'My Name Is Suzie Ungerleider' Showcases the Singer-Songwriter as Her Truest Self
Published Aug 11, 2021After more than two decades as roots singer-songwriter Oh Susanna, Suzie Ungerleider disavowed that moniker due to its namesake song's association with racist imagery and a dehumanizing belief system. That change is reflected on the title of this album, a work that confirms Ungerleider's talent no matter what name she goes under.
All 10 songs here are Ungerleider originals, with Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan contributing to the one co-write here, "Sweet Little Sparrow." Inspired by Donovan's young daughter, the tune is an album highlight, with Ungerleider's voice taking on a softer timbre that works beautifully. Ungerleider's own daughter is the focus of two other tracks, "Summerbaby" and "Hearts." The former is another gem, a lovely ode to a newborn ("You had my heart wrapped up in your tiny little fingers") with a lullabye feel thanks to judiciously employed strings.
Opening track "Mount Royal" continues the memoir approach of Ungerleider's previous album, the acclaimed 2017 release A Girl in Teen City, but moves the setting from Vancouver to Montreal ("She was always shooting pool down on St. Laurent"). "North Star Sneakers" has a similar autobiographical feel: "After the prom, you rode the coast on your motorcycle / Barely stopping for a chat with the customs man / You never mentioned all the hash sewn inside your collar."
Ungerleider's long-established skill as a poetic lyricist is showcased vividly throughout. The sparse piano ballad "Disappear" depicts domestic violence ("I put my hands over my face / So he will disappear / Into the dark, into the dark"), while the imagery of "Pumpkins" captures the feel of autumn perfectly — "The smell of smashed pumpkins still fresh in the air / And all the fall colours were streaks in your hair."
Her voice remains a thing of beauty. Powerful yet restrained, it conveys melancholy and joy with equal grace. This is not an instrument requiring much embellishment, so some of the production touches here (the backing vocals on "Pumpkins," and the swelling strings on "Baby Blues") seem a mite superfluous.
Returning as producer and multi-instrumentalist here is Ungerleider's longtime collaborator, Jim Bryson, while the peer respect she has long enjoyed is reflected in an elite guest list of players and harmony vocalists, including Samantha Parton, Keri Latimer, Donovan, Peter Von Althen, Kevin Fox and Cam Giroux.
My Name Is Suzie Ungerleider stands as another compelling chapter in a now double-figure discography with few equals in Canadian roots music. (Stella/MVKA)