Dusted Magazine - Jennifer Kelly

Sarah McQuaid — If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous (Shovel and a Spade)
Sarah McQuaid’s fifth full length album opens in the smoke and shadow of hanging blues tones, a blistering burn embedded in the rough electric slashes, a steady red-hot glow in the embers of rumbling picking. It’s a dark-toned, echo-shrouded, intoxicating sort of sound, and if it sounds a bit like Michael Chapman, this title track, there are a few reasons. For one, he produced the album and guested on this track and, for another, McQuaid borrowed his Ibanez electric for it.

McQuaid plays the Chapman axe just a couple of times on If We Dig Any Deeper, up front, in the title track, a bit later in the gorgeous instrumental “The Day of Wrath, That Day,” and finally on the closer “Tug of the Moon,” in each instance cross-hatching the songs with grittier, bluesier tones. She is just as good, though lighter in her attack, with her own instruments, which include a high-tuned Stratocaster, an Andy Manson acoustic and, in a couple of places, a piano.

McQuaid is well known for her mastery of Celtic guitar, and last year she won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Northern Irish Ards International Guitar Festival. She often employs a DADGAD alternate tuning which, when strummed without fretting, creates a suspended D chord which is neither major nor minor. And indeed, a sense of unresolved mood, of shifts and shadows and intangible atmospheres pervades her work. Even the drone-i-ly dramatic, Latin-chanted “Dies Irae” covered here, has glints and gleams of lightening purity. Even the relatively sunny, strummy, country-day-on-holiday ramble of “Cot Valley” has its shadowy crevices. The one ringer – the baroque pop “Forever Autumn” (most famously interpreted before this by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues) — takes on a simple, direct unfussy-ness that defuses its big bashing “cos you’re not there” crescendos into genuine-sounding grief and loss.

Pentangle is perhaps the closest reference, aside from Chapman (which seems lazy since he’s standing right there), since McQuaid cuts her pastoral reveries with the sliding warmth of blues, the off-kilter interjections of jazz. There are also a few nods to classical music, in the use of warm, rich strings and piano. If you like acoustic folk blues, it make take a few listens to get beyond the unaffected beauty of the playing, but the melodies are strong and the lyrics are good as well. All in all, a strong statement, subtle and well made. If you’re wondering how good you have to be before Michael Chapman offers to lend you an instrument, I’d say pretty damned good, judging from this record.