Shelagh McDonald

Stargazer

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This record could well represent the closest anyone has ever come to crossing circa-1970 Joni Mitchell with circa-1970 Sandy Denny. As a composer, McDonald leans toward the Mitchell half of that equation, with a similarly angular melodic sense, and a phrasing that often shifts register quickly and substantially. It would be mighty surprising if she didn't ingest songs like Mitchell's "Marcie" thoroughly before coming up with narratives in the same style like "Liz's Song." The parallels come out most in the songs in which McDonald emphasizes her piano rather than her guitar. As a singer, her tonal quality is more similar to Denny's. The result is a double-edged sword. The album can be unequivocally recommended to fans of Mitchell and Denny who have run out of things to buy by those two singers, and want something that's for the most part undiscovered, but with a similar vibe. At the same time, McDonald inevitably comes up short in the unavoidable comparisons with those role models, as she puts far less of her own personality into her work than either Mitchell or Denny did. Dogmatic criticism aside, it's a pleasant album with subdued folk-rock arrangements, and the piano ballad "Lonely King" is haunting enough to make one forget the obvious likenesses to Mitchell's own piano outings for the moment. Occasionally, there are effective slight departures from the standard production of folk-rock albums from the period, as with the sad strings and operatic backup vocals on the title track, and the extremely Garth Hudson-esque organ of "Good Times." [The CD reissue adds five bonus tracks from other 1971 sessions, three of which were previously unreleased, and two of which only appeared on compilation LPs in the early '70s. Unfortunately, the liner notes do not make it clear which two of the other twelve songs were the ones used on compilations, rather than on the Stargazer LP itself.]

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