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Author: Richard Skelly. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February

23, 2000. All rights

reserved.

She’s Blues, But Not Folk: Collins

Unlike a lot of other up-and-coming

singer-songwriters,

Wilmington, Delaware’s Mary Arden Collins isn’t afraid of the blues

singer label. Just don’t call her a folk singer, she says.

The 28-year-old guitarist, singer, and songwriter counts Aretha

Franklin,

the Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin as her major influences. All

three acts have long been associated with blues and soul music, really

two branches of the same tree that also includes gospel music. The

late Joplin was perhaps the greatest female white blues singer who

ever lived.

Yes, Collins sings blues. But she also sings funk and blues-infused

rock ‘n’ roll. Collins’ two CDs, a self-titled full length album

released

in 1997, and a recent five-track recording "Alone With The

B-Sides,"

have been making waves on commercial radio stations as well as adult

album alternative (Triple A) icons like Philadelphia’s WXPN-FM.

Jonny Meister, the popular, longtime host of "The Blues Show"

on Saturday nights on ‘XPN, says of Collins: "Finally Elvis with

cleavage…one of the musical surprises of the year." Collins

makes her Princeton debut at the Triumph Brewing Company on Nassau

Street this Saturday, February 26, at 10 p.m.

Collins actually lives in Arden, Delaware, a small village a bit north

of Wilmington. It’s an artists’ colony of sorts, she says. "My

first name Mary Arden came about because my parents liked the town

and the Shakespearean reference as well," Collins explains,

"it’s

a very artsy, literary town. We have musicians, writers, and fine

arts people."

Collins’ father is a lawyer who began his career as

a writer. Her mom took an early leave from teaching to raise five

children, of whom Mary Arden is the oldest. "I think that’s

probably

where my writing comes from," Collins says of her dad and the

original songs on her two releases. Based on the quality of the

material

on her five-song CD, "Alone With The B-Sides," I’m betting

she’s got enough songs to easily record another two full-length

compact

discs.

So did her father influence her genetically or was he an active

writing

coach? Both, she says. "I think it was growing up in a household

where literature and writing were important and respected."

Although

Collins didn’t begin playing guitar in earnest until after college,

as a kid she was already developing her voice and her songwriting.

"When I was really little I wrote songs for fun at home."

Collins recalls being moved by a husband-and-wife folk duo she saw

at church. At age 11, some of her friends suggested she audition for

a school production of "Annie." She got that gig and continued

singing with a procession of bands through high school. She also did

high school theater, community theater, and "even got paid"

for the latter, she adds.

"I loved the stage and I loved performing and I was able to

develop

my stage presence," she explains. "Then one day it hit me:

I was getting tired of portraying other people and I thought it would

be great if I could do my own thing. So I was asked to sing back-up

in a band and that led to doing a couple of songs as a lead

singer."

She took a break from her singing endeavors to attend college at St.

Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She made her parents happy and

graduated in 1993 with a degree in fine art and English.

"Interestingly enough, they didn’t have a music program at St.

Joe’s," she recalls, "and when I decided to go to college,

I was at a crossroads. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to school for

music or for a liberal arts education. I chose liberal arts, and I

think it was good for me. Throughout my life, I’ve gone to small

Catholic

schools, and it was good for me to get the individual attention and

confidence to believe I can do anything."

In any case, Collins gave up her singing-as-an-avocation role for

four years while attending St. Joe’s. But she spent her free time

checking out other musicians and listening to the radio and records.

"I think the main thing my St. Joe’s experience taught me was

that I can’t live without music in my life. I didn’t do that much

music while I was there and I felt like something in my life was

missing,"

she explains.

So how has she supported herself post-college? "I’ve

been full time with music for almost four years now," she says,

explaining how she came to another crossroads. Like a lot of recent

college graduates, she was unsure what direction to go in and what

to do. She was involved with the environmental movement and social

issues in college and thought she might make more of a mark on the

world by pursuing that. A good Irish Catholic, she was confused for

a while, like a lot of college graduates with a 1960s mindset who

were raised in the 1970s and ’80s.

"I really wanted to do something that would help the world become

a better place and I had to struggle when I got out. I really

questioned

whether it would be a selfish thing to do," she recalls, of her

eventual decision to pursue the life of a musician, a road usually

spread with plenty of potholes.

Fortunately Collins has supportive, hip parents who played the music

of the Rolling Stones, the Doors, and the Beatles in their home. When

she decided to try to make a living playing her own music, she took

a part-time job in customer service at the Medical Center of Delaware.

"When I was getting the music off the ground I did teaching at

pre-schools and I would sing at weddings and children’s birthday

parties,

anything that was music-related," she explains.

"Once I was booking a full time schedule, I was able to quit my

day job," she says. "It was only after much positive feedback

from my audiences, after people told me, `Your music touched me and

moved me and makes me think about things I’m usually complacent

about,’"

that she decided to pursue music full-time. She was also empowered

by memories of her childhood songwriting done "just for fun."

That, she says, "came full circle when I grew up. I left this

one band I was in and decided I’d like to do that for myself."

Collins continued to develop her Wilmington-area audience. When

listeners

started asking when they could get the songs on a CD, she recruited

local musicians and recorded with a band. Today Collins does solo

shows as well as shows with a band. Her debut, "Mary Arden

Collins"

was released in October, 1997. Immediately, a commercial radio station

in Wilmington latched onto it, and later, WXPN in Philadelphia began

playing it as well.

Once she started fronting her own band and doing her own shows, her

dad encouraged her to sing Janis Joplin as well as her original blues

and funk-infused rock songs. She began singing songs associated with

Joplin, like Kris Kristofferson’s "Me and Bobby McGee,"

"Mercedes

Benz," and "Piece of My Heart."

"I got such a tremendous response every time I would sing Joplin,

and blues tunes in general, I thought I’d start writing some of my

own. Because those are the songs that really made me feel like I was

putting my whole self into the music, and with every breath I exhaled

it emptied me and then it just filled me back up again," she says.

At Triumph Brewing, Collins will be accompanied by her usual backing

band, which includes drummer Mark Beecher, bassist Paul Coletti, and

Rosann Mattei on lead guitar. All three are from the Philadelphia

area.

Given the lack of any other major musical trend — besides rap

— Collins and her band just may have a shot at the big time with

their unique brand of soul and blues-influenced roots rock. Already,

Collins opened as a solo artist for blues singer Keb’ Mo’ on his

Mid-Atlantic

and New England tours last year, and she has opened for Lucinda

Williams

and the Doobie Brothers back home in the Wilmington area.

"I’ve heard people describe our music as folk-rock and bluesy

funk-rock. There are a lot of different abstracts thrown in

there,"

Collins says. "The one thing it’s not is acoustic folk music."

— Richard J. Skelly

Mary Arden Collins, Triumph Brewing, 138 Nassau

Street, 609-924-7855. The guitarist, singer, and songwriter and her

funk and blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll. $3 cover. Saturday, February

26, 10 p.m.


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