FATEA - Peter Cowley
Album: Walking Into White
“Walking Into White” is Sarah McQuaid’s fourth solo album. Her previous release, 2012’s “The Plum Tree and The Rose” was [and still is] one of my favourite albums of that year [and any other year, come to think of it].
Never one to rest on her laurels, Sarah has dared to be different for her latest offering. She has changed her producer, her studio and the result is an album which is more contemporary in texture and atmosphere than her previous ones. For her new album, Sarah travelled to Cornwall, New York [as opposed to her home in Cornwall, England] to record with her producer-cousin Adam Pierce and his collaborator Jeremy Backofen, both of whom are from the world of contemporary, rather than folk, music. The album was recorded in three snowy weeks in New York and, indeed, several of the songs have a wintry feel to them.
One of the influences on Sarah’s songwriting for this album are the much-loved “Swallows and Amazons” children’s books by Arthur Ransome. As we shall see, three of the songs here were directly inspired by these books, which Sarah reads to her children.
But let’s start at the beginning. The album opens with a wash of synthesizer which leads into the atmospheric “Low Winter Sun”, on which Sarah’s guitar replicates the pattern of a peal of church bells.
The first of the three “Swallows” songs, “Where The Wind Decides To Blow” relates an incident where children make a sailing sled and get blown across a frozen lake at the mercy of a blizzard. This is followed by the second Ransome-inspired song, “The Tide” which is about navigating a safe channel through shallow water to avoid running aground. The third “Swallows” song is the title track “Walking Into White” which describes two children walking across a moor, only to be suddenly enveloped in thick fog, which prevents them from finding their way. This song features a delightful duet between Sarah’s [as ever] beautifully-played guitar and the melodic trumpet of Gareth Flowers.
In all three “Swallows”-based songs, Sarah has used the randomness [or should it be Ransomeness ?] of the elements [wind, snow, tide and fog] as a metaphor for the vagaries of life in general and how to overcome them.
The instrumental “I Am Grateful For What I Have” has a typically beautiful melody by Sarah who is joined by Dan Lippel on classical guitar and Kivie Cahn-Lipman on cello to great effect.
“Jackdaws Rising”is a majestic three-part round with a distinctly medieval flavour to it which, with its layered vocals reminds me of David Crosby’s masterpiece album “If I Could Only Remember My Name”.
“Yellowstone” is a superb song of Sarah’s about her son’s fear that volcanoes around the world will explode simultaneously in a chain reaction. She tells him not to worry but then realises she has fears of her own over things she can’t control. The song is given an exotic Samba feel by some stunning Spanish guitar by Dan Lippel.
The title of “The Silver Lining” is self-explanatory, in that it reveals Sarah as an optimist who can see the silver lining through the rain. The upbeat nature of the lyrics is emphasised by the energetic drumming of Adam Pierce and the tuneful trumpet of Gareth Flowers.
There are two non-original songs. The first of these will be familiar to many listeners as the hymn “All Creatures Of Our God And King”. Here it has its original title of “Canticle Of The Sun” and Sarah’s version is typically beautiful, as is her cover of the classic Ewan McColl song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, which he wrote for Peggy Seeger. I have to agree with Sarah when she describes this as “one of the most perfect love songs ever written”.
So, in conclusion, have the changes made by Sarah for the recording of this album been a success?
The answer is, undoubtedly, “Yes”. Sarah has produced another superb album, which sounds fresh and contemporary without compromising the subtlety and delicacy of her previous work. She is an artist at the top of her game and, like its predecessor, this is an album that I will turn to again and again.