Shire Folk - Kevin T. Ward

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Sarah McQuaid
The Plum Tree and The Rose
Waterbug Records WBG104

With Irish and Appalachian folk emphases, singer, guitarist and composer Sarah McQuaid’s two previous solo recordings reflected her widely peregrine life experience across the USA and Europe. This quite different and diverse offer further reflects her keen musicological bent.

So, a 13th century Provencal troubadour’s ‘Alba’ (‘dawn song’), sung with Old Occitan pronunciation and accompanied by Indian shruti box and South American tiple, joins 16th and 17th century English traditional material by John Dowland and Thomas Ravenscroft (the charming round New Oysters New).

The evident passion for history comes out in songs about Bess of Hardwick, Robert Dudley’s efforts at courtship of Good Queen Bess (via his pleasure garden at Kenilworth) and Derby Cathedral, cleverly combining period atmosphere with contemporary feel. Other self-penned material (some written jointly with accompanist guitarist/producer Gerry O’Beirne) explores life, times and the universe poetically, philosophically and reflectively.

Musically, there's the wonderful voice – a rich, deep, and mature alto with slightly accented edges; a pitch perfect instrument offering plenty of lyrical intimacy. Ariane Lydon’s voice is similarly distinctive and, overall, June Tabor and Martha Tilston are perhaps useful comparisons. Then there’s the elegantly crafted guitar work, discreetly enhanced by flugelhorn, trumpet, fiddles, keyboards, double bass, and percussion.

Gentle and sublime, but at times moving and intense, it’s genuinely enchanting. Several folk, jazz and classical influences are finely woven into arresting and alluring patterns in the chord combinations and nuanced musical detail in the interplay of melodies, bass and rhythms. In short, it’s intelligent and beautiful music.