Mary Margaret O’Hara

Miss America (Virgin ’88, Koch '96) Rating: A-
The only full album by this eccentric singer songwriter, the original sessions for this album took place in 1983 with XTC alum Andy Partridge attempting to produce, but he immediately grew frustrated with Miss O'Hara's bizarre recording methods and abandoned the project. Years later there was still nothing, and Miss America likely would never have been completed if not for the unlikely intervention of ambient composer Michael Brook, as he co-produced and finally helped Miss O’Hara finish her “product.” Her record company certainly saw the album as such, causing much of the friction that caused the album’s delay in the first place after years of futility. As of this writing, Miss America remains Miss O’Hara’s lone accomplishment (aside from 1996's Christmas EP, some soundtrack work, and a slew of guest appearances on other people's records), but it has become something of a cult classic, with many fellow artists and critics christening it a left of center masterpiece, especially in the U.K. (I first read about this album in a special Mojo issue devoted to the "greatest albums of all time" in the mid-90s). It’s hardly the work of a conventional singer songwriter, with odd herky-jerky rhythms and her aching crack of a voice lending an adventurous edge to these eleven eclectic compositions, which were written over a period of ten years. Echoed bass and skittering guitars are mixed in with more conventional country instrumentation, and on songs such as “Year In Song” and “Not Be Alright” her fierce vocal delivery is chaotically intense; the former song sounds like nothing less than a nervous breakdown on record. Other songs such as “To Cry About,” “Dear Darling,” and “Keeping You In Mind” flaunt a more sultry torch song ambiance, while the catchy “Anew Day” is a rare upbeat meditation and "Help Me Lift You Up" exudes a spiritual aura. Miss America is an album whose unique amalgam of jazz, country, rock, and folksy pop styles takes some getting used to, but with a little patience it’s difficult not to succumb to the strange spell cast by this true original.

send me an email

Back To Artist Index Home Page