After exploring the traditional styles of Ireland and The Appalachians on previous albums, her third, The Plum Tree and The Rose, has its feet firmly planted in the dark clay of England’s folk movement, both contemporary and ancient.
One thing I always find speaks volumes about an artist and where they are coming from is the cover songs that they chose to include along side their own compositions; McQuaid’s choices are very revealing. With three songs garnered from the works of troubadours and renaissance players, a love and understanding of the roots of the genre become obvious and her fourth borrowing is a masterful cover of the hallowed ground that is John Martyn’s “Solid Air”. And the art of the right selections is that they blend in to the artist’s own songs with ease and they very much do.
The wonderful stories and pieces of history wrapped up in songs such as “Kenilworth”, “Hardwick’s Lofty Towers” and “In Derby Cathedral”, not to mention the effortlessly chilled musical arrangements, imbibe the songs with the weight of time and tradition and I would defy the listener to tell the covers from the original pieces, such is their authenticity.
But it’s not all double history or a Cecil Sharp House style open day; there are plenty of contemporary themes explored as well. The lilting groove and gentle optimism of “The Sun Goes on Rising” brings us bang up to date and songs such as “So Much Rain” and the title track itself explore universal themes in brilliantly poetic fashion.
The word timeless is banded around far too much these days, but this album comes as close to that accolade as any I have heard. Timeless in its lack of modern cliché, timeless in its inclusion of vast swathes of musical, not to mention factual, history and timeless in the fact that it could just as easily have been the product of the sixties folk revival as it is of this time.
This is the first of Sarah’s albums I have heard but if her previous works match the evocative exploration of (mainly) English folk that is found here, I think that they also are journeys that I will be taking very shortly as well.