Victory Review - John C. McClure

Sarah McQuaid
The Plum Tree and The Rose

This was not an easy album for me to review. Essentially, it is a singer-songwriter album and consists of a lovely voice with assorted instrumentation. I have run across one or two of those in my days as a reviewer of CDs, so it should not have been a problem, but it was. The problem was not the quality of production or the musicianship or the quality of the vocals. Those were all completely excellent. The problem was the shifting origins of the album’s music, and the subtlety with which it was performed.

By the end of the first song, “Lift You Up and Let You Fly,” I thought, “Oh, this is going to be a contemporary Folk album”, and there are parts that do that. Then I found myself listening to a jazz-inspired “Solid Air” of John Martyn’s, complete with a Miles Davis sort of trumpet, and changed my mind. Then there was the drone of a Shruti Box (chordal drone) on “S’Anc Fuy Belha Ni Prezada” which was written in the 10th century as an Occitan “dawn song”. Hmm.... Getting hard to keep up here.... Then there is an a cappella version of “New Oysters New,” a series of rounds from 1609 with Niamh Parsons and Tom Barry.

And that sort of beautiful discontinuity continues throughout this extraordinary collection of different musical directions, each song fronted by McQuaid’s breathy alto and featuring a delicate attention to instrumentation and nuance. This album is part blessing and part curse. The blessing is that once you descend into the layers of emotion and mood that the project encompasses, you find that it is a true musical gem and well worth a series of critical listens, each one expanding your appreciation for Sarah McQuaid and the collection of singers and players she has assembled to record this eclectic and lovely mix of material.

The curse is that you will be shown how your own musical prejudices and assumptions can cause you to skip over or dismiss work that is truly profound and deeply emotive. It may take a little work to get next to this album, but it will be absolutely and totally worth all of it. This is one for the keeping.