Sunday, June 26, 2016

Kate & Anna McGarrigle – Pronto Monto

Pronto Monto
Omnivore Recordings

I worked with Kate & Anna McGarrigle – first producing concerts in Montreal, then booking concerts for them as an agent across Canada and in the United States at such venues as the National Arts Centre (Ottawa), Convocation Hall (Toronto), Carnegie Hall (New York), and others – between 1974 and 1980.

During those years they recorded and released three LPs on Warner Bros. Records: Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Dancer with Bruised Knees, and Pronto Monto. The first two LPs were reissued fairly early in the CD era – and more recently in the 3-CD set Tell My Sister (the third CD is of early, previously unreleased demos) – but the third LP, Pronto Monto, released in 1978, has been out of print for at least 35 years. Finally, though, it is now reissued on CD for the first time.

While the first two LPs were critically acclaimed, they didn’t meet the major label sales standards that Warner Bros. expected. So there was an attempt, at the production level, to give Kate and Anna more of a pop sound on Pronto Monto. Songwriter David Nichtern, who had a major hit with Maria Muldaur’s recording of “Midnight at the Oasis,” was brought in to produce the album and a number of Los Angeles and New York A-list studio musicians played on it (along with key McGarrigle sidemen Chaim Tannenbaum, Peter Weldon, Dane Lanken, Ken Pearson, Pat Donaldson and Scot Lang).

The thing is, though, Kate and Anna were never (thankfully) cookie-cutter pop singers. They were always idiosyncratic, rootsy singers and songwriters – and that was a major part of what their charm was about. And – thankfully – that added pop gloss could not, and did not, really hide their idiosyncrasies and rootsy charm on Pronto Monto.

I haven’t had a working turntable for many years so it had been a long time since I’d listened to Pronto Monto. It’s been quite a delight to listen to the album again after so much time. Among my favorite tracks are Kate’s clever “NA CL”; Kate’s “Stella By Artois,” which celebrated the dawning of her decade-long relationship with British bass player Pat Donaldson; Anna’s “Bundle of Sorrow, Bundle of Joy,” which celebrated the birth of her son, Sylvan Lanken, who, by now, is close to 40 years old; and Kate’s “Come Back Baby,” a gently-rolling blues.

I also still really like their covers of “Tryin’ to Get to You,” an Elvis Presley B-side from his Sun Records days that was a rock ‘n’ roll highlight of Kate and Anna’s late-‘70s concerts; and Galt McDermot and William Dumaresq’s lovely goodnight song, “Cover Up My Head” (written years before Montrealer McDermot achieved fame for composing the Broadway hit “Hair”).

Pronto Monto has been the missing Kate & Anna McGarrigle album for far too long. It’s really nice to have it back (and to now have all of their albums on my shelves as accessible CDs).

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--Mike Regenstreif

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