Reviews

Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Songs and Stories

Michael Hayward

What better song for summer’s soundtrack than Kate and Anna’s “Swimming Song”? I added it to my iPod rotation while reading Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Songs and Stories (Penumbra), too much of which consists of transcribed newspaper reviews of albums and performances by the irreplaceable, inimitable McGarrigles of Montreal (a separate booklet of thirty-three song transcriptions is also included). Granted: some readers will be interested in Melody Maker’s thoughts on the McGarrigles’ French Record back in 1981 (their reviewer was “intoxicated by its shambling nonchalance”). But a little of such material goes a long way, and the author, Dane Lanken—who, the publisher coyly points out on the book’s back cover, is “married to (and sometimes sings with) Anna McGarrigle”—does not provide enough fresh material to counterbalance the archival. Reading Songs and Stories is like browsing through someone else’s scrapbook (and I expect that Lanken’s own scrapbook was a primary source). This is a fascinating collection of Canadian folk music ephemera, but it needs a proper narrator (or at least a narrative) to fill in all the gaps. Still, I enjoyed poring over the book’s many photographs, although I am still waiting for a proper biography of the duo the Montreal Gazette called (in 198) “as tightly knit as an old sweater.”

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