Suzie Ungerleider (aka Oh Susanna) deserves credit for taking real chances on her last couple of albums. It would've been easy for the acclaimed Toronto-based roots songstress to rest on her laurels and keep putting out country-folk albums built around an emotionally expressive voice that has few equals. Instead, she has veered from that template significantly, first with 2014's Name Dropper, for which an A-list of Canadian singer/songwriters came up with original tunes for her to sing. Now, on A Girl in Teen City, Ungerleider comes up with a musical memoir chronicling her youthful years in Vancouver.
The album could be compared to a coming of age novel (or collection of short stories), but the mood it evokes is more cinematic than literary. Her well-crafted and poetic lyrics will transport you back to a time and place redolent of both the excitement and self-doubts of youth. On "Tickets on the Weekend," the young Suzie is a punk rock fan, one all excited about seeing D.O.A. play ("Joey's in the pulpit screaming 'smash the state'"), and on the bracing "Lucky Star," she's dancing to Teenage Head. Those getting name-checks in sweetly haunting album closer "My Old Vancouver" include the Clash, X, Black Flag and Slow. On "My Boyfriend," a real highlight, she disses her wannabe rock star lover: "I'm just the girl in the corner who knows she can sing rings around him / He dreams of rock'n'roll but he don't have the soul like me."
There's a pleasing diversity of tone, tempo and style here, with the gentle epic "Waiting For the Blossoms" confirming her ability to kill on a full-sounding ballad. Producer/multi-instrumentalist and longtime collaborator Jim Bryson balances things with typical dexterity, and ace accompanists include guitarist Gord Tough, drummer Cam Giroux, bassist Eli Abrams and backing vocalist Holly McNarland. A Girl in Teen City is totally charming. (Stella)