Album Review: Wrong Turn


SEVEN DAYS: Mark LeGrand, Wrong Turn

By Dan Bolles
March 29, 2017

(Self-released, CD)

Mark LeGrand has been sober for close to 30 years. But, even decades later, those bleary nights seem to linger around him. In fact, they might be the Montpelier songwriter's most seductive muse. Over several locally acclaimed albums — most recently including Tigers Above and Tigers Below, a 2016 duo project with his wife, Sarah Munro — LeGrand has turned to the shadows of his past for inspiration. That a country singer would view the world through the distorted lens of an empty bottle is hardly revelatory. But given the benefit of distance and perspective, LeGrand cuts his tales of damnation with a chaser of compassion. It's a heady cocktail, equal parts sweet and bitter, stirred to perfection on his latest EP, Wrong Turn.

Particularly in his later years, LeGrand has become a storytelling craftsman. He stitches the EP's scant five songs together with frayed threads of perdition and redemption, coupling simple, efficient language with an equally plainspoken delivery. His gentle, slightly nasal rasp is soothing, evoking the easy charms of Willie Nelson or John Denver. It's a familiar tone that almost masks the turbulence in his writing.

The title track opens the record, setting up the thematic narrative of bad decisions against a backdrop of bright, 1970s-style country. It's replete with punchy fiddle, ringing guitar and loping drums. LeGrand paints a lively, lustful scene. But he knows better than most that dire actions have dire consequences. "And soon there will be hell to pay," he warns.

While LeGrand is often brutally honest, it's rarely clear how much of his writing is autobiographical. "Everytime I'm Getting Over You" seems to come closest. "There's the whiskey and there's the glass / There's the pipe, waiting for the match," he sings, though whether longingly or ruefully is uncertain. Then, "And there's the cocaine, telling me what to do / Every time I'm getting over you."

"The Cops Took My Sweetheart Last Night" is a tragic, northern gothic tale of drug-addled desperation whose lyrics almost read like a police report: "There's a hole in our screen door / from her .44."

"Four Walls, a Door and a Window" follows like a postscript, seemingly told from the perspective of the aforementioned jailed sweetheart. Producer Colin McCaffrey's steel guitar imparts an icy air of desolation, mirroring LeGrand's tortured prose.

Wrong Turn closes on "I Don't Sing in Barrooms Anymore," a classically styled cut that could pass for a Waylon Jennings outtake. Here, LeGrand adopts the persona of a singer who sees the world passing him by and doesn't much seem to mind. LeGrand does still sing in barrooms, of course. But the tune has a sage, lived-in quality that only comes with real experience. We're fortunate LeGrand shares his, wrong turns and all.

Mark LeGrand plays Sweet Melissa's in Montpelier every Friday. Wrong Turnis available a few doors down Langdon Street at Buch Spieler Records.

Album Review: Tigers Above and Tigers Below (Seven Days)


SEVEN DAYS: Sarah Munro and Mark LeGrand, Tigers Above and Tigers Below 

February 17, 2016

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

In a 2011 interview with Seven Days, Montpelier-based songwriter Mark LeGrand summed up his decision to quit drinking. "It's a part of your brain that takes over," he said, explaining addiction. "Eventually you have to figure out who is really running the show." LeGrand is inarguably among central Vermont's foremost authorities on country music, a genre as soaked in whiskey as it is steeped in tradition. Though he's been sober for decades and has been a public advocate for sobriety for nearly as long, his struggle with alcohol has long played a prominent role in his songwriting.

But the barroom ghosts that haunt the neon-lit margins of LeGrand's songs exist more as cautionary tales than the soused sad sacks you typically find in the country music oeuvre. It's as if, by writing about his demons, he's exerting his own power over them, showing the specters of his past that he's in control. On his latest record, Tigers Above and Tigers Below, LeGrand relinquishes some of that control. In doing so, his music and, seemingly, his resolve prove stronger than ever.

Tigers is a collaboration of LeGrand and his wife, vocalist and visual artist Sarah Munro. Though LeGrand wrote or cowrote each of the album's 10 cuts, Munro takes the lead on four tunes and plays June Carter to LeGrand's Johnny Cash on another. For those who've followed LeGrand's music over the years, hearing his northern gothic musings given voice through Munro's sweet alto is a unique treat, and one that adds new depth and context to his material.

