January 28, 2006

Why is the whole world not listening to Marah?

Hey there, Marah. Where’ve you been all my life? This is a really, really great folk-punk/roots/garage-rock band making some quality tunes, a largely undiscovered gem in the lexicon of rock music today.

Formed in 1993 by brothers Dave (singer-songwriter-banjoist-guitarist) and Serge (harmonica-guitarist-vocalist) Bielanko, this Philly-based band has been compared with early Replacements and a younger and urgent Springsteen, and depending on the song I definitely hear both influences. They’ve jammed with Springsteen in concert and in the studio, and have shared the bill with the likes of Ryan Adams, Ted Leo, and Jesse Malin live.

Marah writes solid, multi-layered songs and their most recent album If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry harnesses an immediate and melodic beauty. Since many songs on this album were recorded in no more than three takes in a Brooklyn kitchen, there is a raw and unpolished edge to them.

They are playing tonight in San Francisco at the cozy Cafe du Nord, for all you cats from my homeland. Then they are on the road pretty much through March, including SXSW, so you might want to check them out live. Their shows are rumored to be “sweaty, feel-good rock’n'roll with an urgency that makes you feel alive.”

And one interesting thing I noticed from their website was that the March 25th date in Oxford, MS will feature Nick Hornby (the author). I am not sure in what capacity Hornby will be appearing with Marah, but he wrote a really lovely op-ed piece in the New York Times mentioning Marah and is a confessed fan. Hornby, always poetic in his love for good music, says the following about Marah:

“Indeed, in the shows you can often hear their love for the rock canon uninflected – they play covers of the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” or the Jam’s “In the City,” and they usually end with a riffed-up version of the O’Jays’ “Love Train.” They play an original called “TheCatfisherman” with a great big Bo Diddley beat, and they quote the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and the Who’s “Magic Bus.” And they do this not because they’re a bar band and people expect cover versions, but because they are unafraid of showing where their music comes from, and unafraid of the comparisons that will ensue. . .”

From If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry (2005):

  • Walt Whitman Bridge – Listen to the harmonica in this one, and the story in the lyrics.
  • City of Dreams – a little Dylan-esque, rolling folk with a hint of the Beatles.

From Let’s Cut the Crap & Hook up Later on Tonight (1998):
great album title. come on

  • Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft – Folksy with a simple guitar and honest, slightly cracking vocals and a winsome harmonica bridge.

Bonus Live Tracks from 8/12/00 show in Tempe, AZ:

  • Can’t Hardly Wait- Replacements cover, homage to one of their sonic predecessors
  • Reservation Girl with a superb opener of one of my favorite guitar instrumentals ever, Sleepwalk

I think what I like the best about listening to Marah is that each song is really different from the next. But it’s all good – and it might just restore your faith in the pure and heartfelt honesty of rock’n'roll.

I’m glad I ran into them.

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8 Comments »

  • Nice I`ll have to check Marah out!

    Styeiles — January 28, 2006 @ 7:30 pm

  • marah is an incredible live show – and it’s good to see ‘em getting a bit of press these days! i’m partial to their album, “Kids In Philly,” myself…

    jeffro — January 29, 2006 @ 9:52 am

  • Another Marah fan in Denver? I thought this was impossible, as I seemed to be the only person at their last appearance here, at Lion’s Lair in August of ’04.

    Keep your fingers crossed. Maybe they’ll come back.

    Pete — January 30, 2006 @ 11:29 am

  • I can’t believe I missed these guys when they came to Iowa. I hope I get another chance.

    Dexter — February 7, 2006 @ 6:01 pm

  • Nice to run into another Marah fan and fellow blogger.. Well written.

    The Girl Who — April 6, 2006 @ 4:37 am

  • No, Pete…. You ain’t alone , I was there as well — with you & what do you think…? 40 or 50 of the best music fans in CowTown? Soundz about right, but I was drunk as a Marah fan, so who knows?

    …and Heather: nice site, think I’ll add a link to it from my silly blog if you don’t mind. We have very similiar tastes in tunez (minus that ItalianPop stuff), hopefully we can get together for, or at a show sometime soon!

    rOadbill — May 22, 2006 @ 2:02 am

  • Marah’s “Kids in Philly” (2000) is a near-masterpiece. Songs like “Faraway You,” “Point Breeze,” “Round Eye Blues,” “My Heart Is the Bums on the Street,” and “The Catfisherman” have the rock ‘n’ soul that non-Philadelphia artists would like to be able to pump out at will, but it’s just not in their DNA.

    2002′s “Float Away With the Friday Night Gods” seems to be Marah’s “Don’t Tell a Soul,” from what I’ve read, in that they were trying to expand their sound in a pop-friendly direction but alienated some fans and critics in the process. Shruuuug … so what? “Don’t Tell a Soul” is the first Replacements album I heard, way back in 1991, and therefore it’s a sentimental favorite, but I don’t just like it for nostalgia’s sake. That word “pop” is a funny one — it contains only three letters, but to some people it’s a four-letter word.

    I’ve only heard a few songs from “Float Away,” so I can’t say much about it, but I did think that “20,000 Streets Under the Sky” and “If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry” were underwhelming. Some great songs, but not great albums. Then again, “Kids in Philly” is a towering achievement that will be hard to top, yet I have no doubt Marah will reach those heights again.

    Mulberry Panda 96 — June 20, 2006 @ 11:37 am

  • I know this is far beyond 01/2006, but I am writing a recent review of If You Didn’t Laugh on my (just started) music blog. I saw them live on that tour, and it was just mind blowing. One of the most underrated bands I’ve ever seen/heard. Anyway, I was going to link to this article as further proof of their greatness, and also because this site rocks and is a daily visit for me. You happen to be responsible for my Hold Steady worship, so thanks for that! feel free to check out the blog!

    Dustin C. — October 9, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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