Sarah McQuaid doesn’t so much make albums, she takes journeys exploring various music traditions, Celtic, Appalachian and English Folk are all places she has so far visited and the records act like acoustic photo-albums that she gives us access to upon her return. For this latest album, both her method of travel and the type of journey have changed considerably. Not only recording in New York but also collaborating with producers outside the traditional folk and roots environment has some produced some surprising results.
There are still some many trademark McQuaid sounds, her amazingly rich voice, obviously, the medieval round of Jackdaws Rising, the poeticism and originality of the song crafting, but this time out she playing with a musical palette that is broader in its scope and often much more contemporary.
On Yellowstone, for example, her vocal delivery lilts along in a way that conjures Janis Ian’s At Seventeen and is accompanied by some wonderfully evocative Spanish guitar from Dan Lippel. Brass even raises its head in the form of Gareth Flower’s trumpet adding a nice contemporary wash to tracks such as Silver lining and the title track itself.
Still at the core of much of the writing is that intangible elemental quality that threads through Sarah’s work, in the Sweetness and Pain triptych and the three part song cycle based on Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, the machinations of the natural world often used as metaphors for the trials and tribulations of life.
And as on The Plum Tree and The Rose when she chose John Martyn’s Solid Air to cover, here another iconic standard is re-imagined to great effect, this time Ewan MacColl’s “perfect love song” The First Time Ever I saw Your Face.
Change and evolution is always a good thing and Walking Into White really does find Sarah in some wonderfully new musical scenarios but there is still enough of a connection with the albums that came before as well. The result is an album that still appeals to her existing fan base but one that opens doors to a whole new, slightly more mainstream audience.