ALBUM REVIEW: Sarah McQuaid – Walking Into White
The singer-songwriters always bring along the constant fascination for an endless ocean of emotions and stories shaped up with (apparently) so little resources – plain songs, their voice, a guitar or a piano. But their work is deeply rooted into the most precious thing that can be put out there: themselves. And behind each of them, there is a unique universe and personal history. Can there be anything more intriguing than that?
Music journalist, artist, folk singer-songwriter, Sarah McQuaid has a distinctive biography and background. Born in Spain, raised in US, taught how to sing by her mother, she toured from the age of 12 with the Chicago Children’s Choir, studied in France, settled in Ireland and later on moved to England. ‘Walking Into White’ is her fourth solo album.
The striking essentials of the album are the strength suggestive of cold and warm feelings without falling into the ‘sad versus happy’ cliché, the richness in sounds, themes and arrangements and its holistic approach towards different topics, leaving still enough space for contemplation and thought.
It talks a lot about childhood, hiding insightful metaphors on life behind beautiful lyrics and inspiration found in the bedtime reading done by Sarah to her kids. The title track together with two other songs – ‘Where The Wind Decides To Blow’ and ‘The Tide’ found inspiration in Arthur Ransome’s classic ‘Swallows and Amazons’ twelve children’s books. ‘Yellowstone’ is more direct, a true life-guiding advice against children fears which can ruin the beauty of life.
The same record brings together a vocal only song and an instrumental only one. As a great sign of Sarah McQuaid power of suggestion stands ‘Sweetness And Pain’, which was originally recorded as a full a cappella song, to be finally split into three parts across the record. At the opposite pole, ‘I Am Grateful For What I Have’ is a guitar ballad with a self explanatory title, which I find particularly significant for the entire philosophy of the record as it may represent just the linking part between the introspection on less pleasant aspects of life (‘Low Winter Sun’ or ‘Jackdaws Rising’) and hope, joy and reassurance (‘The Silver Lining’ or ‘Leave It For Another Day’).
The album ends with two covers, ‘Canticle Of The Sun’ wrote in the 13th century by St. Francis of Assisi and best known as the hymn ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’. ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ is a beautiful version for a love song written for Peggy Seeger.
‘Walking Into White’ is a deep, resonant record with many variations which somehow keep the same high level of intensity. An ambitious project which obviously couldn’t be done without a significant previous experience. Melting together contemporary, medieval and Spanish rhythms or vocal, guitar, cello, synthesizer and trumpets harmonies, and still keep this sense of a strange unity, which comes natural as if it was the most normal state of play… Such magnitude can only be found the frame of life itself.
Released 02 February 2015
Produced and mixed by Adam Pierce and Jeremy Backofen
Engineered by Jeremy Backofen
Creative direction by Martin Stansbury
Recorded and mixed at Tree Time Studios, Cornwall, NY, USA
Mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side Music, New Windsor, NY, USA
Design and original cover artwork by Mary Guinan
Photography by Phil Nicholls – Phil Nicholls Photography
- Low Winter Sun (2:52)
- Where the Wind Decides To Blow (2:09)
- The Tide (2:53)
- I Am Grateful For What I Have (2:30)
- Sweetness And Pain I (0:47)
- Walking Into White (3:09)
- Jackdaws Rising (2:51)
- Yellowstone (3:41)
- The Silver Lining (2:13)
- Sweetness And Pain II (0:45)
- Leave It For Another Day (3:35)
- Sweetness And Pain III (0:44)
- Canticle Of The Sun (2:37)
- The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (4:01)
CD package includes full colour 16-page booklet (original artwork and design by Mary Guinan) with lyrics and background information on the songs.
“Low Winter Sun”: I love it that Adam and Jeremy have made my guitar sound kind of like a piano on this one, even though the melody I’m playing is a peal for church bells. The guitar part in the first half is mostly based on the Westminster Quarters (a.k.a. the Westminster Chimes). In the instrumental section that closes out the song, I’m playing a bell ringing method called Plain Bob Doubles, which seems to work quite nicely on DADGAD-tuned guitar. Meanwhile, Adam is using an electric guitar and an early 1980s synthesizer to generate a big wash of sound that glues it all together.
