Dawn "the faun" McCarthy describes the songs on her 1998 debut as "near and dear to my heart; old traveling companions that helped me get around the big strange world." That sentiment rings true on the seven original and four traditional offerings on Early Song, a naked portrait of an artist in the making that's equally as naïve as it is powerful. Here McCarthy, always unafraid to experiment vocally, finds herself caught between the liquid crooning of Sarah McLachlan and the primal howl that would go on to define her later works. When she's on -- the blissfully creepy "Old Village Churchyard" -- there's no turning away, and it's all the more impressive when, in the case of the serpentine "Apple Trees," the song is self-penned. In fact, it's her words that shine the brightest here. The bawdy "Ode to Rejection," a nod to the blurry line between on-stage entertainer and off-stage human being that finds the protagonist musing, "I was ready to love you/Probably too soon/Took your sighs as yessin'/Let my wilds bloom," is both irreverent and sad, a lesson learned by a young wanderer forced to grow an inch with every mile. However, that same youthful approach stops versions of "O Death" and "Honey Baby Blues" dead in their tracks; the feeling may be there, but the lines in the face have yet to appear. Despite these misfires, Early Song succeeds because of its indifference to hitting any kind of target. Naïveté is infectious when in the hands of a future pagan goddess, and besides, you can't give listeners a line like "What bliss/With it I charge the very air" without leaving smiles on their faces.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger