Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
Here on the Independent Spotlight, the most rewarding part of my work is not only showcasing and delving into the music of a variety of independent acts, but also looking deep into the people that comprise the music exhibited here. There are times when the artist is entirely separated from the person. Then, there are times when the two are interwoven so passionately that they’re one and the same. That’s the case with Simply Mary, the endeavor of a woman who has struggled to free herself of domestic violence.
Her new album is ‘Freedom Bound,’ a collection of songs dedicated to the survivors of domestic violence. She had to flee her offender several times as they continued to violate a protection order, and the songs on the record are the “ups and downs of having to adjust to her new life.” It’s one hell of a powerful endeavor with a mission larger than itself. Let’s explore it.
‘Wait and See’ opens up the album in a flurry of intensity, as Simply Mary directs her fury toward her transgressor. “Karma’s a bitch,” she croons, as she lets them know that she’ll be breaking them one day just like they did her. The style of the music is eclectic, combining several influences. There’s a pop rock aura to it, complete with the “ooh’s” and “bop bop’s.” There’s a clever Nashville-style guitar riff underlying it all, though, and a raw harmonica seeps from under the seams of the sound.
Off the bat, the empowering aspect of Simply Mary’s music is very clear. ‘Wait and See’ is probably a song many victims of domestic abuse would like to relate to - it offers up a light at the end of the tunnel. Simply Mary has been through it, and that’s important to remember when moving through ‘Freedom Bound.’ That said, many songs explore the true hardship in the midst of the relationship, such as ‘Mirror,’ a song about how her significant other reflected what they wanted from life onto Simply Mary, even though she wasn’t what they wanted her to be.
‘Army of One’ is an intriguing track, too, because Simply Mary infuses a Latin style percussion section in with powerhouse performance. The musicians she’s surrounded with on the album are absolutely incredible, and continue to craft landscapes for her to occupy that are nothing short of spectacular throughout the whole album.
“Baby, I was born to love and you were born to sin,” Simply Mary sings on one of the finest tracks of the whole album - the searing ‘Trouble.’ Her presence is incredible, and goodness, the electric guitar performance is remarkable. As much as I do love those types of excursions on ‘Freedom Bound,’ though, I think the pivotal moments are when Simply Mary breaks down into simplistic instrumentation to open up emotionally, as is the case on ‘Lie to Me.’
“I’m dancing in fire, fire that used to be us.”
Simply Mary’s ‘Lie to Me’
‘By Satan’s Hand’ toys with soft rock and the continuing presence of that terrific lead guitar to significant effect, though I think the song is eclipsed by ‘Always Be Mom.’ I wish Simply Mary’s vocals were mixed louder on the track; she does get overwhelmed by the intensity of the composition. The lyrical content is superb, harnessing the persona of a loving mother in a really unique way. You don’t hear that a lot in music, and it extends into Simply Mary’s palette of refreshingly frank subject matter.
‘Do You Like Me’ has a sense of innocence to it, as if it was written in the early stages of the relationship the album centralizes around. It concretes the pain of the content, I think, because it’s a loving song - Simply Mary clearly cared about this person in a way they clearly didn’t deserve. One could argue the album is a concept record, even though it is based within the harsh reality of her experience. She’s trying to cover all of the ground of the experiences.
‘God Only Knows’ is a haunting jaunt through Simply Mary’s psyche during her experience. (Nope, it’s not a Beach Boys cover, though she’d probably nail that song.) There’s something interesting to be said about the way she formatted the album. It doesn’t seem to be chronological, but rather, jumps around to half a dozen different mindsets and emotions. I imagine Simply Mary dealt with a lot of internal turmoil during this era of her life - perhaps this organization reflects that.
‘If I’m With You’ continues to explore that, essentially coming to the realization that Simply Mary can never truly be herself as long as she is tethered to her unhealthy relationship. As the album wraps up, the titular song offers one of the more empowering efforts on the album record. Out of the last several pieces of the puzzle, the most beautiful one is the finale - ‘Even After My Song.’ It’s the perfect closer, creating a stunning sense of resolution.
‘Freedom Bound’ is a beautiful album. Typically, longer records like this don’t fare too well in the indie community. This, however, is so chock-full of talent, passion, and emotion, that it remains a compelling effort from beginning to end. It’s very much worth digging into in its entirety.