A quite unique band from Detroit and other southeast Michigan localities. Only A Mother existed from approximately 1987 to 1994, though Frank Pahl, the main songwriter and genius behind the group, continues his own solo work, which resembles in style the OaM sound, a sound best described as "avant garde noise-folk".

Only a Mother used only acoustic instruments to create very strange songs, often with pop structures but with bizarre instrumentation and arrangements, extended techniques, strange time signatures and keys, and harmonic references to other ethnicities (Balkan, Middle Eastern, and Celtic especially) . The lyrics were often quite surreal as well, with subjects ranging from contortionists to talking bricks to Bill Hickok. One song even depicts a young boy making a misguided, dream-like correlation between his masturbation and the old alligators in New York City sewers myth.

Other artists somewhat resembling them are The Residents, Renaldo & the Loaf, the Art Bears, and more recently Charming Hostess and the Tin Hat Trio. Only A Mother worked with a variety of collaborators, including Eugene Chadbourne (they appear on his LSDC&W album, and he plays guest guitar and banjo on their first album, as well as sitting in on many live gigs) and the Shaking Ray Levis, but their core members were:

  • Frank Pahl - vocal, guitar, prepared mandolin, balalaika, euphonium, whistling
  • Bobbi Benson - upright bass, trumpet, vocals
  • Marko Novachcoff - cello, various reeds
  • Mary Richards - violin, mandolin, vocals
  • Doug Gourlay - percussion
Note: the instrumentation listed is only what they usually played. they often traded off or played other rare instruments or devices (like noseflutes, mbiras, washboard, saws, etc) for just one song or one verse - this was one of the reasons they were so entertaining to watch live!

They released 2 albums, the 1991 Naked Songs for Contortionists and Feral Chickens in 1993, both on the TEC Tones label. Pahl has also released 3 solo albums.

(Germany, circa 1915) I had to leave home when I reached high school age. My parents brought me to a boarding school in a nearby town where my mother visited me every Sunday. As I was the only non-Catholic staying at this school, I was allowed to stay home while the others went to church. I eagerly awaited her, lonely sitting in a window with my eyes to the street. My mother would come, after having first walked an hour from our home to the railroad station and then from the station to me. She would come. And I would be looking forward to the cake she always would bring me. Two years after the war, we were almost starved in the boarding home. There was simply not enough food on the market. It was always a sad moment when Mother had to leave. But she still had to return to the station and from there the hour back home where her husband and four other children waited to be taken care of.

Only a mother, a good mother, could stand such a continuous almost lifelong strain. Not only was my mother a good mother, she was an outstanding woman and an outstanding human being. She was used to taking orders from our patriarchal father, who would allow no arguments. She would take care of five children, then later six, again and again consoling them when their father was too harsh or impatient. I always remember instances when she went out of her way to please us and to help us when we had done something that might have been wrong in the eyes of my father. In spite of all the limits which were common for women in those days, she followed faithfully her convictions, though she did it rather diplomatically rather than openly.

During the next war all her boys were spread out in Poland, Hungary, France, Yugoslavia, Italy and her daughter with her three small children was in occupied Czechoslovakia. Her husband was also in the army. She must have been in constant fear and sorrow for those six years while her family was so scattered.

My father died a few months before the end of the war which he had condemned from the beginning. He was convinced it would end in tragedy and catastrophe. The cause of his death was a heart attack which he suffered after he learned that our home in Nurnberg had been bombed. Everything within it was destroyed. It was too much for him to lose everything he had worked so hard for throughout his life. Luckily my parents had been evacuated shortly before to a small place south.

None of us children attended his funeral. My mother had to take care of this herself. At that time, I had not even known he had died. There was almost no means of communication towards the end of the war. My mother’s letter with the sad news reached me six weeks after he was buried.

She took over the family. She distributed her savings among us and even sent us part of her rationed small food supply. She also bought a crop of community owned fruit trees for us. I never forgot the tears running down her cheeks when she saw me pushing a wheel barrow with cow manure out of the stable where I had worked. This was the only job I could get after the war. I was lucky to earn the few marks I was able to.

She gave everything she could of herself for us, her children. She went without, so that we would not. She had difficulties with her heart for those years, but her strongest wish was to have all her children back home and settled in jobs, secure. This is what kept her alive. When she died five years later, also of a heart attack, we were all back, all in reasonable health, and all able to make a living and support ourselves. We were her contents. The rest of the strife all around was nothing compared to her love of her children. This was what was important. Us, her family. We all assembled around her in her final moments. I still remember the smile on her face when she died. She was fulfilled.


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