CD Review – Sloan Wainwright “Upside Down & Under My Heart”
The moment you press the play button on “Upside Down & Under My Heart, “ a dazzling mandolin seduces your ears and suddenly a strong, commanding, melodic voice drizzles down and Sloan Wainwright’s voice captures you.
But you want to be captured.
This is a female vocalist with that same charismatic power that Odetta had, Timi Yuro exemplified, Brook Benton possessed, Elvis Presley projected, Jim Morrison of The Doors definitely aspired to and succeeded with. A voice with authority and experience.
“Live Out the Best of Your Life,” is an intoxicating opening number from Ms. Wainwright’s new independent CD and if this is any indication of what is to follow she deserves to become a major artist. Major labels are you listening?
For those wondering about that familiar last name — where it fits in the great puzzle of Canadian folk music: Sloan is the sister of folk-music legend Loudon Wainwright III, sister-in-law to the always-delightful Kate McGarrigle of the McGarrigle Sisters, Rufus Wainwright is her nephew and Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche are her nieces.
The title track “Upside Down & Under My Heart” on this new collection is heaped in a classic country tradition and it’s been interpreted to that near perfect level with pedal steel guitar. It’s a melody Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, or Patsy Cline would embrace but this is a lullaby that showcases the soul of Sloan Wainwright perfectly and with “Here I Am” – there’s no mistaking the potential of Sloan’s powerful and special voice.
Aside from the names mentioned above, Sloan is also a respectable cross between the deep authoritative vocal of June Tabor, the honey of Kirsty McColl, the exhilarating flourishes of Annie Haslam of Renaissance and the remarkable Cindy Bullens (“Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth” – an album that violinist David Mansfield appeared on and also is featured here on Sloan’s new CD.)
Sloan has that voice in “Here I Am” that is not so trained and perfect that it collides with the sincerity of the song. Voices in genres such as this can’t be so operatic perfect. If they are, they lose the soul. Instead, Sloan has that intensity that is required to retain the dignity of the tradition — and retain its believablity. She hits incredible notes seldom heard in country-folk songs. Oh, there are some excellent country vocalists — Martina McBride is one. But, Sloan is easily in that kind of company.
This is pure bliss for anyone who appreciates extraordinary vocals in a contemporary folk song. Nothing thin here in the presentation and the musicians support Sloan deeply — the way a root system keeps a tall tree alive.
“I Can See Now” shows quite a lot of diversity. Sloan continues to marvel the average listener with the way her voice just glides down the roller coaster of notes seamlessly. Still, she reminds me of Annie Haslam and Jane Relf — two incredible vocalists who helmed, at separate times, the 70’s classic-rock band Renaissance. Soaring voices, honey smooth changes, consistent power to the point of never hearing them take a breath. This is quite impressive.
“Today” — a sensitive, hushed piano melody played by an angel’s fingers begins this tenderly warm song. Beautifully rendered by Sloan with the added angelic vocals of the late but never forgotten Kate McGarrigle. Co-written with Kate — this track saddens me. To know that a woman with this talent still had so many intense melodies in her heart, took time to record and write with her sister-in-law and allow our ears to be the winners. I’m grateful – “Today” like Kate’s marvelous “Proserpina,” goes deep into the heart — the ears only serve as a messenger.
Sloan sings this with a sincerity Kate must have been proud of. Chaim Tannenbaum’s mournful, yet savoring harmonica and mandolin are perfect.
The McGarrigles have been responsible for some of the most enduring and beautiful melodies in Canadian folk music and it’s just wonderful to see how it could possibly continue in the hands of these offspring. I am confident. Not worried, I know their contributions will continue for decades still. Martha Wainwright’s vocals are quite different from Sloan’s but Martha’s recent cover of Kate’s “Proserpina” is simply mesmerizing.
I thought I’d never hear another new song by Kate McGarrigle but Sloan Wainwright has made this possible and it’s a gift to anyone who loves this kind of music. Thank you Sloan. Thank you Kate.
