Marlee MacLeod – Favorite Ball and Chain
From Tuscaloosa to Athens to Minneapolis, Marlee MacLeod has covered a lot of ground in recent years. The road has made her music stronger for the wear: Like the frequent relocations of fellow singer-songwriters such as Lucinda Williams (Los Angeles, Austin, Nashville), Shawn Colvin (South Dakota, Austin, New York) and Lisa Mednick (New York, New Orleans, Austin, L.A.), MacLeod’s wayward wanderings seem to have helped her find the heart of the all-American music at which she excels.
Not that it’s necessarily made her more rootsy: On the contrary, Favorite Ball And Chain is probably more straightforwardly rock ‘n’ roll than her 1993 debut Drive Too Fast. Which is fine, because MacLeod has all the country touch she’ll ever need wrapped up in the native Southern twang of her voice. In the meantime, she’s picked no small amount of melodic guitar-pop smarts (perhaps a result of her Athens days), and the result is a set of tunes that beg to be listened to over and over again.
From the opening road-rambling drive of “Las Vegas” to the sassy bounce of “Everything You Know is Wrong” to the instantly catchy riff of “Don’t Ask Me”, this album reeks with hits. But there’s more here than radio-ready gems: “Lover Let Me Be” tones things down with a cool, smoldering groove; “Janesville Oasis” pushes the sonic envelope with unusual musical twists and turns; and the piano-and-vocals only “Frances” — an ode to the ill-fated actress Frances Farmer — closes the album with a starkly beautiful bang.
Drive Too Fast showed hints at MacLeod’s potential, if not fully revealing it. Favorite Ball And Chain, in turn, exceeds all expectations.