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Kate & Anna McGarrigle

Tell My Sister (Nonesuch)

Jun. 28, 2011
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Canadian sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle's 1975 debut album, a wondrous folk-blues-jazz mélange containing soul-etched lyrics, starts the three-CD treasure trove Tell My Sister. Luminous and eccentric vocal harmonies suggest unique yet entwined individuals. Kate, who died of cancer in 2010, radiated warm knowingness in voice and lyric, whether in the Bessie Smith-style “Blues in D” or “Heart Like a Wheel,” the dark evocation of romantic tragedy made famous by Linda Ronstadt. The sisters' second album, Dancer With Bruised Knees, is more daring than the first, with three songs in French and the wickedly pointed story turn in “First Born.”

The excellent third disc of unadorned demos and unreleased songs includes, finally, their version of Kate's magnificent “Work Song,” the slave-saga centerpiece of Maria Muldaur's unforgettable first album. Jon Landau once marveled that the song grasps “some irreducible cosmic feeling for America” comparable to Dylan and The Band's most seminal anthems. Throughout the set, studio aces brace the McGarrigles' own piano, banjo and button accordion, among them John Cale on organ and marimba. This beguiling, haunting and piercing music is the reissue of the year, so far.


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