It’s become customary now for great artists to go back to a great album and devote entire concert performances solely to recreating it live. On Jan. 30 at Joe’s Pub, Mary Lee Kortes will extend the concept one step further when she performs her landmark 2002 album Blood On The Tracks, itself a concert recording at nearby Arlene’s Grocery of Bob Dylan’s classic 1975 disc.
Kortes, who recorded the album with her band Mary Lee’s Corvette, has managed to reassemble all the original players for the one-night Joe’s Pub re-enactment: guitarists Andy York and Rod Hohl, bassist Brad Albetta, drummer Diego Voglino and keyboardist Andy Burton.
“It’s weird,” says Kortes. “I said to Andy [York, John Mellencamp’s longtime guitarist] last spring that it was the 10th anniversary of the release and that I was thinking of doing an anniversary show, and he said he’d be around in the fall. Fall came and went and I asked him again and he gave me this window, and I put out feelers to the others and Joe’s Pub offered me a number of dates. January 30 is the magic date, because everybody’s available and we recorded Blood On The Tracks at the end of January, 2001—exactly 12 years ago.”
Back then it was for the “Classic Album Night” series at Arlene’s Grocery, Kortes recalls.
“They wanted someone to do [Neil Young’s] After The Gold Rush, The Band’s ‘Brown Album’ [a common reference to The Band’s selftitled 1969 second album) and the Dylan album. I told them I’d like to do it, and they said, ‘We weren’t thinking about having a woman,’ so I said, ‘Okay. I’m your man!’”
Kortes didn’t bring along any high-tech recording equpment, but she had a blank cassette tape with her and gave it to the sound man.
“That became the album,” she says. “A board tape.”
That “simple cassette recording,” as she puts it, “would change my life.”
Kortes was so pleased with it that she originally put it out herself, burning and pressing CDs one-by-one to sell at shows and sending out three promo copies, including one to Billboard—which gave her and the album substantial coverage.
“It got talked about and reviewed on Dylan sites and played by [influential New York radio personality] Vin Scelsa and I started getting orders from all over world—including one from Glenn Morrow [head of Bar/None Records in Hoboken, N.J.], who put it out.”
In an interview with Billboard upon Bar/None’s release of Mary Lee’s Corvette’s Blood On The Tracks, Morrow said: “I loved the idea of it. Hearing the songs sung from a female perspective brought a whole new twist to a classic record.”
Dylan’s album truly was one of Kortes’s all-time favorite albums, such that when Mary Lee’s Corvette first started playing in the early 1990s, it performed album track “Buckets Of Rain” in concert. But all the songs, she told Billboard, “hook you somewhere on an unconscious emotional level--like great music does. It becomes part of your nervous system and your own personal history."
She recalled panicking before the Arlene’s Grocery show—to the point of almost canceling twice--after realizing she didn’t know as many of the songs by heart as she first thought. But one rehearsal settled her nerves, and the show “wound up being a fantastic religious experience: to have those words pass through my lips, and to sing all those songs back-to-back really late on a rainy Sunday night--to a totally jammed room that was like a hungry crowd waiting to be fed."
Kortes went ahead and released her Blood On The Tracks on her own Leonora Records label, which had previously released Mary Lee’s Corvette’s 1997 selftitled debut CD. The Wild Pitch label then picked up the group's acclaimed 1999 follow-up True Lovers of Adventure; after Bar/None rereleased the Dylan album, it put out her next original album, 700 Miles, in 2003.
“Blood On The Tracks had a massive effect on my career,” Kortes says now. “It got so much attention and catapulted things to another level: People loved the songs so much and hadn’t heard them sung that way, and it gave them a chance to hear the album again and reintroduce themselves to the songs in a new presentation. People really liked that.”
She’s more confident performing the material this time around.
“I think it’s going to be not so hard,” she says, laughing at her boldness. “We toured for this record and did the whole show a number of times, so it’s coming back easy. But talk to me Thursday!”
Meanwhile, Kortes’s ambitious theatrical music project The Songs Of Beulah Rowley remains in development.
Kortes, who works at the United Nations as a researcher/editor for the UN Yearbook and leads the United Nations Singers recreational/fundraising choir, went to Iraq in October, under the auspices of The Humpty Dumpty Institute, a non-profit organization that serves people in the developing world through the implementation of large-scale humanitarian projects and through its work with the U.N.
“There was funding from the U.S. State Department as part of its cultural diplomacy effort,” says Kortes. “So I was a cultural envoy to Iraq, and did a number of concerts for the Iraqi people, and songwriting workships for Iraqi teenagers. It was an amazing and phenomenal experience, and now I have ‘Cultural Envoy’ on my resume!”
Kortes had been looking for a means of combining music and “working with children in some international realm,” she adds, “and in further pursuit of that, I’ve started a master’s degree program in social work. This cultural diplomacy thing is a way of weaving everything together.”
[The Examiner contributed to Billboard for many years.]
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