Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Mary Beth Carty has been described as “the Swiss Army Knife of the East Coast.” It’s a moniker she totally embraces.
“Everyone calls Darren McMullen from the band Coig that, but I gladly accept that title,” she said from her home in Antigonish. “I’m that person who when people ask, ‘What instrument do you play?’ I say, ‘What does the band need?’ So I’m cool with that description. I think it’s very flattering.”
Mary Beth’s new album, Crossing The Causeway, mixes her talents on various instruments with the mix of languages inherent in Nova Scotia and in Mary Beth’s life.
“I do a lot of work in the Acadian community of Pomquet in the music program at the school,” she said. "Gaelic was my grandmother’s first language, and of course English is my first language. Recently I’ve been hanging out with a friend from Eskasoni First Nation, and when I go to parties at their house, everyone is speaking Mi’kmaq around the table. So I wanted to reflect on the album what it’s like for me in my daily life and how multicultural it is around here.”
Helping Mary Beth to create the album was a roster of artists who are both friends and family, including Morgan Toney, Colin Grant and cousins Cassie and Maggie MacDonald.
“Everybody on the album is like a bestie, so it was really fun to make,” she said.
The physical process of recording the album was challenged by COVID-19 lockdowns (of course) but Mary Beth made the best of those times of actually getting together with others.
“There would be times during lockdown where I would receive tracks via email,” she said. “As soon as things would open up, I would put my recording studio in a little duffle bag and head down the road to a friend’s house and capture their voice or their fiddle. It was a fun process to just be jamming with friends and recording.”
Crossing The Causeway is Mary Beth’s second solo album following 2017’s Les biens-nommés, which earned her nominations for the East Coast Music Awards.
“All the song titles are first names, so it was kind of a concept album,” she said. “It’s mostly songwriting in French as I was processing some things.”
Mary Beth’s talents aren’t restricted to just music. She’s created the cover art for both solo albums and even developed her own type font for Crossing The Causeway.
“I actually couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Wow, I can create a font?’ Unreal, what a time to be alive.”
The new album features covers of Rita MacNeil’s 'Moonlight In Clover' and Ronnie MacEachern’s 'Driver MacIvor'.
“Both of them are big influences to me,” said Mary Beth. “I got to meet Ronnie when I was a student going to King’s College/Dalhousie in Halifax. He lived in the area and would come over with his fiddle and often times bring a pie and his friend, Bill Plaskett, Joel Plaskett’s dad, for afternoon jam sessions with my roommates. We were in a band called The Johnson Sisters. 'Driver MacIvor' is kind of a cult classic. It’s in 6/8 time like a jig, and it mentions all these places in Cape Breton.”
Mary Beth had been unaware of Rita’s 'Moonlight In Clover' until she heard the song on CJFX Radio during the lockdown.
“It’s a waltz, and I thought it would be perfect on the accordion, so I learned it, and it sort of kept me company during that time.”
Prior to the release of her solo albums, Mary Beth lived in Quebec City while in the duo Bette & Wallet, which released two albums, 2008’s Voici and 2014’s Électrique. The move back to Nova Scotia was an important moment in her life.
“When you’re always on tour, you can live anywhere,” she said. “We moved back here in 2010, and it was great to be back home. I love gardening and being surrounded by nature and where I grew up. It’s sort of next door to a dairy farm; we all have our vegetable gardens, and I was even propagating berry plants.”
But of course the music of Nova Scotia is a big reason to be happy to be back.
“I was thinking the other day about ‘Dear Island', about when you’re in your 20s you just go, and you don’t know where you’re going to stay. I’m going to see where the fun is happening and have faith I’m going to find a place to lay my weary head tonight. You’d have the tent in the back of the car with a sleeping bag.”
As Mary Beth has realized since moving back, there’s always fun happening somewhere in Nova Scotia.
“You might think there’s not much going on, but there is. Even on a Monday night recently I was at two different events!”
For more information on Mary Beth Carty and Crossing The Causeway, go to marybethcarty.com.