Burlington singer-songwriter Mary McGinniss has been performing since the 1970s, but she's hardly a household name. For one thing, her appearances have been rare, and for another, she's generally shied away from the limelight, content to provide harmonies for other groups. But those who've been lucky enough to hear her have recognized McGinniss as one of the Green Mountains' musical treasures. Now she's finally come out with her first solo album; the carefully crafted Places in Between will expose her lovely voice and brilliant songwriting to the larger audience she deserves.
The nine McGinniss originals on Places depict the lives and struggles of heroic women -- some modern and some who lived hundreds of years ago. She's as much a poet as a musician, and her lyrics are a pleasure to read and hear. Like great storytelling songwriters John Prine and Tom Waits, McGinniss paints indelible pictures with her words. Standout track "Cedar Tree" is the story of a 17th-century Haudenosaunee Indian woman. You can practically smell the camp smoke and whiskey between each catchy refrain.
McGinniss is an accomplished guitarist, bassist and mandolin player, but she's also invited several well-known local musicians to lend a hand. Peter Engisch -- who also engineered the recording -- Mark Ransom, Neil Cleary, Juliet McVicker, Bruce McKenzie and Gordon Stone all provide worthy accompaniment. Stone deserves special mention; his transcendently beautiful pedal steel playing adds an understated charm to four tracks.
Places in Between is terrific, especially for a first effort. The CD release party takes place at Parima in Burlington next month -- but I couldn't wait that long to tell you about it.