Seven Mary Three|
Day & Night Driving
2.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
“Day & Night Driving” is Seven Mary Three’s sixth full length release, and I have to admit I purposely dodged the group’s previous efforts. Mary has yet to top the platinum success of their debut, “American Standard,” and has only one successful single to their credit (“Chum.” With my luck it’s a reference to rotting bait rather than a dear friend.) Several songs from “Day & Night Driving,” such as “Laughing Out Loud,” “Hammer & Stone” and “Things I Stole” could propel Ross and his Mary men up the charts. The rest of the album’s uneven balance between acoustic and up-tempo Indie noise will drive you away.
Formed in 1992, Seven Mary Three was originally an acoustic duo comprised of singer Jason Ross and guitarist Jason Pollock. They’re down to one Jason (Ross), otherwise I’d suggest they call the act Jason Mary Two. Ross composed six of “Day & Night Driving”’s 12 tracks solo and collaborated with guitarist Thomas Juliano on an additional half dozen selections. Tellingly, the group is at its best when Ross writes by his lonesome. The Mary band is rounded out by mostly non-descript bassist Casey Daniel and occasionally alert drummer Giti Khalsa, who displays a pulse rate slightly below consciousness.
The opener, “Last Kiss,” begins with a strumming acoustic, a sure sign these days that the rest of the arrangement will subsequently cause your ears to bleed like a hemophiliac sitting on a spike. “You were my first mistake…and even if that’s true, I’d take that punch again if it would bring me back.” Khalsa’s drums are as damaging as a Sonny Liston left hook, causing Ross has to strain with typical angry lead singer angst in order to rise above the instrumental Armageddon. Ross is tolerable when he emotes at a lower level, but when he challenges the heavy chording guitars and war drums he sounds like every preening John Mayer sound alike you’ve heard over the last ten years. He takes a good picture but can’t outlast 50,000 watts. This isn’t a last kiss, it’s a lasting bruise.
“Laughing Out Loud” is everything “Last Kiss” isn’t. Specifically, it’s a quality tune, with some of the album’s most clever and challenging lyrics: “These grievous gulls that hang around my skull are disappearing in numbers…The scattered fires within me have reached their permanent slumber.” A steady rumbling rhythm reminiscent of Stone Temple Pilot’s “Plush” backs up Ross’ Jacob Dylan vocalizing. There’s less forced volume; the guitars jangle rather than crunch, and the early cold stops show the boys are intuitive players. Nice recovery there, Mary.
You won’t be laughing out loud or even amused when “Was A Ghost” follows. The spirit unleashed here doesn’t conjure up a friendly apparition. “Was A Ghost” finds Mary taking a backward step, revisiting forced vocals and everlasting chording. It has the Clash’s attitude encased in a less noxious bar band style. The Clash was loud, and early on obnoxious, but they were seldom mundane. Daniels’ bass playing is more in the forefront with the authority and stroke of Big Country’s Tony Butler, but the 1,000 bees in a bag guitar playing of Ross and Jiliano indicates the duo’s need to have their strings retuned, if not removed. Too much chording is never a good thing.
“Dreaming Against Me” demonstrates Mary sure is versatile. Not good. Just able to play badly in a variety of styles. Now you get pseudo country rock meets Irish pub rock. Instead of the drums numbing your senses, you get a much more palatable tambourine accompaniment and a bit of auto reflex kicking against the bass drum. Ross’s voice has taken on a dose of gritty seasoning, making him sound like a gin soaked brother of The Alarm’s led singer, Mike Peters. The repeated chorus “Everything is gonna be alright,” doesn’t hide the fact that the band is dreaming if they think this satisfies. Repeat after me, country rock is verboten.
The acoustic “Hammer & Stone” bounces Mary back to a level of respectability with Ross sounding dusty and weary, and it features lyrics that indicate Mary took more than a passing interest at creating something worthwhile. “I’m a page torn from your novel, I’m the magnet on your fridge. I’m the star stuck on your ceiling, so I can watch you when you sleep.” Curious lyrics, but they’re sung with conviction, and they do get easier to decipher: “I’m a page torn from your novel, the single flower in your lawn. If I’m not everything you wish for. How come you miss me when I’m gone?” There’s a ghostly, unsettled guitar that breaks up the monotony of the knuckle-cracking piano chording and helps Mary hammer out a solid number.
