is brought forward by Mary on lap slide and Jesse Withers on bass and Dave Frishberg plays the piano when Mary swings the blues on her original “I’m dreaming of your demise”. James Mason adds his fine violin playing on “Miss Delta”, a terrific self-crafted Delta blues, and Gideon Freudmann on cello accompanies Mary’s intoxicating performance on “Devil’s punchbowl”. Elizabeth Cotten’s melancholic blues “Shake sugaree” features Johnny B.
Connolly on button accordion and with a laid down solo performance on Scrapper Blackwell’s “Scrapper’s blues” Mary’s musical walk comes to an end. Mary Flower’s fourth album is a masterpiece of acoustic guitar music. Her incredible finger-style and lap slide playing, her beautiful singing and the first class guest musicians invite the listener to a breathtaking musical journey. Visit www.maryflower.com and enjoy!
10/20/2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Ron Weinstock)
Delights blues and roots fans with a recording that continues to demonstrate that she remains one of the finest fingerstyle guitarists. http://inabluemood.blogspot.
Whether performing a blues or a rag, Mary Flower plays wonderfully with an easy flowing approach to her music. When performing a deep Chicago blues, such as Muddy Waters’ Hard Day Blues or Son House’s Death Letter Blues, she recasts the song into a Piedmont styled blues, while adding her honey-toned vocals. Her vocal strikes this listener as more
successful on the former number (with Curtis Salgado adding some nice harp), although the slide guitar and guitar interplay between her and Alan Hager is marvelous. Recession Rag, is a delightful instrumental duet with mandolinist Brian Oberlin, while Jitters is a lovely duet with tuba player Mark Vehrencamp that with Mary channelling Blind Blake in her deft playing here.
Colin Linden adds electric dobro her atmospheric Way Down in the Bottom, (where darkness meets despair), while LaRonda Steele adds a harmony vocal to Mary’s exquisite rendition of Reverend Gary Davis’ Goin’ To Sit Down On The Banks Of River, with an accompaniment that displays how ably she has mastered the music of this legendary giant. Her son Jesse Withers plays bass while she displays her cleanly articulated slide playing on Tampa Red’s Boogie Woogie Dance, while pianist David Frishberg adds some bop-infused piano on the delightful I’m Dreaming Of Your Demise, about her beady-eyed, devious man who spouts nasty lies. Mary’s music possesses some of the same qualities that Elizabeth Cotten’s music had so its no surprise that she so ably interprets Shake Sugaree, where Johnny B Connolly embellishes her vocal and fingerstyle wizardry with his button accordion. A solo rendition of Scrapper Blackwell’s Scrapper’s Blues is the last selection on her latest recording. Mary Flower continues to delight blues and roots fans with a recording that continues to demonstrate that she remains one of the finest fingerstyle guitarists. Also her vocals flow as natural as her finger picking.
11/18/2011 Blues Blast Gary Weeks
Flower shines as a torchbearer of traditional music…http://www.thebluesblast.com/
As she has done with other releases, Flower continues to explore the finger-picking style of folk, Piedmont, ragtime and Delta blues. While no new ground may be broken here, it is a welcome sojourn into a rural America that we forgot existed.
While the greatest strengths are wrapping her guitar and lap slide guitar lines around this material, the collaborations with various guests gives the tracks an extra boost.
Harmonica player Curtis Salgado drops in to add his buttery harmonica lines to Muddy Waters’ “Hard Day Blues.” Guest singer LaRhonda Steele applies a sweet background vocal to the Gary Davis gospel churched “Goin to Sit Down On The Banks Of The River.” Her rendition of Son House’ “Death Letter Blues” personifies more of a Piedmont air then Delta menace.
While tackling the other acoustic treasures of players, Flower displays strong prowess in her own material. If you want a shot of ragtime, there’s the duet with Brian Oberlin in “Recession Rag” which can’t get any more authentic. And delving deep into the Piedmont rudiments of guitar seems to suit Mary best when she neatly picks her way through the instrumental “Jitters.”
Handling the production chores herself can be considered a great move. There is no over-production and the songs seem to be done in one or two takes.
Perhaps the best union is with Colin Linden who adds his haunting electric Dobro to Flower original “Way Down In The Bottom.” It’s as dark and depressing as the title implies and perhaps the most melancholic number on the CD.
