Chicago’s The Sweet Maries Brandish Strong Storytelling On New Release, “Tall Trees & Riverbeds”
Like any powerful musical duo, Amy Shoemaker and Susie Lofton — who make up Chicago acoustic indie-folk/Americana group The Sweet Maries — seem joined at the hip. Their musical and vocal talents compliment each other while both reaching the same goal with ease. And no more is that made clear than on “Dirt Road,” the life-affirming opening track of their newest release Tall Trees & Riverbeds.
Though certainly not as topsy-turvy as the plot of Thelma & Louise, “Dirt Road” sports a vibe of two women united, ready to take on whichever path is laid out, even if one of the opening lyrics proclaims there’s “No one beside me / No one to help guide me.” It’s set to a breezy melody that coasts like the wind on a long, open drive.
Traveling together since 2011 — with two previous albums under their belts — Shoemaker and Lofton play things comically close to the vest on how they were introduced (“We met through a crazy carpet cleaner. Enough said,” goes the story when it comes up), but it’s clear that their respective talents make this pairing seem like a life-long friendship through song. Per Shoemaker, “Collaboration is key for our music. Susie and I have been in many bands over the years, but I think we both were thirsty for bandmates who had the desire to work closely and frequently together to shape the sound and contours of our music.”
Those contours are present on the Western-styled “Box Canyon Blues,” where percussion, throaty yells and closely recorded exhales make for a mysterious, enchanting tune. The song “started out as a guitar line I had written and Susie and I were having fun with it at rehearsal, putting some vocal background parts on it in harmony. She had a thought about lyrics and came up with some great ones that fit perfectly with the music and took it to a mystical place. And she sings the daylights out of it.”
Lofton adds “Spending as much time together as possible has been key for us. Amy and I try to allow the process to be very organic. Writing is a place where we are very vulnerable. We developed a strong trust in our relationship, so it’s a safe place to play. It’s very kinetic.”
Elsewhere, the luster and relatable nature of “Brighter Day” shines with optimism and a timeless “sha-la-la” refrain, while “Sweet William” goes the opposite route, showcasing a bit of worry and darkness as the duo wonders of the song’s subjects will “make it home by the morning.” Closing number “Oh Mary” thrives on handclaps and incredible vocal runs, showcasing all the best parts of The Sweet Maries: captivating voices, engrossing storytelling and masterful musicianship.
“Music, collaboration, stories, glory, pain, love, desire, humor, beauty and struggle are all things that we celebrate and that motivates us consciously and unconsciously,” explains Shoemaker when asked about overall themes in The Sweet Maries’ catalog. “Music is a sacred place and we love to be in and around it.” Lofton adds that “the aspect of human connectivity and the many stories our lives tell” are also key. “The concept that deep down we all want something sacred, transcendent and beautiful. We want love. Music can inspire us and can also confront us.”