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Mary Ann Redmond

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At the end of her version of John Hiatt’s “Cry Love,” the first song on her new CD, Mary Ann Redmond hits and holds a note that soars high above the clouds for two weeks. Actually, the note lasts about 10 measures, but the effect is spine-tingling. “Cry Love” could be a hit for, say, Melissa Etheridge. Which isn’t a great comparison, except to say that the song should be a Mary Ann Redmond hit. And it might be, if contemporary radio would accept anything other than overly produced, dance-happy ear candy. Because Redmond traffics largely in roots-related, blues-based music, her shot at heavy-rotation status is limited, but on Here I Am, Redmond poppifies the blues enough to make an airtight case for just what the public loses because of music-industry myopia. Recorded at Bias Studios in Springfield, the disc was produced by Jon Carroll, with John Jennings adding his touch to several tracks. Carroll and Jennings are the musical muscle behind Mary Chapin Carpenter’s string of shimmering hits, and with her they have polished their skills at crafting smart pop songs. Those skills are on vivid display here. Each tune is perfectly arranged to showcase Redmond’s versatile, commanding voice. The singer goes from high-pitched screams to guttural growls—often in the same song—without sacrificing lyrical meaning. A good example of clever, complimentary arranging is found in Redmond’s cover of the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love,” which is slowed to a near dirge. In some hands, this could be a treacly cabaret move, all calculated affectation. But Redmond’s strong, yet aching and breathy delivery—combined with Carroll and Al Johnson’s gospel-inflected background chorus of “Think it ohh-ver”—turns this overly familiar radio staple into a refreshingly new and heartbreaking lament. (Diana Who?) Alternating between thoughtful ruminations on lost love and rollicking shouters, well-chosen covers and originals, Here I Am should be D.C.’s next gift to the national music scene.

—Dave Nuttycombe