I’m of the school that the most important quality of a writer is his/her/hir deftitude at balancing humor and heartbreak. One isn’t true without the other, not for any prolonged period of time. For high office in this school, Carolyn Mark runs unopposed.
The Queen of Vancouver Island is Carolyn Mark’s seventh album. In the past she’s sung the vulnerable and farcical songs of alcoholism (“what a wino/what do I know?”), infidelity (“point of view/what’s the point of you?”), and not being terribly famous (“you’re at the Irish bar, not the Opry/your Mae West is coming out like Gilbert Gottfried”). But here the wound that’s wide open is age. Of course it’s a terrifying subject and of course Mark writes about it fearlessly. “Baby Goats” finds Mark pondering her childlessness at a petting zoo. The choice to cover Elvis’ “Flaming Star,” the song about staying on the move because death coming for you, is a brave statement from a touring musician. Then the dirge “Old Whores” just drops your jaw, collapses your sternum, draws the line between aging and youth and consequence.
The B-story of the album and a lot of the funny comes from Mark’s relationship songs. In these songs, Mark has a discussion with someone she’s no longer speaking to, goes to a show with Geoff Berner to see a guy she shouldn’t see, finds comfort in consistent presence of Nobody. She takes a subject that is on the surface comically juvenile–romantic foilblery–and matures it truthfully while retaining its humor.
One of the treats of the album is the inclusion of live-set favorite “You’re Not a Whore (if No One’s Payin’).” But the gag mid-song where Mark gargles a chorus with a mouth full of water/booze/”X” doesn’t translate from the stage to the studio all that well. Minor complaint. Major album. A rare and awesome record of public and private aging. Essential Listening.
Buy The Queen of Vancouver Island (and everything else Mark has ever released) on MP3, vinyl, and CD from Canada’s premier label and distro outfit, Mint Records and Maple Music. In the United States, buy the vinyl and CD from Midheaven. Buy the digital from iTunes and Amazon. Visit Carolyn Mark’s website and learn all about her on her artist page at Mint Records. Keep up with her Facebook.