Oh Susanna Namedropper
Published Oct 20, 2014Over the course of five previous albums, Oh Susanna (Suzie Ungerleider) has earned a reputation as an imaginative creator of compelling characters and narratives. On Namedropper, she changes the plot dramatically, as she and producer/co-conspirator Jim Bryson approached her singer/songwriter friends to each come up with a new song for her. They're impressive names she gets to drop, too; the all-Canadian list includes Jim Cuddy, Royal Wood, Joel Plaskett, Luke Doucet, Melissa McClelland, Amelia Curran and Ron Sexsmith. The country-folk songstress asked them not to send slow tunes (her forte), but thankfully a few didn't get the memo. Bryson's "Oregon," Wood's "Goodnight" and Old Man Luedecke's "Provincial Parks" are all gently haunting gems, while the passionate and powerful voice that is the Oh Susanna signature is right to the fore on the Cuddy composition "Dying Light." Featuring voice and minimal instrumentation, this is an epic, six-minute soul ballad that'll induce goosebumps.
Still, Namedropper is clearly the most diverse Oh Susanna record yet, confirming the singer can convince in other genres too. The record kicks off in sparkling fashion via songs from Bryson, Plaskett ("Into My Arms" has Byrds-ian jangly guitar) and Wood before the stylistic detours begin in earnest. Sexsmith's "Wait Until the Sun Comes Up" has a sweet pop lilt, and it's followed by the quirky and infectious "Mozart for the Cat." The one flaw in the generally well-executed sequencing is the positioning of the catchy if slightly new-wave inflected "1955" adjacent to Rueben DeGroot's "Savings & Loan," a strong outlaw-themed ballad. Regardless, the quality level of the generous 14-song collection is astonishingly high, and don't be surprised if some of the writers come up with their own versions later. The subtle strengths of the material are revealed over repeat playings, while Bryson's production work is tasteful. Some of the writers contribute backing vocals on their songs (Kathleen Edwards also guests), but the focus is rightly kept on Ungerleider's voice. It's a lovely collaborative effort all round and a worthy addition to a somewhat undervalued but stellar discography. (Sonic Unyon)