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Kate & Anna McGarrigle

Formed 1971 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, by sisters Kate and Anna (both were raised in nearby Saint-Sauveur-des-Monts), the French-Canadian duo’s formative years in the music business were spent as members of mid-60s folk group the Mountain City Four alongside Jack Nissenson and Peter Weldon. Making her living in New York, having married solo artist LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III a few years previously, Kate (together with Anna) took up performing full-time after her music-biz friends LINDA RONSTADT and MARIA MULDAUR recorded their songs (the former via `Heart Like A Wheel’; also recorded by McKENDREE SPRING). The McGARRIGLEs almost immediately inked a deal with Warner Brothers towards the end of ’74, and together with seminal producer Joe Boyd (plus session players Lowell George, Bobby Keys, Tony Levin, Steve Gadd and Anna’s journo hubby, Dane Lanken), they released their eponymous KATE & ANNA McGARRIGLE (1975) {*9} album. A combination of Kate compositions (highlights `Kiss And Say Goodbye’, `Go Leave’ and `Talk To Me Of Mendocino’) and Anna essays (best cuts, `My Town’, `Jigsaw Puzzle Of Life’ and the aforementioned `Heart Like A Wheel’), the joyous set was also complemented by covers of Wade Hemsworth’s `Foolish You’, the trad cue, `Travellin’ On For Jesus’ and the French-sung `Complainte Pour Ste Catherine’, the latter Anna’s joint effort with Philippe Tatartcheff.
Amplified by the attendance of JOHN CALE, BILL MONROE and FAIRPORT folkies Dave Mattacks and Pat Donaldson, the sisters’ sophomore set, DANCER WITH BRUISED KNEES (1977) {*6}, was a tad disappointing in comparison with their masterful debut. Reaching the UK Top 40 (their only album ever to do so), its frilly structure lay mainly with the interchanging between back-porch folk and dippy blues (example `Kitty Come Home’), not forgetting the French-Canadian twist in tracks such as `Blanche Comme La Neige’, `Perrine Etait Servante’ and the Anna-Philippe try-out `Naufragee du Tendre (Shipwrecked)’.
With divorce now done-and-dusted for Kate (she’d separated from Loudon in ’76), the siblings made hard work of their David Nichtern-produced third set, PRONTO MONTO (1979) {*5} – phonetically pronounced “prends ton manteau”, a pop-folk record that begged airplay but gained none, not even for nostalgic jazzy nuggets like `Cover Up My Head’ and `Tryin’ To Get To You’; as of mid-2010 it still awaits a CD re-issue.
Oft referred to “Entre La Jeunesse Et La Sagesse”, but known as FRENCH RECORD (1981) {*6}, their fourth LP and their first for in-house producer Joe Boyd’s Hannibal Records since their exit from Warners, the record was a mixture of old threads and recent Quebecois-fuelled ballads, co-penned of course by Tatartcheff.
Self-produced and issued for Polydor Records, on LOVE OVER AND OVER (1982) {*6}, the sisters at times swapped amiable harmony-pop such as `Move Over Moon’ (and the title track with MARK KNOPFLER on guitar) for emotive, angst-laced folk such as `Sun, Son (Shining On The Water)’ and a French revamp of BOB SEGER’s “You’ll Accompany Me” as `Tu Vas M’Accompagner’.
From several years in the musical wilderness, Kate & Anna reunited courtesy of the new age-accented HEARTBEATS ACCELERATING (1990) {*6}, a record featuring the use of modern-day synths alongside accordions, fiddles, etc. Now middle-aged and world-weary, their folk idealisms and sentiments were still apparent on songs like the title track, `Rainbow Ride’ (written with Tatartcheff) and DOC WATSON’s `St. James Hospital (Cowboys Lament)’.
Taking a more worldbeat approach, but retreading their mountain-esque routes once again, MATAPEDIA (1996) {*6} saw the siblings back in their musical folk-pop saddle, while THE McGARRIGLE HOUR (1998) {*7} extended their horizons and roots somewhat. A family and friends affair of sorts, it credited – at least on the cover – EMMYLOU HARRIS (on JEESE WINCHESTER’s `Skip Rope Song’), Kate’s ex-spouse LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III (on `Schooldays’), LINDA RONSTADT, Kate and Loudon’s brood RUFUS and MARTHA WAINWRIGHT, Chaim Tannenbaum (on the eerie trad cue, `Dig My Grave’ and `Time On My Hands’), film composer/sister Jane McGarrigle and Anna’s daughter Lily Lanken.
Never prolific by any stretch of the imagination, the sisters’ fourth album in 13 years, LA VACHE QUI PLEURE (2003) {*5}, was a second stab at a French-language set (the highlight being a Quebecois take of PETE SEEGER’s “Little Boxes” as `Petites Boites’), while their swansong set, The McGARRIGLE CHRISTMAS HOUR (2005) {*6}, was their chestnut-roasting fireside celebration with all the usual suspects including Rufus, Martha, Emmylou, Chaim and Teddy Thompson. Sadly, the following year, Kate was diagnosed with clear-cell sarcoma (a rare form of cancer); she passed away on January 18, 2010; around six weeks prior to her death she raised awareness and a good deal of dollar for her cancer charity, the Kate McGarrigle Fund, when she performed with Rufus and Martha at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Apr2015

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