The other day when I was on my way home by train, I took the time for a stop at one of the record stores I visit more or less regularly. I was surprised to find a new CD from the Norwegian group Aunt Mary: 47 years after they started and 24 years since their last reunion album. Cool! They hail originally from a town quite near where I live, but unfortunately I've never had the chance to see them play live. They did a one-off reunion gig a few years ago to celebrate a documentary about their history.
However, I have their entire back catalogue in my collection, including a couple of 7-inch singles. Especially the first three albums are more than worth your while. Aunt Mary (1970) is an energetic and sparkling mixture of early progressive rock, blues, jazz and soul with great lead vocals by several band members (****). Loaded (1971) dropped the use of wind instruments and had barely any obvious jazz influences. Instead it presents a step into a more 'pure' progressive rock direction, although the blues roots are still very strong (***+). The album Janus (1973) saw Aunt Mary fully perform in a symphonic progressive rock direction in the vein of Yes. We find great harmony vocals, lofty lyrics − For All Eternity almost quotes from Yours Is No Disgrace! − complex structures, music with more keyboards, and so on. There's even a track called Mr. Kaye; I wonder if this was meant as a tribute to Tony Kaye... (***+).
After these LPs the band folded, but reunited in 1980 which can be heard on the live album Live Reunion, that moves between jazz-rock and blues-rock. There's not much prog on the album, but it's a great live document (***+). In 1992 the band reunited for Bluesprints, another studio album, but I found it a somewhat disappointing record that had left the old jazz-rock and prog influences behind and presented just plain blues-rock (**). In 2009 a live album appeared drawn from a 1971-session for the Swedish radio. Barbed Wire Waves is probably the best release after their debut. It's only half an hour of music, including the Swedish introduction, but it's a fabulous, powerful and spirited performance. Very solid and heavy progressive rock with a prog rock version of Grieg's classic Mountain King as a highlight (****-).
In 2013, Aunt Mary fan and renowned guitarist and producer Ronni LeTekrø of TNT fame, gathered the original line-up of the band to record a new album. Bass player Sven Gundersen chose to drop out and in his place Bernt Bodal the former bass player of Høst, another Norwegian progressive rock band from the seventies, joined. Regrettably, lead singer Jan Groth had to leave the band soon after due to poor health conditions and in 2014 he sadly succumbed to cancer. Aunt Mary carried on with new vocalist Glenn Lyse, founding member and guitar player Bjørn Kristiansen, bassist Bodal, original drummer Ketil Stensvik and new keyboardist Ola Aanje, although co-producer Henning Ramseth plays keyboards on the CD. They started to record New Dawn, but the problems continued when also Stensvik tragically passed away after being diagnosed with cancer as well. Drummer Ole Tom Torjussen stepped in and with him Aunt Mary played some gigs as a support to Ronnie LeTekrø 's hard rock group TNT.
Now we finally have a new album; it's dedicated to the memory of Jan Groth and Ketil Stensvik and it also includes one song from the old days, namely the rhythmic G Flat Road, which appeared originally on the second album, although the previously available live version is much cooler. The other ten tracks can be characterized best as bluesy and progressive hard rock, best compared to the bluesy side of Deep Purple, but with less organ play. You will get solid riffs − opener Slave Parade is just amazingly powerful − good singing and professionally crafted music. New Dawn is neither overly surprising nor overly progressive. It's truly good fun and maybe a good incentive to check out the band's back catalogue. The album has also been released on vinyl in a gatefold cover!
*** Carsten Busch (edited by Peter Willemsen)
Where to buy?
All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2016