Amelia Merhar plays different kinds of metal.
Last year she fronted an all-female heavy metal band, Carnal Romance. Now, in her persona of Big Mama Lele and the Juicy Jugs, she’s released her first demo CD, Letters are Better, a collection of songs she performs on a metallic resonator ukulele.
Merhar packaged the CD as a book, in a homemade cover and a table of contents of the songs and all the lyrics.
“Books are a big part of who I am,” Merhar explains. “When I say in ‘Biking Home’ that I read until I pass out, I really do. So I wanted to combine these two items of outdated technology, the CD and the book. Books are turning into an art form.”
Merhar started playing ukulele five years ago. It’s a convenient instrument for her rambling life of train-hopping, hitchhiking, and backpacking.
“I didn’t want to be just another idiot on the side of the street who couldn’t play guitar. At least if I had a ukulele, I could carry it in my backpack.”
So her song “Dirty Old Man” comes from experience. Having travelled since the age of 15, Merhar has had to put up with unwelcome advances from men who have offered rides.
The song contains valuable advice for young women on the road: Stick your thumb out, but don’t put out/Cause dirty old man, you ain’t getting some from me. It’s more than just raunchy, it’s catchy. Playing live, she can get a room to take notice and sing along.
The title track, “Letters are Better”, is made of pure double-entendre. Against her solo ukulele, in a voice that’s deep and throaty, she explains her preference for physical correspondence, instead of virtual: Letters are better than Facebook./Mixtapes are sweeter than wine./Your package means so much to me,/So won’t you put it in my box.
With lyrics such as these, Merhar cements her songwriting in the tradition of those classic blues songs, Barrel House Annie’s “If It Don’t Fit (Don’t Force It)” and Lil Johnson’s “Get ’em from the Peanut Man (Hot Nuts)”.
Merhar performs most of these songs on her resonator ukulele, which gives a richer, more bassy accompaniment than a standard ukulele. It’s a versatile guitar replacement.
On “Dirty Old Man” she’s joined by Jason Samilski on percussion and bass, giving it folk-country feel. “Montreal Boys”, also with Jason Samilski, has additional effects, typical of Jordy Walker’s touch, making it to an indie folk.
Merhar’s demo release concert at The Rock Pub was a packed affair, with a lineup outside for two hours.
With her catchy, openly sexual lyrics, big voice and unique instrument, Big Mama Lele is becoming a favourite on the local music scene.
Outstanding Tracks: “Letters Are Better” and “Montreal Boys”.