Madison Violet,
No Fool for Trying
(True North, 2009)

On one level, Madison Violet is broadly reminiscent of another female roots group, the Wailin' Jennys. MV, however, is not a trio but a duo, made up of Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac. (The promotional material tells us, possibly unnecessarily, that they hail from a small Canadian town settled by Scots.) No Fool for Trying, the group's third album, is my introduction to it. MV's first two attracted something of a buzz, generating critical praise and winning Canadian industry awards in both pop and folk categories.

While there certainly are folk touches here, MV strikes me as the latest in an occasional strain I hear in independent music: the effort to make something salvageable out of the modern Nashville sound. Whenever I hear such, I am reminded that yes, with more intelligence and less excess expended in the creation and distribution of the product, it might still be possible to hear listenable country-pop songs on mainstream radio. Unfortunately, any Nashville-based act trying to do something other than formulaic -- there have been some -- faces steep odds. Even if it manages to get signed to a major label, it faces the even more daunting task of finding its way onto radio play lists, when the programmers who compile them betray no other audible priority than the continued pollution of airwaves with toxic fluff. That's why, as a rule, MV and its like live, tour and record far from Music City.

If my own tastes run to grittier, more forceful approaches, Madison Violet satisfies my demanding ears for three reasons. One, MacEachern and MacIsaac are outstanding vocalists with harmony gifts that on occasion stir happy memories (gender differences notwithstanding) of the Everly Brothers. Two, while the songs are almost all about relationships -- in other words, not notably ambitious -- they are smart and capably crafted. And three, Les Cooper's acoustic production focuses on the unobtrusively supportive and the exquisitely restrained, its strengths sufficiently subtle that you may not catch them on first hearing. On the second and third, they will do nice things to your heart.

In the end, MV does what it does winningly. Even I can listen with a certain degree of pleasure to a song titled "Best Part of Your Love." Believe me, that ain't easy.

review by
Jerome Clark

15 May 2010

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