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Liner Notes


It was a rainy New York Sunday night and I was petrified.  I was about to perform Blood On The Tracks — in order, in its entirety.  Andy, Brad, Diego, Rod and I were all there at Arlene Grocery, waiting.  The night was running severely behind schedule.  It was 11:30 and we were supposed to have gone on at 10:00.  Would anyone really stay around this late on a rainy Sunday?  (Did I really want them to?)  Pretty soon George Gilmore came off stage, apologizing.  I went on, shaking.  What was I thinking taking a gig like this?  Who did I think I was singing these songs?  How the hell did I get here?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *  *

I was just sitting on my sofa minding my own business.  Eric ("Roscoe" Ambel) was across the room on the phone with Chris Gray.  Chris’s band Martin’s Folly was going to perform After the Gold Rush at one of Arlene Grocery’s classic album nights.  George Gilmore was doing The Band’s brown album.  But they still hadn’t found anyone to complete the night with Blood On The Tracks.  No volunteers apparently.  Eric called out to me, "Hey Babe Lee, you wanna do Blood On The Tracks at one of those classic album nights at Arlene’s?"  "Yea!" I squeaked, all innocent and excited.  I love that record!"  So I called Owen (Comaskey at Arlene’s) and said I’d heard he didn’t have anyone yet to perform the record. "I’m your man!" I proclaimed.  He concurred.

So I set about the task of printing out the lyrics, just to brush up of course, and was soon horrified to discover I didn’t know as many of the songs as completely as I’d thought.  Oh yea, Lily has 15 verses not just 9 or 10 like some of the others.  I’d also never tried to sing any of these songs except for Buckets of Rain, the song that had begun my love affair with this record.  So simple and perfect, spiritual, sexual — the whole divine human animal experience in just three and a half minutes.

These questions immediately presented themselves: How do you sing a Bob Dylan song in a way that anyone should ever bother listening to?  How do you sing it right without imitating him?  How do you make it your own?  And of course, why should you?  After thinking about it, there was only one reasonable response: Cancel.

I was about to pick up the phone and call the whole thing off, but I hit play on the boom box instead.  I sang along a bit and felt the profound thrill of having that poetry pass through my lips.  I really wanna try and pull this off, I thought.  How often do you get an invitation like this?  I have an amazing band.  What the hell.

Andy made the very smart suggestion that he and I get together several times before the one full band rehearsal.  He was brilliant; I was not.  On the Wednesday before the show I thought it might be time to learn the harmonica.

We were doing a residency at The Living Room around the same time, right across the street from Arlene Grocery.  My friend Dennis came by one night.  I told him we were going to be doing Blood On The Tracks.  "You’re going to record it, right?"  "No way!" I said.  "I’m probably gonna suck."  "ML, you gotta record it.  It’s Dylan!"  I couldn’t argue with that logic.  But in the flurry of gig preparation, I had failed to get a blank DAT to bring to the club.  So I grabbed an old-fashioned audio cassette on my way out the door.

Before we started the show, I handed Ian (Bryant, the sound man) my cassette and asked him to make a board tape for us.  And then we went to church.

There’s no way to adequately talk about the experience of that night.  Suffice it to say it was indeed a religious one.  And like most religions, it had its own silliness.  I asked the audience if anyone wanted to come up and sing a couple verses of Lily.  And of course someone did, for better or worse.  (I ran into the "guest vocalist" a couple months later and he told me that someone from the law firm where he worked was also there that night and he almost got fired for “embarrassing the firm.”  You be the judge.)

A few weeks after the show, I was hanging with Amy Rigby, telling her about the night and also about the frustrations of figuring out my next album.  "Why don’t you take your band into the studio for a couple days and record Blood On The Tracks?" she suggested.  Sounded like a great idea.  I mentioned it to Brad and he pointed out that maybe the live energy was part of what was special about us doing those songs.  So I went back and listened to the cassette.

