- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

‘A lot of people from other countries think my name is Mary Lee Corvette,” New York singer-songwriter Mary Lee Kortes explains from a gig in Detroit. Mary Lee’s Corvette (her band’s name, not her name) returns to Iota in Arlington on Monday.

Fortunately, the music translates better than the name. Miss Kortes and company’s typical sound on their new album, “Love, Loss and Lunacy,” falls somewhere between the twangy rock that passes for country these days and that nebulous catch-all genre known as alt-country.

Mostly it’s just the kind of sound you hear and wonder: “How come I can’t hear this on the radio?”

“Yeah,” Miss Kortes says with a sigh in response to the radio question; it’s an old issue for her. She mentions that the track “Where Did I Go Wrong, Elton John?” came about because people at shows would tell her, “‘Wow, that second song you played, that should be a really big hit song. Why don’t you have one?’”

“It’s meant as a compliment, but it’s also really painful when you think about it. So I wondered why, and thought maybe Elton can answer this question.”

Despite its novelty title, “Elton John” is one of the more touching tracks here, and it has pretty self-backing vocals that get wonderfully achy at the end, plus an Italian guitar and a Beatlesesque piano bridge before that happens.

Miss Kortes managed to get Sir Elton the song in demo form. “His people got back to me,” she says, “and told me he was quite chuffed, and I was terrified when I heard that until I found out it meant ‘proud.’”

Although she may not have a big hit yet, she does have friends in the radio biz: The album’s liner notes thank expat D.C. musicians Pete and Maura Kennedy, who have played with Mary Lee’s Corvette and given the band airplay on their satellite radio show.

If she does get a hit soon, it’s likely to be “Saving Grace,” a jangly Southern rocker that sounds like a Chrissie Hynde-Tom Petty collaboration. Sardonic, sing-along female-empowerment lyrics such as “I’m savoring this bitter pill / I’d be in jail if thoughts could kill” add to the appeal.

Miss Kortes seems to have a knack for giving her most emotional subjects the catchiest rhythms. “All That Glitters” features chimey guitar worthy of the Bangles or Matthew Sweet, rather incongruous with lines such as “And one more man becomes a boy / The moment you lift the blinds.”

Miss Kortes calls “Love, Loss and Lunacy” her “third intentional album.” She considers 2002’s “Blood on the Tracks” her “accidental record.” A one-time live performance of Bob Dylan’s 1975 classic album, the recording garnered acclaim from critics and Dylan fans and finally a gig opening for Mr. Dylan himself.

Miss Kortes chose not to alter the gender-specific lyrics, figuring “This is poetry, and I’m just going to sing it the way he wrote it,” although she does say that “hearing a female voice sing it makes you listen in a different way. And these songs are so beloved, any excuse to listen to them again people are happy to have.”

In addition to the “Lunacy” songs, she expects to do one or two songs from “Blood on the Tracks” at Iota and probably a Townes Van Zandt song, too. (No Joan Jett songs even though she’s married to original Blackhearts guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel.)

Sitting in on bass will be Jeremy Chatzky, fresh from Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions tour. (Mary Lee’s Corvette last hit the District as the opening act for Joe Jackson at the 9:30 Club.)

Though the live show may be “more rocking than the CD,” one song Miss Kortes will give the stripped-down treatment is “Every Song Is Different,” a meditation on the universality of music written during a tour in Britain.

“It made me ecstatic. Here I am in this amazing city in a foreign land, and my music got me here. Fantastic.”

The Baltimore-based ambient-rock group Lake Trout brings its evolving (since 1994) sound to the 9:30 Club tonight.

The quintet started life as a jazzy, improvisational jam band but has adopted a more orchestral rock sound while keeping some quirks. There’s still a flutist, and the band’s last album, 2005’s “Not Them, You,” features two songs called “I” and “II.”

The track that jumps out is a string-laden cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” which validates both the musicians’ choice of producers (Dave Fridmann, Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev) and their new direction.

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