Mama’s Broke: Narrow Line

Narrow Line is the new release by Canadian duo Mama’s Broke. It’s the second album from Amy Lou Keeler (vocals, guitar, banjo) and Lisa Maria (vocals, fiddle, mandolin) who are often described simply as a ‘folk duo’. In truth this doesn’t do justice to their music which draws influences from near and far (their website says they are “based out of nowhere and everywhere”) and all the compositions on their new album are originals – not traditional.

Despite all this their main connection is with Eastern Canada and in particular Nova Scotia. The two met in 2014 when Amy Lou gave Lisa Maria a lift from Montreal to Halifax and so began the idea for Mama’s Broke. Both women had already travelled the world, and their musical adventures encompass Quebecois, Balkan, Appalachian, punk and more. They’ve since toured Canada, the USA, Ireland, the UK, and Europe as a duo (though we’re still awaiting them in Okinawa…)

The album is breezy at 33 minutes but within that relatively short time they pack in as much as possible and it’s a superb listen from start to finish. The two are joined by guest musicians on only three tracks (on bass and dobro) and so for the most part it’s just Amy Lou and Lisa Maria singing and playing all the instruments. Everything is beautifully recorded and sounds so fresh it’s as if they’re in the room sitting next to us.

Close attention to the lyrics reveals a darkness in their songs as they sing about the vicissitudes of life while their tunes sometimes shift in unusual and unexpected directions. At times they recall fellow Canadian Kaia Kater, and their harmony vocals even hint of the Everly Brothers, but the soundscapes that emerge are both old-timey familiar and uniquely new.

Mama’s Broke (Photo: Blanca Chavez)

The opener ‘Just Pick One’ was written in Amy Lou’s uninsulated cabin in rural Nova Scotia at the height of a lockdown and has a haunting melody that unfolds to show off their blend of old and new. ‘How It Ends’ is a broken song of lost love, its catchiness almost turning it into a potential country hit as they sing: “Even when it was bad, you were the best I’ve ever had.”

The poignant title track is a song about borders and boundaries that obliquely touches on such things as climate destruction, violence against immigrants, and wealth disparity. Never mind all the implied weightiness, it’s a really rewarding listen. The same goes for ‘God’s Little Boy’ which addresses (but never too obviously) terrorism by angry young men looking to take their rage out on women. 

There is also a sublime a capella rendition of the hymn-like ballad ‘The Ones That I Love’, and a sprightly instrumental with some lively East European fiddling by Lisa Maria. Overall, the album is a fine testament to the still evolving talents of these two women. With roots music producing little gems like this it deserves a much bigger audience.

Narrow Line was recorded in Montreal and produced by Bill Garrett and Mama’s Broke. The album will be released by Free Dirt Records on 13th May.

Explore posts in the same categories: Roots Music from Out There

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