Mary Lane- Travelin’ Woman review

Mary Lane Travelin’ Woman Women of the Blues Records

Mary Lane.

Does the name mean anything to you? If it does, you already know what the rest of us have been missing. But for the rest of us…

Now 83, Mary Lane is one of the last of the northern-bound blues singers who moved from the southern US in the late 1950s. Born in Arkansas, Lane settled in Chicago; she became an area staple, and recorded “You Don’t Want My Loving No More” with Morris Pejoe’s (Pejae) Band, a jumpy little tune you can find without trouble on YouTube; the flipside, “I Always Want You Near,” is even better, a sad song of lingering pain. Both songwriting credits carry Lane’s name.

The record did next to nothing; over the next many years Lane concentrated on stage performances on Chicago’s south and west sides (I won’t even pretend I know the significance of those designations) with a venerable ‘who’s who’ of the blues. Having performed as a younger woman in Arkansas joints, and having had the opportunity to sit-in with Howlin’ Wolf, Lane made a name for herself in Chicago, sharing stages with the likes of Elmore James, Magic Slim, and Junior Wells.

Twenty years ago, she cut Appointment with the Blues, an album that appears unavailable on iTunes although I found a video clip of a solitary song. She also has cuts on several Chicago-based compilations, and “Goin’ Down Slow” is quite simply a remarkable song.

Travelin’ Woman is a revelation, a blues testimony of the highest order. Lane writes the words, Jim Tullio the music. They are equally responsible for the magic. A blues belter in the past, Mary Lane remains one today, better than ever!

A collaboration between Lane and Tullio, Travelin’ Woman is a rockin’ blues album that feels like an old-school blues find. Nothing fancy, but an incredible voice with equally improbable instrumentation: the band gets into a groove, and doesn’t hesitate to pump out the hard-core stuff.

It appears Lane near-improvises her lyrics while singing, but she comes up with great stuff. “I’m going to keep on trying; I’m going to make it one day,” she promises in the title cut. Over a deep blues jam, she continues, “I want it to be real soon, before I go away.” There is some essential honesty here: I’m running out of time, so It had better happen soon!

Her voice is fresh and lively, no patina dulling natural brightness. Following traditional blues jams—repeated refrains, 12-bars, a bit of misery and hard luck—Lane and Tullio have crafted a real strong collection of music.

Lane gets sensitive in a couple places. “Let Me Into Your Heart” has a soul groove, the type of thing you might find on one of those rare ‘Northern Soul’ compilations. “Raining In My Heart,” one of the album’s most satisfying songs: “I can’t see baby, why you don’t want to be my man,” she exclaims over punctuating piano, provided by Larry Beers.

And when things can’t get any better, they do. Stripped to the core, the album closes with amazing acoustic slide from Colin Linden; with only Linden’s accompaniment, Lane takes things to the next level with “Make Up Your Mind.” It would be a treat to have an entire album from just Linden and Lane.

That isn’t to undersell the bulk of the recording.

Highlights include “Leave That Wine Alone,”—with some fine ‘Ooo-Ooo’s’ from background vocalists Yvonne Gage and Simbryt Dortch— “Ain’t Nobody Else,” and “Some People Say I’m Crazy.”

Travelin’ Woman came out in March, and is destined to be on my list of Blues Albums of 2019. Yours too, I’m thinkin’.

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