Soon The Birds
In this age of MP3s and being able to download individual tracks, it's clear that the running order of albums doesn't matter as much as it once did. Nevertheless, it seems somewhat perverse that the title track and best song on this album should be relegated to the last track of eleven. On the song “Soon The Birds”, Suzie Ungerleider, who performs and records under the name Oh Susanna, produces her most soulful vocal performance, on a song which is a haunting contemplation on mortality. So if you want to listen to just one track to sample the album, it should be this one.
Although born in the US, Ungerleider is a long-term resident of Toronto, and she uses a raft of Canadian guest musicians, most notably Jim Cuddy from Blue Rodeo who duets with her to very good effect on “Lucky Ones”.
She characterises her music as having two sides, a “dreamy floaty” quality on one hand, and an “earthy, in the mud kind of whisky-soaked thing” on the other. It has to be said that on this album, the dreamy floaty quality wins out, to such a degree that it would be nice to hear her getting a bit more down and dirty.
The subject matter of the songs often belies the delicacy of the music. Ungerleider tells, frequently from a female perspective, of abusive relationships, a pregnant woman abandoned by the father of her child, and a wife being told her husband has died in combat. The opener “Drunk As A Sailor” is beautifully sung, light and airy, but it's songs such as “See What Promises Can Bring” and “Pretty Blue Eyes” which display just a touch of grit under the pretty exterior, and are much better for it.
This is definitely an appealing album, technically proficient throughout and put together with love and care. It could have been better still, as Ungerleider might have benefited from leaving in a few more rough edges, and it's not clear to what extent this is due to David Travers-Smith's production. This is Oh Susanna's fifth album, and offers enough to suggest there may be better still yet to come.