Those of you who are paying attention will have spotted the name and wondered what was going on. Yes, Alice Marra is a Hazey Jane and daughter of the late, totally wonderful Michael Marra and Chain Up The Swings is a tribute to her father featuring twelve of his songs. Finding an interpretation of this material is a challenge and Alice has done it by moving into the mainstream with a big band complete with strings and brass. She has the advantage of access to Michael’s old tapes, unreleased albums and show songs and has, for the most part, avoided his more outré compositions.
Anyone not previously cognisant with Michael’s work and hearing Chain Up The Swings by chance would be drawn in by ‘Soldier Boy’ and ‘Taking The Next Train Home’ and stay with it. Admittedly, ‘Schenectady Calling Peerie Willie Johnson’ might raise an eyebrow but the sublime ‘Frida Kahlo’s Visit To The Taybridge Bar’ doesn’t mention the title character at all although the line about St Peter pumping weights might lead to questions from our hypothetical listener.
The arrangements are big but there are some musical jokes – bits remind me of Roland Rivron’s Raw Sex with deliberately cheesy keyboards and guitar – not enough to disturb the flow, but sufficient to raise a smile at the thought that Michael would approve and remind me of a bar I once visited in Buckie. There are also overlaps between some songs; perhaps a piano figure or a sound effect so you’re unsure where one ends and the next begins. Alice handles the material in a commendably straight manner with a barely accented voice. If you’ve seen Michael live you know there is no future in trying to imitate his approach.
Selecting “top” tracks is something of a challenge. ‘Frida’ will always be a favourite and I really like the title track which evokes windswept scenes from Scottish police procedural television series. ‘Australia Instead Of The Stars’ has a clever tune that seems too grand for the words until we reach the third verse. Truth to tell, the more I listen the more I enjoy and you can’t ask for much more.
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‘Underwood Lane’ – not on the album (but if you can find a better video please let us know):
Michael Marra performs ‘Schenectady Calling Peerie Willie Johnson’: