During the coldest days of January 2014, Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne recorded their debut album as a duo, I Line My Days Along Your Weight, set for release on Important Records on Ocotober 14. These two were inches apart, facing each other, intent upon listening: a true duet. Weaving together archaic sounds from baritone acoustic, tricone resonator, golden-era flattop, space-age lap steel guitar, upright piano, and hundred-year-old mandolin, the pair created a vibrant new strain. Throughout, Mary sang, emphatic yet unaffected. And every day they loaded up on high-protein bars and piled on multiple layers of clothing for the walk to GaluminumFoil studios because Brooklyn, this past winter, was utterly arctic. But you wouldn’t know it by the warmth of the recordings they made.
All the songs were recorded live to two-inch analog tape, the production equivalent of tightrope-walking without a net. Mark and Mary later added minimal touches of lap steel, piano, and electric guitar — but essentially what you hear is what they performed together, start to finish, facing each other.
I Line My Days Along Your Weight begins with a rich and propulsive ride, “First Fall Nights,” followed by “Hospital,” with two guitars so thickly interwoven that one seems to smear the other. Here is the first instance where Mark’s deeply contextual, expressive fingerpicking style steps to the fore, then entwines again with Mary. That centenarian mandolin makes its toneful initial appearance on the wonder-gilded “When Your Elders Are Tall”; then come the worried lullaby “A Racing Heart” and the elegiac memory poem “Green Gold Violet.”
Again and again, the words are terribly realistic; still, Mary’s voice gives it to you easy.
The skeletal “A Gracious Host” is spare even by this acoustic duo’s standards, leavened only by an apparition of mournful lap steel. Then, incantatory and intimate, comes “Walk With Me,” with intricate cross-picked mandolin that suggests a kora player at work as much as a bluegrass hotshot. The northern Appalachian foot-stomper “Cold Spring” is a wild train ride up the Hudson, while “Sirens Call” is all forlorn New York cityscape, setting the stage for the final track. Urgent, summoning, and conjuring echoes of a steel-drum band, “Sing a Fare Thee Well” finds Mary twinning the sorrowful with the celebratory, one working inexorably upon the other.
Mark Rogers and Mary Byrne each grew up on opposite sides of Central Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River, but their paths did not cross until years later in the explosively creative East Atlanta music scene. From there, the two moved to Brooklyn, where they married, and where Mary earned her MFA in writing from Brooklyn College and Mark quickly became an in-demand stage and session player and music instructor. Their collaboration began in earnest in the days after Hurricane Sandy hit New York in November 2012; with the city at a standstill, the two sketched many of the songs now included on their debut release.
Before this, Mark played with Brooklyn indie-folk band The Loom, with whom he toured and performed as part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s “Next Wave” series and at Pop Montreal and CMJ. He also was multi-instrumentalist and songwriter with Atlanta’s renowned alt-Americana quartet, Myssouri, whose “War/Love Blues” was selected by Pitchfork as a top album. Mary was lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist for Atlanta trio Hot Young Priest, which toured nationwide; their “Fiendish Freaky Love” (Two Sheds Music) garnered critics’ praise in Magnet, Amplifier, The Big Takeover, Time Out New York, and NPR’s “All Songs Considered.”
From the start of their collaboration, Mark and Mary have sought to create a space for audiences that is most intimate, and most human, using the most elemental tools: wood, bone, steel, flesh, and voices pushing air.
There is playing, and there is playing as two.
Two playing together might accompany each other. Two might step above, behind, and around each other. Two might volley parts back and forth as in badminton.
Or, two might listen. Here, two play caught up in each other’s pulse. Their focus fragile, hard-fought. And something strange happens: a third voice. It’s startling, and it’s when music no longer sounds like its constituents. And it’s when two extend to the audience their truest invitation.
I Line My Days Along Your Weight is being released by the strikingly diverse and adventurous Important Records (Diane Cluck, John Fahey, Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch, Nels Cline, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Anthony Braxton, Pauline Oliveros, Julia Kent, Marissa Anderson, Noveller, Steve Gunn, Marc Ribot, among others) and a nationwide tour will follow.