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on 9 January 2000
I was given this album as a present when it was first released, and my initial reaction was "what is this woman on?" It takes a few listens to get used to O'Hara's idiosyncratic style, but it gradually works its magic.
From the beautiful "You will be loved again" and "Let me lift you up" through the quirkier "When you know why you're happy" and "What my friends got" to the downright bonkers "Not be all right" every song has a magic of its own.
Standout track for me is "Body's in trouble" - I'm not sure what it's about but I could listen to it all day. Thirteen years after I first heard this album I still love it - get out there and buy it.
And Mary Margaret - if you're reading this, do me a favour and release a new album.
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on 17 May 2005
Her first ( and only ) full length solo recording. Original and eccentric, but not, on first listen, for every taste; a jazzy country mixture of Bjork, Patti Smith and Buffy Sainte-Marie. As often seems to happen in Canada, Ms. O'Hara was blessed with a beautifully idiosyncratic voice; thankfully the guitarist/producer Michael Brook gave the artist room to experiment on her debut. Melodies and lyrics veer from joyous abandon to venomous anger, often in the same song. She spits, stutters and snarls through 'Year in Song' and 'Not Be Allright', but the atmospheric weepers 'To Cry About' and 'You Will Be Loved Again', like Jane Siberry and Cowboy Junkies, can bring tears to the eyes of grown-ups. Check the double meaning of the album title, and search for her later guest appearances on releases by Gary Lucas, This Mortal Coil, and Morrissey; after hearing this you will need more. Mary Margaret O'Hara is the sister of comedian Catherine O'Hara of Home Alone, Best of Show, and A Mighty Wind.
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VINE VOICEon 11 March 2010
The staggeringly wonderful Mary Margaret O `Hara has only ever released one album an E.P.Christmas and a soundtrack albumApartment Hunting that considering her other recorded work must be viewed as disappointing yet I wager anyone who has heard that one album proper immediate puts her in their favourite artists list she is that good. Something that I was recently reminded of when hearing her appearance on the Tindersticks album where she duets the marvellously barmy song . She is considered deeply eccentric something watching her live does little to discourage and Miss America
did not appear until 1988 ,despite O'Hara signing her contract with "Virgin " in 1983 , because O'Hara's perfectionism and unconventional recording habits made the record difficult to complete. Andy Partridge of XTC had been scheduled to produce recordings with her, but was fired by her manage from the project when she found out that he was an atheist and that Partridge's co-producer on the project John Leckie (who produced albums by XTC and, later, The Stone Roses) was a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a controversial Indian guru who reportedly supported free love.
The album eventually was recorded in both Wales and her native Canada which are unlikely bedfellows ( or are they ?) and was co-produced with Michael Brook, once a member of Martha & The Muffins . Some of the songs were knocking on ten year old("Year in Song " for instance ) when they were recorded but they cover a remarkable multiplicity of styles. The spectral lounge jazz of "Keeping You In Mind " to the loose diva tempering of "You Will Be Loved Again " -like Judy Garlands "Over The Rainbow " for the truly dispossessed , to the percussive proto-funk of "Not be Alright " this is an album of astonishing range and no little personal catharsis .
Talking of astonishing ranges the real tour-de-force at work here is O'Hara's voice, an amazing free ranging thing of natural empathy and verging on unearthly beauty. Her vocals and to some extent the music just seem to arrive at where they do because ....well they must. The songs structures are often off-kilter and bent to abnormal shapes .Take "Year In Song " where she becomes fervid and almost deranged and "Body In Trouble " where almost aping the songs title the melody and composition are twisted into awkward configurations and positions.
If all that sounds a bit too unwieldy ( it does but that's more down to my cumbersome attempts to proteolyse any readers in which case I might have had the opposite effect ) then there are the more conventional songs like "To Cry About " , "Dear Darling " and the astoundingly gorgeous "Help Me Lift You Up" to intoxicate the listener and believe you me , you will be intoxicated .
Like Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses , Van Morrison and Joanne Newsome (her contemporary equivalent if you like ) O'Hara seems to have created her own set of self-expressive terms and little vocal tics and mannerisms. And on this album she seems to questing .Searching for some ephemeral ecstasy whether though herself or by the osmosis of being with others. It's a truly extraordinary album . Utterly enrapturing and captivating - a staggering work of genius if that's not too hyperbolic. And by questing for that elusive elation of being Mary Margaret O'Hara imprints and cajoles some of that onto the listener.
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on 25 June 2002
At times bewildering, at others bewitching, Miss America remains stunning nearly 15 years on from its initial release. There's nothing else quite like it, so perhaps it's appropriate (if frustrating and mysterious) that MMoH never recorded another album (unless you count the soundtrack to 2002 Canadian movie Apartment Hunting). Trying to describe this record is almost impossible, words like 'singing' and 'vocals' don't come anywhere near capturing the effect of Mary's soaring impressionistic voice, floating and swooping from a whisper to croak and demanding to be listened to. Come on... buy it. And then buy the best stereo in the world and a faultless pair of headphones, switch off the lights, lie back and know, forever, that you will be loved again.
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on 15 June 2005
What little you can find about Mary Margaret O'Hara on the web suggests she was the very definition of the difficult artiste, but whether because of or despite that, this album is a masterpiece. Pared to the bone settings which manage to be both raw and tuneful, a kind of melodic scaffolding for her astonishingly resonant, nerveless vocal. I'm guessing that this album, like all first albums, took a lifetime to make and it sounds like a life well lived. Released in 1986 or thereabouts, she has never never made another. Maybe she said it all with this one (how refreshing!). I've had it in every format since, played it hundreds of times and it comes up fresh every time. Indefinable, uncategorisable, vertiginously brilliant... you'll never hear anything else like it. Do yourself a favour etc. etc.
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on 11 March 2009
Sometimes you risk buying music because you've read something and you find yourself intrigued. I did, in the late eighties. I read about Mary Margaret O'Hara in a magazine and I went and bought the album. That album put itself in to my top five albums and it's stayed there since. What's glorious about it, is that Mary M doesn't sound like other people and these songs don't sound like other people's songs. Look at a rare clip of her in performance and you can see where this stuff came from: An awkward, sensitive, eccentric confession, that slurs and hiccups where others would just slide, that sticks with it, when others would fade, that doubts itself even as it's determined to make it's point. And then there's the sheer beauty of it.
There's never really been a second album. A soundtrack piece, a Christmas piece, but only really this, very real, very essential, piece of elegiac, profound Miss America. And it won't be any problem if it just stays that way. You could do worse than reinforce the message that albums like this are still heard and still needed. You really should buy this.
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on 14 February 2002
It is difficult to classify this record and hard to work out how to describe it to someone who hasn't heard it. However I do it, I'll sound pretentious so here goes. Its soundscape has the emptyness of Lanois-produced Dylan. Its lyrics have the enigmaticness(??) of Trinity Session-period Cowboy Junkies. It has the melancholy of Blue Nile's Hats, but, oddly, the ecstacy of Blue Nile's "Peace at Last".
There are no standout songs here. The whole thing stands (or falls) as a whole. And perhaps that's another similarity to The Blue Nile. Maybe BN are really MMo'H's only obvious peers. A unique sound, crafted with superb attention to detail, that refuses to date at all a decade on.
The bottom line is that if you like the lone singer-song writer ploughing their (her) own furrow, or if you like lyrics - and, indeed, melodies - that require multiple listenings or if you just want to hear something that, when it came out, sounded *nothing* like anything or anyone else, buy this. It might take a bit of work, but you won't regret it.
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on 15 December 1999
Mary Margaret O'Hara's only album has been one of my favourites since I bought it - pretty much by accident - about ten years ago. Her voice swoops, dives and breaks its way through her own unique songs. "Poetic" is right, and she's not about to get a lot of cover versions. She gets excellent and sensitive accompaniment too.
Is she like anyone else? Not much: you could think of Laurie Anderson or Liz Phair, perhaps - but O'Hara is more tuneful and seems more at home with her country or jazz borrowings.
From the weird personal comment ("To Cry About") through joyous celebration ("A new day")... I don't know - it's all over the place, and unlike anything else you ever heard, and wonderful. Go for it.
Link: MMOH guests on the Henry's "Puerto Angel" - otherwise an enjoyable laid-back instrumental album..
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on 5 October 2007
This album is simply an amazing tour de force. It's a wild, crazy and very strange piece and the work of a genius.

