Mad Agnes Swan Song





The cover photo of the latest release from the trio Mad Agnes (Margo Hennebach, Adrienne Jones, Mark Saunders) features an empty room bathed in pastels and white light, its paint peeling and plaster falling. I regret to inform, that’s a metaphor for the group—as of June 4, Mad Agnes will disband. Those who have come to love their gorgeous harmonies and quiet music will surely greet this as bad news indeed, though you can purchase hush as a balm and enjoy it for years to come.

The group’s third and final CD includes all that was wondrous about Mad Agnes and, perhaps, a few of the reasons why they never quite broke through. The music is (mostly) cerebral and either overtly or latently spiritual, and it often stretches categories to lie somewhere between folk, musical theater, and light classical. This suggests an interesting mash up, but it also means that much of it is melodically ambiguous. What’s lacking are memorable hooks; Mad Agnes’ music makes you muse more than hum. As for the song content, adjectives such as “sweet” and “tranquil” come to mind. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but in my view hush could have benefitted from some contrasting grit. Instead, the trio tries to find balance through retro arrangements and humor. I liked the song “Running in England” quite a bit, though its arrangement was reminiscent of The Association circa 1969. The splashes of humor didn’t work for me, perhaps because their version runs toward wholesomeness and I prefer it with more edge. “Julia,” a collection of silly rhymes inspired by Julia Child, is clever, but felt more like a novelty song that works better on stage with a chuckling audience. And, sorry, but white folks trying to rap—the trio’s cover of “Mother’s Planet”—just doesn’t work for me.

My critique notwithstanding, in a world consumed by anger and screaming heads, Mad Agnes was a needed calm in the storm. There is honesty, decency, and goodness in their music, qualities also found in abundance on hush. I think they used the lower case deliberately and not because they were trying to piggyback on e. e. cummings. Buy their swan song CD and enjoy moments of bliss and Zen. Good luck to all—you will be missed.

Here's a Mad Agnes sampler.

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