Awe­some mu­sic from the ar­chives: ‘Miss Amer­ica’ by Mary Mar­garet O’Hara

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET STUBS - Donal Di­neen

Mary Mar­garet O’Hara is one of mod­ern mu­sic’s great­est enig­mas. Her singing voice is un­like any­one else’s and she has al­ways moved in the most mys­te­ri­ous of ways. She in­spires un­ri­valled de­vo­tion among the pre­cious few who have seen her per­form and her songs have been lauded – and cov­ered – by nu­mer­ous artists of high re­pute.

I count my­self lucky to have seen her sing. Her way with words was unique and she seemed to ap­proach each song as if it were the first or last she’d ever sing. Each was de­liv­ered in an in­tensely phys­i­cal and emo­tional way. Her whole body would shud­der as she reached down some­where deep to sum­mon the sound. It was as if words were some­thing to be shaken free from her mouth. She would twist and turn this way and that. From th­ese con­tor­tions a mirac­u­lously sweet and an­gelic sound would emerge like birds from a cage. The skit­ter­ing vo­cal sounds swooped and soared in de­fi­ance of grav­ity. To fol­low her voice was to take a jour­ney up­wards to some­where new. She stood out a mile, head and shoul­ders above the rest.

Miss Amer­ica came out in 1988 and re­mark­ably it re­mains her only stu­dio al­bum. Twenty seven years is a long time but the record’s 44 min­utes and 49 sec­onds of mu­sic have an age­less power. It sounded as out of time then as it does to­day.

A re-re­leased ver­sion notes that the songs were “con­structed and con­ducted” by Mary Mar­garet her­self. Which makes sense, given the way the mu­sic is wo­ven around her vo­cals. It’s an in­tensely per­sonal jour­ney that we’re privy to. There is pal­pa­ble pain and loss shot through with ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ments of ex­ul­tant beauty.

There’s some­thing com­mend­able about the way she hasn’t tried to re­peat it. She al­ready did it. It’s on the record.

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