Sarah MacDougall: Across The Atlantic www.sarahmacdougall.com
This album comes to us from Vancouver, not previously noted for internationally successful music - Vancouver conjures a significantly different mental image to Seattle, its close neighbour just across the American border. Strange, then, that this music from the shore of the Pacific should be called 'Across the Atlantic', but that reflects Ms MacDougall's split background, her young years having been divided between Sweden and Canada. Something has been made in the press of a Scandinavian folk background to her songs. That's as maybe; it strikes me that's just a useful critical/promotional peg to help her stand out from the crowd a bit. In fact there's not too much that's obscure or difficult going on here. Mostly it's a remarkably skilfully performed and produced album that should travel to pretty much anywhere that English is spoken or understood.
At its most upbeat, 'Across the Atlantic' has songs that do the Amy MacDonald thing: gloriously energetic, strongly rhythmic, driven along by crisp drumming and with the lyric absolutely at the service of a tuneful bounce that communicates itself instantaneously. 'Cry Wolf', for example, has halls full of people dancing, I'm sure, wherever she plays and it certainly has me dancing round the kitchen; however, the energy of the song belies the reflective, slightly anguished, lyric - not that you'd notice as you sing cheerfully along to the chorus. The album divides fairly evenly between these sort of numbers and much slower tunes with the space in them to indulge a bluer, more reflective mood. A couple of times, on 'I've Got Your Back' and 'Ramblin' ', this comes off as distinctly Lucinda Williams-ish which is due in no small part to Tim Tweeddale's steel guitar and dobro playing. It's also a tribute to the strength of Sarah's lyric and the emotional intensity of her singing. Her voice is the star instrument here, so strong, warm and authoritative with that folk music warble at times, like Joan Baez or even Buffy St. Marie.
The furthest she gets from a mainstream approach is on 'Crow's Lament' and ''Hundred Dollar Bills'; with their 2/4 time signatures (which does indeed evoke European folk music) and distinctly spooky lyrical references, as if Rennie Sparks had popped in with some ideas for a song or two. Different again is the closing song, 'Goodbye Julie' . Very quiet and reflective, the lyric is enigmatically inconsequential; sung in a wistful frame of mind at the end of the relationship, the question is - is this the end? The two people involved are not currently communicating but the feeling persists that neither has quite given up on the other for good. It's a nicely sophisticated and self-confident note on which to end a hugely impressive debut record.
John (Biscuits and Gravy) Davy http://flyinshoes.ning.com/profile/JohnDavy