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Kate & Anna McGarrigle
Hannibal HNCD-4401
Released: 1976

A civilized, tactful person would, I suppose, refrain from jumping up and down and yelling "You Must Hear This Record!" But maybe that's why so many people fail to hear about brilliant new performers until it's too late. And so, You Must Hear Kate and Anna McGarrigle! They are sisters and individual singer/songwriters who have come together to create a debut album that is distinctive without being cloying or arch. Everything about the album is first-rate, starting with the songs, most of which were written by either Kate or Anna, in styles that complement without repeating each other. Kate's material is inclined to be a bit tougher and funnier lyrically, while Anna holds a slight edge in writing memorable melodies. Their voices, also, are similar enough to blend well (it doesn't hurt, of course, that they have been harmonizing together since childhood) without sounding like they have been double-tracked.

Most of their songs revolve around love, sometimes of the merely lost, sometimes of the lost-and-found variety. Anna's "Heart Like a Wheel" (first recorded by Linda Ronstadt) is given a performance so gorgeous it can raise goose bumps, and it's done solely with three voices (sister Jane is the third), guitar, banjo, and organ. "Go, Leave" has an even more economical production -- just composer Kate on vocals and guitar. Medals of Restraint should be pinned, then, on producers Joe Boyd and Greg Prestopino, who had the sense to keep the framework simple-to-sparse where that worked best and added extra instruments and voices only when they would improve matters. This album should be the beginning of great things.

- Penelope Ross, Stereo Review, 5/76.

Bonus Reviews!

A folky apotheosis -- dry and droll, tender, sweetly mocking its own sentiment, unfailingly intelligent. With melodies that are fetching rather than pretty (cf. Jean Ritchie) and lyrics that are not above a certain charming, even calculating, vulgarity (cf. Loudon Wainwright III). A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

This album was chosen the best of its year by Melody Maker, and critics retain their affection for it. The Canadian sisters delivered a dozen songs displaying their diverse musical influences. "Complainte Pour Ste-Catherine" reflects formative years spent in French-speaking Quebec.

Nearly all the songs were penned by one or both of the sisters, except "Swimming Song," by Loudon Wainwright III, who was married to Kate at the time. Her "Kiss and Say Goodbye" and "(Talk to Me of) Mendicino" are oustanding. Anna's "Heart Like a Wheel" became the title song of Linda Ronstadt's first American number one.

In 1987, Kate & Anna McGarrigle was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #46 rock album of all time.

- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.

This album was Melody Maker's pick for Best Record of 1975, and it's hard to argue with that choice when you listen to the tart harmonies and solo singing on one of the best songwriting collections ever. From Anna's famous "Heart Like a Wheel" to Kate's bouncy "Kiss and Say Goodbye," the songs paint a deeply felt, highly detailed portrait of life and romance. A revelation when it was released and a classic today. * * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Kate & Anna McGarrigle got rave reviews upon its release, but its songs don't have the timeless ring that the material on their 1977 followup Dancer with Bruised Knees does. But it's a startling record for its time, featuring "Heart Like a Wheel" and a lively take of Loudon Wainwright III's hilarious "Swimming Song" (Kate was married to Wainwright). * * * 1/2

- Gil Asakawa, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Have you ever heard better harmonies than on this phenomenal debut from the talented Canadian sisters whose loyal fan base bespeaks their enduring appeal? Pairing fresh, pithy folk instrumentation with quirky, emotional lyrics told from a woman's point of view, like "Heart Like a Wheel," the single Linda Ronstadt covered a few years earlier, they create haunting, wispy songs made for listening -- this is intelligent music that stays with you. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Kate & Anna McGarrigle

Canadian sisters Kate and Anna McGarrigle make quiet, beautifully crafted singer-songwriter records that few outside of a devoted coterie of fans, many of them recording artists, have heard. Since the '70s -- when Linda Ronstadt covered "Heart like a Wheel" -- successive waves of singer-songwriters have seized on the McGarrigles' blunt and sometimes acidic humor, the wide harmonies and eccentric perspectives that define their songs. Such influence should, at the very least, make the McGarrigles' music easy to find; in fact, several important albums have fallen out of print over the years. Everything the duo did in the 1970s is worth hearing; rarely have simple, plaintive songs been graced with such tightly bound sisterly vocals, a swooning siren sound with more power than either McGarrigle could achieve alone.

The key, though, is the songwriting. There's true daring, and a willfull eccentricity, driving these explorations of modern love's minefields and barren ruins. Anna's haiku "Heart like a Wheel" belongs among the great metaphors about romance and devotion; Kate's "(Talk to Me of) Mendicino" catches a yearning for place that's as profound, and vividly sketched, as the yearning for love. The quaint, old-timey sounds (fiddle, accordion, banjo) aren't there to take listeners back to another era; instead, they provide contrast and color, framing the porcelain-pure harmonies. Swirled together, these elements combine for oddly revelatory folk music that registers as a wrenching feeling in the gut even before you're able to appreciate it intellectually.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

(2011 Deluxe 3-CD Edition) Kate & Anna McGarrigle, from 1975, is a singer-songwriter session up there with Joni Mitchell's Blue and Neil Young's Harvest, though unlike either in style (or sales). Funny and heartbreaking, informed by French-Canadian parlor songs and delicious harmonies, it's idiosyncratically perfect. This reissue pairs it with 1977's nearly-as-great Dance With Bruised Knees, adding a beautiful disc of demos and other flotsam. "Skidmore girls come back to town/All the freaks head underground," sings the late Kate on the unreleased "Saratoga Summer Song," a slice of life from a woman who saw the sublime and the absurd as kissing cousins. * * * * 1/2

- Will Hermes, Rolling Stone, 5/12/11.

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