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It's been a well-kept secret, but the career of the folk-rock band 10,000 Maniacs did not end with the 1993 departure of Natalie Merchant. The Maniacs soldiered on without their original lead singer, and founding guitarist John Lombardo (who left the group in 1987) returned to the fold after Merchant left. Merchant was replaced by Mary Ramsey, a classically trained violinist whose vocal style is similar to Merchant's but is less pretentious. But while Merchant enjoyed commercial success with her mediocre solo albums, her former band faded into obscurity; their last release was issued on the indie label Bar/None in 1999.

An even better-kept secret is that Lombardo and Ramsey recorded two albums in the early '90's under the name John and Mary, both of which are out of print.

The first, 1991's Victory Gardens, is an immensely appealing folk-rock album showcasing Ramsey's pretty voice and viola playing. Lombardo's guitar playing gives it a certain pop sensibility that keeps it from becoming too arty. Aided by two Maniacs members (guitarist Robert Buck and drummer Jerome Augustyniak) and guest stars Ronnie Lane and Joey Molland, John and Mary sound very much like a '90's version of Fairport Convention; Ramsey's vocals are reminiscent of Sandy Denny's, and Lombardo's three vocal turns remind one of Richard Thompson. The album's subtle presentation is very effective.

Track Listing:

1. Red Wooden Beads
2. The Azalea Festival
3. Piles of Dead Leaves
4. We Have Nothing
5. Rags of Flowers
6. I Became Alone
7. The Open Window
8. July 6th
9. Pram
10. Un Canadien Errant

The second album, 1993's The Weedkiller's Daughter, benefits from more full-bodied production than its gentler predecessor; Lombardo, who produced the first album, here shares those duties with Armand John Petri (Goo Goo Dolls, Sixpence None The Richer). Ramsey takes all of the lead vocals this time; Lombardo joins her in singing "Fly Me To The North". Buck and Augustyniak appear once again, and this album has a more eccentric guest list (Alex Chilton, Bob Wiseman, Mary Margaret O'Hara) than the first. The Weedkiller's Daughter is more polished than Victory Gardens, but it's just as effective.

Track Listing:

1. Two Worlds Parted
2. Angels of Stone
3. Your Return
4. Clare's Scarf
5. Cemetery Ridge
6. A Nightfall
7. I Wanted You
8. One Step Backward
9. Fly Me To The North
10. Clouds of Reason
11. Maid of the Mist
12. The Poor Murdered Woman

After Natalie Merchant's departure from 10,000 Maniacs, Lombardo and Ramsey were members of that group from 1993 until 2002. During that time, the band released only two new studio albums in 1997 and 1999. The first of them, Love Among The Ruins, is out of print. Ramsey sang all of the lead vocals and played viola. Whereas Merchant had become the main songwriter during her later days with the band, most of the writing on this album is credited to the entire band, with Jules Shear helping out on three songs. This version of the band offered basically the same folk-pop sound as the previous one -- and Ramsey still bore a noticeable vocal resemblance to Merchant -- but these Maniacs were less arty than the Merchant-led lineup, and aimed more for prettiness. They usually achieved that on this disc, particularly on their cover of Roxy Music's "More Than This" and the touching "A Room For Everything". You won't find anything resembling Merchant's serious social commentary here. But, taken for what it is, Love Among The Ruins doesn't disappoint. The CD is available as an import from the U.K.

Track Listing:

1. Rainy Day
2. Love Among The Ruins
3. Even With My Eyes Closed
4. Girl On A Train
5. Green Children
6. A Room For Everything
7. More Than This
8. Big Star
9. You Won't Find Me There
10. All That Never Happens
11. Shining Light
12. Across The Fields

After leaving 10,000 Maniacs in 2002, Lombardo and Ramsey went back to being the folk duo John & Mary. They released a CD that year called The Pinwheel Galaxy without a distributor. Almost as if their Maniacs stint had never happened, the duo picked up where The Weedkiller's Daughter left off. (Armand John Petri, who co-produced that album with Lombardo, also co-produced this one with the duo). The pair sound more comfortable being back in their own skin. With no shoes to fill and no record company to please, Lombardo and Ramsey created a dreamy set of 12 folk-pop delights. Ramsey's viola and Lombardo's gentle guitar are still a winning combination. Ramsey handled all of the lead vocals on this album; Lombardo sings back-up on "Halo Of Stars". Most of the songs were written by both of them, but Ramsey's solo compositions ("Summer Street", "Gaze", "5 Weeks In A Balloon") are particularly transcendent. The Pinwheel Galaxy is a small gem all around.

Track Listing:

1. A Brighter Day
2. Beyond Love
3. Lillies Of The Valley
4. Summer Street
5. The Drone
6. Gaze
7. Halo Of Stars
8. Lady Margaret & Sweet William
9. 5 Weeks In A Balloon
10. Vacant Chair
11. In A Little While
12. My Shattered Illusions

Five years later, the duo returned with Peace Bridge in 2007. Their backing band, billed as the Valkyries, basically consists of guitarist Patrick J. Kane, bassist Kent Weber, and drummer Rob Lynch. Produced by Lombardo, this album essentially contains more of the delightful same, although Lombardo takes on a few more lead vocal turns than usual. You'd think the pair would be moving further from the sound of their former band by this point, but they sound as Maniacs-like as ever on "The Gift of Life" and "Triumph", which show Ramsey sounding amazingly like Natalie Merchant. (It is therefore not surprising that Ramsey rejoined 10,000 Maniacs around the time this album was released). The choice of cover songs is surprising. Although it was logical for the duo to cover the Poppy Family's melancholy pop song "That's Where I Went Wrong", it was quite unexpected to hear Lombardo sing the Pioneers' reggae song "Time Hard". However, their rendition of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary" is a bit disappointing. That new wave song from 1980 deserves a remake that would make it more timeless while still retaining its original mood, but John and Mary's labored duet treatment doesn't quite do the trick. That's the only real drawback of this otherwise satisfying folk-rock album. (Note: Peace Bridge is no longer available in physical CD form, but is still available as an mp3 download from or from CD Baby).

Track Listing:

1. Poppy
2. Easter
3. Shudder Girl
4. The Gift of Life
5. Goodbye Stan
6. Triumph
7. 23 Days
8. Johnny and Mary
9. Autumn in Rio
10. This Time Alone
11. That's Where I Went Wrong
12. Billy and Shelley
13. Time Hard