But depression isn’t something Flower chooses to wallow in. It’s back to the Piedmont business as usual with snaky lap slide playing in Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie Dance” that ends too quickly before you begin to appreciate the tune in full. The weirdly titled “I’m Dreaming Of Your Demise” shows a humorous side of Flowers and Dave Frishberg’s piano is a nice added touch. What you’re looking at is an easy and relaxed cd to listen too. James Mason’s violin lazily plays along to Mary’s gentle finger-picking in the slow lull of “Miss Delta.”
Listeners of acoustic-based blues will want to seek this record out. If you want a traditionalist take on things that doesn’t scream of electricity, then Mary Flower can be one of the best sources to turn too. If you check out her website, not only is she playing the normal club circuit in the Portland area, but she serves as an instructor for various
music camps such as Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch. It doesn’t come as a surprise as she is one of the best choices to look to when wanting to pursue a career in music that reeks of Americana and not coming out formulated in an attempt to being accepted by the mainstream. Thankfully Flower recognizes true traditions can save the day.
6/1/2011 About.com (Reverend Keith A. Gordon)
Sits comfortably in that sweet spot where folk and blues music intersects… a solid collection of elegant acoustic blues, jazz, and roots music. http://blues.about.com/od/
9/3/2011 Midwest Record Recap (Chris Spector)
If this was the 70s, this is what you would probably be listening to after you first discovered John Fahey or John Renbourn and bugged the record store clerk to show you what was lingering in the back room… http://midwestrecord.com/
11/6/2011 Delta-Slider (Andrew Stranglen)
Impeccable fingerstyling…incorporates folk, blues, and ragtime elements seamlessly. http://delta-slider.blogspot.
When she is not teaching at guitar workshops or busy touring concerts and blues and folk festivals Mary Flower is busy making wonderful albums such as “Misery Loves Company”. Her impeccable fingerstyling incorporates folk, blues, and ragtime elements seamlessly.
On “Misery…” Ms. Flower and friends created 12 captivating tracks – 8 songs and 4 instrumental pieces that are sure to draw the attention of any fingerpicking and blues aficionado. I especially like her cover of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues”, crystal execution. Quite different from House’s – I like both versions.
I would be remiss in this review if I did not mention the sweetness of her voice, like “honey and smooth whiskey.” I read that somewhere. It’s true!
9/28/2011 Cascade Blues Association (Greg Johnson)
Masterful skills at finger-picking and lap slide guitars… world-class. http://www.cascadeblues.org/
Opening the disc is a Muddy Waters’ piece, “Hard Day Blues,” with Curtis Salgado blowing a nice rolling harmonica behind Mary’s gentle picking. That is followed by a self-written rag number, “Recession Rag,” with Brian Oberlin supplying tasteful mandolin. Alan Hager is the perfect accompanist for the deep blues of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues,” maintaining the somberness of the subject of the singer’s journey to return home to her deceased lover. “Jitters” is a fun number with Mark Verhenkamp providing the bass rhythm on tuba. LaRhonda Steele’s backing vocals on the gospel selection “Going To Sit Down On The Banks Of The River” takes us to church with Mary’s guitar offering a spry, happy pace for this classic Reverend Gary Davis composition. “Boogie Woogie Dance” places Mary’s son Jesse Withers, a well-known local bluegrass musician in his own right, on bass. Other interesting pairings find violinist James Mason on “Miss Delta,” button accordion player Johnny B. Connolly on the Elizabeth Cotten classic “Shake Sugaree” and Gideon Freudman on cello for the piece “Devil’s Punchbowl.”
Perhaps the two numbers I enjoy most on the disc are the deep blues “Way Down In The Bottom” with Colin Linden on dobro, which has a dark sounding Delta tone behind it, and the tongue-in-cheek humor of Mary’s original “I’m Dreaming Of Your Demise” partnered by her neighbor David Frishberg on piano. The album also ends with a stunning take of Scrapper Blackwell’s signature tune “Scrapper’s Blues,” reworked masterfully by Mary, which is the only track on this fine release where Mary performs solo.
As with her previous Yellow Dog recording using Portland area musicians, Mary Flower once again captures a wonderful feel and selects the perfect artists to accompany her. Though the themes this time are not about the city, she continues to show her world-class instrumentation making this another disc that anybody who enjoys acoustic blues guitar will certainly appreciate in their own personal collection.
12/3/2011 Oliver di Place Darius Rips
The best measure of her enormous talent is that she makes this combination sound completely natural, even though I’ve never heard anyone do it before… http://oliverdiplace.blogspot.
9/6/2011 Oregon Music News (Tom D’Antoni)
She’s been one of the top Blues guitarists and singers in America for quite a while… http://oregonmusicnews.com/
Mary Flower is none of those, but she’s been one of the top Blues guitarists and singers in America for quite a while. She does not shout, she does not plug in, her voice is not guttural. She does not even look like a Blues player…until she starts playing.
