Maybe it’s the members’ strict adherence to the purity of rock ‘n’ roll – catchy riffs, killer sing-along hooks and swaggering vocals, cigarettes and alcohol, harmonicas, pianos, and tambourines – that’s kept Philadelphia’s Marah an underground treasure. New wave the band is not; the four members are vehemently anti-trendy. Their sound is raw, loose and cool, somewhere between Counting Crows, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and the Faces – energetic, but nothing “new,” nothing for the fickle hipster crowd to latch onto.
On their fifth album, If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry, songs such as “The Hustle” and “The Closer” blast past in a fast shuffle of rhythm guitars and handclaps – gritty barroom rock caught in one or two takes in a Brooklyn apartment. “Walt Whitman Bridge” and “So What If We’re Out of Tune (With the Rest of the World)” break out the acoustic guitar and harmonicas to show the literate, tender side of co-writers (and brothers) Serge and Dave Bielanko. The songs are strong, sexual and short: everything great rock songs are meant to be.
The members of Marah have always carried the torch for confident, inspired rock, the stuff of tour vans and beer cans. Do they deserve more recognition? Absolutely. Will they get it? After a few listens to If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry, it’s clear they don’t really care either way. From “Sooner or Later”: “Don’t expect much these days, buddy/ Couple beers and life is so funny, buddy/ You’ll be coming back sooner or later/ And we’ll be waiting for you.”
Live at Irving Plaza, November 22, 2005 [Hurricane Katrina benefit]