3D Great Rock Bible

Mary Margaret O’Hara

Born late 1950s, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she is the younger sister of comedic actress Catherine O’Hara. One of the most enigmatic female singer/songwriters to have emerged over the last fifteen years, Mary’s slim but revered body of work has been something of a well kept secret in a genre that appears to throw up a new starlet every other week.
A graduate of Ontario art college, she began her musical career in 1976 for a soul-pop outfit called, Dollars, before going on to join Songship, a band which soon changed name to the equally bad Go Deo Chorus. During her time with the band, she penned much of the material which would later surface as her solo album; heard by Virgin Records in their GDC demo form, the songs were strong enough to persuade the label to sign O’HARA as a solo artist.
Despite teething problems – XTC’s Andy Partridge allegedly stood down from production duties after only a day – and interminable delays, the sessions were eventually mixed and co-produced by noted guitarist, MICHAEL BROOK and released in 1988 as MISS AMERICA {*8}. Forging her own improvisatory vocal style against a musical canvas which alternated between vintage country, jazz and even mutoid funk (on the tortured `Not Be Alright’), O’HARA was the toast of the more discerning critic. While possessing a distinct ringing soprano, O’HARA’s singing occasionally brought to mind an artier STEVIE NICKS (especially on `When You Know You’re Happy’) or perhaps NATALIE MERCHANT, although few female singers have explored the fevered speaking-in-tongues territory previously mapped out by the likes of VAN MORRISON. At its most compulsive on `Body’s In Trouble’, the set is a record guaranteed to keep one second guessing. Come to that, many fans have been second guessing whether MMO will ever get round to releasing a follow-up.
While the songstress parted company with Virgin after the record buying Joe Public failed to get the point, she went on to work with a variety of musicians (i.e. MORRISSEY, JOHN AND MARY, THIS MORTAL COIL, GARY LUCAS, etc.) as well as appearing in a number of low-key movies. Her most identifiable musical outing was a contribution (`Florida’) to the mid-90s VIC CHESNUTT tribute album, Sweet Relief II.
Her acting career already underway via 1988’s `Candy Mountain’, O’HARA played the role of Rita and provided the score for Bill Robertson’s debut feature, `The Events Leading Up To My Death’ (1991). For the filmmaker’s belated follow-up movie APARTMENT HUNTING (2001) {*6} – released a year after its premiere – it combined as her long-awaited sophomore set.
Much had been reported about the singer-songwriter; the phrase “conspicuous by her absence” has never been so applicable. With the help of director/musician/composer, Bill Robertson (who convinced her to take an acting part in the movie itself), O’HARA and her team of local musicians recorded the set in guitarist Rusty McCarthy’s ever-moving basement studio. The record was no “Miss America”, but as a long-awaited follow-up, anything was gratefully received. The album got underway courtesy of torch-ballad, `Was You’, a 2-minute song in the BILLIE HOLIDAY/NINA SIMONE mould.
Raising the tempo somewhat, O’HARA (alongside stalwart players McCarthy, drummer Mike Sloski, bassist Russ Boswell and Matt Horner on keyboards) majestically pulled the rabbit from the hat via funky scat-jazz cut, `Never Came Back Again’. The inclusion of third track, `Rain’ (originally from the 1997 film, Erotica: A Journey Into Female Sexuality), was indeed a masterstroke, her warbling, incoherent vox at its peak. Whether taken as a compliment or not, track 4, `Dream I Had’, had all the traits of an ANNIE LENNOX song.
There are embarrassing moments on set (the manic `Scary Latin Love Song’ and the EARTHA KITT-like `Chez Le Nez Suite’ are indeed two such cues), but when O’HARA gets down to serious melancholy business via `If You See My Love’, `I Don’t Care’ and `Love Will Take Its Time’, no one does it better. Of the best tunes, the lengthy folk-polka, `Have You Gone’, came a close second to the quirky US-sitcom-like theme, `Apartment Of Cheese Suite’. Now where was that elusive third set, Miss Canada?
Post-millennium, the lady of leisure, so to speak, has become relatively prolific by comparison, her formative years yielding a starring role in the film noir jazz musical, `Black Widow’ (2005).
© MC Strong 2000-BG/ rev-up MCS Aug2014

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