Friday, January 03, 2014

Hauntingly Beautiful Debut

I may be a bit biased here, with a weakness for deeply introspective melancholy music, especially when fronted by a beautiful female vocalist (think: Over the Rhine, Hem, Sarah Mclachlan, etc), but this is easily my favourite album of the year.  

Snowgirl explores themes of loss and longing, love and life, and the emotional struggles these experiences entail. But unlike many new artists who too often take these themes and create melodramatic or deep-sounding yet meaningless lyrics around them (the kind that might be written on a high-schooler’s notebook), Tony Ganci and Sherry Sidick have written songs that have a depth and subtlety not often found on a debut album. In fact, there is a surface simplicity here that can deceive you, as levels of depth and insight keep unfolding throughout the album, resonating with an inexpressible place deep within the listener. They don’t sound contrived or forced - for lack of a better phrase, these songs just sound “true”. Rather than trying to draw attention to themselves, these artists have woven a silence throughout this project that gives the listener space to discover themselves reflected in the light and spirit of these songs.

Occasionally I come across a song that makes me pull the car over so I can just let myself get lost in the music and lyrics I am hearing - Patty Griffin’s “Kite Song”, Over the Rhine’s “Latter Days”, Mindy Smith’s “One Moment More”…these are a few of the songs that have done that for me - and about half the songs on this CD have that same effect on me. I’ll try to highlight just a few…

The first track, “Something I Don’t See” is straight-forward folk song dealing with the questions and doubts that arise in oneself after a separation… a great song that does nothing to prepare you for the emotional depth and impact of the next track… “Once A Friend” (easily my favorite track here) seems to always catch me off guard, like being handed a lit stick of dynamite to hold onto for a couple minutes, about halfway into it the song makes a complete mess out of me. One of the most beautifully haunting songs about the loss of a dearly loved friend that I’ve ever heard. It was the perfect song when I reconnected with one of my dearest friends after nearly 20 years apart, and learning the true story behind the song makes it so much more heartbreakingly poignant. Knocks me flat every time.

 Tony takes a turn on vocals next (as they trade off lead vocals throughout this album) on the wonderful track “Deep in My Dream”, a song that really captures the feeling of unexpressed love held at a distance for another. Listening to this song I know exactly what he means, as I’ve experienced this same feeling many times before. Later he sings another great song that I think of as the darker companion to this song, in “Leave it Alone”, distance from the other side of the picture, a reflection (in part) back on a time that’s past, from a place of seeming emotional exhaustion.

 If there’s a glitch on this CD at all, for me it is the song “The Valley”, which is a fine song on its own, but lyrically it doesn’t really fit in with the other songs on this CD very well. Everything else here is deeply moving and reflective, and to be honest, I have no idea what this song is talking about. Something Tolkien-ish it seems…

“Tell Us Who We Are” is another highlight for me, a deeply insightful song that turns our judgments and perceptions of others around on us and questions the validity of our dismissive assumptions. So many lost and invisible people in the world that we pass by every day, not realizing how many treasures we’ve tossed aside, not recognizing the infinite value that each person holds within themselves. A song that calls to mind the quote “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”.

In another of my favorites here, “At My Door”, Sherry sings “Sunday morning should be like any other day. Same old feeling that just won’t seem to go away. I don’t want it, I don’t need it anymore…Can you tell me if someone’s really keeping score?” a song that sounds to me like the emotional struggle one goes through while losing one’s faith. Or maybe it’s just the dread of going to work the next morning…

The album closes with the title song, “Snowgirl”, also one of it’s best, which paints a vividly poetic picture of homesick longing and hope. When this last song ends all too soon, I want it to keep playing for at least another minute or two, but the best I can do is go back to the beginning and listen again…and again…and again.

 Reflective, acoustic homegrown music, penetrating lyrics, and Sherry’s beautiful voice combine with Tony’s skillfully fluid guitar to make this project something special, and the perfect backdrop for those deep, dark, northern winter nights.