Judson and Mary
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Judson and Mary

Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF

Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF
Band Folk Rock

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"Album Review: Judson and Mary - In the Hands of the Sun"

By Jackie Lam

EP for review I first heard of local folk musician Judson through a friend, who had seen him play a show at Mr T.’s Bowl about a year ago. I got an earful of how good Judson was, and my friend had even drawn a loose pencil sketch of Judson playing the guitar in his doodling journal. The sketch was just a bunch of thin lines, nothing more than a free-form contour drawing. I ran across Judson in the Echo Park scene every since I saw that drawing—among the permanent hipster fixtures at Barragan’s Margarita Wednesdays, or at Two Boots Pizza, where he once worked. And so Judson remained a loose rendering. The last I heard he had been living in his car, handing out CD samplers to passersby.

Turns out he had returned to his hometown of Clemson, South Carolina earlier this year and is now back in the City of Angels with Mary, a violinist he had dated back home in South Carolina. The two musicians wed, and Judson & Mary, now a husband and wife team, have a fresh EP, In the Hands of the Sun. And at six tracks, In the Hands of the Sun is a handful of sweet, heartfelt bluesy folk ballads. The album has an unflappable quality that has both a pure simplicity and earnest wonder.

Rooted in a rangy, bluesy rhythm, William Jennings Bryan, the EP’s opening track, is a dark, somber bluesy folk song with dense violin and an ominous, drawn-out bass. Of all the songs on the track, this one is the most moody and the lyrics are gripping: I went to Church because I felt like trying/They told me about a man named William Jennings Bryan.

Train to Georgia is a major standout and my favorite song on the EP. The sweet ballad bears a light trepidation. It’s almost as if Judson and Mary is playing this song for the first time, and are anticipating a reaction from the listener. Judson’s twanky yet gentle vocals shows off his ability to sing with both depth and range. And the lyrics breathes sentimentality: You gave yourself away/like flowers in a haze/that are ready to die. Mary’s hefty skills as a violinist is evident in this track with a gritty, high-range solo that eventually ends with a weaving in and out with a thrush of piano chords. With Mary’s violin, all the songs on the album have more texture and a deeper emotional layering.

Although I had been acquainted with Judson through sightings and brief “hellos” at Echo Park’s local haunts, it is only after listening to his EP that I have met a fully fleshed Judson and also his wife Mary. And in their case, good things really do come in two. - Radio Free Silverlake


"Judson and Mary Spaceland Review"

What inspires one to write a song about William Jennings Bryan?

You might find that to be the most boring question in the history of humankind's pursuit of knowledge. And perhaps you're right.

But still it intrigues me. And you're just going to have to deal with that. I am, after all, a recovering self-taught history scholar--one who's only recently traded his dusty evenings engulfed in our nation's shady past for woozy evenings engulfed in Spaceland's totally rad green lights. I can't help it! If you don't feel like reading about William Jennings Bryan, you can click here and read all my half-informed insights into Henry Clay instead. (Sorry, those are your only two options.)

Why do I bring this up?

I'm glad you asked.

When I first met Judson and Mary and they gave me their CD, I was predisposed to like them. Why? Because I saw that they had a song called "William Jennings Bryan".

Which is not to say that I'm a particularly big fan of Bryan's. I mean, he was a better man than President McKinley, who defeated him the first time he was nominated for the presidency. His attempts to lift up the common people against the forces of oligarchy--however doomed his methods proved to be--were admirable. And of course, we should all revere his resignation from President Wilson's cabinet when he could not abide the administration's inexorable march to war. We can assume that it was the right thing to do, even though none of us remembers what the First World War was about. (I mean, history buff that I am, I remember what the First World War was about. But, that being said, I don't really remember what the First World War was about. Huns?)

But, getting back to the turn of the century, Bryan's "free silver" panacea for all that ailed the poor farmers of the South and the West was basically snake oil. And, by leading the Populists into an alliance with the reactionary, reprehensibly racist Democratic party of the late-1800s, he doomed any promise of real change, while abandoning the brief, starry hope for a multiracial coalition working toward the betterment of the lower classes.

Blah blah blah. What I'm getting at is this: He's not someone whose name you expect to see scrawled as a song title on a CD someone gives you in Echo Park. But, then again, Judson and Mary are from South Carolina. Maybe Bryan is more of a part of the culture over there? Because, over here, if anyone knows him at all, it's as that buffoonish bumpkin who got pwned by Clarence Darrow at the Scopes Monkey Trial, and then had the decency to die a few days later.

Last night at Spaceland, Judson and Mary performed a ticklishly eerie rendition of their "William Jennings Bryan". Lyrically, there's nothing inherently strange about the song. It seems to be about a young man who learns about Bryan at church and decides that he wants to be like him. Simple enough.

But--particularly live--the song never fails to weird me out. Drawled over Spaceland's emptyish floor, it had a sinister life to it; it breathed. The song thrived on pauses that weren't just pregnant--they were, like, octuplet-pregnant. And when Mary's piercing violin sliced in and started writhing atop the bass, drums and acoustic guitar, the song expanded even more, into ever-creepier places--neglected highways, condemned clapboards, storm clouds thick with violence.

What inspires one to write a song like that?

I wish I knew.

