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Gary Wilson - Mary Had Brown Hair

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Artist: Gary Wilson

Album: Mary Had Brown Hair

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Aug. 30, 2004

Dejected by his failed stabs at acceptance from NYC bohos, Gary Wilson retreated to his parents’ basement in the late '70s to create on his lone. He cranked out the 1977 vanity album You Think You Really Know Me, which would have disappeared (as Wilson himself did for a spell) without continuous college radio exposure over the last two-and-a-half decades. That would have withheld one of the most thrillingly neurotic white-soul-bro workouts to ever come down the pike. Wilson’s admitted acolyte Beck Hanson probably never would have heard it. Without college radio, Midnite Vultures (essentially a cagey, high-tech YTYRKM knockoff) never would have happened, to say nothing of Mary Had Brown Hair.

Wilson’s voice has thinned to a reedy whine since his heyday, but it suits his new material. No longer preoccupied with body parts, mind games and make-out parties, he now describes turbulent adult relationships head-on, and seems no less horrified of the whole enterprise. At the outset, "Linda wants to be alone" (this disconnect stings Gary so badly, he and Linda are likely housemates); a few tunes down, "Gary saw Linda last night / Kissing Frank Roma / He was sad." The rubbery sway of "Debbie Debbie" sticks in the cranium long before one realizes one is harnessed to a song that goes, "You took a boy from the crowd / And you made him a man / You stuck a gun to my head / But I just can’t understand / What it feels to be in love." And his jivey ad libs still sound too threateningly urgent to stand trial for Jon Spencerian contrivance.

Who else owes Gary Wilson? There’s a Weenishness afoot in "Electric Depression" and "Newark Valley," if Dean and Gene had overdosed on '80s exercise records and could play their shtick so straight one worried for their safety.

As on You Think You Really Know Me, a number of tracks are stage-whispered repetitions of a phrase, wrapped in an Eraserhead drone. But he doesn’t seem so hateful or suicidal anymore. When you’re a grown-ass man who’s still dangerously girl-crazy, just hearing "a very small town" o’er and o’er can be nerve-racking enough.

By Emerson Dameron

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