Both tonight’s acts are Canadian-based and raised, albeit now separated by the 3000+ miles between Nova Scotia and Vancouver. Christina Martin is up first. The previous weekend she was casting her musical pearls barely 10 metres from a flock of not entirely attentive Suffolk goats at the Maverick festival (where she cracked through 3 sets over the duration) but tonight the caprine vibe is absent in the heart of North London’s Camden Town.
A polished and articulate raconteur, the current tour – the subject of extended re-schedulings during and post pandemic- is trailing her upcoming album ‘Storm’, a highly intense and reflective work that addresses loss, tragedy and heartbreak and the ability to come through these positively. Universal themes to which she gives a compelling musical slant.
Her voice is crystal clear and powerful and so is well suited to the big swirling emotionally wrought songs she concocts, as exemplified on ‘Where The Dark Meets The Light’ one of several powerful highlights. ‘In Control’ is about staying on one’s wagon and addresses the mental territory of therapy anxiety and self-help and has the recurring melodic line, “When I get scared I read about it in a book that someone famous wrote”.
‘Keep Me Calm’ is a tribute to a partner (her partner, it seems) who fulfils the calming role before she goes on stage and in wider scenarios across life. ‘Finsbury Park’ name checks Tesco Express and has the refrain of “our first date in Finsbury Park” and amidst the resonant and stirring melody this helps redress the imbalance of North London parkland by which Hampstead heath unduly dominates the cultural references. The Northeast London hardlands must be quite some contrast to Nova Scotia
If there’s a musical midpoint of country rock/alt-country adult rock with Carrie Underwood and Ruthie Collins as book ends, then Christina Martin fills a really engaging mid-point and deserves a much bigger profile. Indeed, she is compared favourably by Susie Ungerleider to Pat Benatar in her musical and vocal style. Dale Murray, her husband, adds hugely with his guitar polish. It’s an admittedly easy Canadian comparator but if you consider how Colin Cripps adds to Kathleen Edwards’ power and range you are in the right zone.
Suzie Ungerleider, with over 20 years on the performing and recording clock, (split roughly evenly between her former stage name of Oh Susannah and the current appellation) draws on some specific incidents for certain of her songs, sometimes keeping the memory on ice for decades before it re-emerges in lyrical form. One song relates to her early boyfriend in her mid-teens within a band whose ambition/delusion and sartorial interests far exceeded their actual musical ability -“he dreams of rock n roll but he doesn’t have a soul like me.” Another narrates how an initial chat with a guy who was just coming from a break-up, partly caused by his own behaviour, went on to become her husband of now 20 years – ‘the joke was on me!’ as she says.
She draws from a wide palette of life experiences and observations. There’s a song about a dysfunctional (other) family where there’s “A mother who’s much too loose and a father who’s much too mad,” sung from the daughter’s perspective as she drives home to the troubled household. Then there’s a song centred on her own mother who went left field in her own youth “with a load of hash sewn into your collar.” In one more high-octane rock song she refers to herself “running like a bitch on wheels,” which she unsuccessfully lobbied as an album title to her then record label.
She clearly has a good rapport with Christina Martin – with whom she is touring around the UK currently, and this comes over in the final song of the set when Martin and Dale Murray join the stage for vocal harmonies on the tender ‘Run Away With Me’.