ALBUM REVIEW: Mary Bragg Adds Power by Getting Personal
Mary Bragg had no difficulty earning critical acclaim to this point as a meaningful singer-songwriter. The Americana-flavored pop/rock exhibited on releases like 2017’s Lucky Strike and 2019’s Violets as Camouflage was impressive from any angle, yet somehow neither album quite measures up to her substantive new self-titled LP.
Mary Bragg is a personal and powerful set featuring a courageous plumb line that centers the 11 songs inside. These tracks tell the story of love set aside and challenges accepted and the resulting vulnerable emotions of shedding her skin. As she sings on the stunning lead single “Panorama”: “Just to see straight, sometimes you have to leave.”
This third album is assumedly self-titled for good reason. Bragg leaned into the pandemic to pursue new directions, including her education in songwriting and production through Berklee College of Music. Her restraint on Mary Bragg speaks as loudly as any instrumentation found within; these are songs that feature plenty of space within which the listener can admire the choices made.
The guest list offers even more reasons to check out Bragg’s poignant compositions. Caroline Spence’s harmonies offer a beautiful vocal bouquet from the soil of “Hard Time,” a jangly, meandering tune content to sit comfortably with the hurt instead of offering two-dimensional platitudes. On “Colorblind,” Bragg reflects on a now-dissolved marriage as Peter Groenwald of Hush Kids joins for such striking lines as: “Did you know it, that we were holding on too long? / I should have owned it when I knew that we were wrong / You showed your colors to me / I pretended to be colorblind.”
The most striking track of all, however, resides near the end: a deceptively simple song titled “In the Light” featuring Erin Rae as co-writer and vocalist. Armed with only a single electric guitar, the lovely vocal blend of Bragg and Rae is mesmerizing even as they ask piercing and vulnerable questions with such layered intimacy. Ultimately Bragg lifts up an ember of hope: “There’ll be no revolving door / When the pain we ignore / Is laid out on the floor / In the light.”
Mary Bragg is out Sept. 30 via Tone Tree Music.