It’s strange how music that we may not have heard at a particular time in our lives can still remind us of that time when we hear it now. Madder Rose (named after a paint pigment called Rose Madder) was a band that came along in the 1990s, released four albums and then broke up. I discovered their music a couple of years ago, and when I listen to it I’m taken back to the late 1980s when I was in college – when their music didn’t even exist yet!
Songs like “Panic On” have that “college rock” sound of the time, and even the title sounds like a 1980s catch phrase. The soothingly addictive jangle pop guitar figure would sit nicely next to tracks by R.E.M., the Sundays, Til Tuesday, Juliana Hatfield/The Blake Babies or any number of bands from that era. Mary Lorson’s wistful, young-sounding vocals in this early song of the band’s could be the singing of a girl fronting a local college band (a very good band, of course).
“Feels Like Summer” makes me think of hot, humid, green days in Gainesville, FL where I was going to school in the second half of the 80s. Cumulous clouds on the horizon, riding my bike out of town to some of the deep, primeval lakes, the smell of vegetation and ozone. Tannin-stained water, brown and dark blue. Ancient fallen logs with sun-basking turtles. The whole world still in the heavy afternoons. Thunder clouds and the almost erotic air charged with expectancy.
“My Star”, the soundtrack for one of those inky southern nights punctuated by twinkling lights and the aura of mystery.
“Car Song” and “Hung Up in You” would have been the perfect soundtrack to an unrequited classroom crush or a romantic breakup.
I get a little caught up in Lorson’s voice on these 90s songs – there’s a tough sensitivity, a certain yearning quality, that’s very appealing and sexy.
Madder Rose main songwriter Billy Cote married Lorson and they now live in Ithaca, NY and still release occasional albums together or on their own. Both are writers as well, and Lorson teaches high school English (talk about cool English teachers), while Cote works in a university library. Read his oft-time humorous commentary on Madder Rose’s discography and check out Mary Lorson’s website as well.