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Minnie and Mare


Tara posted a piece about the movie “Once,” which shows that Glen Hansard of the Frames can act as well as sing. The music world is littered with laughable record releases by actors (maybe most infamously, William Shatner’s covers of Bob Dylan), but new CDs by Minnie Driver and Mare Winningham are the exceptions to the rule.

Minnie first got notice in the 1995 movie “Circle of Friends,” but she already had a musical career prior to that, and actually turned down a development deal from Island Records at the time. Her 2004 debut album, “Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket,” showed a lot of promise. The new one, “Seastories,” builds on that. Some of the songs are pop-ish, kind of a cross between Aimee Mann and Brandi Carlile. My faves are a bit darker, like “Cold Dark River” and “Lakewater Hair,” with echoes of early 70’s Joni.

Minnie told “Performing Songwriter” that she recognizes the bad track record of actors trying to cross over to success as singers. “I can barely think of any who are good at it. They’ve set the bar very low. So I understand those who were unwilling to take me seriously as an artist.” Well, let’s not underestimate her.

Mare Winningham is also the real deal - as an actor, as a singer-singwriter, and as a human being. Most of us first encountered her in “St. Elmo’s Fire,” which forever branded her as a “brat packer,” but as she told me on the “Sunday Breakfast,” she was 5-6 years older than the rest of the cast and never identified with that. She’s gotten a slew of awards and nominations since then (most notably as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sister in the haunting film “Georgia,” for which they did their own singing) and recently was a recurring guest star on “Grey’s Anatomy” (as Meredith’s stepmother).

She’s been in New York for the past few months as one of the leads in “10 Million Miles,” the musical based on Patty Griffin’s songs at the Atlantic Theatre Company in Chelsea. The show itself got some mixed reviews (mostly for its book), but everyone raved about Mare’s performance, which saw her portraying all the secondary female roles. She’s got a beautiful voice, which she adapts to the different characters. The musical closes on July 15 and isn’t likely to transfer to Broadway (unlike “Spring Awakening,” which also originated at the Atlantic, with the same director, Michael Mayer), so try to catch it before the end of its run.

I first became aware of Mare as a singer-songwriter about 8 years ago when she released “Lonesomers,” an alt-country album in the vein of early Lucinda. She’s got a brand new CD, “Refuge Rock Sublime,” which has more of an Americana feel. It’s really kind of a Jewish gospel album, reflecting her conversion to Judaism 5 years ago, but that shouldn’t put you off. Her songs are like her acting - authentic and unadorned - and her voice draws you in. I asked her on my show if, all things being equal, she’d rather make her living as an actor or a singer. She’s never had to support her family with her music, so that’s always seemed romantic. I trust she’ll be able to do both - and won’t keep us waiting another 8 years for her next CD.