Sarah MacDougall at the Green Note, Camden Town (London, UK – Apr. 21, 2015)
It’s been interesting to see the growth in the number of performers whose music I like using crowd funding as a means of financing recording costs. In practice it’s a combination of a pre-sale and a one-off virtual merch table; and most importantly it’s a direct artist/fan connection. Sarah MacDougall’s latest album, Grand Canyon, was financed via Pledge and the Swedish-Canadian singer songwriter is in Europe to promote the album, despite it not being released officially until August.
The evening of 21 April brought her to the Green Note, a small bar-restaurant in Camden Town, North London. The Grand Canyon album features plenty of instrumentation but at the Green Note she is accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. Perched on a barrel waiting for the show to begin I wonder how she’ll manage to transfer the album’s arrangements into a solo acoustic context.
I needn’t have bothered. Ms MacDougall stepped on to the stage, up to the mike and started picking out the distinctive guitar lines to It’s A Storm (What’s Going On) – which IMO is akin to Lynyrd Skynyrd opening with Free Bird. The picking and the vocal intertwine to make an aural whole greater than the sum of its parts and give the set a mighty lift off.
Sparrowhead is the first of six tunes from Grand Canyon confirming that with her guitar and clear voice she can provide as full a sound as a group can make on record. One of the interesting themes of Grand Canyon is the influence of Sarah’s Swedish upbringing. She told the crowd how as a girl she loved the Pippi Longstocking stories and how this has inspired the next song The Story of Pippi and Lionheart the chorus of which slightly evoked First Aid Kit’s Emmylou.
Permafrost and the award-winning Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes You Win quickly followed before Ms M led the audience in a howlalong to Cry Wolf from her debut album Across The Atlantic. Coyotes of Camden.
Taking the mood down somewhat she introduced I Want To See The Light Lost From Your Eyes telling us of a racially motivated serial killer who terrorized her hometown – Malmo – selecting his victims based on their dark hair.
From killing to death, with a singalong We’re All Gonna Blow Away.
I should stress that, despite the darkness in the lyrics, one of the first things you notice seeing Sarah MacDougall live is she never stops smiling.
The title track from Grand Canyon follows then into Song #43 introduced with its back story of discovery, isolation and community. Malmo I Mitt Hjarta (Malmo in My Heart) revisits the Swedish theme in the new album. At some point I’ll translate the lyric to see how close the meaning is to its sound.
When I saw Grand Canyon listed it had the (EXPLICIT) tag which it gets thanks to a the song 2012, the last song on the album and the last one of them performed in the show. After everyone has recovered their composure, she closes the main set with Cold Night.
It’s too early for us to go so we bring her back for an encore and – still smiling – she takes a request for the title song from The Greatest Ones Alive before closing the show with her cover of Springsteen’s Tougher Than The Rest. The second act to cover that in consecutive shows I’ve attended. Both Pledge funded – perhaps Bruce has shares.
An enthusiastic crowd gives Sarah MacDougall a rousing send off. Hopefully she’ll be back in the late summer when the album is due to come out even though it’s hard to imagine any of tonight’s audience won’t have it long before.