Mary Lou Lord

TrackAlbum / EP
Martian SaintsMartian Saints EP
I Figured You OutMartian Saints EP
Lights Are ChangingGot No Shadow
Some Jingle Jangle MorningGot No Shadow
Hard RoadMary Lou Lord/Sean Na Na EP
1952 Vincent Black LightningLive City Sounds
43Baby Blue
FearlessBaby Blue
My Buddy ValentineBackstreet Angels
She's Still Bewitching MeBackstreet Angels


Mary Lou Lord playlist


Contributor: Marc Fagel

Mary Lou Lord has been in and out of the American music scene since the early 90s. Far more subway-station busker than aspiring rock star, Lord’s breathy, girlish vocals feel more interested in convincing you to hang out and smile along with a few numbers than they are in wowing you with flash and acrobatics; she flourishes comfortably with little more than a sparse acoustic guitar, though she’s been given the full alt.rock studio treatment on a few long-players. She’s crafted some delightful originals blending folk, Americana, and rock, though her body of work comprises a large and varied catalog of cover songs, as well as some particularly solid material with unlikely long-time collaborator Nick Saloman (frontman of long-running psychedelic indie-rockers The Bevis Frond).

Lord’s friendships with tragic figures Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith garnered her some early attention, though it took a few years for her own work to get the traction it deserved. Her first release, the cassette-only Real, was a lo-fi bedroom recording of Lord and her acoustic guitar that came out around 1992 or 1993. It’s mostly covers, ranging from Smells Like Teen Spirit to Big Star’s Thirteen, and captures what one might imagined she would’ve sounded like busking on the streets of Boston; it’s also all but impossible to find, but worth tracking down for fans who appreciate her less studio-polished work.

Lord relocated from Boston to Seattle, recording a series of singles and EPs on the independent Pacific Northwest-based label Kill Rock Stars. Her self-titled 1995 mini-LP is a great introduction (easier to find than Real, though it doesn’t stream), a half-dozen acoustic pieces joined by a full-band cover of the Bevis Frond’s Lights Are Changing. Highlights include a cover of Daniel Johnston’s Speeding Motorcycle, as well as the original His Indie World, a tongue-in-cheek name-check of every conceivable mid-90s indie rock band. “I don’t think I fit in with his indie world, Guided by Voices and Velocity Girl.” (She later performed a rewrite called His N.D. World, replacing the indie rockers with a litany of No Depression/ bands.)

1996’s Martian Saints EP was a bit more polished. The title track, another Salomon original, is a rousing bit of psychedelic pop with the full band treatment; while I Figured You Out, written for Lord by Elliott Smith, is a beautiful acoustic number. (Smith’s original recording was finally unearthed decades later, appearing on the recent reissue of his Either/Or LP.)

These initial recordings helped her snag a major label deal, and Lord’s full-length debut, 1998’s Got No Shadow, was released by a Sony subsidiary. The big label dollars are apparent in the record’s glossy production, but Lord’s modest charm shines through on a wide swath of jangly, mid-tempo pop songs. A few covers aside, Shadow is packed with originals penned by Lord, either on her own or with Saloman. The album is highlighted by a few upbeat power-pop gems: a cleaned-up re-recording of the 1995 EP’s Lights Are Changing; and the amped-up grunge-tinged Some Jingle Jangle Morning, the latter grappling with Lord’s forays among substance abuse and the Northwest’s music scene. “Now my friends are all I have now, but they’re so far away; they all moved out of Seattle and back to L.A. They ask me how I’m doing, and I ask them if they’ve seen you, but no one sees much of anyone these days.” Other standouts, like the enticing, mellow openers His Lamest Flame and Western Union Desperate, make the record a pretty solid catch from start to finish which holds up well today.


While the record got a bit of attention, the Sony imprint (and the mad rush for Seattle-based artists) imploded soon afterward, and it would take another six years before the follow-up would appear. In the interim, Lord released a few additional singles and a live album. A 1999 split-single with indie rocker Sean Na Na added three more covers to the repertoire, most notably a lovely take on country-rocker Lucinda Williams’ Hard Road, as well as the jangly Aim Low, another Saloman tune. Meanwhile, 2001’s Live City Sounds captured Lord returning to her busking roots with an album of live solo acoustic numbers recorded in a Boston subway station. It’s a delightful package, heavy on the covers (by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the Magnetic Fields) performed warts-and-all, the occasional bum note just adding to the down-home charm. It’s worth it just for her take on Richard Thompson’s emotional gut-punch 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. (Her terrific studio version, released as a rare B-side, has yet to be reissued.)

2004’s Baby Blue found Lord back in the studio with Saloman, who wrote most of the songs this time around. The production is less slick than on Shadow, giving the record some more sonic punch than its predecessor. As with the prior record, it’s dominated by jangly mid-tempo tunes, enchanting songs like opener The Wind Blew All Around Me and the jaunty Someone Always Talks. I’m personally taken with the gentle 43, Lord taking on a truly magnetic, fragile voice in relating a May to December romance (with Lord firmly in the December role). The pair of covers is also inspired, with a faithful take on Badfinger’s title track and especially the Pink Floyd minor classic Fearless.

Unfortunately, health issues and other diversions would keep Lord out of the studio for some time after that. But the Kickstarter-financed, self-produced 2015 release Backstreet Angels picked up right where she’d left off, Lord in fine voice and well-served by production which is a bit sparser but still clean and effective. The playlist draws heavily on cover songs, though there are a handful of Lord and/or Saloman originals. Of the originals, My Buddy Valentine is particularly great, with a lovely melody and some winning lyrical twists (name-checking both the Byrds and the film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) and harmonies. And she does a terrific job with the Green Pajamas’ wonderful psychedelic pop nugget She’s Still Bewitching Me, one of those amazing little songs that should be on everyone’s lips. Lucinda Williams’ Metal Firecracker and British Americana singer Peter Bruntnell’s By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix also shine here. It’s a pleasantly disarming album throughout, making it all the more bittersweet that Lord has been such an infrequent visitor to the music studio over the past three decades.

Sadly, there’s been no new music from Lord in the intervening seven years. However, 2002 saw the release of a pretty solid career retrospective for those seeking an easy entry to her catalog; it’s available on Bandcamp.

Alas, a shoulder injury prevented Lord from touring behind the compilation as originally planned.



Mary Lou Lord official website

Wikipedia page

Trouser Press guide

Ear Candy interview (2005)

Mary Lou Lord biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a semi-retired securities lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter.

Marc’s previous posts include Amy Rigby, Young Fresh Fellows, Josh Ritter, The Hold Steady, Game Theory, The Reivers, The Shazam, Guided by Voices, The Connells, Big Audio Dynamite, Sleater-Kinney, Liz Phair, Elephant 6, Apples in Stereo, Sweet, The Bats, Matthew Sweet, Badfinger, New Pornographers, Bettie Serveert, Flaming Lips, Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, Raveonettes, Phish, Luna, Jesus and Mary Chain, Feelies, Genesis, Wilco, King Crimson, Brian Eno

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