Music » Critics' Picks

The Mary Janes

Thursday, December 4; Off Broadway

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The texture, timbre and tone of Janas Hoyt's voice belongs to every time and to no time at all. As a former co-conspirator of the Vulgar Boatmen (one of alt-country's great also-rans) and current frontwoman for the Mary Janes, Hoyt is among our most inimitable and consistently rewarding singers. She doesn't just change the meaning of her already emotionally suffused words; she finds the right meaning, the one you never expected. Hoyt tears apart a cutting line such as "You're standing there with your flag unfurled/You better believe it, baby" with a hip, Dylanesque venom, then sings the tradition-wise line "Mama don't wait up for me/We're going downtown" -- and the lines mean but one improbable idea: destiny.

While the band's 1999 debut, The Mary Janes Record, No. 1, found illumination in a tightly channeled electricity, its latest record, Flame, captures the thrill of being in a band and making music in a community of great players in and around Bloomington, Indiana. It's an encyclopedic tour de force, gesturing toward noisy psychedelica, strings and steel chamber sweeps, honky-tonk road songs, home-recorded murder ballads and one killer Tom Petty cover ("Free Girl Now"). The startling title track begins with a back-alley echo of "Waiting on My Man" (had the Velvet Underground ever dabbled in fat pedal steel), pauses for a moment in Byrdland and then rises above it all with anthemic brilliance. The Mary Janes' trajectory has really just begun; it's a flight path worth following, wherever it may lead.

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