ALBUM REVIEW: New EPs from Minnesota acts illustrate that short can be sweet
Time to once again get into the bite-sized morsels. This week, we're looking into quickies from former Duluthian Mary Bue and MR DR, which also features a former Duluthian by the name of Dave Mehling. Both Bue and Mehling are excellent songwriters who just know how to get down to business and be themselves and not fuss around too much, and they're both doing more of their relatively no-frills stuff on their new EPs.
Bue's is titled "The Majesty of Beasts," and it's a four-song job that continues Bue's dalliance with guitar-based alt-rock that she began on her 2015 full-length, "Holy Bones." Overall, it's a piece that sounds more cohesive than "Bones," even though it's several songs shorter. The production is basic, but the instruments are all well-balanced, and Bue's band members play her songs well.
The EP begins with "The S**t I Left in Duluth," an uptempo pop-rocker that is reminiscent of '90s singers like Juliana Hatfield or Liz Phair. It's a great tune, with cool warbly keyboards that add a layer of melody and texture. Bue ingeniously fills the song with images of junk that she abandoned — toasters, books, clothes, etc. — and then she brings up the "you" that she also left behind in the song's chorus. Unfortunately, she misses a knockout opportunity to ding her former flame that it's impossible to not note.
"Of all the s**t I left in Duluth / the thing I'll miss the most is you," Bue sings. It's hard to not listen to that and think the song would be much improved if the word "most" was changed to "least." Then, the song becomes a kiss-off with a great, feisty punch line. After all, she's already deemed the "you" person "s**t," so why not throw the knockout punch and tell the "you" that they're worth less than an old toaster?
Bue continues the theme in the next track, "Minnesota Goodbye," a waltzy ballad that speaks to restlessness and a need to escape. "You all seem to be / having more fun than me / it's a long reply / it's taken awhile / a Minnesota goodbye," she sings.
"Petty Misdemeanor" is the real surprise of the record. It's, as Bue has stated, a direct recounting of a sexual assault she once experienced. Not an easy topic to sing about, and even harder to sing about without making your listeners feel like they're hearing something they shouldn't. But, to her great credit, Bue makes her song both steely-eyed direct and metaphorical by turns, and she lets herself and her band whip up a noisy, jagged storm that is quite dramatic and intense.
That one missed opportunity in the opener aside, Mary Bue's latest is another impressive showing from the singer.
MR DR (pronounced "Mister Doctor") is a Minneapolis duo featuring the aforementioned Dave Mehling alongside Stacy K and several guest musicians. They call themselves "country rock," but there's something a bit innocent and sock-hoppy about their music that recalls people like the Everly Brothers or Buddy Holly as well. Opener "Do You Miss Me" is a good example of this — while the song definitely has country touches like a baritone guitar solo, there's certainly a pop element, too.
"You Got Me, I Got You" comes on like Wilco, including some nice, scratchy Jeff Tweedy-esque falsetto from Mehling. "Heartbreaks, Heart Attacks" is a sultry number led by Stacy K with fantastic steel guitar and piano parts that flesh the song out. "Summer in the Backseat" is a much more authentic-country ditty that hints at lovers' lane tomfoolery but never quite spells anything out.
It's a relaxed six-song collection that feels like it could've easily been made in the '70s or '80s and played on the radio right after an Eddie Rabbit (or whoever) song and not sounded out of place. Mehling has probably never sounded so chilled out, and it's not like he was a spaz before. Good stuff.
Both Mary Bue and MR DR have made EPs that make the case for EPs. Get in, get out, don't waste time, don't give people filler — that's what both artists have done here. In Bue's case, she's made a dark, stark statement, and in MR DR's case, they've made a light sampler platter, but they're both equally valid and effective.
Artists: Mary Bue and MR DR
Albums: "The Majesty of Beasts" and "Summer in the Backseat"
Recorded at: Welcome to 1979, Nashville and Hideaway Studios, Minneapolis
Personnel: Mary Bue and band, MR DR and guests
Listen to both releases at duluthnewstribune.com.
Listen to Mary Bue's "The Majesty of Beasts"
Listen to MR DR's "Summer in the Backseat"