Thursday, December 11, 2008
It’s starting to get cold outside. The bite in the air has replaced the pleasant fall breeze, but thanks to Norma MacDonald, the embers of my heart burn strong enough to keep me warm. The purity of her voice and weightlessness of the tracks could easily soundtrack a long drive on those perfect fall evenings, but as her voice and bold arrangements echo around the corners of my house, I find myself being filled with a surprising energy that often disappears when the colors fade.
On her new record, The Forest for the Trees, the Halifax singer has shifted even farther towards the country side of the dial, but with her strongest collection of songs to date and the support from a collection of talented Halifax music vets, I think Norma is ready to jump out of the shadows of the Halifax scene. Really (as Shane alluded to already), when it comes to female singers our little community is an embarrassment of riches, but somehow each singer seems to have found her own niche.
MacDonald fits more into the traditional country songstress, and much like Christina Martin, it’s hard to question her sincerity. The nice thing about this release is that Norma certainly defines her own voice, but tips her cap to some of the greats. One of the most touching tracks on the record, Sand, shows the charisma and charm of Dolly, but the oohs and aahs she adds helps shake any cobwebs from the effort. She can visit the past (just take a listen to Water on the Moon, but seems just as comfortable with a more modern, rollicking jam like Almost There.
Apparently, the record took ages to record but her patience paid off. Instead of rushing through the songs, MacDonald took the time to make sure she was comfortable with the songs and the people playing with her. She waited to assemble her terrific “house band” (Adam Fine, Mike Catano, super steel man Dale Murray, Charles Austin, Anna Plaskett, under appreciated Daniel Ledwell on backing vocals and Ms. Martin adding her voice as well), and as a result, the record plays like a vintage effort where talented singers surrounded themselves with session musicians and peers.
Encircling yourself with talent is obviously a wise move, but by playing music with her friends, Norma ensured the recording process was fun and lively. Obviously I wasn’t in the room to see her and Dan harmonize over Austin’s banjo on the album opener A Little Longer, but in my head I can see the smiles as the duo sings in a room fuel of friends and that comfort allows her friends to challenge her arrangements and get the most out of every song.
Whether it’s the pedal steel that forms billowy clouds around her pristine vocals on We’re Ghosts or the simple piano that fuels the touching ballad Unseasonably Warm, every song seems well thought out. Elements are added to complete the songs, not clutter the mix or overpower her voice. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, The Forest for the Trees is beautiful. Using any other description cheapens the thought.