When Philadelphia roots-rock band Marah recorded their live-to-tape LP If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry in 2005, the group was beginning to once again gel as a unit. After weathering numerous lineup changes and finally putting 2002’s Britpop misstep Float Away With the Friday Night Gods in the rearview, founding members Dave Bielanko and Serge Bielanko, a pair of thick-as-thieves brothers, reunited in New York City with a new batch of songs.
Digging in at the Magic Shop in Manhattan, with MVP utility player Kirk Henderson, lap-steel ace Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner, and the drummer-guitarist duo of Dave Petersen and Adam Garbinski, the Bielankos furiously set about working out arrangements with everyone playing together in the same room. In the wild, occasionally unruly process, Dave Bielanko says, they somehow became a viable band.
“This is the band now, everyone can feel that,” writes the singer-guitarist frontman in a new essay about those inspired sessions, accompanying a newly remastered version of the album, out this week. “The power silently shifts around the room and now we make a horseshoe shape around the ‘cutting room’ in the Magic Shop’s ‘live room.’ Amp hum. But now what?”
The answer was “press record” and furiously cut the 12 songs that would become If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry, their first proper studio LP since 2004’s 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. A mix of Americana-tinged rock & rollers and folky story-songs, like Dave Bielanko’s Paul Simon-esque “City of Dreams” and the Serge Bielanko masterpiece “Walt Whitman Bridge,” If You Didn’t Laugh would signal a rebirth for the band, especially on the live stage where their sweaty concerts – including a rapturous 2006 set at Austin City Limits Fest in Austin – reached for Springsteen levels of exaltation.
The sessions for the album also yielded the boisterous “This Time,” available first as a bonus song but now officially slotted as a track on the new vinyl reissue of If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry. [Listen to the song above.]
Following what seemed like the most sour of band breakups in 2008, Marah reunited in 2015 behind a series of reissues of their past albums, including 2000’s breakthrough Kids in Philly and 2008’s Angels of Destruction!. Dave Bielanko says the group is preparing to record a new album in Arizona. They’ll play If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry in its entirety during a March 10th show in Arden, Delaware, presented by Philly tastemaker station WXPN.