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Marissa Nadler: The Saga of Mayflower May

Marissa Nadler: The Saga of Mayflower May

Release Date:2005

By Marc Masters | Posted 8/31/2005

Lately, the best underground folk artists have brought novel approaches to a well-worn genre: Devendra Banhart’s creaky warble, Joanna Newsom’s striking harp, CocoRosie’s lyrical quirks. Marissa Nadler offers no such innovations. The singer/songwriter’s music is down-the-middle folk, full of austere acoustic guitar, baroque melodies, and dusty lyrical references to maidens and castles. Nadler’s traditionalism is sometimes too straight to stomach, but her powerful vocals are often irresistible.

The Saga of Mayflower May, Nadler’s second full-length, targets her moving voice. Somewhere between the British haunting of Sandy Denny and the twangy lilt of Hope Sandoval, Nadler’s singing mixes dark tones and sweet colors into an aching mist. Her simple themes can veer into cliché—she actually sings of “frolicking among the fields of green and blue”—but when she avoids the obvious, her songs are stirring. “Damsels in the Dark” describes the burial of memories. “The Little Famous Song” unabashedly worships an unnamed singer. Throughout, Nadler’s guitar is beautifully uncomplicated, augmented by bits of organ and whistle from Nick Castro and Brian McTear.

Nadler ends the album with her ghostliest track, “Horses and Their Kin.” The multitracked whispers of silver trees and thinning roads are so evocative that bleary moonlight practically shines from the speakers. Such artistry gives The Saga of Mayflower May a glow that time is unlikely to dim.

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