fRoots - David Kidman

Sarah_McQuaid_fRoots_417SARAH MCQUAID
If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous
Shovel And A Spade Records SAASCD001
This is the fifth solo album by Sarah, a singer-songwriter of mixed Spanish and American descent who after thirteen years living and working in Ireland has been based in Cornwall since 2008. As it turns out, the album itself also has an interesting history. In 2014, Sarah met legendary singer-songwriter-guitarist Michael Chapman when both artists were on the bill of the Village Pump Festival. He was blown away by her talent, and a lasting friendship developed, leading to him offering to produce her next album – and even lending her his Ibanez electric guitar (which she plays on four tracks of the album) and contributing some signature guitar lines of his own (on his Gibson archtop electric) to five tracks. Needless to say, Chapman’s imprimatur is strongly felt on those tracks, yet Sarah’s own musical personality is not subsumed in any way, with her smooth, contoured singing voice and gently inventive guitar playing well to the fore.

The album’s twelve tracks may be dominated by musings on mortality, but the prevailing mood isn’t exactly doom-and-gloom, more a beautifully reflective melancholy, as on the album’s standout songs – intensely atmospheric closer The Tug Of The Moon, the potent impression of former tin-mining location Cot Valley and the pensive Time To Love (which Sarah co-wrote with her erstwhile collaborator Gerry O’Beirne, and here also features some restrained string-quartet scoring). Perhaps the deepest and most desperate questioning occurs on The Silence Above Us, which may feel a touch oppressive (here Sarah accompanies on the piano), and the feisty, gritty title song whose dual electric guitars seem to growl with the protest. Yet Sarah’s setting of part of the mediæval chant Dies Irae has a welcome airiness, as does the linked instrumental piece that follows it; and her cover of Jeff Wayne’s Forever Autumn (part of her live set for some time) both haunts and glows in this context. More often than not, in fact, the feel of the album is distinctly uplifting and at times positively humorous, albeit in a wry sort of way. (Break Me Down is a cheery little ditty in praise of decomposition, and the kitchen-sink-percussion-backed One Sparrow Down laconically relates a cat-astrophic event).

So, with its classy songwriting, exemplary musicianship and high production values, this is a collection to savour, and will ensure Sarah’s name remains on the radar.