It sounded surprisingly good and really pretty fun, until I flipped it over to side two and found that the first half of "Meet Me In The Morning" had not been recorded.  I started telling everyone in the band that I had thought I might press up a few CD’s of the performance, but that "Meet Me" had been sadly mutilated.  Then Diego mentioned that he’d had a mini-disc recorder going the whole night back by the drums. Hmmmmm……  Enter the magic of technology.

I called Graham Hawthorne to see if I could come over to his studio to try to salvage "Meet Me In The Morning" and add some track ID’s to the songs.  Then I could indeed burn a few CD’s in the privacy of my own home.  The first date we scheduled didn’t happen: September 11, 2001.

Eventually, the whole performance was preserved.  I burned some CD’s at home and sent one to Vin Scelsa, Billboard Magazine, and  Then one morning I turned on my computer, went on line, and had requests from Sweden, Germany and California for copies of this "record."  And they kept coming.  I even had to figure out how to accept credit cards.

So here we are and here's your copy.  I hope it brings you something good.  It has certainly brought something invaluable to me.  Getting to pour the anger of a lifetime into a song like "Idiot Wind" — the chance to sing "You'll never know the hurt I’ve suffered or the pain I rise above.  And I’ll never know the same about you," purges a place in your soul like nothing else could.  The odd happiness of anticipating loneliness for someone nearly gone, "I’ll see you in the sky above, the tall grass and the ones I love" — is so buoyant that singing it makes you love everyone everywhere all of a sudden.  It’s a gift to sing these songs, pure and simple.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *  *

I have this dream that recurs every two or three years where Bob Dylan asks me to dinner.  It’s always a good dream, but I don’t remember ever getting to the meal.  It would probably be redundant.

This record is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth "Betsy" Barley.


mary lees corvette divider


My grandmother used to keep trip diaries of everyplace she traveled, whether it was an adventure to London with the local Ladies Club or her winter stays in Florida. These were reports written in classic stoic Midwestern tone:  “March 18. Friday.  82 degrees.  Went to Cyril’s at Bonita Springs.  Howard and Cyril went fishing. Velma, Edna and Irene and I went shopping.  After supper, we played accumulation rum.  I lost 37 cents....  Wed. March 23. 78 degrees.  Went to Hobby Club in A.M. Finished making blue pant suit, cleaned kitchen and bathroom floors.  Jean called and said Mabel Burmas had died.  I mailed State and Federal income tax.”

When I made the big move from Michigan to New York City, she joined my parents in a trip to visit me.  They asked me a lot of questions about New York City.  They wondered if we had grocery stores.  I assured them there were many places to buy food within half a block of my apartment.  They showed up with lots of canned goods nonetheless.  We had a great time.  My grandmother stayed with me in my studio apartment and slept with me on my mattress on the floor.

When she died not so long ago, I confiscated the diary that contained the account of her visit to New York City.  It was true to form — nothing but the facts.  Short sentences mentioning subway rides, a Broadway play, and dinner at The Russian Tea Room.  But the final entry had something else: 

Monday, September 19th. 69 degrees.  Up at 6 AM.  Left Mary Lee’s at 7 AM.  Stopped 9:30 at White Haven, PA for breakfast.  Nice place off the highway.  3 PM stopped at Howard Johnson’s for clam chowder and hamburger near PA and Ohio line.  8:30 PM Stopped at Nickersons Farms for dinner.  Home at 10 PM.  A beautiful trip.  700 miles from Mary Lee’s door to mine.


Mary Lee's Music

Love, Loss and Lunacy
Beulah Rowley

Love, Loss and Lunacy
Love, Loss & Lunacy

700 Miles
700 Miles

Blood On the Tracks
Blood On the Tracks

Blood On the Tracks
True Lovers of Adventure

Mary Lee's Corvette
Mary Lee's Corvette

"A masterful songwriter"  - The Village Voice

"The bright bite in Mary Lee Kortes' voice [has] the high-mountain sunshine of Dolly Parton, with a sweet-iron undercoat of Chrissie Hynde."   - David Fricke, Rolling Stone