Gary Wilson - Mary Had Brown Hair (2004)
By 2004, the word was out – legendary underground musician Gary Wilson was back, and more productive than ever before. Now able to reach a new worldwide audience thanks to the Gary Wilson reference in Beck’s 1996 chart-topper “Where It’s At”, a 2002 reissue of his coveted You Think You Really Know Me, and the Internet, the DIY home recording pioneer showed the world that his appeal was not that of a one-off, outsider curiosity, but rather that of a serious artist willing and able to create a lifetime body of compelling work. His association with hip-hop label Stones Throw Records on this album became a crucial part of the ongoing Wilson narrative, connecting him with such notables as Dâm-Funk, Madlib, label head Peanut Butter Wolf, and hip-hop collective Odd Future.
Start with: “Gary’s in the Park” and “Electric Depression”
Why it’s worth revisiting: This installment in the Gary Wilson canon is not only a thoroughly impressive and enjoyable outing offering several classic songs, but is also important in that it confirmed Gary as a vital and exceptional creative force.
Like other Gary Wilson albums (You Think You Really Know Me, and the recent It’s Christmas Time with Gary Wilson spring to mind), this Wilson installment begins with a brief and semi-abstract track. This time 'round, it's the single phrase recitation and brief series of repeated organ chords in “A Very Small Town" that get the proceedings underway. In under a minute, though, this barebones intro gives way to one of Wilson’s more rocking songs in his entire catalog, “Linda Wants To Be Alone”. This accessible ode to his most notorious muse is a staple in Gary’s live set, and certainly an album highlight. “Shauna Made Me Cry” is a short and evocative interlude that paves the way for the eccentrically pleasing “Debbie Debbie”, which is another album high point.
The abstract “Mary Had Brown Hair” stays faithful to the abstract interlude/song/abstract interlude/song formula of the album thus far, leading to the album’s centerpiece,“Gary's In The Park”. Here we find what is arguably Gary’s most celebrated song, and a flawless expression of his tenure with Stones Throw Records. This mini-masterpiece bears all the hallmarks of Gary’s unique genius: sophisticated harmonies, manipulated vocals, and off-kilter autobiographical fiction (?), all encapsulated in the most inviting of grooves. If a Gary Wilson fan is looking for a song to introduce the uninitiated to Mr. Wilson’s brilliance, surely this is it.
The tension and release cycle of abstraction and more traditional songs breaks at this point, with the up-tempo “Newark Valley”. “Sodus Point” brings us back to the realm abstraction, with unpredictable saxophones and synths backing Gary’s rather morbid spoken word contribution. “Gary Saw Linda Last Night” immediately follows, and is another album highlight. Like “Gary’s in the Park”, this track (still a regular fixture of Gary’s live shows) showcases Gary at his best with its danceable groove, abstract spoken word interlude, manipulated vocals, and reference to real-life childhood friend and collaborator Frank Roma. “She Makes Me Think Of Endicott” is a noteworthy detour, reminiscent of the fine earlier jazz-funk instrumental recordings found on Forgotten Lovers . Title notwithstanding, “Electric Depression” is arguably one the catchiest and most approachable songs in Gary’s impressive catalog.
“Our Last Date” features Bernadette Allen's spoken word, and is one of the only Gary Wilson tracks in existence that has someone other than Gary handling lead vocals. This entry sticks to the album’s template of placing spoken word pieces (with abstract musical accompaniment) between comparatively more traditional songs like the ensuing “Hold Back The Daylight”. Finally, Gary literally waltzes right out of this classic album with the short and sweet instrumental theme that is “Mary, Make Me A Wish”.
Happy listening, weirdos!