This review is written by Dai Woosnam,firstname.lastname@example.org, 6/03
This Canadian singer-songwriter has been performing for over 20 years, yet this is her debut album. It is traditional with debut albums that reviewers look for the positives rather than the negatives, and I am pleased to say that I did not have to look too hard.
We have here a well-produced album of self-penned songs. She has surrounded herself with some respectable musicians and backing vocalists in the Pinnacle Music Studios in Belleville Ontario, and producers Ken Hamden and Jon Park-Wheeler have delivered a crisp and distinctive album that – in production terms – would rival the best.
Louise Ford has a good delivery, and makes the most of a voice that has a limited range. Her melodies ensure that she doesn’t stretch it to breaking point, and those tunes, whilst not particularly memorable, are pleasing on the ear and make use of a variety of musical styles. Add to this her superb diction: she sings with a clarity that made the lyric sheet being included in the liner notes seem totally unnecessary.
One song stands out: “Grosse Isle”, written about the island near Quebec City that was used as a quarantine station for Irish immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s. This is a song that could well be covered by more famous names on the Folk Scene.
I say the song “stands out”. Let me tell you just why it does. And here I regret that I must speak frankly. I hope I do not offend Ms. Ford, because it is patently clear from her letter that accompanied her review copy (plus other biographical data included with the CD) that she is a very decent person with an admirable set of values.
Indeed, that last sentence may be the very problem with this CD. You see, her press release information accompanying the CD says that the songs on this album are “a collection of inspirational songs written about issues of social conscience and life’s special moments”. And that is indeed what they are: except (to nit pick) it would be more exact to say “songs about inspirational matters” rather than “inspirational songs”.
“Inspirational” is just what the songs aren’t. The lyrics are well-intentioned pieces of homespun philosophy, and heck, they rhyme and scan to boot. (Many famous songwriters can learn the art of both skills from Louise Ford!) And to those of you who have never tried to write a song, and think it easy, all I can say is this: you have a shock in store! It is a skill given to few, so I take my hat off to Louise for her sheer effort.
But we have a real problem here. And I have spent much longer than usual on this CD, because I want to accurately diagnose the problem.
No, it is not that there is an almost RELENTLESS “be-good-to-your-neighbour” quality to most of the songs. I can live with that. Indeed living through the Flower Power 60s, such albums were almost the NORM. No, it is a bit more complex than that.
You see, when she writes about an actual place/event like the aforesaid “Grosse Isle” she writes rather well. But when writing about (as she puts it) “social conscience”, she writes in generalities, often adopting reach-me-down colourless phrases. Oh sure, it makes SENSE alright (and God knows, one ought to thank her for that in this world of pretentious drivel that passes itself off as song lyrics) but it really does sap the energy of the listener and the reader (didn’t I say her excellent diction made the lyric sheet unnecessary? By including one here, all she ends up doing is making the lyric sheet “Exhibit A”).
Let me give you an example. I promise you this is a verse AT RANDOM from just one of the other ten tracks. I could find similar in every one of the other songs:
“Children play/ They do not know if they can find a way/To make a better world and if they try/Maybe then they will find a reason why/Mothers pray, they hope that someday life won’t be so hard/Maybe their children’s children will rise up/And stand against all that is cruel and wrong”.You might say, well what’s WRONG with it? I’d counter with, well what’s RIGHT? It looks for all the world that a party of 13 year-old kids from all over the world have arrived at the UN in New York and had a brainstorming session and come up with all these song lyrics. Good earnest stuff, all with its heart in the right place, but lyrics that almost arrive DOA at the CD’s door. Where is the spark of individuality in them?
Look, I know I cannot expect her to be Oscar Wilde with a guitar! Hey, I am not looking for sparkling wordplay. But I am looking for just that bit of individuality in the lyric: and truth is, it is not here in any track, bar “Grosse Point”.
And the moral of this exercise? Well, I’d say that she should interpret others’ songs – surely she does not need the songwriting royalties THAT much?! – but if she wants to continue writing, then write about specific people/places/events.
Here she has wrestled with her social conscience, and the referee has deemed it a “No Contest”.
But I look forward to her next album. Interestingly, I notice that the liner notes see her thank “Father Bernard O’Neil for his promotional efforts and friendship”. To be candid, this is not a job for the Son of God, let alone an apprentice of His! Rather it would need the work of the Boss Man GOD ALMIGHTY to breathe vitality into these lyrics!
Strike that. After all that’s a cheap shot. And reviewing should be
about building people UP, not knocking them DOWN. And so, as I say, having
waited so long for an album, can she please be like London buses: will
three come along in short succession?! For there is MORE than enough talent
here to warrant more, but a definite change of direction is called for.
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