“I’ve got something to tell you baby/Honey, it’s bad news,” Marjie Alonso sings at the start of “I Wish Our Love Was New” — yet the release of Paved Country’s second CD is anything but that. Fronted by Alonso and Sarah Mendelsohn, the six-piece Boston-area band turned out Deconstructing Paradise late last year, and it’s one of those gems that’s as unexpected as it is engaging.
On the face of it, the story behind the band is an unlikely one. Mendelsohn and Alonso sang together in college — “We were both miserable there, so that was just a great escape,” Mendelsohn says — before parting ways for a full decade. When they reconnected, Alonso hadn’t been singing at all, but she called Mendelsohn one day to invite her over to hear a song she’d written. “It just slayed me,” recalls Mendelsohn, “so we started working on that right away, and then we started working on other songs just because it felt really good.”
Still, the duo was focused on writing more than singing, and when they first went into a studio in 1995 with guitarist Jim Scoppa, “our intention was to get the songs picked up by someone else,” Mendelsohn says. By the time they were done, not only had Scoppa signed on with them, but so had the studio’s owner, guitarist Andy Pinkham. And instead of a set of demos, they had their first, self-titled album.
Work on the second album, which firms up the loose, acoustic sound of their debut with a fuller texture, more varied arrangements and more of a country-rock edge, took another two years. “The songs developed a lot during the recording, and we decided we didn’t want to rush it, even though it drove our families crazy,” Mendelsohn says with a laugh. The two women, along with Pinkham, passed time between sessions crafting their harmonies, she adds. “We spend a lot of time working on where the harmonies should be, what makes each word mean what it means, matching every note as closely as we can.”
The extra effort paid off. The songs are both revelatory in their distinctive lyrics and hooky enough to have appeal beyond Boston’ s alt-country scene. Indeed, one of them was retitled and recorded by the Seldom Scene last year, an unexpected dividend from Mendelsohn’s family connection to the famed bluegrass band.
Whether folks in other parts of the country will get to hear Paved Country without making a trip to Massachusetts remains an open question. “We play around here about once a week,” Mendelsohn says. “We could play more, and we may well do that one of these days, but neither of us really wants to go on the road. We both love music so much that I can’t imagine just being a mom — that would be weird. But then again, I can’t imagine leaving the family, I couldn’t do that. So what do you do?”