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Maria review
from Wall of Sound
by Bob Remstein
[archived here without permission]

Rating: 62

MariaCanadian pop innovator Jane Siberry has always been a challenging, and often a puzzling, artist. Viewed initially as a cross between the sophisticated folk-rock of Joni Mitchell, the ethereal moodiness of Kate Bush, and the droll artiness of Laurie Anderson, Siberry has carved out her own distinct niche over the last decade. But though her natural tendency is to aim high, her experiments fail just as often as they succeed, either getting mired in over-arrangement or losing their impact by becoming dramatically diffuse.

Maria, her seventh album, is a case in point. While it marks a dramatic stylistic departure for Siberry, it is more notable for what she attempts than for what she achieves. Never before has she utilized jazz as the basis for her sound, and the melding of her breezy impressionist pop with Tim Ray's dominating piano work and the Miles-influenced muted trumpet playing of David Travers-Smith provides some wonderful moments. The lengthy Latin-jazz intro of "Caravan" offers the disc's best instrumental work, and it leads into one of Siberry's more accessible (yet no less inventive) melodies. "Would You Go?" is probably the thorniest track, with particularly dissonant harmonic writing. "Begat Begat," on the other hand, finds Siberry layering a simple repeated piano riff over somewhat funky odd-meter rhythms. Those who know her past efforts will find this cut the most familiar sounding.

The lyrics are fairly enigmatic throughout. Love, dreams, surrealism, nursery rhymes -- you name it, she's made a place for it in her work. On Maria, what Siberry winds up making a place for is a twenty-minute closing song, the hugely ambitious "Oh My My." Centered around a minimal chord pattern and incorporating spoken sections, rather placid instrumental chunks, and two separate complete renditions of "Puff the Magic Dragon" sung by a children's chorus, this magnum opus almost succeeds. Maybe the double "Puff" parts seem too silly, or maybe having the biggest climax occur thirteen minutes in leads to an emotional drop-off too far before the end, but the song, much like the album, ultimately comes off as more of a curiosity than a classic.