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After births, CD, Paved Country readies to play out

By Jon Johnson, July 1998

A visit to Marjie Alonso's beautiful Somerville, Mass. home on a Sunday afternoon in late August finds the Paved Country vocalist strapping her two children into the back seat of her sister's car for an afternoon drive.

"I remember thinking my life was stressful," says Alonso after the kids have left and she's sat down on her front porch for an interview. "Then I got married and had kids. I didn't even have a clue what stress was!"

Indeed, in opposition to the stereotype of the hard-living, harder-drinking country singer, domesticity is at the heart of much of the work of Alonso and her partner in Paved Country, co-singer/songwriter Sarah Mendelsohn.

Both are married with children and Mendelsohn was pregnant during the recording of the band's self-titled debut.

The album is a glossy, contemporary pop-country/Americana album centered around Alonso's and Mendelsohn's songwriting and vocal harmonies. Its 14 songs might not fit into many people's notion of Dale Watson/Buck Owens hard country, but it would fit right in with many post modern adult contemporary playlists.

Alonso and Mendelsohn first met about 20 years ago while in high school but were only acquaintances until they both arrived at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

"We ended up playing a lot of music together there. We did stuff like 'Long Black Veil.' I listened to a lot of James Taylor, Seals and Crofts, Motown, the Persuasions....Not a lot of women, though later on I listened to a fair amount of Emmylou Harris. I never was a top 40 radio kid."

"It always seemed that I was about five years behind what everyone else was listening to. Sarah and I became reacquainted when we started working together at the same bar. We hadn't seen each other in years and started singing together and playing together again. And writing together."

"Our voices are different, but complimentary and I think our personalities are that way, as well. We tame each other when need be and prompt each other when need be."

"We thought we'd like to pitch some songs. Sarah actually dragged me kicking and screaming into it, 'Sing in front of people? You must be out of your mind!' We went into a studio and a guy there said, 'You guys are pretty good. You ever thought of having a band? I'll be your guitar player.' And that was Andy Pinkham."

"We hired a few guys to play drums, bass, and guitar. Jim Scoppa stayed with us. And Bob Tillman, who was Andy's roommate, started playing bass with us. We've been through a few drummers."

Though Alonso and Mendelsohn have been writing together for several years at this point, most the songs on "Paved Country" tend to be of more recent vintage.

"I started writing pretty early on. I think I wrote my first song when I was in second grade. And I never really stopped, though years go by sometimes when I don't do it."

"We had a flurry of writing over about a year-and-a-half (period) before babies sucked our brains out. Sarah - I believe - doesn't have to be as intensely involved in writing as I do. She'll have a really good idea for a song - a hook or a tune - and she'll come to me and we'll finish it. I stew on an idea forever until it's a little more complete. We spend a lot of time on harmonies and nuances. I find writing with her a lot less torturous."

"I think I'm also the more depressive of the duo. Her songs are generally a little more upbeat. Mine are a little more 'wrist-cutter.'"

Alonso says that children and marriage have certainly influenced her songwriting in recent years.

Though the band's self-released album came out at the end of December, the group has only played a couple of live shows since then due to the birth of Mendelsohn's son Cory shortly after the album's release, but are now beginning to rehearse in order to properly promote the album.

"My fall project is putting my kids in daycare. So I'm either going to start drinking or do something more creative with the CD!"