Mrandmrsmays, You're All I Ask, Lili and Walter, Carnival Beginning
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., March 13, 2009
Mrandmrsmays' self-titled CD posits its local husband-and-wife team in DIY heaven, with a little help from friends. Sixteen Deluxe's Chris "Frenchie" Smith produced this edgy little album like an ode to 1980s New Wave. Vocalist Kate Kind orbits the B-52s' Cindy Wilson's gulpy vocals and Björk's sonic soaring with her "banshee shenanigans." Songwriter James Mays shares more ethereal vox with very provocative results ("Together"). Among those local artists who reside under the radar quietly and without brassy fanfare, Diana Cantu can be found. The veteran sidewoman – she's played with Chris Duarte and Tomas Ramirez, who provides sax fills here – came to the table not long ago with You're All I Ask. Cantu's easy appeal lies between her too-pop-for-Americana ("Long Live") and too-rock-for-pop ("I Believed") compositions and their sprinkle of jazz, very much Joni Mitchell turf. Skimpy production adds immeasurably to the lo-fi charm of Lili & Walter's self-titled CD. The 11 homespun songs hearken to Delaney & Bonnie's Motel Shot (1971), stripped down, casual, and alluring in their bare presentation. Rootsy instrumentation propels their sound through denim-soft originals with a rural gospel flavor ("Shout #5") and gorgeous traditionals ("Poor Wayfaring Stranger"). Carnival Beginning is an auspicious start for Bay Area transplant Joanna Barbera and her urban folk. "All my life I've been an instigator," she sings in "Just as Well," fair warning that Barbera's not content with labels or neat little compartments, though the Tori Amos/Ani DiFranco influence is evident. The smoky timbre of her voice wraps cozily around confident originals like "Fat Face" and the Waitsian lope of "Bus Stop," just enough to inspire a return trip.