Invisible Ink Music Blog - Zachary Houle
Sarah McQuaid: Walking Into White
Sarah McQuaid’s fourth album, Walking Into White, is as jaw-droppingly beautiful as it is transcontinental. To record it, she travelled from her adopted home of Cornwall, England (I’ve been there, and it is beautiful country) to Cornwall, New York, to cut the record in just less than three weeks, and work with co-producers Jeremy Backofen (Frightened Rabbit, Felice Brothers) and Sarah’s cousin Adam Pierce (Mice Parade, Tom Brosseau, Múm). The end result is an elegant album. Some of the songs are directly about youth: three of its songs were inspired by Arthur Ransome’s classic Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books. To that end, Walking Into White is a delicate album – one that fuses the jazz-folk stylings of Joni Mitchell with the tradition British folk music of, say, Fairport Convention. (Heck, even the phrase “turning of the tide” shows up, something that Richard Thompson has used in song, too.) So, even if a late summer release in the US is strange – it more appropriately showed up in Britain in early February – this is a record worth digging into . And, heck, even if these are more winter songs than summer songs, they will cool you off from the humidity nevertheless.
What makes this album sterling is the fact that it feels longer than its 37 minutes. The reason, I figure, is that these songs are generally short, running in the two-minute range, but they feel fully formed and fleshed out, so they often belie their brevity. However, there’s more to it than that. McQuaid isn’t afraid to reach out – “Where the Wind Decides to Blow” uses some cascading indie-sounding drums to first-rate effect. There are touches of classical guitar here and there, too, as well as some horns on “The Silver Lining”. Plus, McQuaid shucks norms by using a non-standard tuning on her guitar, giving it more of a jazzy feel. The end result – coupled with top-shelf songwriting – is a listen that is pure bliss. If anything, Walking Into White makes one want to dig deeper into her backcatalogue to hear if it is just as outstanding as this particular release. However, looking forward, it seems as though McQuaid should have a bright future ahead of her if she continues to drop albums as tender and gorgeous as this one. Walking Into White is perfect for those who miss old-style British folk and ’70s folk, a genre that could use the kind of attention that McQuaid so gloriously gives it with A-list affection.