That’s when you understand.
Her new album is called Misery Loves Company (the company being the people she duets with.) All of the songs are in duet, except the finale, from Curtis Salgado to Jazz legend Dave Frishberg to cellist Gideon Freudman to her son Jesse Withers who also plays with the popular Bluegrass band Jackstraw. And there are several others.
So what’s this album about? I sat down with her in the room where she practices, guitars at the ready and a Dick Waterman photo of picture of Son House, Skip James and, Mississippi John Hurt over her shoulder.
10/26/2011 WLRH / WJAB (Microwave Dave)
Manages to make the complex sound effortless… She’s a very special artist. This is in many ways the best of her four releases with Yellow Dog Records. While the instrumental work is at the height that we’ve come to expect (and enhanced by great duet partners), Mary’s vocals shine in the best recording of her voice to date. She still manages to make the complex sound effortless, and thankfully keeps my ear on alert for the little gems of articulation and micro-cadences, especially such as those in I’m Dreaming of Your Demise. She’s a very special artist.
11/1/2011 Mountain Stage (@MountainStage)
Her “Grand Marais Blues” w/ Pat Donohue is priceless… http://twitter.com/#!/
9/20/2011 MPR News (Mike Pengra)
An expert at finger picking on guitar… http://minnesota.publicradio.
Mary Flower’s new album is titled “Misery Loves Company” in which she stripped down the production and tried to return to the basics: just her, a guitar, and a neighbor. In this case, the neighbors are literally just that – all musician friends from the Portland, Oregon area who took turns playing duos with Mary throughout the album.
Mary was in Minnesota recently for a series of shows and stopped in to the Radio Heartland studio. Audio here: http://minnesota.publicradio.
9/9/2011 The Oregonian (Don Campbell)
Hits a confident stride… http://www.oregonlive.com/
The Midwest native has continued to make the City of Roses her home base as she further explores the music of the Piedmont, country blues, ragtime and folk. More entrenched here than ever, Flower has just released “Misery Loves Company,” her fourth Yellow Dog release that finds her in the duet setting with another roster of Portland greats, plus the talents of Canadian musician and producer Colin Linden, who now works out of Nashville.
There’s a beauty to the duet, she says. “I’m not Willie Nelson. I knew I wanted to do a solo album, but I also knew I needed that kick you get in the studio when you work with someone else. There’s an intimacy in the studio,” she says, “face-to-face, just you and the person you’re working with. It was really nice.”
This 12-song recording (half Flower originals) is minimalist, and answers a request from fans for something, as she says, “less produced.” Not that her studio outings are ever overly lush, but she hits a confident stride with these songs. “I finally collected enough material that I liked,” she says. “This recording falls into the category of Oregonians I most wanted to work with.”
And she’s rounded up an all-star roster that include the lusty harmonica of Curtis Salgado on the Muddy Waters cut “Hard Day Blues,” pianist David Frishberg’s big strides on the Flower-penned jazz romp “I’m Dreaming of Your Demise,” and Alan Hager’s stellar slide guitar on “Death Letter Blues,” a Son House gem.
Not content to ramble down the blues path strictly, she steps out with “Gideon’s Punchbowl,” employing the talents of Gideon Freudmann on cello. The ragtime “Jitters” features the oomph of Mark Vehrencamp on tuba, she squeezes the most out of Libba Cotton’s “Shake Sugaree” with Irish accordionist Johnny B. Connolly, and lights up “Miss Delta” with the dreamy violin of James Mason. And she adds the strong gospel vocals of LaRhonda Steele on the Rev. Gary Davis’ “Goin’ to Sit Down on the Banks of the River.”
Her secret weapon may be Linden, a supremely talented though largely unheralded guitarist who’s built a strong reputation playing for Emmy Lou Harris and producing the likes of Bruce Cockburn and Flower’s Yellow Dog label mate Eden Brent. He adds electric dobro on the CD’s most haunting cut, “Way Down in the Bottom, ” a tune Flower wrote that explores the depth of depression.
