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Marah: 20,000 Streets Under The Sky

Marah: 20,000 Streets Under The Sky

Label:Yep Roc/PHIdelity
Release Date:2004
Genre:Singer/Songwriter (Rock/Pop)

Marah plays the Roots Café Oct. 9 with the Barn Burners.

By John Duffy | Posted 10/6/2004

Without so much as a hit single or big-selling album, Marah has created an instantly recognizable image of its Philadelphia hometown, a place that doesn’t really exist (like the band’s idol/mentor Bruce Springsteen’s gotho-romantic New Jersey). But on 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, the quartet scans its mythical hometown for the first time to find people, not just hip locations.

Marah’s Philadelphia is a place that is both redemptive and bleak, promising and punishing, where young lovers from different backgrounds find each other only to be torn apart by violence; where a man remembers a shuttered neighborhood pizzeria as much for the cocaine he used to buy there as for its dollar slices; and where a transvestite streetwalker is both folk hero and pariah. But despite these intriguing stories, Marah oversings everything. David Bielanko bears a forced, pinched Jon Bon Jovi raspiness.

Album opener “East,” which finds Bielanko drawing strength by looking across the Delaware River toward New Jersey as night falls, displays this fault most vividly. An august line like “this evening the pigeons turned to bars of gold in the sun’s last light” is unwieldy and near indecipherable when stretched by his vocal chords. But the song’s sentiment shows that the members of Marah have found a comfortable relationship with the Philadelphia where they live and the image of it they’ve crafted, enough to admit that “where he’s from is more than where he’s been.” A line that good emphasizes Bielanko’s songwriting growth over the last two years, but until everything else catches up its best if you don’t reach for the lyric sheet.

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