Fatea - Peter Cowley (May 2012)

20 May 2012 

Album review – The Plum Tree And The Rose. “Once in a while, you come across an album that stands out from the crowd. This is one such album. It is truly a lovely album from start to finish and one that gets better with every listen.”


Sarah McQuaid
Album: The Plum Tree And The Rose
Label: Waterbug
Tracks: 13

Once in a while, you come across an album that stands out from the crowd. This is one such album. It is truly a lovely album from start to finish and one that gets better with every listen.

For those who do not know her or her work, Sarah has a cosmopolitan background. She was born in Spain, raised in the USA, studied in France, lived in Ireland for several years and is now resident in England. This is Sarah’s third album, the previous two being “When Two Lovers Meet” and “I Won’t Go Home ’Til Morning”. The first one focussed on Irish songs and the second was founded in the old-timey music of the Appalachians and also featured Sarah’s own songs. This new album “The Plum Tree and The Rose” has its roots firmly in English soil. This time Sarah wrote nine out of the thirteen tracks and there are four covers. Apart from John Martyn’s sublime “Solid Air”, the remaining covers are all ancient songs, dating from the 13th, 16th and 17th Centuries.

The album begins with Sarah’s beautiful song “Lift You Up and Let You Fly” which is a touching song about a mother having to let her child fly the nest (“When I set you free and let you fly away from me, I know you might not come back”). I am sure that this song will strike a chord with all parents.

The next song is one of a trilogy of superb songs by Sarah that relate to historic places in England - “Hardwick’s Lofty Towers”, “Kenilworth” and “In Derby Cathedral”. The first of these tells the story of Bess of Hardwick and has the feel of a traditional song. The second, “Kenilworth”, sounds for all the world as if it is a long-lost track by The Pentangle as it uses a very similar jazz-folk style to that of the late Bert Jansch and colleagues. The third part of the trilogy, “In Derby Cathedral” is less traditional-sounding but features some beautiful brass playing by Bill Blackmore (who features on other tracks, notably “Solid Air”).

Talking of “Solid Air”, it is a bold move to cover such a classic, especially as John Martyn’s version is definitive and inimitable. However, Sarah makes a very good job of it, and does not attempt to follow John’s version. As previously mentioned, it features a wonderful trumpet solo by Bill Blackmore.

As well as historical themes, Sarah does not shy away from contemporary subjects in her songs. “The Sun Goes On Rising” deals with the economic downturn but has a hint of optimism - “Things will get better if only I can hold that wolf at bay”. This song was co-written by Sarah and the album’s producer Gerry O’Beirne, who also co-wrote “So Much Rain” and “What Are We Going To Do”. “So Much Rain” is a lovely song about lost love and features some gorgeous piano from Rod McVey.

One of the highlights is “S’Anc Fuy Belha Ni Prezada” which is a 13th Century “alba” or dawn song sung in Old Occitan. It is a very atmospheric track with a drone and tiple accompaniment. Moving forwards to the 16/17th Centuries, we have John Dowland’s “Can She Excuse My Wrongs” and Thomas Ravenscroft’s “New Oysters New”. The latter is sung as a round by Sarah, Niamh Parsons and Tom Barry. Sarah’s own “In Gratitude I Sing” is also sung as a round and is a song of thanks for the earth which concludes the album on a lovely note.

In conclusion, this is a very fine album and one that I would not hesitate to recommend.