There’s a moving directness to Great & Solemn Wild, the final album by the late New Jersey folk singer Marybeth D’Amico.
Recorded over the year before her passing of cancer, the set-up’s simple in most cases: just D’Amico, her guitar, and her lilting voice. Recorded by her friend Pat Byrne (Prove It All Night, The Best Show) to a Superscope stereo cassette deck, mixed by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr), mastered by Greg Calbi (Bob Dylan, War on Drugs, Julien Baker), and featuring art laid out by Mike Krol, the album captures a series of moments with particular grace. It’s easy to hear echoes of Springsteen’s Nebraska in the album’s raw quiet — and not only because D’Amico covers “Reason to Believe” — but also traces of Jackson C. Frank’s spectral melodies and some of the woozy romance of Judee Sill. It’s part reckoning; when she sings “Feel so all alone, down in the darkness of my soul” in “The Lawn Mower Song” it’s chilling, but also celebratory. “Hush, the clouds are parting/darling weep no more,” D’Amico sings on “Dream.” Like the best elegies, it crystalizes not only the sadness of someone being gone, but also the joy of them having lived to begin with.
On the closing song and the title track, recorded only a month or so before her death, D’Amico sings, “I’ve seen good and I’ve seen bad times/in this world where I abide/but I’ve never found the reason/why we live and why we die.” Faced with the end of her own story, D’Amico commits herself to awe and exploration. “And I wonder/if I’ll tremble/when my last breath leaves this life/until then I’ll be a’wandering/through this great and solemn wild,” she sings, joined by the voices of her daughters Francesca and Bianca. To have a moment of such bravery committed to tape is a wonderful thing. words / j woodbury