Eugene Weekly : Music : 5.22.08

Rhymes With ‘Very’
Mare Wakefield returns to Eugene with new CD

Mare Wakefield and her husband and musical companion, Nomad Ovunc, visited Eugene last September as Wakefield was celebrating the release of her children’s album, Daddy’s Moonlight Alligator Boat Ride. They’re back on the West Coast, this time supporting Wakefield’s fourth (non-children’s) CD, Ironwood.

While Wakefield has stayed true to her folk roots, it’s clear that after she left Eugene in 2001 for Boston’s Berklee School of Music and relocated to Nashville, country rhythms started to seep in to her writing. Ironwood’s second track, “Enough Bad Love,” reveals Wakefield singing in her most twangy voice ever; it’s just a touch removed from a radio-ready country hit. Wakefield performed it as a “poor me victim” song many times before scrapping the chorus completely, reworking the verses and tempo and crafting it into a song that says, “I’m not gonna take it anymore.”

“It felt really good to get that statement out in the world,” says Wakefield. “There’s definitely a time when everyone has to go through that and just says, ‘I’m done being mistreated.'”

While “Enough Bad Love” has more country rollick than Wakefield’s past tunes, Ironwood showcases plenty of folk and pop — and Wakefield’s beautiful voice, which always sounds happy and hopeful regardless of the serious subject matter.

Unbeknownst to her at the time she named her CD, there is an Ironwood National Forest in Arizona which has a reserve of ironwood trees. Wakefield discovered the reserve when she arrived in Tucson this year after an epic drive through Texas. The town was holding its annual Ironwood Festival, a synchronicity that gave Wakefield’s choice of the name a deeper significance. Also, she says, ironwood is “beautiful, enduring and organic,” which aptly describes Wakefield’s music.

“It’s organic because it’s still guitar, voice, live instruments, it’s not glossy or fancy,” says Wakefield. Ironwood is still raw and folky, but there’s also a lot of strength — perhaps more than ever. “Poor me” songs have their place, Wakefield says, “but this time I wanted to be stronger and less of a victim, more in charge.”

“Dreams Come True” is a hushed, lulling song that stands in contrast to most of Wakefield’s other work. Live, it’s performed with Ovunc playing bass and Wakefield singing, with no guitar or other accompaniment. “It’s a really amazing thing,” she says, “and no matter what kind of venue we’re in, everyone gets really quiet and they just listen to the song, and it casts a spell on people.”

The final song, “Peg and Awl,” is a traditional folk tune for which they did a new arrangement, reconstructing it into a lovely, dusty tune worthy of Gillian Welch.

Wakefield will tour for a month, have 10 days at home in Nashville and then head with Ovunc to Holland and Germany for a month-long tour.

Mare Wakefield, Ter-ra 8:30 pm Sunday, 5/25. Sam Bond’s Garage • $8. 21+ show