Take Care Take Cover The Mae Trio Footstomp To suggest that Melbourne’s the Mae Trio is too good to be true would be to ignore the empirical evidence provided by a simply superb sophomore album. Cut in Nashville, Take Care Take Cover certainly justifies a decision made by siblings Maggie and Elsie Rigby and their bandmate Anita Hillman, after the release of their auspicious 2013 debut long-player, Housewarming, to cut short university courses to pursue a music career. These fresh-faced young women are already snapping at the heels of the Waifs siblings Donna Simpson and Vikki Thorn as roots music festival favourites, home and away. Indeed, a heartbreak ode ( Call Me Stranger) written by Maggie Rigby that’s among the highlights of their second album would not be out of place on the Waifs’ new release, Ironbark, in terms of acuity of lyrics and allround quality: “Call me stranger, call me friend / call me lover, somewhere near the end. / Call me the ending, cold and cruel.” All of the trio’s highly melodic, immaculately crafted songs are arranged to use the diverse instrumental talents of its members, their angelic lead voices and, most pertinently, their exquisite vocal harmony. Ironically, it’s the album’s sole cover — of Scot Karine Polwart’s elegiac Waterlily — rendered a cappella, that provides the perfect conveyance for their spine-tingling three-part singing. Soaring harmony also hits home in Grandma’s, a song that’s reminiscent of the great Scottish troubadour Dougie MacLean’s finest work. Via lines such as “the clouds are turning silver around the edges”, Maggie Rigby’s moving paean chronicles the peace and contentment found by a matriarch as her memory fades during the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Scottish Hebrides inspired another poetic composition from the trio’s principal songwriter. In Skye, Hillman’s cello solo elegantly echoes sentiments evocatively expressed in verses such as: “We headed north to the edge of the earth for a day / and we fell in love with the dark clouds above along the way / the sky gave its colour to the ocean ‘til it was purple, green and grey.” Belying the title, Sweet as Honey intimates concern for young people who slip through the cracks of community care: “Sweet as honey, dark as wine / Brittle as bone and subtle as time.” While it may be impelled by a folkie mandolin vibe, Elsie Rigby’s Haul Away transposes an English sea shanty theme to a 21st-century setting. The same composer’s Heart of a Storm has more of an American country feel, enhanced by the contribution of a distinguished guest, Darrell Scott, on pedal steel guitar. Scott’s lap steel slide combined with Maggie Rigby’s banjo also lends a Nashville ambience to the lively opening track, Well Enough Alone. Predicated on her violin pizzicato, Elsie Rigby’s Only Ever Growing grows steadily to a grand choral climax (with trumpet accompaniment), bringing a truly outstanding album to a fitting conclusion.