Vancouver, British Columbia-based country chanteuse Carolyn Mark has a low profile stateside, and while that deserves to change, it's doubtful that Let's Just Stay Here will do the trick, as excellent as it is. Mark tends to stay on the dark end of the street, infusing her songs with plenty of painful insight and hard-won wisdom. What she seems unwilling to do is nail up the fa‡ade of faux romanticism to her tunes, the technique that many Nashville writers use to make their working-class visions palatable to a mainstream audience. On this album she's backed up by NQ Arbuckle, the Toronto-based alt-country band fronted by singer and songwriter Neville Quinlan, a guy who shares her pessimistic view of love and romance. As you might guess from the cover art of severed heads on a motel bed, this isn't music for everyone, but those who favor the hopeless storytelling of Townes Van Zandt and Gillian Welch will love this album. "All Time Low" has a hint of spaghetti Western in its twangy arrangement. Mark's reverb-soaked vocal adds a haunted feel to this tale of alienated lovers drifting through the vast empty landscapes between Death Valley and Reno. Quinlan adds the male vocals and cheerless harmonies. Mark sings "2nd Time," a despondent R&B tune, with a restrained vocal that hints at the anger just below the surface. It's a simmering torch song that threatens to burst into flame at any moment. "Itchy Feet" is a bluesy duet with Quinlan that features mandolin and banjo, another moody look at lovers struggling with the heartbreak that's looming on the horizon. The melancholy is broken by a couple of uptempo tunes, although they're not exactly cheery. "Canada, Day Off/Toronto" is an energetic rocker with a hint of girl group spunk in its rhythm, but it's still the tale of a gal sitting alone in her room pining over a lost lover, while "When I Come Back," another duet with Quinlan, details the squabbling between a couple locked in a love-hate relationship. The galloping beat and dark humor of the lyric make it a rousing dysfunctional hoedown. ~ j. poet
Pitchfork (Website) - "Mark gets top billing here for a reason. With her warm twang and nonchalant sass, she has an easy way with a song, settling into opener 'All Time Low' and the closing title track like she's crashing on someone's especially cozy couch."