Mary Lou Lord Emerges From Shadows

The 13 tracks from former street musician focus on feelings of lost or unrequited love.

When Mary Lou Lord signed her first major label deal (with Sony’s Work Group) in 1995, she didn’t intend to make an album immediately.

What the Boston busker couldn’t predict was that a full three years would pass between the day she signed on the dotted line and the recent release of her full-length debut, Got No Shadow (see review in Addicted To Noise‘s “44.1 kHz” album reviews section).

It was precisely such a relaxed work schedule that allowed Lord to create
what she hopes is an album for the ages rather than a flavor of the month. “When I listen to the radio, there seems to be a lot of manufactured hits,”
Lord said recently by phone from her Boston home. “My record is more of an
old-fashioned LP — I don’t hear a lot of filler on it, and it doesn’t have
a hit that pops out. It’s more like a ’70s whole thing.”

What unites the 13 tracks on Got No Shadow into a “whole thing” are
recurring themes of lost (or unfound) love, be it through feelings of
unrequited devotion (“His Lamest Flame”), a languished relationship (“Two
Boats”) or secret admiration ["Subway" (RealAudio excerpt)]. All but
two of the tracks were penned by Lord and her songwriting partner, Nick
Saloman of the band Bevis Frond. In addition, several famous folks turned out
to lend a hand on the disc, including former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn,
Geraldine Fibbers guitarist Nels Cline and Beastie Boys keyboardist Money
Mark.

“The album doesn’t sound like the ’90s,” Lord said in a voice more earthy
than the whispers she intones on Got No Shadow. “There are no
techno beats or manufactured rhythms on this record. It’s very
song-oriented, and lots of times when you’re dealing with songs instead of
sounds, there’s something humble about that.”

There’s also something humble about working in a medium with which one is
not familiar, as Lord discovered when it came time to record Got No
Shadow
.

Lord’s venues of choice have always been the street corner or a subway
platform, and, thus, she and Saloman had written these songs primarily for
her voice and acoustic guitar. When it came time to lay down tracks
in the studio, Lord had to both arrange parts for the other musicians and
work through the process of recording innumerable takes of her own work.

“It was a challenging record,” said Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliott Smith) who,
with partner Rob Schnapf, produced Got No Shadow over the course of
three-and-a-half months.

“The recording process is inherently intense,” he said. “In this situation
you add on top of that Mary Lou, who is incredibly driven and hard upon
herself, and Rob and myself, who at the same time are pushing her as far as she can be pushed. Sometimes the tension would build and explode.”

Lord, herself, described the recording as “emotionally taxing.”

“I worked alone [before], and for me to bring in all these different personalities — it was fun, it was new and exciting,” she said. “But at the same time, it was a lot of work. It was a little bit weird for me to be performing out of real time, without an audience. Singing the same line 20 times to get it right, it loses its honesty a little bit. But that’s the compromise for perfection.”

Earlier this month, Lord hit the road with a full band for a tour that runs
through April. Because she now has traveling companions, she said she’ll
be less likely to stage her characteristic, impromptu street-corner shows; still, Lord said she recently spent six hours playing songs from Got No Shadow on a Boston subway platform.

“I played ‘Two Boats’ quite a lot that night,” Lord said. “I’m becoming
more familiar with the songs and the feeling now, because I had been
listening to the album. I think I had missed them in their own acoustic
context.” [Wed., Feb. 11, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]