Lovely by name, lovely by nature? Well, yes and no.
The music certainly sounds lovely, so lovely in fact that it'll make you swoon and laugh and cry all at once. The voice is undeniably lovely, but then those of you who've been paying attention will already know that, from Mara's work with Plaid and Matthew Herbert. But listen a little closer and a rather darker voice can be heard, telling tales of love and loss, death and courage and of nightmares...
Mara's musical journey has been a long one. Having formed a punk band with her brothers while still at primary school, it's safe to say that she's been making music all her life. In various ensembles Mara has sung her way through church music, jazz, bluegrass, opera and electronica, elements of all of which can be found sitting harmoniously side by side on this album.
Recorded at home (a fairly Herculean task that involved, amongst other things, squeezing a string quartet into her front room) 'The Lovely' began life as a bunch of 4-track recordings known collectively as 'Mara's Album Ha Ha Ha'. This was not in homage to the book by Roddy Doyle, but a reference to the fact that Mara didn't really think that these songs would ever be anything more than musings for herself and her friends, particularly as she had (and still has) a full-time job.
But as more and more songs were born during nightshifts in the hospitals and hostels where she worked, and her sweet-but-sharp stories began to take shape, completing and releasing an album became happily inevitable. Mara signed to Matthew Herbert's Accidental Records at the beginning of 2004 and put the finishing touches to 'The Lovely' in March.
Arranged and produced by Mara, with additional production and mixing magic from her old buddies Plaid, the album is equal parts sinister and serene. The haunting opener, "Saw Song", demonstrates Mara's saw playing skills and swooping vocal range. "I Blame You Not", a loose arrangement of a piece of Schumann, has the feel of a jazz standard. "Bonding" and "Bravely Born(e)" are both awash with sweet forties-style harmonies. Conventional instruments such as piano and guitar appear alongside more unusual ones: ukuleles strum their way through quirky fairytale "Baby Bloodheart" and an mbira (African thumb piano) provides the pulse for the uplifting album closer "For Me".
'The Lovely' is an assured debut by one of the most talented and original singer-songwriters to emerge in recent memory; a collection of dark tales sung with a smile that will stand the test of time.'
The album's luxury packaging was designed by London design agency Ekhornforss/Non-Format , designers of The Wire magazine, and described by Creative Review magazine as 'delicate, layered and sumptuous'.
Mara's debut single, 'I Blame Dido EP', will be released in the spring of 2005 as a 7" with 'I Blame You Not' from her album alongside a new and unreleased arrangement of Purcell's 'Dido's Lament'. The accompanying CD single will also include her cover version of Dani Siciliano's 'Walk The Line' (previously released by K7) and a stunning animated video for 'I Blame You Not', directed by French designers soandsau.
The programme notes to Antenna, London's premier music video showcase, proclaimed:
"The word stunning is often overused in this industry but we are fully expecting you to dribble all over your trendy T-shirts as we play 'I Blame You Not' for Mara Carlyle by soandsau. Don't forget to breathe..."
In 2004 Mara and her band supported both Bebel Gilberto and The Real Tuesday Weld and played at the Sonar, Glastonbury and Triptych Festivals.