Blabber ’n’ Smoke - Paul Kerr
The Plum Tree and The Rose
Inevitably there are albums sent to Blabber’n'Smoke that just don’t get reviewed. Some aren’t very good, others just get swallowed up in the pending pile and by the time we get around to them the release date has been and gone so we move on to the next and more current contender. However with the best of these orphans we keep an eye out for opportunity and this time around we can dust off Sarah McQuaid’s fine The Plum Tree and The Rose from last year as Sarah’s about to go on a hop across Scotland.
McQuaid has a fairly exotic background, born in Madrid to a Spanish father and American mum she was raised in Chicago, holds dual US and Irish citizenship, and now lives in England. It may be fanciful to suggest that this is reflected in her selection of the songs here however they include a song sung in the ancient Occitan language (from Southern Europe) along with others written in 1597 and 1609! The immediate attraction of the album however is McQuaid’s voice which is warm with a low register and although it’s quite distinct from that of the late Sandy Denny’s McQuaid has a similar air of authority and empathy with the songs that Denny had.
Speaking of Denny there’s a lot about the album that recalls the blossoming of modern folk around the late sixties and early seventies. A cover of John Martyn’s Solid Air for starters. This is a tough one to consider as the original is seared in the memory but McQuaid keeps it simple with just guitar and a doleful trumpet turning it into a late night dram friendly obituary. Apart from this McQuaid is very taken with the guitar tuning DADGAD which was Bert Jansch’s calling card and the best parts of the album recall his and John Renbourne’s peregrinations with Pentangle while Kenilworth has a smidgeon of David Crosby’s ethereal If Only I Could Remember My Name about it. There are some excellent songs here all buttressed by some immaculate playing. The jazzy intimations of The Sun Goes On Rising and So Much Rain showcase the writing while the medieval feel of Hardwick’s Lofty Towers, New Oysters New and Can She Excuse My Wrongs bring us right back to the likes of Denny and Renbourne who could hush packed halls with renditions of 500 year old songs much in the same way I’m sure McQuaid would do these days.
McQuaids’s UK tour started in Ireland a week ago and she’ll be in Scotland for four shows from May 1st as part of an “in the round” presentation with Bill Adair and Richard Grainger. After this she heads south. All dates are on her website.