Folk singer-cum-avant garde artist Marissa Nadler could be the grand dame of the New Weird America. Her reputation on the avant-folk circuit is already sterling, and she's quickly becoming the Joan Baez to Devendra Banhart's Donovan -- a striking, silken creature with a siren's voice and mystic blood culled from some ancient well. She exudes a dark mystery that endears her to many listeners, but her shadowy guise seemingly contradicts the sweetly forlorn persona she displays on record -- she's approachable, demure and effervescent.
Baez's influence can be heard throughout The Saga of Mayflower May, in both Nadler's silvery picking style and the veil of gauzy atmospheric effects that adorns her simplistic tunes. "Under and Old Umbrella" and "Damsels in the Dark" are beautiful, haunting missives on lost love, built upon cylindrical guitar patterns and gorgeous self-harmonization via a barrage of psychedelic multi-tracking. "The Little Famous Song", despite its billing, is slightly more demure and affecting by virtue its delicate finger-picking and lovely glissandi. "Calico", with its sprightly melody and empowering flower-power message, could almost be mistaken for a Joni Mitchell tune.
The Saga of Mayflower May is a pleasant but anonymous record; Nadler's songs slowly congeal into a beautiful but faceless mass of affected sentiment. This isn't an unusual problem for modern folk albums, though -- and it's the only one of the genre's many pitfalls that Nadler fails to avoid.