Sarah McQuaid – I Won’t Go Home ‘Til Morning

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

It’s been a long while since I got up extremely early on a Sunday morning, before light even, curled up on the sofa with the old Ipod, rested my head on a cushion and read through all the sleeve notes from start to finish including the lyrics, the comments, the personnel list and production credits, even where the artist might buy his or in this case her strings from. With Sarah McQuaid’s new album I Won’t Go Home ‘til Morning, so portentous are the sleeve notes, printed in a handsomely packaged booklet, that it takes roughly the same time to read through the booklet as it does to listen to the songs included within, if you run ahead with the lyrics that is. Such an intimate hour with Sarah McQuaid is a rewarding experience before breakfast on a Sunday morning. Reading accounts of where she first encountered these songs, from old recordings of Jean Richie and Joan Baez, or from books published by Cecil Sharpe or Alan Lomax, sidetracks me into thinking about where I might have first heard these songs myself. In all honesty, I don’t go that far back and I admit that my first encounters with many of these songs, would no doubt have been via Bert Jansch and Doc Watson vinyl records; the focal point of my mis-spent youth. Dedicated to Sarah’s late mother, the songs on the album were recorded partly for cathartic purposes, to exorcise the ghosts of grief that goes with coming to terms with a parent’s death – most of the songs they sang together when Sarah was young – and partly because since Sarah now lives in her mothers’ house with her own family, the songs are probably as much a part of the fabric of the place as the walls and the floorboards. The album’s title is taken from a line in the opening song “The Chicken’s They Are Crowing”, a song learned from a Peggy Seeger album entitled Folksongs and Ballads, which a very young Sarah heard via her Mickey Mouse record player. These songs were learned at a very young age it would seem. Reminiscent of Nick Drake’s “Cello Song”, but with some ethereal vocal humming instead of the big violin, the song immediately invites us into Sarah McQuaid’s enchanting world. The unexpected surprise on the album is a pretty faithful version of the old Bobby Gentry classic “Ode To Billie Joe”, which maintains all that Southern back porch swamp ballad feel as well as once again conveying an air of mystery and ambiguity that we loved in the original. “In The Pines” has weaved its way up through the history of folksong from the days of Cecil Sharpe’s travels through the Appalachians in the late 1800s, to Huddie Ledbetter fresh from the penitentiary, claiming the song as his own, and then even turning up unexpectedly as Kurt Cobain’s swansong under the guise of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” in the last days of Nirvana. Sarah McQuaid manages to roll all these facets into one and provides a spellbinding reading, which sends ‘shivers’, especially when the cold winds blow. With a couple of personal self-penned songs thrown into the brew, the touching “Only An Emotion” and the aptly titled “Last Song”, which brings the album to a close with its familiar coda of ‘froggy went a courtin’, Sarah McQuaid provides us with a rare beauty of an album, which I imagine will be revisited on this reviewer’s Ipod, time and again.