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Music Vinyl Review: Kate & Anna McGarrigle – The McGarrigle Hour

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Kate and Anna McGarrigle were a Canadian folk duo who gained fame as songwriters and recording artists known for their eclectic material and style. They may have been a little outside the norm but they had an edge which made them interesting and unique. Having released ten studio albums from 1975-2005, they have won two Canadian Juno Awards and in 1993 were made Members Of The Order Of Canada. Their early big commercial break occurred when Linda Ronstadt selected their composition, “Heart Like A Wheel,” as the title track of her number one, multi-million-selling album.

Kate McGarrigle passed away January 18, 2010 at the age of 63. Ryko has now reissued their wonderful The McGarrigle Hour as part of their vinyl series. Originally released during 1998 as a CD and a year later as a DVD, its debut on vinyl is a fitting tribute to Kate as the duo’s early releases were issued in that format.

This is a double album that actually makes one yearn for the days of vinyl. The sound is crystal clear and the packaging is superior to most CD’s. There is an introduction and notes concerning each track and the fold-out jacket provides room for a number of pictures.

The original concept for the album was to gather family and friends in an intimate, casual setting and record songs that appealed to them. They assembled traditional folk tunes, cabaret songs, compositions that were very Canadian, and some odds & ends into a charming mix that fit the setting of the album well. It served as a vehicle to explore songs which they had not, for the most part, composed. On hand at various points are Kate’s former husband Loudon Wainwright, children Rufus and Martha Wainwright, sister Jane McGarrigle, old friends Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, plus some other close friends.

There is a lot of good music packed into these 21 tracks. Whether it is Loudon Wainwright’s early composition, “Schooldays,” the old traditional folk song “Green Green Rocky Road,” or their own “Talk To Me Of Mendocino,” the music is impeccable.

The best tracks may be the group efforts. The harmonies by Rufus, Kate, Martha, and Loudon on the old Irvin Berlin song, “What’ll I Do,” with only a piano in support will make you ache. Likewise the old sea shanty, “Johnny’s Gone To Hilo,” with a guitar in support is a perfect vehicle for multiple voices which fit together so well. The album closer is a poignant and gentle rendition of the old 1931 tune, “Goodnight Sweetheart.”

The McGarrigle Hour is an inspired choice for a vinyl release as it catches the McGarrigle Sisters with their family and friends at their best. If you collect vinyl this release is a must and if you don’t, it is a good place to start.

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