In any record collection there are acts that should have blown up, but didn’t. They should have been bigger than they were. They should have become chart-topping household names, but everyone doesn’t get to be Number One. Most of the time they don’t even get to be Number one thousand and one. It’s not that they weren’t good enough or talented enough, but for some reason it never happened. When their ship came in they were at the airport.
So they fade away. They remain a private pleasure for you and a few others. It’s not fair, but it’s truth. Maybe they were one-hit-wonders. Maybe they were no hit wonders.
I have a weakness/fondness for underdogs. Everybody wants to put their money on the market-tested thoroughbreds. Not me. I pull for the mutts. I like the underrated, the underappreciated, and the unnoticed. That’s why I like Amanda Marshall. She didn’t get to be a “has been” because in North America she couldn’t get past “never was.”
It wasn’t for lack of trying. In 1996 Marshall released “Birmingham, ” a catchy song about the happy subject of domestic abuse. Liked it a lot, but it was pretty heavy going for the pop charts. A short description of Marshall’s singing style is take Mariah Carey’s range and vocal power, put it in a blender with some of Bonnie Raitt earthy, blue-eyed soul and turn it on high, the result might yield Marshall’s freshman debut.
The Canadian born and based singer-songwriter’s first album got good reviews, but not big sales and the follow-up Tuesday’s Child didn’t make much of a dent on the charts either. After two albums stiffed in the Lower 48, Marshall was up against it, and gambled on a third album, Everybody’s Got A Story where she traded in her guitar for a slicker and more radio-friendly pop. But the try too-hard grab for Britney style-success was ignored by radio and annoyed many fans who didn’t like it much either.
Marshall ran into the standard issues with bad management and a record label that couldn’t break her out of the bargain bins and parted ways with her acrimoniously after the failure of Everybody’s Got A Story.
Buried in the overproduction and overt pandering for airplay, there’s an edge in Everybody’s Got A Story and it was in Marshall’s own story about her racial issues as the daughter of a White Canadian father and a Black mother from Trinidad or as she put it, “as a woman who looks white but is also half-black”. Where Marshall had downplayed her feelings of being biracial, she put them out there on “Double Agent.”
What do you see when you see me?
You see my long blonde hair and the particular way
That my lips are shaped
That my body takes when you talk to me
What do you know when you know me?
Don’t file me under categories, you’re deceived
You don’t know me
I’m not only a surface, a country
What you don’t know about me is, I’m a
Double agent on my mama’s side
The shit I hear you say just blows my mind
Every time, recognize
Though who I am to you is not a lie
I don’t have to volunteer and say
That I was born a particular way
I got no uniform
I’m camouflaged in any light
Obviously you can’t tell
I’m a double agent on my mama’s side
And that was all folks. After the aptly titled retrospective, Intermission, Marshall retreated to Canada and hasn’t recorded another album in over a decade. Without a Facebook page, Twitter feed, official website and no press since 2010, Marshall is one double agent that has pulled off a pretty effective disappearing act. .
If you’ve seen one girl-with-a-guitar-Joni-Mitchell-type you’ve seen ‘em all and from all outward appearances it seems that is what Amanda Marshall was, but she wasn’t simply trying to clone her countrywoman’s career arc. She just got lost as many acts do when they fail to build and expand on their small following and turn it into a larger on that can sustain a career.
Which is exactly what happened. Marshall’s final studio album, 2002’s Everybody’s Got A Story came and went without leaving any impression in the U.S. and that pretty much ended her recording career.
“Let me just say,” Marshall said in her last interview in 2010, “There are a lot of bands and performers whose careers are permanently derailed by spectacularly bad management. They just seem to vanish and one day you ask, ‘Hey, what happened to them?’ ”
“People in my business have a tremendous fear of being forgotten and feel they have to keep putting themselves out there in some capacity. I don’t necessarily buy into that.”
As far as pulling a vanishing act goes, Marshall has done a rather complete one. She has no Facebook page, no Twitter feed and no webpage. According to the 2010 story, Marshall has been enmeshed in legal battles with her management and recording company, another familiar story for many a musician. Time spent in a courtroom is time lost in the studio.
Maybe Marshall will make another record and if she does I’d be curious to hear it, but it seems un likely I will. Radio hardly breaks new acts and record labels are increasingly irrelevant, which leaves Marshall’s best option to find a small label that can give her distribution minus the executive meddling she previously experienced.
It would be nice if she could get back and deliver on the promise of her first album. It would be nice, in music, you only get so many bites of the apple. Amanda Marshall may not get another one.