Friday, April 26, 2002

Late-blooming winner
Special to The Record

When Marian Mastrorilli was growing up in Cliffside Park, she'd sing along all day to the rock hits that wafted over the radio: Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. But when someone entered the room, she'd immediately clam up. "The music lurked inside me, but I didn't have the confidence to sing in public," she says.

That's sure changed. Mastrorilli now fronts her own band, Project Mercury. "Light this Candle," the Nyack, N.Y.-based band's debut CD, is a confident, sparkling collection of folk-rock tunes penned by Mastrorilli.

Project Mercury will perform several of those songs during an appearance at 4 p.m. Saturday at the New Jersey Folk Festival at Rutgers University. Mastrorilli won that organization's annual songwriting competition this year. "I think it's a sign of good things to come," Mastrorilli says of the award. "It's one step further."

Mastrorilli, 41, didn't start singing in public until she was well into her 20s. She kicked around the New York-New Jersey coffeehouse circuit singing and playing acoustic guitar and met singer-violinist Charlene Donohue, her main collaborator, via an online musicians' classified listing. Guitarist Kevin Wager rounds out the band's permanent lineup.

The two women's voices meld tightly on "Light This Candle." Project Mercury rockets from the bluesy swing of "Champagne Afternoon" and the breezy beach pop of "Then I Remember" to the Eastern-tinged Zeppelinesque stomp of "Enemy Lines." "At Palisades" is a folky homage to the late Palisades Amusement Park, which Mastrorilli visited often as a youngster. "We don't even have pictures of us there, that's how often we went there," she recalls. "It closed before I was even old enough to ride the Cyclone."

"Please Don't," on the other hand, is a stark tale of an acquaintance of Mastrorilli's who was held captive in her home for a few hours by a known killer and talked the man out of harming her. Mastrorilli performed the song for her friend privately and gained her blessing before singing it in public. "That's not one we perform every time," Mastrorilli says. "It's very draining."

Mastrorilli tries to keep her songwriting style simple yet effective. "I'm purely moved by something that moves me or inspires me," she says.

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Copyright © 2002 North Jersey Media Group Inc.