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.