10,000 Maniacs Explore Their Roots on Twice Told Tales

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This week saw the release of Twice Told Tales by the 10,000 Maniacs. A follow-up to their 2013 release Music from the Motion Picture. The current line up featuring lead vocals by Mary Ramsey and consisting of Dennis Drew, Steve Gustafson, Jerry Augustyniak, and Jeff Erickson are joined by original member John Lombardo. The album is made up entirely of traditional folk songs that originated in the British Isles and influenced what ultimately became the 10,000 Maniacs sound.

The album opens with “Lady Mary Ramsay I” an entirely instrumental track featuring the viola followed by “The Song of Wandering Aengus”  an a Capella performance of the poem by William Butler Yeates. It is when we reach the third track “She Moved Through the Fair” that we hear the band in full form. Here and throughout the album the band infuses each song with their signature sound.

Mary’s understated vocals and a somewhat somber melody on this rendition of Dark Eyed Sailor easily conjures a feeling of longing yet restrained optimism. Misty Moisty Morning shows no such restraint as the band presents an enthusiastic and playful rendering of this tale of new love.  While Canadee-I-O provides an enjoyable yet cautionary tale to young girls regarding false love.

The mood shifts a bit with Greenwood Sidey, a stark composition about infanticide and Scottish folklore. On the mournful “Carrickfergus” Mary’s haunting lilt skillfully paints a portrait of loss and despair. And finally a sorrowful “Death of Queen Jane” recounts the events surrounding the death of a queen during childbirth.

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Wild Mountain Thyme quietly plucks us up from despair to the idyllic with a gentle melody and from there gives way to the celebratory exuberance of “Marie’s Wedding”. The instrumental “Lady Mary Ramsay II” is a superb and fitting conclusion.

There are many pitfalls and obstacles to making a covers album that is compelling and engaging. Often times they can be uninspired without offering anything new to the listener. The 10,000 Maniacs definitely overcame these issues by making the compositions their own. The musicianship on this album is excellent and nearly flawless. It obvious that making this project was a labor of love and that a lot of craft and care went into the making of this album.

John Cook
Writer and contrarian living in Salt Lake City, Ut.