More of the same throughout.
As we have seen with so many artists impacted by the pandemic in terms of tours and gigs simply vanishing overnight, retreating into whatever song writing cubby hole suits to create something positive from all the nonsense seemed to be coping mechanism for most. But there can’t have been many artists who took an entirely different route and decided to record a live album. Without an audience. Which is exactly what Sarah McQuaid has done with ‘The St Buryan Sessions.’
McQuaid and her sound engineer, manager and producer Martin Stansbury had always been keen to capture the artist’s live sound and so, with the help of a successful crowdfunding campaign, they were able to finance a live solo recording in the medieval church of St Buryan, not far from her home in rural West Cornwall. Of course, this being during Covid-19, the key difference between this and most live albums is that there is no audience to applaud at the end of a song or for the artist to interact with, which makes for a quite different listening experience. The concert was set up as if it were a regular gig: no fancy studio mics, just the same touring PA and monitors she’d walked onstage to so many times previously, there was a set list, she played the set and it was recorded….simple. Ambient microphones were set up around the space to capture the natural acoustic of the building, one that McQuaid knows so well as she sings with the local choir.
McQuaid performs songs that span her 24-year career, with themes including the weakness of personal will, life’s doubts and fears, a poignant tribute to her late mother, even one inspired by the moon’s gravitational pull (yes, really!) There are a couple of songs inspired by her son and a couple of interesting covers. Songs are mostly standard folk styling, simple guitar or piano and a single vocal, although ‘The Sun Goes On Rising’ has an almost blues-y feel, and technology – in the form of looping and tap delays – is expertly deployed on ‘If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous’ (actually inspired by her son digging a hole in the garden) and fan favourite ‘In Derby Cathedral’.
Highlights include the previously unrecorded jazz standard ‘Autumn Leaves’ given a delightful McQuaid treatment; ‘Rabbit Hills’, a cover of a song written by her past producer Michael Chapman, a beautiful piano-led interpretation; and ‘Last Song’, which explores the ‘what-might-have-been’ as McQuaid’s mother passed away the year before her own daughter was born and finding herself reacting to her daughter in the same way as she did to her own mother.
The downside to this album is that it is… well… a touch too homogenous, if you will excuse the tautology. Yes, this is a folk album written and recorded by a talented and experienced folk artist, but it lacks the diversity in sound that a 15-track album really needs to retain attention. There are some high spots undoubtedly, but perhaps just not enough.