Grand Canyon – Sarah MacDougall

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Sarah is of Swedish descent which perhaps gives her a different approach to her singing and songwriting by adding a European perspective to what is essentially an American sounding album. This approach helps to give the album something of an edge that makes it stand out from the crop of new albums released every week and it will repay the time you invest in it. It helps too that MacDougall has a fairly distinctive voice and sings in Swedish on one tune here, the shimmering “Malmo I Mitt Hjarta” that builds up slowly through a slow sorrowful and resigned introduction to a huge swelling chorus with thumping drums, massed strings and a surrounding soundscape of electronica giving it it an eerie but epic sound. Maybe there’s a touch of homesick feeling in there too.

In my press release Sarah talks about the songs been grounded in her own experiences working with vulnerable youths. There seems to be some direct links to that background in ‘Sparrowhead’ a fine tune that bounds along with thundering drums and an insistent refrain of ‘Manitoba!’ and a shouted a cry to “follow me and take me home” with some stabbing brass rounding things off.

‘Grand Canyon’ follows with Sarah’s unusual voice to the fore telling her beau “Let’s go out tonight for a drink – take the bus” with a Byrdsian guitar figure floating through the song that cranks the pace up with a stuttering bass. ‘The Story of Pippi & Lionheart’ is a melodic piece with a lyric that evokes Giants, Superman and Robo-Cop and is as perfect a piece of pure pop that I’ve heard in a while. It highlights the quirky nature of her voice which is cute, charming and somewhat unique with touches of Cindy Lauper and Kate Bush swirling around – a weird, but good, combination.

I Want To See The Light (Lost From Our Eyes) by Sarah MacDougall

‘Baby, It’s Only Rock n Roll’ isn’t an update on the Stones anthem but it is a stuttering string laden plea to pick yourself up and dust yourself off no matter how many times life hits you and to let the rain wash off the dust. The drums thump along like a runaway steam train and the massed choir move things along in fine fashion. ‘Devil’s Gap’ is a sad tale of selfishness and loss as Sarah sings sadly of waiting vainly for love to come her way. There’s a ghostly organ shimmering in the background with Sarah’s acoustic guitar strumming lightly and she bemoans her lovers complacency because “it’s all about you”. Sad and poignant.

The album ends with ‘2012’ which, Sarah insists, “Was a hard year” realising what hell it can be when you “let yourself love someone” and a bitter realisation that, sometimes, “love is for God Damned fools” along with other expletives. It’s a damning indictment but by the time we get to the coda we are once again full of hope and we are uplifted and the singer is urged to “Take my hand, I know you are broken too” it ends on a triumphant note with a blast of brass.

This record isn’t going to shake the world but it is an excellent and an accomplished album and augers well for Sarah’s future as a distinctive writer with a unique voice. A sterling effort.

Reviewer: Greg Johnson

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