The rest of Judson and Mary's set was just as strong. It was a shame that so few were there to witness it. I suppose what Judson and Mary do--their gypsy-folk-Americana--isn't exactly fashionable, no matter how much the sheepishly-Yankee forces of Blogland try to make it so. But it's good. And they're moving fast, with new songs every set, their just-released EP already a distant speck in the rearview. Look out for them. They might run you over. - the 704


"The Ballad of Judson and Mary"

So as a means of introducing you to Judson & Mary — whom you’ve probably met, if you’ve been to a show in Silver Lake or Echo Park recently — I thought I’d share the postscript from the June 15 Buzz Bands LA show at Spaceland.

I’d initially planned to have a “special guest” play the midnight set, but in the week leading up to the show, the guest canceled and I struggled to find a replacement. A couple of days before the show, I was bemoaning that fact to a friend outside of Spaceland when Judson McKinney boldly and earnestly looked at me said, “Kevin, we’ll play that set for you.”

What I knew about Judson McKinney and his musical project with his wife, Judson & Mary, was this: They’d pounded the pavement outside L.A. clubs handing out homemade three-song sampler CDs — to date, about 1,000 of them — as a way of getting noticed. I had no idea if it was working, but they were a sweet young couple, and the folk music on the sampler was pretty good too.

I wasn’t sure a folk duo was a good fit on a bill with three rock bands, but McKinney vowed to bring a full band and promised to “rock it,” so the morning of the show I e-mailed him that the slot was his.

With a band that included bassist Garrick Hogg, drummer Andrew Lessman and guitarist/fiddler Michael Starr, Judson & Mary rocked it indeed. Maybe only 25 or 30 people stayed for the late set, but all were won over by the quintet’s reconstructed Southern fables. The experience was deserving of a backstory, so here it is:

McKinney moved to L.A. in 2008 from Clemson, S.C., (where he grew up and attended college, majoring in philosophy) landing in the Valley at first before discovering Echo Park in 2009. He recorded a solo album in the fall of ’09, but, he says, “It was hard to get shows, and I was miserable. I was living in my car by the end of the year.”

After a particularly bad gig at Universal Bar & Grill, “I just got in the car and drove cross-country back to Clemson.” There, he reconnected with Mary, also a Clemson native, whom he had met at a poetry jam six years earlier. They’d dated and played music together, but Mary, a violinist/singer, was still living at home and studying to be a medical technician. They played a couple of shows, but McKinney was itching for the world outside his hometown.

“We were talking one night and I told Mary, ‘I really want to go back to L.A. and I want you to come with,’” he says. “Because once you’ve been to L.A., there’s no reason to go anywhere else. … Mary asked, ‘Would we be living together?’ And I said, ‘Oh, we could get married,’ which was interesting because her family did not like me for [leaving her behind] the first time.”

So after one inspiring gig, McKinney told his future bride: “Let’s go to your folks’ house and tell them we’re getting married. Which made for an interesting conversation around the dinner table — ‘We’re gonna get married, your daughter’s gonna quit school, we’re gonna move to California, and by the way, can we have the Toyota Siena?’”

“A lot of alternate plans were offered,” McKinney says.

So they continued working on an EP in a trailer outside Liberty, S.C., but they couldn’t find anybody to marry them. “Everybody wanted to do months of counseling first,” McKinney says, “but then our drummer said, ‘Hey, I’m a pastor, I’ll marry you.’”

They performed at their own ceremony, on the Clemson campus, and a couple weeks later, in the early spring, Judson & Mary were on the road.

A thousand sampler CDs, one finished EP and a lot of time on the sidewalk later, “We’re just here and letting the chips fall,” McKinney says. “Mary had never been to California before, and she loves it so much more than I did. … But it’s been encouraging.” - Buzz Bands LA


"July Shows and Twofers"

In the middle of all this was an extraordinary set by Judson and Mary at the Spaceland show starring The Californian on Wednesday, July 14. It was the middle of the week, the weather was still hot outside, the club was nearly empty, and the air conditioning was on high so the atmosphere inside was sublime. And Judson and Mary simply got up on stage and easily delivered what will be one of the most memorable sets of the year. I don't know how they do it. The music is so simple and yet so profound that I found myself tearing up at times.

Overpowering beauty can do that sometimes. They began with an a capela verse that led into a stunningly gorgeous song with Judson on guitar and Mary on fiddle engaging in a give and take exchange that was so close to conversation it made me feel like I was eavesdropping. Following with the more familiar "William Jennigs Bryan" in a powerful arrangement that made me feel like I'd never heard it before. This band could go far, fast. - Feed Your Head


Discography

"In the hands of the sun" EP (2010 Academy Road Records)

"Miss Mary," Single (2010 Academy Road Records)

Photos

Bio

Judson and Mary traveled in their van from a small South Carolina town, all the way across the country, to play music. In six months, Judson and Mary have played countless venues all over LA, including the 2010 San Pedro Lobsterfest. Living in “the van,” they perform daily at open stages as well as hip indie clubs. Sweeping skies, crystal pictures, beautiful harmonies, engaging songs.

"And Judson and Mary simply got up on stage and easily delivered what will be one of the most memorable sets of the year. I don't know how they do it....This band could go far, fast."

Brad Roberts, "Feed Your Head"