Review by Greg McGillis
Marie-Lynn Hammond tells stories of ache and inspiration with songs of tribute and tribulation that evoke multiple levels of understanding even in a first listening. She is a natural and easy storyteller who draws her audience into her confidence. Her concert with Tom Leighton on March 19th at the Westboro Masonic Hall as part of the Spirit of Rasputin’s concert series seemed to shrink the small venue with its intimacy. Wit, humour and irony suffused the songs and the delivery, all performed with the light, bittersweet touch of a woman who has had to find her irony in the pain of a sometimes tragic life. She contrasted her deeply personal and touching songs with highlights of her humorous repertoire, the topics ranging from her beautiful horses to her personal roots in the Outaouais.
Hammond began the concert with “Girl Who Can’t Say Yes,” a song about a woman and her troubles with commitment. Playfully, she continued with a comedic song about two lovers and the problems that the Canadian weather and its linked clothing faced them with when it came to intimacy. Its title was “Canadian Love.” Next came “Chestnut Mare,” which drew the picture of a beautiful but defiant horse she had owned, and of the abiding love she had for horses. Hammond spoke of her riding accident, and of the pain of putting aside her love of music for when it occurred.
She then sang about her mixed English and French roots with two of several French language songs, “La Tête Anglaise, le Coeur Français” and “La Chanson de Corinne”. “Tête”, in particular, plays on Hammond’s mixed French and English heritage. Songs like “Elsie,” about Hammond’s grandmother who lived life on her own terms, “Emily Flies”, “The Cat Song” and “Keyboard Kitty” build on simple domestic realities and sometimes, as in “Keyboard Kitty”, got the audience singing along.
The second set took up domestic themes again, with the western-style “Mothers Teach Your Sons” and “La Jeune Mariée”. The mood was increasingly poignant and bittersweet in the second half with songs like “The Canadian”, “All the Horses Running”, and especially “Omaha”, one of the last songs written before Hammond stopped writing for several years and that she wrote in the shadow of her sister’s death. “Omaha” in fact may be Hammond’s strongest song of the set, unsentimental, truly authentic and highly private as it is. Just in case one might think that Hammond doesn’t have range as a songwriter beyond her favourite themes of domestic humour and passion for horses, “Omaha” is the best example on the programme of Hammond’s ability to reach you where you least expect it.
Hammond was joined by Tom Leighton mostly on keyboards, including a turn at accordion that was really a treat. Her delivery could be unsteady, which is not surprising for someone coming back from years away from concert halls, and she was clearly fighting a cold. No matter. Marie-Lynn Hammond clearly made a successful return to public concerts worthy of a Hollywood movie but grounded in her love of writing and performing.