Poor Mary Johnson Rockers: How many times has she explained to a booking agent or journalist that it’s her name, not her band’s name? And that her musica porch-swing summit of folk and introspective country, solo and formerly in the band Pawnshop Rubycouldn’t be more incongruous with her name? Well, unless her parents had been named Metalgoddess-Overdrive. On another note, rich Mary Johnson Rockers: Hers is a voice that’s pretty without being too pretty, familiar but never humdrum, gutty at just the right times. It’s built to sing of lingering touches and to tell of “Just one dance, just one midnight chance to tell the truth,” as she does on the achingly gorgeous “Two Step,” making you feel like a lucky confidant.
Similarly, intimate closer “Patsy on the Radio” and “Sweetness”the album’s most instantly embraceable song thanks to a sing-along chorus and a near-roots-rock latherwelcome you into her head. Even more impressive is Rockers’ comfort with other people and other times: “Clara” comes calling from the perspective of a sweet-talking fella with his heart set on a waitressand with a lot of miles and wives behind him. “Thanksgiving in Manchester Jail” unveils the thoughts of a man imprisoned for an unspecified crime and by his own years of regret. “Penny on the Tracks,” close kin to Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” in both tune and tone, depicts an era when clutching a penny flattened by a passing train was as out-of-town as one might hope to get.
Throughout, you only really notice the swells of violin (or fiddle, depending on the song’s mood) or pedal steel when Rockers takes a breather. Such a supporting role fits the songs. The musical backing serves as flickering streetlights, directing you to the voice and words of one Mary Johnson Rockers down below. And that’s where the brightest lamp should shine.
CORRECTION: The print edition of this review incorrectly identifies Mary Johnson Rockers’ former band. She was in Pawnshop Ruby.