Born in Lithuania and married to singer/songwriter Billy Droze, Marija Droze has assimilated well into the realms of roots and bluegrass. Granted, as the title of her new album for RBR Entertainment, Maria With a J, makes clear, there’s still some adjustment needed, but that has nothing to do with her ability to make music with a definitive heartland sound. That’s hardly surprising; she was initially drawn to bluegrass at the age of 13. She and her equally accomplished husband have recorded several albums together and their song Raging Rivers topped the bluegrass charts for more than a year.
That said, the new album demonstrates the fact that she can stand on her own, and while it features a number of notables — among them, Scott Vestal on banjo, Don Rigsby and Ronnie Bowman on backing vocals, Tim Crouch on fiddle, and of course, her husband Billy sitting behind the board — it’s a confident and credible baker’s dozen songs that find Droze veering easily from uptempo tunes like Ghost of Your Memory, You’ve Got Time, and Broken Glass, to bittersweet ballads such as The Night We Fell, You’ve Got Time, and Daydreaming Kind. In addition, there are several other stand-outs, among them the tattered narrative, Hard Times, and the tangled tapestry woven through Cry Baby Cry.
In fact, all the songs boast distinctive melodies and each has something special to offer, given Marija’s expressive vocals and her emotive delivery. Her duets with Billy, Pretending and Run, are especially affecting and have all the makings of future hit singles. The arrangements are compelling as well, and it’s also to the couple’s credit that they were able to assemble the aforementioned backing band.
At this point, it’s clear that Marija Droze has all the skills and savvy needed to carve out a credible solo career of her own, even though there’s little doubt that her partner will continue to provide solid support. In any event, Maria With A J serves notice that it’s best to spell her name correctly, because she’ll likely be around for a long time to come.