Listening to Mary Roth perform is like watching the history of the world’s music unfold before your eyes. The Cape May-based musician utilizes many classic folk instruments taken from the pages of the cultural history of humanity, combining them into a performance which literally spans centuries.
Classic traditionals and folks songs, such as “Greensleeves” and “Scarborough Fair,” form the bulk of her sets.
“I feel strongly about folk music because it’s so primal,” says Roth, who first became interested in the genre during her formative years. “In elementary school, Linda Rondstadt was really popular, but I started to be drawn to the more folk-sounding artists, like Joan Baez.”
For the most part, Roth is a self-trained musician, specializing in unique instruments. She often plays the dulcimer, bouzouki and other ancient folk devices.
“I have to be authentic when I play the Renaissance fairs,” she says. “I usually play a Greek bouzouki, or something from the actual time period.”
Those unfamiliar with the rich tapestry she draws from will also find something to their liking at her shows.
“I don’t like to limit myself to one form of music,” explains Roth. In addition to her folk music background, the artist also incorporates more contemporary, 20th century selections. Songs by James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, and other like-minded individuals all add ingredients to her musical stew.
Through the course of her career, Roth has also managed to accumulate some prominent and talented musicians to accompany her. David “Dhotep” Middleton, who has performed extensively as a member of the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra, has been accompanying her on guitar for several key performances.
For her debut CD “Will to Survive,” Roth combined traditional tunes with some original compositions of her own.
“It takes me a long time to write a song,” she confesses. “I’m really meticulous about it.”
Fortunately, she’s had some stellar help on her debut, including a duet with Robert Hazard, performing one of his final written pieces.
“When you’re writing songs, you don’t have all the answers. I tend to process them for a long time,” she says.
In addition to performing, Roth also hosts a local radio show which spotlights various local artists of all different disciplines. “Artists with a Purpose,” which airs on WCFA 101.5-FM, has spanned the gamut of human creations.
“It’s something that I put together because I know that everyone in the arts has something in common: difficult work, and risk taking,” she explains.
To date, the show has featured filmmakers, musicians, chefs and even beekeepers.
“We can always learn from the arts,” says Roth.