I Won't Go Home Til Morning
Singer-songwriter Sarah McQuaid may have made her home in England's West Country, but in October she releases a striking album that reveals her true roots. I Won't Go Home 'Til Morning, the long-awaited follow-up to her acclaimed debut album When Two Lovers Meet, marks a distinct change of focus for the musician whose rich voice has been likened to "matured cognac". Whereas her first album was a feast of Irish music, this is an enchanting celebration of old-time Appalachian folk, with Sarah's arrangements punctuated by her own fine compositions and a cover of Bobbie Gentry's classic 'Ode to Billie Joe'. Madrid-born McQuaid, daughter of a Spanish father and an American mother, was raised in Chicago, studied philosophy in Strasbourg and spent many years in Ireland before pitching up in Penzance, Cornwall, in 2007. The move to this side of the Irish Sea was triggered by the death in 2004 of her mother, in whose former home she now lives and to whom I Won't Go Home 'Til Morning (a title taken from the lyrics of album opener 'The Chickens They Are Crowing') is dedicated. Says Sarah: "My first album was immersed in Irish traditional music, which I still love - but this time round, I felt the need to revisit the Southern Appalachian songs and tunes that I learned during my childhood. My mother was my introduction to folk music. She never performed professionally, but she had a lovely natural style of singing and guitar playing. "All the songs on this recording have powerful emotional resonances for me, and all are connected in one way or another to my mother. Looking back, I guess it was kind of a cathartic process." This exploration of her roots - musical and familial - is a significant album from a singer rapidly making her mark on the English acoustic scene. A labour of love, the nostalgic journey takes her back to vinyl gems played on her Mickey Mouse record player and songs sung to her by her mother, like 'Froggy Went A-Courting', which Sarah in turn now sings to her own children. Author of a respected guitar tutor on the Irish DADGAD open tuning, mother-of-two Sarah is also a skilled and inventive acoustic guitarist - illustrated to good effect on the instrumental track Shady Grove/Cluck Old Hen. She lists Dick Gaughan, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch among guitarists she most admires. I Won't Go Home 'Til Morning was recorded in Trevor Hutchinson's Dublin studio and produced by Gerry O'Beirne, both of whom also guest on the album, alongside percussionist Liam Bradley, Máire Breatnach on fiddle and viola and Rosie Shipley on fiddle. Blessed with a pure, fearless voice, McQuaid can by turns deliver wonderfully wistful, soft and sensuous material and then ease effortlessly into more forthright numbers. A cerebral and consummate performer, she is adept at researching the material she plays and this 11-track album is no exception. It is accompanied by a 24-page illustrated booklet explaining the fascinating histories of the songs and how she stumbled across them. Says Sarah: "For nearly every song, I've either photographed my own source material for the booklet - tattered books, LP and 78 records - or included library scans of archive transcriptions, broadsheet ballads and so on." Sometimes elegiac, always elegant, the album includes upbeat, fun tracks steeped in the Appalachian tradition and others perfect for mellow, late-night listening. They range from opener 'The Chickens They Are Crowing', first heard by Sarah as a child, sung by the great Peggy Seeger on the 1958 recording Folksongs and Ballads, to 'West Virginia Boys', which started life as a blackface minstrel song in the music halls of New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Performed as an instrumental on this album, 'Shady Grove' is a song Sarah recalls singing with her mum on long car journeys, while she first heard East Virginia on her mother's scratched and battered copy of Joan Baez's debut album. She discovered 'In the Pines' in the 1980 Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner's Daughter (as sung by actress Sissy Spacek) and couldn't get it out of her head. Sarah recalls: "Strangely, driving home at the end of the day on which I recorded 'In the Pines', I switched on the car radio just in time to hear Nirvana's 1993 acoustic version of the song being played on RTÉ Radio 2!" Sarah's exceptional voice is heard to great effect in the unaccompanied ballad 'The Wagoner's Lad', whose origins can be traced back to the 1720s. Similarly, her stark and spellbinding rendition of the powerful Sacred Harp hymn 'Wondrous Love' is likely to give you goosebumps. It also resulted in her being contacted by renowned American folk singer-songwriter and Appalachian dulcimer player Jean Ritchie, who had recorded it back in 1956. Jean saw a YouTube video of Sarah performing the song and contacted her asking where she had found the lyrics, initially thinking they differed from her own version. Says Sarah: "Having been listening to her album since my early childhood, I felt rather as I imagine a painter must feel who'd received an out of the blue message from Leonardo da Vinci!" There are also two heartfelt compositions of her own. She describes 'Only an Emotion' as "a song in defence of sadness" and something of a gentle riposte to people who flippantly say "Cheer up, it might never happen!", while 'Last Song' is the perfect album closer - a tender number written for both her mother and her daughter Lily Jane (who sadly never met each other), illustrating a perfect three-generation fusion of mothers singing their daughters to sleep. Eleven years and a musical career break on from the original release of her debut album (which was re-released last year), Sarah is happy that the new album has achieved what she set out to do. "I really like that feeling of continuity and connection through music - the way it links people across generations and even on different continents. It's been a very emotional project for me - not just because I'm keeping my mother's spirit alive, in a sense, by singing the songs she loved but because in researching the origins and evolution of these songs and putting my own stamp on them, I've been taken right back to my roots."
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