“My Song” percolates like an old coffee pot on the stove. It just fills the room with that great steam of aromatic sound. The acoustic guitars drive hard and Sloan’s voice is — wonderful. She emphasizes the words like many modern singers don’t. She understands inflection, phrasing, and tone. If this were a painting it would have many colors and textures. This is a song that lifts you when you are blue.
“I Wear the Ring” is like an old-fashioned ballad from the 50’s – in subject only – not arrangement. Those years had many songs about “rings” and their importance. “I Wear Your Ring,” “Wear My Ring Up Around Your Neck.” Sloan once again charms with her magnificent voice, holding notes with ease and presence. The entire mood of this track has an intensity many country and folk songs do not achieve. This is serious stuff.
Thomas Bartlett’s piano is melodic and simple and the ever-reliable David Mansfield – who’s from Leonia, NJ originally – so we’re practically neighbors – provides the pulse – the strings — and lays down a poignant essence throughout the performance. David has also played with T Bone Burnett, Bob Dylan, Bruce Hornsby, Lucinda Williams, Loudon Wainwright III and many other top tier artists. His credentials are impeccable and Sloan Wainwright – her name could only add to David’s already respectable resume.
“Holland” is a brilliant hat-tip to the splendors of the styles of June Tabor, Christine McVie, Christine Collister, Mary Fahl and Kris McKay. Sloan’s performance reminds me of them and places Sloan squarely in good company. These women with their fluid, compassionate vocals that lay down like a quilt and not a cotton sheet are in total command of this style. Here Sloan has that authority — in her own potent way. Her voice is honey thick yet clear – sweet and stirring. A pleasure to listen to.
“Little Bit Right” – Wow. This is a Sloan Wainwright that sounds like no one else.
I’m totally lost in the headlights of this great seductive expressive performance.
Blues goddess Tracy Nelson once recorded a vintage Little Willie John blues track with Mother Earth called “I Need Your Love So Bad,” and that has been one of my measures of perfection for female blues. But this track “Little Bit Now,” is on its heels and smoking.
The vocals and musicianship are so tight and on target – it’s a piece of art that needs no frame. The female background singers come with a distinct hypnotic soulful chorus and this instantly becomes a tune primed for the replay button. Sloan’s soaring vocals give me goose-bumps everytime I listen to this ass-kicking track. Joel Arnow’s steady cannon fire drums are just right. You can call those other pop singers divas — Sloan needs no category — she’s simply and consistently, extraordinary and outstanding on these tracks.
“I Am Free” is such a rewarding finale. Inspired — with Sloan relaxed and obviously content, satisfied and confident that her work here is good — and it is.
“I Am Free,” solidifies her positive attitude and it will become an anthem for anyone who needs some optimism in their lives. It’s a short tune but it summons up in those brief moments – a happiness that comes by being independent, committed and satisfied with oneself.
If you need some personal happiness slide this CD into a draw and just sit back. Your ears will capture it — your heart will thank you.
I hope one day I am lucky enough to hear an entire album with Sloan and Martha Wainwright together. That would be thrilling.
The album artwork is also quite commendable.
Designed by Dana Robinson with photography on the CD by Lynda Shenkman Curtis – the tri-fold CD exemplifies the music within. My only criticism — the lack of a stitched lyric book. Sloan’s words deserve to be read, followed and sung along with.
Nevertheless, the effort is still first class.
This CD was produced by Sloan herself and Stephen Murphy who played many of the guitars. Recorded in places like the Bronx and Brooklyn and mastered in other parts of New York.
A sample video of Sloan singing a blusier “Meet Me In the Morning”:
Visit Sloan’s website for contact info/Tracey Delfino, videos of live shows & schedule of live performances. Sample tracks — reviewed here — off her new CD are available by visiting Sloan’s myspace music site below:
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression.
John Apice – Contributor – No Depression – February 28th 2013