Northern Journey Online

Kate & Anna McGarrigle

(Contemporary; Singer-Songwriter)

Daughters of French-Canadian and Irish parents, the immensely talented sisters Kate & Anna McGarrigle sing in English and French and each plays piano, guitar, banjo, and accordion. They began playing Montreal coffee houses in the early 1960's and became internationally known as songwriters by the 70's. In a curious career that never quite catapulted them to major fame, they nonetheless generated a cult following that persists to this day. There's something unusual, almost vinegary, about their material that, when it gets under your skin, you're never the same again--once you're hooked on the McGarrigles it's hard to hear enough of them. Fortunately for McGarrigle junkies, only their third album, Pronto Monto, has not yet been reissued on compact disc. Their debut album, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, features the McGarrigle classics "Kiss and Say Goodbye," "Heart like A Wheel," "Swimming Song," "Travellin' on for Jesus," and the incomparable "Talk to Me of Mendocino." The loose and occasionally rough-edged arrangements are all over the map, sometimes folksy, sometimes jazzy, sometimes popish. Somehow it all works. Recommended.

The McGarrigles' second album, Dancer with Bruised Knees, continues with the half-zany, half-serious mix of styles with lyrics that keep you guessing, line by line. Not quite as magical as their debut album, but highly recommended. Their fourth album, entirely in French, was originally titled Entre la Jeunesse Et la Sagresse. Deciding that this was perhaps a bit too challenging for anglophones, PolyGram reissued the album as The French Record. An excellent album, but a working knowledge of French helps. The CD liner notes include translations of all the songs, but not the French lyrics. Love Over and Over takes up where Dancers left off. The landscape is skewed by unusual, engaging lyrics and unexpected, entertaining arrangements. Heartbeats Accelerating, from 1990, is a departure from the carefree arrangements of the earlier works. The sound is tighter, more commercially acceptable. The songwriting is still insightful and quirky--as evidenced in "I Eat Dinner," "Rainbow Ride," "D.J. Serenade," and "I'm Losing You." Unfortunately, nothing on this album leaps out at you. The special quality of their voices is obscured by the production--the signature sound is missing.

After a recording hiatus, the McGarrigle Sisters returned to the studio to record Matapedia, released in 1996. Matapedia is a soft but stunning recording that easily matches up to their early releases and moves beyond them. The mysterious opening song "Matapedia" takes its name from the Matapedia River in Quebec. "Goin' Back to Harlan" is a tribute to folk music. This very poignant album easily made everyone's list of top albums of the year. The magic is still there. Recommended.

Kate & Anna McGarrigle *
1975 Rykodisc / Hannibal (HNCD 4401)
Kiss and Say Goodbye; My Town; Blues in D; Heart like a Wheel; Foolish You; Talk to Me of Mendocino; Complainte pour Ste Catherine; Tell My Sister; Swimming Song; Jigsaw Puzzle of Life; Go Leave; Travellin' on for Jesus 35:45

Dancer with Bruised Knees
1977 Rykodisc / Hannibal (HNCD 4402)
Dancer with Bruised Knees; Southern Boys; No Biscuit Blues; First Born; Blanche Comme la Neige; Perrine Etait Servante; Be My Baby; Walking Song; Naufragée du Tendre (Shipwrecked); Hommage à Grungie; Kitty Come Home; Come a Long Way 41:13

French Record
1980, reissued 1992 Polydor (314 513 554-2)
Entre Lajeunesse Et la Sagesse; Complainte pour Ste Catherine; Mais Quand Tu Danses; Cheminant a la Ville; Excursion a Venise; En Filant Ma Quenouille; La Belle S'Est Etourdie; Naufragée du Tendre; Avant la Guerre; À Boire; Prends Ton Manteau 37:02

Love Over and Over
1982 Polydor (422 841 101-2)
Move Over Moon; Sun, Son (Shining on the Water); I Cried for Us; Love Over and Over; Star Cab Company; Tu Vas m'Accompagner; On My Way to Town; Jesus Lifeline; The Work Song; St. Valentine's Day; Midnight Flight; A Place in Your Heart 43:24

Heartbeats Accelerating
1990 Private Inc. (2070-2-P)
Heartbeats Accelerating; I Eat Dinner; Rainbow Ride; Mother Mother; Love Is; D.J. Serenade; I'm Losing You; Hit and Run Love; Leave Me Be; St. James Hospital 42:50

Matapedia *
1996 Hannibal (HNCD 1394)
Matapedia; Goin' Back to Harlan; I Don't Know; Hang Out Your Heart; Arbre; Jacques et Gilles; Why Must We Die; Song for Gaby; Talk about It; The Bike Song 44:42

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Copyright © 1999, Gene Wilburn,