It doesn't take long for this to bear itself out. Munro takes the lead on the opening cut, "Ask of Me." She sings with sassy swagger befitting the tune's early rock-and-roll swing.

Next up is "The Hank in Me," a woozy number in which LeGrand confesses that he's been under the influence of Hank Williams in more ways than music. "I was born with the lovesick blues / Tailor made for pills and booze," he sings in an unadorned tenor that bears shades of Willie Nelson.

The album's most affecting cut is "After All These Years," which is essentially a love letter from LeGrand to Munro. But those old spirits still lurk. "The ghosts around this house, they still haunt me / I see their smoky shadows in the air," he sings. But he finds strength in another presence: Munro. "After all these years, I still love you," they harmonize at the chorus. It's sweet and moving, as is the whole album.

The album's title, Tigers Above and Tigers Below, is a reference to a Buddhist parable popularized by author Pema Chödrön. The gist of the tale is to enjoy life even when peril surrounds. It's no doubt an apt metaphor for LeGrand, and one that informs his latest work with Munro. The record has a pervasive sense of joy, of appreciating goodness in spite of lingering shadows, and it is infectious.

Tigers Above and Tigers Below by Sarah Munro and Mark LeGrand is available at

Album Review: Tigers Above and Tigers Below (No Depression)



Sarah Munro and Mark LeGrand - Tigers Above and Tigers Below

FEBRUARY 10, 2016 

I first met Sarah Munro and Mark LeGrand in the mid-90’s. Mark had said he wrote songs and suggested that we play a few tunes together. I didn’t think much of it until I heard him sing  l Know What Makes the Rain, one of his originals. I love songs like this: elusive yet tantalizingly close to the source. About five minutes later I suggested we make an album at my home studio and that is how Mischievous Angel came into being in 1997. It featured their compelling harmonies, his songwriting along with a few they wrote together, and it remains a longstanding favorite among their fans. Since then LeGrand has made three albums on his own even as they’ve continued to perform on and off together. Now, 19 years later we have Tigers Above and Tigers Belowtheir first collaborative album since Mischeivous Angel

It begins with “Ask of Me”– a soul tinged ballad complete with a Hammond B-3 organ to set the sultry mood. LeGrand wrote all the songs on Tigers except two they penned together and this is one of the two. It serves as a testament to their enduring relationship while capturing a glimpse of the infinite:

Ask of me, When the stars are rearranging

Ask of me, When there's new worlds to explore

Ask of me, As everything is changing

Ask of me… 

Ask of me, When you purify the waters          

Ask of me, When you sanctify the wine

 Ask of me, We are all your son's and daughters

Ask of me, ask of me, ask of me

This is not a song to merely announce to the world that “now everything is fine, we’re together” but the distilled wisdom that ensues from profound life changes and spiritual self-examination.

“The Hank In Me”, reveals the spirit and honky-tonk soul of Hank Williams with a lyrical approach reminiscent of how Dylan borrows traditional motifs and phrases in songs like Blind Willie McTell or Red River Shore. In this case it’s Williams’ lyrics that are brilliantly inserted:

I saw Maybelline coming over the hill, In a cherry red rag top Coup Deville

She set the woods on fire and I saw the light

She picked me up on her way down

I brought the pain, she bought the rounds

At closing time I was feeling all right


It's the Hank in me, I do the be bop be

I called the doctor on the phone

He said I'm sorry son but it's in your bones

At this point we realize the album is driven by solid, fluid arrangements with a tight band consisting of drummer Bret Hoffman and keyboardist extraordinaire Ira Friedman. Both are members of Dave Keller’s blues band. The lead guitarist is Jason Jack Merrihew who finds a way to shine in every lead or backing role he’s presented with while LeGrand steadys the bottom end with electric bass.

The title track is inspired from a Zen parable that is deftly woven into the lyrics. The sketch of the story is: your running from a tiger, you fly over a ledge with only a vine to hold you, a mouse is gently nibbling on the vine and a strawberry appears, seemingly out of nowhere, you pick it - while seemingly hanging on for your life. It’s a lesson in being in the now:

The ever present moment is always here to show, 

Tigers Above and Tigers Below.

