Originally posted on January 22, 2010:
I’m chiming in a little late on the chorus here, but this week, the music world lost a jewel.
Kate McGarrigle – singer, songwriter and one-half of the McGarrigle sisters – crossed over this week in Montreal, Canada. She was sixty-three and had “clear cell sarcoma, a form of cancer,” said the New York Times. (See the full story here.)
I learned about them in 1989, as I read the first edition I owned of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. The entry for the McGarrigles said simply:
“Two sisters from Montreal make music that’s crisp, nonelectric and utterly magical. Singing now in English, now in French, They suffuse their records with brightness and wit, proving that the inspired amateurism of the mid-Seventies could be dazzling.”
That was a little condescending, I thought, but it spurred me to keep an eye out for the McGarrigles’ work as I roamed the record stores. As I found and bought the occasional record and then CD over the years, I found myself appreciating more and more the quiet charm, consistent quality and occasional quirkiness of the sisters’ work.
More people know them, certainly, as writers of songs performed by other people. I would guess that the best-known song Kate McGarrigle wrote was “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino,” which Linda Ronstadt recorded for her 1981 album, Get Closer. (The title tune of Ronstadt’s 1974 album, Heart Like A Wheel, was written by Anna McGarrigle.)
One of the lessons that a writer can take from Kate McGarrigle’s work is that pretty much anything could be a topic for a song. Here, along with “(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino” are “I Eat Dinner,” a sad ode to the numbing sameness of life without romance, and “NaCl,” a sprightly science lesson.
“(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Kate & Anna McGarrigle 
“I Eat Dinner” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Heartbeats Accelerating 
“NaCl” by by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Pronto Monto