“Where The Wind Decides To Blow”: This is one of three songs on this album that were inspired by Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series. I’d spent the past year or so reading aloud all twelve books to my two children, in order, one chapter every night at bedtime, and kept being struck by the metaphorical potential of various incidents. In the fourth book in the series, ‘Winter Holiday’, two children have attached a sail to their sled and taken it out on the frozen lake. It’s all going brilliantly until the blizzard arrives… like so many things that seem like great fun until you discover that you’re not in control of the situation and it suddenly gets a bit scary.
“The Tide”: Another ‘Swallows and Amazons’ inspired song. This one comes mainly from the fifth book in the series, ‘Coot Club’, although there are elements of ‘Secret Water’ (the eighth book) as well. Both books are set in the Norfolk Broads, a network of rivers and lakes that are all subject to tidal influence. At low tide it’s important to stick to the deep-water channel, otherwise you risk getting stuck in the mud. And if that happens, there’s nothing to do but wait for the tide to rise again. I thought that sounded a bit like life, too.
“I Am Grateful For What I Have”: I gave this instrumental piece the title “I Am Grateful For What I Have” because I thought it would be good for me to see that phrase on my set list night after night, by way of a reminder and maxim. Not sure whether it’ll really work, but it’s worth a try.
“Sweetness And Pain I”: It was only after I’d recorded this a cappella song that we decided it might be most effective if we were to split it into three parts, to be scattered amongst the other tracks as a sort of interlude and recurring theme.
“Walking Into White”: My third and final ‘Swallows and Amazons’ song. This one was inspired by an episode in ‘Swallowdale’, the second book in the series, when two children are walking across open moorland and find themselves unexpectedly engulfed by a thick fog that’s rolled down off the mountain they’d climbed that morning. Once again, the situation in which the characters found themselves – groping blindly along, trying to stick together, unable to see where they’d come from or where they were going – felt to me like a parable for life… so much so that I decided to make it the title track of this album.
“Jackdaws Rising”: On a rare night off during one of my UK tours, Martin and I were staying with our great friends Pete Coleman and Clare Hines in Stroud, Gloucestershire. We sat down to play a few tunes together, Pete on pipes and whistles and Clare on hurdy-gurdy, and the two of them launched into a tune they’d written called ’13 Moons’, which also happens to be the title track of a superb album they made with their band Brocc. Recognising the tune from the album, I started playing along with it on my guitar. When we’d finished, Pete said “You know, if you felt like writing some words and a vocal melody to go with that tune, we wouldn’t object.” No further encouragement was needed! The song decided that it wanted to be a three-part round, so I’m very grateful to Adele Schulz and Martin Stansbury for singing the second and third parts. Also hugely grateful to Adam, who (along with so many other great things he brought to this album) had the clever idea of adding 5/4 percussion to a 4/4 tune. I’m a little daunted at the idea of trying to replicate the whole thing live in concert, complete with polyrhythm, but I’m determined to give it my best shot…
“Yellowstone”: Thanks so infinitely much to my beautiful son Eli Shiels for supplying me with the inspiration for this song. Having recorded a song I wrote about his younger sister Lily Jane on my previous album ‘The Plum And The Rose’, I’m glad to be able to redress the balance with this one.
“Leave It For Another Day”: Gerry O’Beirne did a lovely job of producing my first three solo albums, and while we both felt that the time had come for me to work with a different producer, I was delighted when he kindly agreed to co-write a song with me for this album. We wrote it together via email over a period of six or eight weeks, batting MP3s and lyrics back and forth between England and Ireland. I hope Gerry is as happy with the result as I am.
“Canticle Of The Sun”: St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226) wrote the ‘Canticle of the Sun’ in 1225. Originally in Italian (“Laudato sia Dio mio Signore”), the text was paraphrased by William Henry Draper (1855-1933) and published with the tune “Lasst uns Erfreuen”(from Auserlesen Catholische Geistliche Kirchengesäng, Cologne, 1623) in the Public School Hymn Book (1919). It has subsequently appeared in many other hymnals, with various alterations in the words. I’ve used Draper’s original text but left out the fifth, sixth and seventh verse.
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”: Ewan MacColl wrote this for Peggy Seeger, and it’s been recorded by so many illustrious names that I feel a bit presumptuous for having a go at it myself, but I couldn’t resist. I think it’s one of the most perfect love songs ever written.
Posted on: February 25, 2015ywannish