11/2/2011 Minor 7th (Patrick Ragains)
Relaxed but sophisticated… great listening. http://www.minor7th.com/
Although guitarist and singer Mary Flower has performed and taught for many years, her career has really blossomed in the last decade. On her eight previous albums she interpreted acoustic blues, early 20th-century pop songs and related styles for a growing audience. The intimate duets on this disc continue in that vein. The set begins with Muddy Waters’ “Hard Day Blues,” on which Flower is joined by blues rocker Curtis Salgado on harmonica. Mary plays lap-style slide on Son House’s “Death Letter,” accompanied by Alan Hager on guitar. Other familiar numbers include Elizabeth Cotton’s “Shake Sugaree” and the Reverend Gary Davis’ “Goin’ to Sit Down on the Banks of the River.” My favorite tunes are Flower’s originals, especially the raggy instrumentals “Recession Rag” (a guitar/mandolin duet which manages to recall both Gary Davis and Chet Atkins) and “Jitters,” both exhibiting some tricky three-against-four syncopation, and two songs, “Way Down in the Bottom” and “I’m Dreaming of Your Demise,” the latter featuring some great interplay between Flower’s guitar and Dave Frishberg on piano. Mary Flower’s relaxed but sophisticated approach appeals to aspiring blues players as well as those who just want to listen. This disc offers great listening and a perspective on her growth as a musical artist.
11/28/2011 Downbeat (Frank-John Hadley)
One of the Top 10 roots albums of 2011, no question about it…
12/5/2011 Taproot Radio (Calvin Powers)
Turns the “beautiful knob” up to eleven and creates blues that stands on its own as a work of art… http://www.taprootradio.com/
12/16/2011 KPLU (John Kessler)
Top 10 blues CDs of 2011: A gentle and moody record that features her warm voice and acoustic guitar… one of the best roots/blues guitarists around. http://www.kplu.org/post/top-
Reviews for “Bridges”
6/1/2009 Blues Revue
Exquisite fingerpicking and expressive slide guitar… embraces a gentle brand of blues that captures the warmth and power that come from simplicity. Guitarist and singer Mary Flower, having carved a niche for herself in the Pacific Northwest after spending three decades in Colorado, embraces a gentle brand of blues that captures the warmth and power that come from simplicity, On Bridges, Flower’s first album recorded in her current hometown of Portland, Oregon, her exquisite fingerpicking and expressive slide guitar are augmented by minimal but integral accompaniment. Flower could have recorded these songs with just her voice and guitar – the way she’s performed for years at folk clubs – but the small group combos and duos she’s assembles here lift the performances from the work of a troubadour (as leadoff track “Rhythm of the Road” alludes) to a production that will stand up to repeated spins. Witness Mark Vehrencamp’s tuba anchoring the bass line on four cuts, including “The Ghost of the St. Louis Blues,” on which Flower’s guitar and voice are also accompanied by soprano sax, clarinet, and piano. Then there are the lush vocal harmonies of Duffy Bishop and Rebecca Kilgore on “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears,” amplifying the bittersweet vulnerability of Flower’s lead. Sometimes it’s just Flower and one other player: her lap slide guitar to Jesse Withers’ string bass on “Slow Lane to Glory,” her fingerpicking to Tim O’Brien’s fiddling on “Up a Lazy River.” Original instrumentals (“Columbia River Rag,” “Daughter of Contortion”) give Flower a showcase for her deft guitar work and serve as segues between group performances. In the age of single-song digital downloads, it’s great to see so much attention paid to sequencing and pace for old-school fans who enjoy albums as entities unto themselves. That Flower moved from temperate Colorado – the state brags of more than 300 days of sunshine a year – to a rainier climate (saluted here on the original “Portland Town”) seems fitting when you consider how soothing these performances are while you’re staring outside at a dreary drizzle. Truly, blues for what ails you.
4/1/2009 All Music Guide
Through it all, Flower maintains a rootsy, earthy, down-home perspective… Bridges celebrates a variety of American roots music, with delightful results. The folk circuit is full of artists who specialize in folk-rock or folk-pop and use electric instruments extensively, but veteran folk singer/guitarist Mary Flower has been much more old-time in her approach. Flower gets a great deal of inspiration from pre-rock recordings of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and that outlook serves her consistently well on the acoustic-oriented Bridges. Not all of Flower’s admirers are quick to describe her as a folk artist; some of them have called her a blues singer — and, without question, the blues (including pre-rock Mississippi Delta country blues and female classic blues) are a major influence on this 2008 recording, which is probably best described as folk with blues, jazz, country, and gospel influences. Bridges is pleasingly diverse, ranging from expressive performances of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” Emmett Miller’s “The Ghost of the St. Louis Blues,” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Big Bill Blues” to a memorable version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Up a Lazy River.” Flower shows her appreciation of gospel (both African-American gospel and white country gospel) on “When I Get Home I’m Gonna Be Satisfied,” but secular material dominates this 50-minute CD — and even though Flower sings more often than not, she excels as an acoustic guitar-playing instrumentalist on “Slow Lane to Glory,” “Daughter of Contortion,” “Columbia River Rag,” and “Blue Waltz” (all of which are folk offerings that she wrote herself). Through it all, Flower maintains a rootsy, earthy, down-home perspective; Bridges celebrates a variety of American roots music, and it does so with delightful results.