"After All These Years" is a LeGrand / Merrihew original that sounds like a Willie Nelson classic - smooth a silk. It's song filled with reminecence and commitment.

This album has a texture to it, an overall sheen thanks to Central Vermont’s studio wizard and producer Colin McCaffery (The Green Room.) Hoffman’s drums never sounded better and he plays instinctually to every phrase, a producers dream. Ira Friedman’s Hammond B-3 adds a haunting effect throughout this album while his piano magnifies his contribution. Tom Buckely's (Jeff Salisbury Band)electric bass is always where it needs to be with strength and style while Scott Conreille's upright adds its subtleties when needed. Even if some of the songs go by in the context of listening, you are always able to just feel what’s going on, and eventually a song will come out and hit you a bit harder here, or allow you to breathe easier for a moment there.

“Lost Ball in the Weeds” is a chilling, disarming song about the mystery of life, how we connect, interact, lose and ultimately find our way. If that’s a mouthful and a high bar to achieve, I can only say that assessment only touches on part of it, no small feat here. It’s like a Dylan song that you hear for the first time – like Frankie Lee and Judas Priest or Lilly, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts where you know yer gonna enjoy absorbing the nuances of the lyric for a long time to come. You get it, but it’s elusive at the same time; with Dylan some called it poetry. LeGrand took a seemingly innocent conversation with an older man who was recalling his father's suicide at age seven, then his mother leaving shortly thereafter and him feeling like a ‘lost ball in the weeds.’

Summer breeze, through the trees

Sun drops from the sky

Suppers on, Mama's gone

Guess she just had to fly


Memories on a night like this

Travel along at light speed

Who's gonna find me, Who's gonna see

Another lost ball in the weeds

Ultimately, it’s the compassion and understanding that we are left with:

Feel the tide, pull my insides

rip me with it's undertow

Where I am, from where I began

Wonder if I'll ever know?

Their harmonies on this one are the comfort one needs when the heart is ripped open. Scott Cornielle’s upright bass adds the gentle power it deserves. When I recorded my violin part, it felt like a religious experience being in the middle of this song.

“Just One Taste” could be covered by Tony Bennett. Yes, LeGrand's writing has matured that much. The truth is, he has been a student of the trade for years and one cannot help to realize that after while, he just got really good at writing songs. In a jazzy, nylon-stringed guitar accompaniment, it glides along with Merrihew’s guitars framing the tenderness of pure love.

For the many who love LeGrand's honky-tonk roots, the next sequence of songs offers plenty. Starting with “It’s Good To See You Gone” the title hook speaks for itself and plays true to form with McCaffery’s classic fiddle throwing it headlong into Nashville mode.

It’s Good To See You Gone,

Everything about our love was wrong

"Tell Me Something (I Don’t Know)" features a classic country-like duet with both LeGrand and Munro trading verses then joining together like the many country partners who have come down this road before, George Jones/ Tammy Wynette – and the like. LeGrand has always possessed a deep baritone to die for yet it’s Sarah’s voice that has made giant leaps in expression and richness of texture.

“Double Wide” features those rat-a-tat lyrics and a hard luck ‘everything ‘s gone wrong’ scenario until the final verse brings it all home:

Grandpa’s in his easy chair, nothin’s ever easy there

Grandma’s out behind the church, Covered up with a load of dirt

We’ll all end up there one day, Some will curse some will pray

Me I’ll try to make it rhyme right up ‘till I’m out of time

"Outside Our Own Backyard" was written together in their hotel room while they were on vacation on Cape Cod. Another soul-filled ballad, it immediately draws you in and leaves us with an appreciation for life, like some movie that has ripped open your soul yet given it back with a final assessment at the end.

Oh how we want to go, like rivers want to flow

 they have more time, you know, this we can’t disregard

Oh how we long to go, let go and lose control

follow our dreams and grow, Outside our Own Backyard

Let’s spread our wings and fly

We’ll cross the mountain high

Follow an endless sky

Outside our Own Backyard

We know that partnership means having an ability to withstand and flourish throughout the many changes that life brings. In Tigers Above and Tigers Below Munro and LeGrand articulate the wisdom that comes from a love that sustains – and that is a gift to this world.