Scene and Heard – CCXXXVIII : The Tug of the Moon  – Sarah McQuaid (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

2-SarahMcQuaid2012-2-e1470637983446Of course the big news this New Year was the leap-second adjustment which was added into the calendar to keep things on track. Okay, it might not be a big deal but it inspired Sarah McQuaid to write this wonderful song about the often unseen passing of time and life in general. Sarah has wandered between traditional sounds and more contemporary music with ease over the course of her four previous albums and The Tug of The Moon finds her with one foot in each camp, a melancholic and haunting delivery, sounding like a piece from a long lost folk archive, but delivered in the most modern of ways.

And time, as well as mortality, is a theme which dominates the forthcoming album, the wonderfully named If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, as are a number of current political hot topics but rather than a fired up reaction to the issues, the music follows her maxim that “Sometimes the way to fix a problem is to turn the pressure off” something that more of us should take to heart in these heated times.

The Tug of The Moon is Mc Quaid at her most brilliant, saying so much with space and atmosphere, letting the pauses between the words and the gaps between the notes become as an affective weapon, but more than anything else, no matter how deft the writing, how finely wrought the playing, it is her majestic yet understated voice that steals the scene.

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King’s Daughters Home For Incurables – Karla Kane (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

KingsDaughtersFrontCoverI don’t know why I should be surprised that someone from the sun strewn West Coast of America should deliver one of the most authentic sounding folk records of the year so far. It isn’t like music belongs to any one place or people; it’s in the air for any who wish to hear it. King’s Daughters Home For Incurables is nothing less than a love letter to this damp green island, the folk music it has produced and the people who have made it. As a member of the Corner Laughers, Karla has had the perfect excuse to travel the Old World soaking up its traditions and culture, history and quirks, and whilst her main musical vehicle blends these vibes with a myriad of other flavours, here the fingerprint is more identifiable.

This is certainly the music of Western Europe, most probably England and perhaps emanating from a folk club in the dark back room of a pub. It is the sound of past eras of folk music as distilled through the 60’s folk revival, polished and evolved for the 21st century. Tracks such as The Lilac Line bubble over with the joyous pop vibe that comes so naturally to her, Mother of the Future is a distant echo of the primal scream and All Aboard is a simulated train ride using only a piano but mainly the songs fit with more expected folk territory.

These are the pathways wandered by everyone from Shirley Collins, who gets name checked and Martin Newell who appears here, and modern torchbearers Kate Rusby and Sarah McQuaid. That isn’t to say that this is in any way a pastiche or a retrospective glance, this is a homage, a celebration of the genre but one that moves it forward at just the right gentle pace. It is both familiar ground and fertile soil for new growth.

If The Corner Laughers are a high on life, mystical beach party, then this is a back garden musing, probably involving topics such as this year’s runner beans with a strong cup of tea and one eye on the weather. England hasn’t subdued her, it has seduced her and the result is music that is no less brilliant but with the pace and poise that fits the more reserved rural pulse beating at the heart of the songs

Walking Into White – Sarah McQuaid (Waterbug Records) reviewed by Dave Franklin

Sarah McQuaidSarah 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.

New Music of The Day – XVIII : The Silver Lining – Sarah McQuaid

securedownloadWalking Into White is the fourth solo album from Sarah McQuaid. To record it, she travelled from her adopted home in Cornwall, England, to the small town of Cornwall, New York, USA, in order to work with co-producers Jeremy Backofen (Frightened Rabbit, Felice Brothers) and Sarah’s cousin Adam Pierce (Mice Parade, Tom Brosseau, Múm).

Coming from outside the folk world and having never worked with Sarah before, Adam and Jeremy found and nurtured the raw edge and intensity that’s always been present in her live performances, while their occasionally unorthodox recording methods (a mini-cassette recorder mounted on a microphone stand, for example) bring out a striking intimacy and immediacy in both her vocals and her guitar sound. Walking Into White is by far the most personal and emotional album Sarah has made to date.

The Plum Tree and The Rose – Sarah McQuaid (Waterbug Records) reviewed by Dave Franklin

th-1After exploring the traditional styles of Ireland and The Appalachians on previous albums, her third, The Plum Tree and The Rose, has its feet firmly planted in the dark clay of England’s folk movement, both contemporary and ancient.

One thing I always find speaks volumes about an artist and where they are coming from is the cover songs that they chose to include along side their own compositions; McQuaid’s choices are very revealing. With three songs garnered from the works of troubadours and renaissance players, a love and understanding of the roots of the genre become obvious and her fourth borrowing is a masterful cover of the hallowed ground that is John Martyn’s “Solid Air”. And the art of the right selections is that they blend in to the artist’s own songs with ease and they very much do.

The wonderful stories and pieces of history wrapped up in songs such as “Kenilworth”, “Hardwick’s Lofty Towers” and “In Derby Cathedral”, not to mention the effortlessly chilled musical arrangements, imbibe the songs with the weight of time and tradition and I would defy the listener to tell the covers from the original pieces, such is their authenticity.

But it’s not all double history or a Cecil Sharp House style open day; there are plenty of contemporary themes explored as well. The lilting groove and gentle optimism of “The Sun Goes on Rising” brings us bang up to date and songs such as “So Much Rain” and the title track itself explore universal themes in brilliantly poetic fashion.

The word timeless is banded around far too much these days, but this album comes as close to that accolade as any I have heard. Timeless in its lack of modern cliché, timeless in its inclusion of vast swathes of musical, not to mention factual, history and timeless in the fact that it could just as easily have been the product of the sixties folk revival as it is of this time.

This is the first of Sarah’s albums I have heard but if her previous works match the evocative exploration of (mainly) English folk that is found here, I think that they also are journeys that I will be taking very shortly as well.

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