Spiral Earth - David Kushar

Sarah McQuaid
The Plum Tree and The Rose

In contrast to Sarah McQuaid’s previous solo albums, which explored the Irish and Appalachian songbooks, The Plum Tree and The Rose presents an eclectic array of material mirroring the changing landscapes of Sarah’s own life: Sarah was born in Spain, raised in Chicago, and now lives in England.

Possessing some of the sultry hypnotism of John Martyn’s acoustic music, it’s apt to find a cover of ‘Solid Air’ with trumpet from Bill Blackmore taking the place of Danny Thompson’s rubbery basslines. Continuing in the same languid spirit, ‘Kenilworth’ and ‘In Derby Cathedral’ present a distinctive centrepiece with Sarah’s impressive voice and guitar backed with thoughtful band arrangements.

Enigmatic text is sung over a softly propulsive bed of shruti box and South American tiple for an ‘alba’ or ‘dawn song’ written in the 13th century – material sourced from over seven hundred years ago is a stretch for any artist but the results entirely justify the educational study involved. Followed by John Dowland’s ‘Can You Excuse My Wrongs’, an Elizabethan piece arranged for Sarah and guitar, and ‘New Oysters New’, a round for voices published in 1609, the album starts to resemble a section of John Renbourn’s discography. However, further originals bring unique dimensions tackling meaty topics regarding parenting and our own existence.

Sarah’s albums are always a lavish affair, but this feels like her most complete to date, with class stamped all over it.