Album Reviews

Mary Bragg

Lucky Strike

Artist:     Mary Bragg

Album:     Lucky Strike

Label:     Self-released

Release Date:     05.05.2017

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There’s a raw, haunting quality to this record, Nashville-based Award winning singer-songwriter Mary Bragg’s fifth. She wasn’t even planning to record an album and has released her most personal one to date, coaxed into the studio by co-producer Jim Reilly (the New Dylans). Bragg, who was recently considering just being a songwriter for other artists, had a couple of stipulations. She shunned a fancy studio and big budgets, insisting instead to record in a backyard barn studio, where the microphones are old, the filters are porous, and the vocal booth had no walls. As Mary says, “It’s where ‘recorded live’ is for real recorded live, and everything is exposed.”

The lyrics and subject matter are equally raw and direct. Themes about coming of age and leaving home for new beginnings run through the album. Raised in rural Georgia, Bragg made an eye-opening trip to New York City where her youth group worked in the City’s soup kitchens. She returned to New York after college, thinking she’d launch her music career there, only to be emotionally beaten back. “There’s this feeling -no matter the dream-this desire to be seen, acknowledged; like you’re just waiting on that one thing that will get you to where you want to be,” says Bragg about the title track. She elaborates, “The song ‘Lucky Strike’ is a bit of sarcastic poke at hopefulness. Because it might feel like there’s just one thing holding you back, but it’s never that simple is it? And-it might even be your own subconscious hang-ups standing in the way.”

Bragg is well-respected within the Nashville songwriting community even though she’s only resided there since 2014. She shared writing credits with several others on the album. “Comet” was co-written with Becky Warren and describes the closeness of mother and daughter journeying through sadness and uncertainty together. (Warren also co-wrote “Bayou Lullaby” and “Wreck and Ruin.”) Bragg’s alto soars and quiets almost to a whisper, to accent the tender moments in the lyrics. “Wildfire,” written with Liz Longley, is about the desire to be consumed by uncontrollable passion, or simply lust. Bragg can be both direct and subtle but she takes the honest approach. “I truly believe that a good song will make people feel something – even prompt people to ask themselves questions that I ask myself when writing the song, I can tell stories most effectively when I shake off that resistance to honesty, because that’s when the songs best resonate with my audience.” Listen to “Drifter’s Hymn” and “Empty Handed” as she matches the bleak spirit of the lyrics with anguish in her vocals.

In addition to Warren and Longley, she also shares writing credits with Robby Hecht (“Empty Handed”), Stephanie Lambring (“Done Ain’t Done”), Bruce Wallace (“Think About Me”), Liz Poston (“Lucky Strike”), and Vince Constantino (“Drifter’s Hymn”). Her long-time cohorts Rich Hinman (electric guitar, pedal steel) and Jimmy Sullivan (bass) are joined by Nashville mainstay Bryan Owings on drums to frame her often-soaring vocals well. Co-producer Jim Reilly and engineer Eric Fitsch contribute multiple instruments, and the co-writers sing background on their respective tunes. Raw, vulnerable, at times even visceral, Bragg will transport you lyrically and with her remarkably emotive vocals.

—Jim Hynes

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