Khalsa’s elephantine snare cymbal-bash intros “Break The Spell.” Despite the guitar assault, “Break The Spell” has the makings of an Americana saga by the Jayhawks or Jackson Browne with some stones. “If there’s a part of you that wants to settle down, there’s a part of me that wants to move around, nothing will break the spell.” Passable, but ease up on the volume boys and your lead Mary won’t have to sound like a frightened quarterback eluding a four man rush.
“You Think Too Much” borrows “Break The Spell”’s lumbering lead in, only this time Khalsa’s drums are darkened by effects. The leviathan beat reigns in the other member’s excesses, which wouldn’t be bad if the band knew what to do with the empty spaces they’ve created. Ross employs a stilted Tom Petty vocal, as if every syllable is important, but it ain’t. This is disposable rock. The droning guitars and production gimmickry don’t hide the fact that there isn’t too much going on here.
I’ve been reasonably impressed with Mary’s lyrics up until now, but “Strangely At Home” drops a poetic bomb: “Heat is an overture of need on the inside”… In case you don’t understand Ross’s meaning, he keeps twisting it into your skull like a vise squashing an egg – and its imagery is just about as messy. “Strangely At Home” is about an oddball who’s begun to feel at home in less than comforting surroundings. The rush of scenes slamming against the flat musicianship (here’s a chair, here’s a table, etc...) makes “Strangely” sound as if the narrator’s living in a cockroach infested bar in Greenwich Village with crushed peanut shells as its carpet. Wherever he’s taken up residence, I hope he’s not paying rent for his experience.
“She Wants Results” makes it two low key songs in a row. The doubled-up drum pattern and rolling guitar passages create a more attractive outcome. Unlike “Strangely At Home,” the music is tranquil and thoughtful. This has the ease and care of one of James Taylor’s later day juiced up folk/rock compositions. You’ll love the finely plucked guitar and traveling drum pattern simply because it’s an anomaly in Mary’s arsenal.
What’s upside down, you ask? (Okay you didn’t, but I sure did when I heard the next song.) The answer is: My stomach, from hearing the dreaded pseudo steel guitar intro to “Upside Down.” (No, it’s not the Diana Ross/Nile Rodgers slick soul collaboration). No one outside of a redneck, card carrying confederate in the K.K.K., or a member of the John Birch Society should ever be subjected to a pedal steel or its piercing cousin, the steel guitar. It sucks the life out of everything it whines its way through, and “Upside Down” is no exception. The steel interlude turns the song’s sincerity three-sixty, knocking its credibility off track like a hillbilly hayride hitting a patch of manure. This is country corn, a Wilco wanna be waste.
I have to say I’m surprised at how “Day & Night Driving” shifted from bowel locking Indie rock to almost tolerable acoustic fair. “Dead Days In the Kitchen” has little to say, but it says so gently with a choked, whispered vocal. It’s a love song about a smitten boy who wants to settle down and make a home, but you won’t wanna come on in this kitchen. It starts out as a lament, but Ross sings as if he’s reading an inventory of his surroundings, turning a promising idea into lyrical chop suey. Lyrically, it’s a mutant relation to the equally toxic “Strangely At Home.”
Mary leaves a positive impression with the album ending “Things I Stole,” which offers a more focused acoustic approach. “Am I man enough to see what I’ve done wrong. Something in this house won’t leave me alone. Sing one for tomorrow, one for the way we were. One for the things we borrowed, one for the things I stole from her.” “Things I Stole” is a gentle Sunday morning guitar picking pride with a locked in Ross singing boldly and easily.
Mary’s men need to decide if they want to be an acoustic or electric band. I vote whole heartedly for the unplugged version. The group’s acoustic side has more variety, melodic lines, and a sense of professionalism. A little more lyrical maintenance and Mary’s songs would be memorable. When Mary plugs in, their identity becomes scrambled. Ross is forced to venture out of his vocal range, and they simply don’t have the chops to be anything but an effective way to scare the neighbor’s dog.
Final score, bad songs 7, neither here nor there songs 2, good songs 3. Aha, now I know where the name Seven Mary Three comes from.