THREE THINGS will happen when you listen to Marisa Anderson's Mercury: you'll instantly get used to it, you'll never get tired of it, and you'll be flooded by your own personal filmstrip of dusty roads, rusty trains, craggy mountains, and weathered faces. This is by design.
"I want listeners to have visuals come up when they hear it," says Anderson of the (nearly) all-improvised series of solo electric tunes. The guitarist adds that she favors cinematic music that lacks vocals because, "for the genre I play—country blues—we already know what the words are anyway. They're part of our cultural vernacular to the extent that they don't need to be said again."
A former traveling activist and peace marcher, Anderson's played cowgirl pop (the Dolly Ranchers), improv jazz (Evolutionary Jass Band), and covers of classic bands like the Rolling Stones as literal "campfire songs" to sing with protestor buddies on the road. These days she plays, teaches, and records out of her Alberta home with a tight connection to Mississippi Records and plenty of booking contacts all over the US and Europe—and beyond that, nothing to prove. And the longer she's at it, the more the self-described "dinosaur" wings it.
"When I was playing with the Dolly Ranchers, I thought 'improv' was making up a solo during a composed song," she laughs. But taking jazz theory and arrangement at Portland Community College and joining the Evolutionary Jass Band—who improvised their live shows—"rearranged her brain." "Now I know that as long as I'm really present, really listening and aware of myself, my instrument, the audience, the room—then it's gonna happen how it needs to happen, in this moment."
That philosophy shines through Mercury in phrasing that flexes and patterns that switch midstream. Culled from hours of home-recorded live improvisations, the pieces—performed solo on guitar and lap steel—bear titles like "Mojave" and "Furnace Creek," evoking memories from Anderson's many travels. "This process is amorphous," she admits, "but you know when it feels right. It's like arranging furniture in a room, you know?"