MARY LAMONT BAND as seen in THE NEW ISLAND EAR
CHINESE DEMOCRACY: AROUND THE WORLD WITH THE MARY LAMONT BAND
By Dave Gil de Rubio, The New Island Ear
Photo by Kirk Condyles
Beijing's Forbidden City Concert Hall is the last place you'd expect to hear the crying sounds of pedal steel and fat twang of a Telecaster, but when the Mary Lamont Band plugged in on May 9th of this year, they became the first country act ever to play this venue. How did this unlikely scenario come about? According to the band's namesake, you'd have to go back to the '80s when "A Canadian farm girl met a nice Italian boy from the Bronx and sparks flew from a match made in heaven." No, it wasn't Shania Twain meeting Mutt Lange. Rather, this was model/amateur bagpipe player Mary Lamont making the acquaintance of Jim Marchese, professional photographer/part-time guitar player. From there, the duo have started a family, made Long Island their home-base and embarked on a musical career that's taken quite a few exciting turns since they both graduated from playing living-room jam sessions to forming their own band back in 1996. Quick to laugh and self-deprecating in an endearing manner, a recent phone conversation with Lamont revealed that an opportunity for both herself and Marchese to play in the back-up band of an Elvis impersonator was a unique and vital stepping stone. "If ever your life gets too serious, end up as part of an Elvis impersonator band and it puts the whimsy right back into it," says Lamont. Despite how surreal this scenario was, the transplanted Canuck admitted her time as a back-up singer was "a great opportunity because it was a chance for me to experience being on-stage without having to carry all the responsibility of being the center of attention."
The duo struck out on their own in 1996, and cut a record in 2000, and the results only reaffirmed Marchese's belief in his wife's abilities despite her own admitted tendency to "sell myself short and build up a [psychological] brick wall whenever I start to stress and doubt myself." The debut, You Don't Have To Knock, is a delightful 11-pack of solid country cuts that finds Mary Lamont sounding somewhere between Rosie Flores and k.d. lang while Jim Marchese pours on the kind of riffs reminiscent of Don Rich and Pete Anderson. As evidenced by mention of the momentous China trip, (more on that later), the Mary Lamont Band also honed its skills via a rigorous tour schedule that found them establishing a weekly residency playing the Jones Beach Bandshell that dates back to 1997.
Among the numerous venues the Mary Lamont Band has graced are local clubs like Matty T's Roadhouse USA and New York City haunts like Denim & Diamonds. Another milestone was landing an opening slot in Westbury Music Fair's 2nd Annual Long Island Country Music Festival featuring headliners Delbert McClinton and the Marshall Tucker Band. According to Lamont, opportunities like this result from Jim and herself being surrounded by quality musicians who deliver a maximum effort regardless of where a show might be taking place. "Jim and I have been really lucky with who we've been playing with. I can't say enough great things about [bassist] Cosmo LoCricchio and [drummer] Frank Patterson, who've been with us for three years. After our wonderful pedal steel player Tommy Lopez retired to Arizona, we really lucked out when Jeff Lampert, an innovative pedal steel guitarist in his own right, came aboard a year and a half ago."
Which leads back to playing country music in China. Having landed the Westbury Music Fair gig due to a booking agent catching one of the Mary Lamont Band's Jones Beach summer shows, history repeated itself when a call was received offering to send the band overseas as part of a cultural exchange program. "It was a total fluke," Lamont recalls. "We were recommended to a Chinese organization that had previously only been bringing over opera people. It was an intriguing offer, and after a lot of stops and starts, we took a 14-hour flight over in late April and spent the next 16 days embarking on a different adventure every day. We played everything from intimate acoustic performances to dance clubs and stadium shows." This two weeks-plus mini-tour took the Mary Lamont Band to the major cities of Shenyang, Dalian, Beijing, Xiamen, Guizhou and Nanjing playing before crowds ranging from Chinese people who'd never seen Westerners before to dignitaries from Russia, Japan and even China's own U.N. ambassador.
For Lamont, the people ended up being the best part of the trip. "They were receptive and wonderful in every way. At one point, I was asked to sing a song in Chinese. I learned it phonetically and when I finally got to perform it, I couldn't even describe the feeling of being halfway around the world singing in someone else's language and being accompanied by these enthusiastic people. I really felt like we were filling a role as pre-2008 Beijing Olympics ambassadors."
With this impressive notch on its belt, the Mary Lamont Band is currently finishing up a second album with alt-country leanings in-between incessant gigging. As for China, Lamont cheerfully announces, "They've asked us to come back next year and as far as the guys and I are concerned, we're raring to go."
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