11/7/2008 The Oregonian
A luscious lusty mix of rootsy styles, anchored by Flower’s immense finger-style guitar technique and warm-as-honey-and-whiskey voice. Her meter-perfect guitar work is inventive, dexterous and rock solid. Her voice is as comforting as a winter quilt and effortless as a breeze. In the four years since blues fingerpicker Mary Flower moved to Portland, She’s fallen head over heels in love with the City of Roses. A musician of international caliber, Flower relocated from Colorado in 2004. She hasn’t looked back. A favorite at folk festivals, winner of numerous fingerpicking guitar contests and a nominee in 2008 for both a Blues Foundation Blues Music Award and a Portland Muddy Award, Flower pays tribute to her adopted hometown with a new CD, “Bridges,” on Memphis-based Yellow Dog Records. The CD is a culmination as well as a tribute. The title pays homage to the sheer number of structures that cross our rivers (depicted nicely on Gary Houston’s cover art), but also refers to the bridges she builds with her music. A masterful instrumentalist, she covers Piedmont-style blues, ragtime, country blues, swing, folk and hot jazz. The 14-song project was recorded in Portland. She further cross-pollinated by hand-selecting favorite musicians to play along. In Portland, she says, “The genres seem to be cut really tight, and people usually don’t cross over. I like so many different kinds of music, and I play so many different kinds of music. I really wanted to utilize people from different categories. To see Rebecca Kilgore meet Duffy Bishop for the first time, I thought it’s just time.” Flowers roster included not only the above two chanteuses but also a cross-categorical A-list of great Portland players. Contributing to “bridges” were multi-instrumentalist Tony Furtado, New Orleans ex-pat and saxman Reggie Houston, young piano phenom Mac Potts, her son Jesse Withers from Jackstraw on upright bass, accordionist Courtney Von Drehle from 3 Leg Torso, Mark Vehrencamp on tuba, Doug Bundy on clarinet, Spud Siegal on mandolin and nephew Matt Johnson (also owner of Secret Society Recording Studio, where it was recorded) on drums. To show how deep the connection runs, Flower lauds pianist Janice Scroggins, who contributes melodically deep and passionate keyboard work to the project. “All first takes,” Flower says. “She can read your mind.” The CD is a luscious lusty mix of rootsy styles, anchored by Flower’s immense finger-style guitar technique and warm-as-honey-and-whiskey voice. Her meter perfect guitar work is inventive, dexterous and rock solid. Her voice is as comforting as a winter quilt and effortless as a breeze. The background duet of Bishop and Kilgore is genius. Scroggins’ piano throughout is as muscular as it gets. Furtado’s banjo and bottleneck guitar contribution to “Rhythm of the Road” aurally expands the landscape without showboating. Portland continues to build a sizable body of work of American string music, where the strength of performance outshines any need for recording trickery or overproduction. And Flower has upped the ante.
11/1/2008 Cascade Blues Association Blues Notes
Outstanding music from one of the world’s best Piedmont-style fingerpickers and lap slide guitarists… Mary Flower was nominated this past year for Acoustic Artist of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. Believe me, this was no fluke. Following two stellar CDs on the Yellow Dog label, Mary is about to release her third and this time it’s really something special for her fans in Portland. Titled, “Bridges,” the CD was recorded in Portland and uses almost totally musicians from the city, too. The title alludes to the many crossings of the Willamette River, but also to the bridges spanned by the creative talents found within Portland. Having moved to the Rose City just a few years back, Mary has developed a strong love for her new home and titles on the disc such as “Columbia River Rag” and “Portland Town” certainly reflect that. As does the humor within that latter number where Mary sings about the never-ending rain so abundant through much of the year. Portland will be the setting for the debut party for “Bridges” as Mary holds a CD release gathering at the Secret Society Ballroom on Saturday, November 8th. This is a new venue, located near Legacy Emanuel Hospital and the Wonder Ballroom, just upstairs from Toro Bravo. If you enjoyed her “Bywater Dance” CD that featured the artists of New Orleans, you will adore this disc recorded in the same vein with Portland musicians. Outstanding new music from one of the world’s best Piedmont-style fingerpickers and lap slide guitarists.