Regional Forecast: Mercury Rising


If the quintessential "girl next door" were real, I would nominate Marian Mastrorilli as one among the sisters of that category. On first meeting, Mastrorilli came across as a wholesome, thoughtful, energetic and loving human being. She is the kind of person I would want as a friend. Since she lives in the Hudson Valley, it is entirely possible that we will forge a friendship. What is entirely probable is that I will become among those who populate her audiences.

Marian Mastrorilli is a singer-songwriter who loves to rock, as does her band, Project Mercury. She will tell you, straight up, that her music is rooted in classic '70's rock. I will tell you, that however grounded she may be in the pop music of that era, the songs she writes and performs are deeply personal stories that define our collective experiences as men and woman who have lived - and survived - the crucible of our follies, foibles, flings and fancies. She writes simple, straightforward prose that, when coupled with melody, flows like poetry. She sings with an instrument that is pure silk, and whose timbre changes, chameleon-like, to support the many-faceted faces of the characters she portrays in these illuminations of a life.

Mastrorilli's band, Project Mercury, has released a debut CD called Light This Candle. Let me be clear, here, that the musicians, the back-up vocalist and the orchestrations are first rate from the first note to the last. This may be a freshman effort, but there can be no doubt that Mastrorilli has the confidence of a bandleader born to the craft. She has surrounded herself with magnificently talented musicians, each of whom brings the perfect tone, the perfect touch, to the eleven original and varied tracks on the CD. Backing vocalist and violinist Charlene Donohue possesses a clarion, sonorous voice that she uses to powerful effect in a solo that opens the CD's second track, Enemy Lines. Mastrorilli backs her in the chorus, and then together their voices alternate the lead and the backing in a provocative call to arms that bristles with the power of a Mother Courage leading her rag-tag crew through the madness of the War of the Roses. (In the '70's, The Performance Group presented Brecht's Mother Courage at the Performing Garage on Wooster Street in Soho. Thirty years later, Donohue and Mastrorilli deliver Enemy Lines with stark, propagandistic force. The metronomic pulse of tenor-toned drumbeats reinforces the message. The effect is Brechtian.)

Mastrorilli follows up with a decadent rumination about a time in her life, when she broke out of her girl next door parochial school upbringing, to sample some of life's, shall we say, exotic delights. The first chorus of Faded Leather states the theme without apology:

Faded leather
And a certain attitude
Faded leather
What was a girl to do (when faced with)
Faded leather
Add a fifth of rye
Just the thing to get me through the night

Then she does a complete one-eighty and delivers a delicately poignant acoustic reminiscence of a classic American amusement park from her childhood, the now-defunct and long-gone Palisades Amusement Park:

From the side of the road I still look twice
Get caught in the spell of carnival lights
Chalk it up to the way I was raised
A regular at Palisades

Then it is another one-eighty as Project Mercury glides into If I Was a Child, a paean to the classic anthemic power rockers of a quarter century ago. The liner notes credit Mastrorilli's husband, Eric Rosenberg, as composer to her lyrics. Again. Charlene Donohue provides perfect backing vocals and violin lines that override the orchestrations to just the right degree. The personnel on this exceptionally good track are Pete Pineyro (electric and acoustic guitar), Rick Lewis (keys), John Socha (drums) and Tim Dailey (bass).

In sum, Light This Candle showcases a fine Valley-based artist who merits our attention. Mastrorilli is a prolific songwriter, and Project Mercury is headed in the right direction. According to the songwriter - and to the CD's title track - that direction is up. Perhaps even straight up.