Let's play Charades: Three words, four syllables. Musically talented, has sang in a production with David Byrne, and won multiple awards for her contributions to the music community.
The answer? Mary Jane Alm.
More than just a respected musician, expressive singer, and accomplished songwriter, Alm has become a mainstay in the Twin Cities music scene. When asked about releasing her first new album in 25 years, Alm says simply that she feels that "It's time."
"I have had people ask about my music, but I just never thought of doing it," she says.
[jump] Approached by Steve Hodge (who has produced Janet Jackson, Shaggy, Mariah Carey) to help with production and engineering, she jokingly said yes, but realized his sincerity when he stopped by her office the next day to talk about it.
As the catalyst to the project that became Me and the Wild Blue, Steve Hodge guided the album to what it is: a collection of love songs showcasing Mary Jane's signature voice. On the album, Mary Jane includes some original pieces, interspersed with songs from Pamela McNeill, Kevin Bowe, and a cover of Joni Mitchell's " A Case of You." "I wanted to cover Joni, but didn't want to put that one in because it's been done before," Alm says. "When Steve asked me what is my favorite Joni Mitchell song, I said, 'A Case of You,' and that solidified my decision to add it to the album."
She has even come full circle in recording with Tom Tucker, who recorded with her on Prisoner of the Heart.
Despite not wanting to label herself solely as a country artist, Alm's new song "Love Waits" debuted as number 2 in Hot Country on Reverbnation last week. "I didn't even know what Reverbnation was until a week ago! This era of the music industry is all new to me; I've never had to make a press kit or a Facebook event before," she says. When asked about what she thought about artists giving their music away to be able to gain an audience, she replies, "I don't mind giving a few songs away, but I would like for people to pay for my music. It's a little appalling that artists have to give their music away; they worked hard at creating that piece of art. You don't go into a doctor's office expecting them to do their job for free. It's their lifeblood, and it cheapens their work."
The passing years have been kind to Alm, though; changes in life have brought out a new side of the celebrated singer. "I am just more comfortable with who I am now," she reflects. "When I was younger, I never spoke between songs onstage. Now you can't get me to shut up."
Rooted in the Twin Cities music scene since the early '80s, Alm immersed herself in live music, performing weekly in local venues like Nib's and building a name for herself. (Read a show review here from City Pages' former music section Nightbeat from 1984.) "I have been so fortunate that I have been able to support myself with music. Not many people can say that; I get to do my dream job."
When she said this to me, it reminded me of a passage written by John Gardner:
There is the puzzle of why some men and women go to seed, while others remain vital to the very end of their days. Going to seed may be too vague an expression. Perhaps I should say that many people, somewhere along the line, stop learning and growing. There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives. I am convinced that most people enjoy learning and growing, at any time in their life. If we are aware of the danger of going to seed we can take countervailing measures. If your clock is unwound you can wind it up again.With her ever-travailing work ethic, Alm has no chance of going to seed.
Mary Jane Alm will be releasing Me and the Wild Blue at the Loring Theater Friday August 12. Opening: Pamela McNeill. AA, $15 adv, $20 door, 7 pm.
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