Artist formerly known as Oh Susanna produces fine set of self-penned songs in first release under her name.
When Shakespeare wrote in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet”, spoken by Juliet, he suggested that a name is merely a label, what is important is the worth of the individual or thing. However, the difficulty of this position is amply illustrated as the story of the two lovers unfolds, and it is as true today that names carry much weight, not least from the backstories they carry.
Born in Massachusetts, but raised in Vancouver Canada, Suzie Ungerleider has recorded for many years under the name ‘Oh Susanna’, releasing seven albums and two EPs in this guise. Inspired by the well-known song by Stephen Foster, a prolific writer of American folk songs, her artist/recording identity sat well with her American folk roots. She describes ‘Oh Susanna’ as “a kind of shorthand to impress upon the listener’s mind, the time and place where I wanted them to travel – along the rusty old trainyards to the fields, mines and hills of mythical America”.
Her decision to record under her own name–highlighted in the name of her new ten-song album–came from the realisation that the song ‘Oh Susanna’ was rooted in minstrelsy, and that its original lyrics, with overt racism, were rewritten as the song became a staple of the American folk tradition.
Returning to Vancouver after years of absence also influenced her decision, Ungerleider writing “I have now been back in Vancouver for a year and a half. I am still following my path but this time it is one where I am truly integrating my musical being with who I am, finally seeing that music is inside of me and not in some alter ego”.
This feeling of contentment is reflected throughout the album, in her relaxed vocal style, her voice clear and sometimes dreamlike, notably on ‘Disappear‘, with it’s whispered delivery. Opening track ‘Mount Royal’ is an atmospheric homage to her early days in Vancouver, with the boundless optimism of youth reflected in the songs’ refrain to “shooting for the moon and the stars”. Centred around its acoustic guitar arrangement, building in intensity with strings, second guitar and double tracked vocals from Ungerleider, it takes the listener gently to its time and place.
Lyrics throughout are thoughtful, in ‘Baby Blues’ she sings “You always smiled through those baby blues/ no-one knew that you had/from a mother who’s much too loose/and a father who’s much too mad”, her acoustic guitar supplemented by drums , bass and strings, and with theremin adding an ethereal and haunting flavour.
‘North Star Sneakers’ speaks to how the spirited and wild young teenager can end up in the last place they expected, Ungerleider singing “You were walking the line between the losers and the winners/in the back of your mind you know the losers are much more fun” but now “When you were young was this what you wanted/ to live in a house with two kids and a yard”. The laid-back electric guitar instrumental at the end of the song, and piano outro adds to the sadness at the heart of the song.
‘Pumpkins’ is a beautiful reflection on the sights, tastes and smells of autumn, and the passing of the seasons, while album closer ‘Ships’ sings to the trials of youth, its lasting legacies, and how these can be healed.
An impressive rebirth as Suzie Ungerleider, an album which repays several listens to get under the skin of its fine lyrics.