Stereo Embers Magazine - Dave Cantrell

31 August 2015 

Album review – Walking Into White. “An expansive and thoughtful turn that should bring a flock of fresh new listeners to a singer that those in the folk know have been clamoring about for some time now.”

SARAH McQUAID – “Walking Into White” (Waterbug Records)
A resilient album injecting tricky polyrhythmic indie impulses deep into an already deep folk consciousness (or is it the other way around?), nimbly adapting the allegories of classic children’s stories into full-on folk-pop narratives, and unshyly inviting a lively plethora of instrumental and percussive voices int the bountiful mix, Walking Into White crosses boundaries with a deft assurance of purpose. The result is an expansive and thoughtful turn that should bring a flock of fresh new listeners to a singer that those in the folk know have been clamoring about for some time now.

Sarah McQuaid’s fourth album finds the accomplished, diverse songstress traveling from Cornwall to Cornwall (UK to NY) to work with co-producers Jeremy Backofen and Adam Pierce (the singer’s cousin, as it happens) and one can hear brushstrokes scattered throughout of the former’s Frightened Rabbit/Felice Bros rustic rock background – “Where the Wind Decides to Blow”‘s jump into a down-home indie groove just past a minute in – and the sly adventurism of the latter’s Mice Parade/Múm instincts – the oddly-tempo’ed clap stomp treatment of “Jackdaws Rising,” complicated in its simplicity and hypnotic. Though decidedly a folk record and make no mistake, the influence of the non-folk production team makes for a record that has the spirit of a quiet brinkmanship blowing through it with a great finesse of heart.

“Low Winter Sun” bell-chimes with treated acoustic guitar (in McQuaid’s favored DADGAD tuning) and a breeze of vintage synth to enhance the rueful tone the piece rides on; the samba shuffle and crisp classical picking (Don Lippel) – not to mention the insect-wing snap of a cajón – lend the beautiful “Yellowstone” an easy intimate swing, an ideal bed in which to lay its lyrics’ efforts to allay her son’s world-ending worries while the singer’s own anxieties nag in parallel; follow-up (and single) “The Silver Lining” boasts a jerky-smooth upbeat tempo and some triumphant trumpet flourishes (Gareth Flowers) that sets its cautious optimism in a bright persistent light just beyond the clouds.

Hence the central joy of this record, as beneath the panoramic moods and the startling but unobtrusive studio wizardry – Walking Into White really is wonderfully produced – lies a fluid range of rich, poignantly drawn near-literary metaphors (a fair piece of the album’s themes were inspired by Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series) that underscore the truth of McQuaid’s voice as being as much one of a living doubting loving human being as one of traditional folkist reportage. It’s the crux of the folk-pop idiom and here it could not have been more astutely conceived (check “The Tide”‘s thinly-veiled, stuck-in-the-shallows cautions for more proof). Offering naturalism with a sheen of calm brilliance, Walking Into White transcends its native roots even as it plants the genre’s tendrils all that further into the loam.