Mary’s Danish: “O Lonely Soul, It’s a Hard Road”
Sometimes what makes a song good is all in how it’s constructed. Case in point is today’s song with the somewhat unwieldy title: “O Lonely Soul, It’s a Hard Road,” by Mary’s Danish. Mary’s Danish was around only briefly, back in the early ’90s; this song comes from their final album, American Standard, released in 1992. Taken solely for its lyrics or for its bluesy melody, the song would be fine, but not as memorable as it is after adding in a gradual build from its quiet beginning to its belted finale. The instrumentation begins sparsely along with singer Julie Ritter’s vocals (Mary’s Danish had two lead singers, Ritter being one and Gretchen Seager the other, and I’m pretty sure this is Ritter), but as the chorus comes in the first time, the rest of the band kicks in. Ritter’s singing meanwhile gradually gets more powerful — in fact, I’d say she does a masterful job with the “gradualness” — each line is sung with just a bit more oomph than the one before it, until by the end of the song she’s completely belting it out and the band is similarly playing keep-up with Ritter.
The other factor that works especially well for the song is the rhythmic emphasis on the words in the chorus. By breaking the lines like so:
Wisdom is the —
Window to the —
Earth and sky and I’ve —
Got the blues,
Ritter gives the song an urgency and flow that push the song along and give it an additional dimension that, along with the tension of the building volume and force of the instrumentation, takes it from simply “good” to “great.” Janis Joplin would have been proud.