If you play a country song backwards…you get the setup for an old, boring joke. Sure, many country songs are about heartache and loss, but that goes for any genre. If you don’t believe me, listen to Nirvana. If you still don’t believe me after, well, listen to any other song in any other music genre. Country is no more pensive and pining than grunge; distortion just makes the pain louder.
But distortion isn’t needed to amplify emotion. Some of the most emotive work ever put forth by Nirvana was on their Unplugged in New York release. A mix of originals and covers spanning influences from Lead Belly to David Bowie to the Meat Puppets did more than any other release at its time to connect generations of the human psyche through music.
But this article is not about Nirvana, nor is it strictly about country music. It’s about Miss Mallory Denae, a songstress bringing her own far-flung influences and experiences together to write music for the people. And when the curtain falls, it’s the people who remain standing.
Miss Mallory Denae has been performing almost weekly at the Taos Inn’s Adobe Bar, during open mic night, and hopes to perform longer sets of her original music in other venues soon. She’s also performed in Fort Collins, Colorado, and she’s releasing cuts of her original music online.
I met with her for a few hours on a Friday, late-summer afternoon in Taos to get the scoop on her music, background, and current ambitions. Hers is a true Taos story.
She’s been here for less than three months. Before that, she lived in Colorado, Washington, and North Carolina. She came to Taos to intern as a midwife but, like almost all of us here, realized quickly that the mountain has something else in store. In Miss Mallory Denae’s case, it’s her music. “I still love midwifery, but with my music I feel like I’m giving birth to something,” she said.
In another Taos story, by way of Washington state, Miss Mallory taught herself to play guitar three years ago after a dear friend and psychic told her that she saw her childhood secret of wanting to sing. Miss Mallory was shortly afterward given a guitar by her best friend and learned how to play. “Country music worked well with my voice, and it saved my soul,” she related. Her original tune, “Judy Windsong,” is about this experience.
Even her current guitar, Bullet, has a story.
“My stepdad bought the Martin off Craigslist. The previous owner had gone on vacation, and came back to find some punks had just broken into his house and shot up the guitar with a BB gun. It’s been patched up, and sounds great. I had to name her ‘Bullet.’”
Miss Mallory plays in standard tuning, with some capo. Her calloused fingers attest to her daily routine of playing for at least a couple hours. Her mix of fingerstyle and strumming certainly isn’t unique, nor is her twang, forged in Colorado and Asheville, North Carolina. Any musician knows that chords, scales, and techniques are universal, but it’s how you use what you know. Miss Mallory’s song, “Don’t Tell Me,” is a beautiful example of her twang, fingerstyle, and strumming. It’s her favorite original song. And mine.
That song, like her others, is about people who’ve woven themselves into and out of her life. Each of her songs spins a story, stiches a moment, a feeling. Some are joyous, some are melancholy. But all carry her emotion well. Even more, they convey it, convincingly, to the audience. You gets the feeling, even by listening to her music online, that she is sitting in your living room, singing only to you. And that is her intention.
I’ve seen her play live several times, and it’s the same feeling. She’s not Van Halen, but she knows how to put a song together. She’s had some great teachers, though. She cites Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, and Shovels & Rope, among many others, as inspiration. And Lucero. “I love, like, every Lucero song,” she added.
I hear those influences. I also hear a female Bonnie Prince Billy, which she thought was an interesting and original comparison on my part. That Bonnie Prince Billy has also played with Johnny Cash certainly adds some weight to my argument. There are also elements of Fiona Apple in her voice, her lyrics. She calls herself “alt-country,” which is a good fit for her music.
Like Nirvana with their Unplugged album, she is able to take a range of music styles, from many decades, and make them her own. She’s got fifteen original songs written and has a few covers in her repertoire. She’s also got a very do-it-yourself mentality akin to early Nirvana–think “Bleach.” She records in her living room, using a digital audio recorder and Apple Garage Band to track and master her songs, respectively.
In her case, technology is a good thing. Country–nay, any genre–is for the people. It only makes sense for her to write a song, record it, and share it with the world in a matter of hours. And although you can find her on SoundCloud and Facebook and YouTube, nothing beats a live performance. She’s working on performing her own show. In the meantime, you can catch her most Monday evenings at the Adobe Bar, located inside the historic Taos Inn, at open mic.
By Darien Fernandez