Buddy Up to the Music

Marlee MacLeod

Marlee MacLeod sounds like the best friend you wish you had--funny, warm, whip smart, insightful but absolutely never preachy, and immensely supportive of the occasional inclination to -- nap. She also has a way with a breakup song. Her new release, Like Hollywood, is loaded with them in the wake of a long-term relationship. Neither raging nor sappy, they cut the cord with wide-open eyes and a refreshing absence of angst, leaving you confident she has no less now than what she started with--a good mind, a reasonable perspective and if not a bit more wisdom, at least abundant strength to try again.

Endurance, thankfully, is MacLeod's strong suit. Her June release Like Hollywood is her fifth since 1993, and she has toured tirelessly building a devoted fan base, no thanks to radio or her well-meaning indie labels. Her guitar playing is superb (she was Cheri Knight's guitarist on tour opening for Steve Earle), her voice and phrasing are pitch perfect (pop clear tone salvaged by down-home, girl-next-door diction) and her songwriting is articulate and clever--but not too clever. While her lyrics are generally plainspoken, they are also often piercing, personal but not confessional.

Best of all, the girl rocks. The band she commands on record and on tour effects a sound greater than its parts, in the spirit of the great arena rock ballads of the '70s. The energy that drives the music is contained only by the skill with which it's played.

Like Hollywood highlights are "Muse," for its vocal elasticity; the accusatory "Wallflower" that nails a love 'em and leave 'em type with a stick-to-your-ribs chorus; "Bon Voyage" ("I will leave you to your poets/and your revolutionaries"), and the blues-tinged rock waltz "Horizon" with its faintly carny drums and slacker sensibility: "Take the hands from the clock/let it stop/let it fade/let it lie like the villain it is." Her live sets also feature favorites from her earlier releases--the rocked out "Mata Hari Dress;" the get-a-grip-girl "Shelly Winters," and the poignant, oddly funny "Las Vegas," as in ("why'd you have to end up in --" ).

In performance, MacLeod's affable, crowd-chummy personality makes you feel like the whole wonderful mess is in your living room.