I understand it has been included in many "top 100 albums of all time" lists. Well, from the list of albums I have heard, I would suggest that it is better than top 100, more like top 10!

For me, there are three qualities about this album which make it a masterpiece. Firstly, each song is a gem, an original and so different from the next. Secondly, MMO has a fabulous voice which she uses to great effect - she does what could be called vocal contortions on some tracks and, on others, caresses the song with her tenderness. Thirdly, the backing musicians are fantastic and compliment the voice. You hear each individual instrument very clearly and because there aren't too many different instruments on each track, less is definitely more.

Best tracks? They all have a place on the album but "Anew Day", "Body In Trouble" and "Help Me Lift You Up" are beautiful - truly wonderful. However, I like her playfulness on "Year In Song" and "Not Be Alright". I like her gentleness on "Keeping You In Mind" where she sings almost operatically (and I love the violin solo - which could be a nod to Stephane Grappelli in its style). However, I should now list the other tracks, just out of deference to their staggering beauty.

So, if you can track this album down, it will probably cost you more than the usual price for a full-priced album. Pay up gladly, because this is just one wierd and wonderful album, a glorious 45 minutes of music. This will then become one of the top 100 or even top 10 albums in YOUR list of the best albums ever.

MMO is one extra special talent - and now I need to ask where the follow up is? Ah, having read an interview in the Guardian, and finding out a little about her, it may be that there will never be a second album. This is a very big pity; but some of us will go on hoping that MMO has a change of heart and does record again because, on the basis of Miss America, she is a superstar, a genius, a cult
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on 28 March 2005
I don't know the answer to the question I pose, but this album is simply an amazing tour de force. It's a wild, crazy and very strange piece and a work of a genius.
I understand it has been included in many "top 100 albums of all time" lists. Well, from the list of albums I have heard, I would suggest that it is better than top 100, more like top 10!
For me, there are three qualities about this album which make it a masterpiece. Firstly, each song is a gem, an original and so different from the next.
Second, MMO has a fabulous voice which she uses to great effect - she does what could be called vocal contortions on some tracks and, on others, caresses the song with her tenderness.
Thirdly, the backing musicians are fantastic and compliment the voice. You hear each individual instrument very clearly and because there aren't too many different instruments on each track, less is definitely more.
Best tracks? They all have a place on the album but "Anew Day", "Body In Trouble" and "Help Me Lift You Up" are beautiful and truly wonderful. However, I like her playfulness on "Year In Song" and "Not Be Alright". I like her gentleness on "Keeping You In Mind" where she sings almost operatically (and I love the violin solo - which could be a nod to Stephane Grappelli in its style). However, I should now list the other tracks, just out of deference to their staggering beauty.
So, if you can track this album down, it will probably cost you more than the usual price for a full-priced album. Pay up gladly, because this is just one wierd and wonderful album, a glorious 45 minutes of music. This will then become of the top 100 or even top 10 albums in YOUR list of the best albums ever.
MMO is one extra special talent - and now I need to ask where the follow up is?
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