She’s standing there on the cover, lovely black and white photograph, big smile, looking to the heavens. You know what this is; you turn it on. “You got a blue eye”, sings the sophisticate; “It’s deeper than any blue.” You know what this is. She relates that the other eye is charming – only it’s green
! You do not know what this is. And you should – in this witty album Mary Foster Conklin sings an eloquent batch of kiss-off songs with charm, delight, and good humor, mostly at the expense of the song’s subject.
Anyway, back to the eyes. “Crazy Eyes” is a deliciously clever song about a man who is two-faced (or, rather, two-eyed.) Her high notes are pure, the low tinged with a distinctive quaver that brings irony to what she sings. It’s a thoughtful voice, one that can say “wellpools of despair and ecstasy” without it sounding pompous. The trio is perfect: Bill Mays is by turns restless and lush, just as Mary is. He is silent on the top of “The Gentleman is a Dope”, which makes her sound lonely – which, of course, is the point.
As well as “Dope”’s sung, it’s acted even better – the heartbreak is NOT sung with a happy voice, a problem with many singers. (She has an advantage: her first goal was the theater.) This skill takes her far: on “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’”, a child’s voice for the line “Tell me a story”; a worldly voice for “That one is mine !” Her best acting comes on “Some Cats Know”: the line is “Either you got it, or you ain't,” and the last word is positively deadly. It helps her mightily: it’s not just the words but the way they’re sung, and that keeps your interest. And any actress (or singer) needs an audience.
An actress also needs a script. The songs here are all special, and each is underheard, or rarely heard in this way. Four songs come from “Crazy Eyes” author David Cantor: all are similarly clever, and tell a story in the old style. “Slow Boat to China” has an ex-boyfriend who “had more respect for Nixon than he ever had for me!” A similar jerk, in “Mad About You”, is called “a perfect waste of time”. I’m shocked a writer this good isn’t better known – Mary’s doing her part. “Goody Goody” is retooled with a new melody, and the title phrase is rarely heard. In a similar facelift, the rock ballad “How Can I Be Sure” is done up-tempo; the tune is the same, but now it sounds turbulent. And a Laura Nyro song is sung not in Nyro’s elaborate style, but simple and tender – it works. This is true with nearly all of these. While the break-up songs take most of the space, this has its tender moments. Cantor’s “Baby Talk” is an old-fashioned melody about the silly things lovers say. Mary has fun with it, including a chorus of “goo goo” and other profundity. And “Only Trust Your Heart” gets no revision, no startling delivery. All you get is a tender tune, a classic lyric, and a heartfelt delivery. What else do you need? This is the break-up album of all time. Hear it for the songs, and for Mary’s infectious voice. Throughout she shows strength, humor, attitude, and charm. And that is a heady combination.