NetRhythms - David Kidman (Oct 2008)
Sarah McQuaid – I Won’t Go Home ’Til Morning (Own Label)
You might recall that last year, Sarah managed belatedly to re-release her fine debut disc, 1997’s When Two Lovers Meet, to be greeted with even wider acclaim than on its first appearance, for its timeless properties: the gently sensuous singing, quiet lyricism and tasteful arrangements, which I felt had a certain kinship with the output of Niamh Parsons. Hardly surprising, given the time Sarah had spent in Ireland, immersing herself in its cultural heritage. Now safely Cornwall-based, however, in her (American) mother’s former home, Sarah has taken stock and decided to revisit the Southern Appalachian songs and tunes that she learned during her childhood, to many of which she had been introduced by her mother. It’s clear from her quietly expressive and supremely affecting performances that these songs have powerful emotional resonances for Sarah, and on this new CD she takes us on a cathartic spiritual journey through this material. It’s a lovingly produced (and incidentally, beautifully packaged) release, containing several standout tracks and not a weak link anywhere in earshot. Sarah leads off the CD with a marvellously atmospheric and idiomatic The Chickens They Are Crowing (Peggy Seeger’s seminal 1958 recording of which she wore out on her Mickey Mouse record-player!), following this with a delicious rendition of West Virginia Boys (with deftly cheeky percussion accompaniment from Liam Bradley) and the disc’s sole instrumental cut, a version of Shady Grove backed by Gerry O’Beirne on tiple and guitars. Although Sarah openly admits her cover of Ode To Billie Joe can’t hope to match Bobbie G’s original, it’s a pretty authentic stab, as is her attempt at emulating Rory Block’s muscular treatment of J.K. Alwood’s Uncloudy Day. The disc’s two acappella tracks provide definite highlights: there’s a well-turned rendition of a song Sarah had learned directly from her mother, a North Carolina variant of The Wagoner’s Lad, but even finer is her spellbinding vocal duet with Liam Bradley on the sacred harp hymn Wondrous Love that forms the disc’s centrepiece. It’s also impossible to fault Sarah’s well-judged take on East Virginia (based on the 1960 Joan Baez recording of Jean Ritchie’s version), which benefits additionally from Máire Breatnach’s wonderful guest fiddle contribution. Máire also appears on Only An Emotion, the first of two original songs by Sarah that complete the disc’s tasty menu; the second of these, appropriately entitled Last Song, closes the disc in affectionate childhood reminiscence mode. This is a truly lovely record: it proves a thoroughly delightful listening experience that arises completely naturally out of a deeply satisfying personal artistic statement.