Monday, November 9, 2009
MUSIC: Ainsley McNeaney
The last time I bought an album that worked for most any occasion (singalong, work, play, cleaning) was Sarah McLaughlan's Surfacing. In 1997. So, I'm a little picky. The next time was when I bought Ainsley McNeaney's True Story Orchestra (2008). McNeaney is a singing, songwriting, arranging, producing, phenomenon. True Story Orchestra is her first album as artist and first release as producer. However, the sophisticated orchestration (think butterscotch light mixed with just a little bit of peeling white paint from a seaside house and brassy silver buttons) belies her classical background. A classical percussionist - she graduated from the University of Toronto's Music program in sticks and mallets - the twelve songs on this album feature banjos, marimba, tambourine, trombones and a string section. This strong instrumental variety successfully teases strands of jazz, cabaret, swing and circus through the pop pieces.
For anyone who has always played nice, done their best, and found they can't recognize themselves for the role they've played, McNeaney asks, "Who did you kill to secure all that moon in your eyes?" in her song, "This Girl". It is a liberating call for the removal of restrictive masks and authentic soul-searching. The anthemic "Closer" opens with solo banjo and develops into a full-fledged, open-throated, windows-down car belting song about the fears behind, and acceptance of, taking risks in life. When you're done, you've already whirled yourself around the dancefloor and you can wait until tomorrow: you've "got the next day to find [your] way home." Finally, another highlight, reminiscent of Sarah McLaughlan's "Adia" and Rufus Wainwright's "Natasha", the glowing "Marianne" falls solidly in the songwriting tradition of song as witness. All three posit the song as the songwriter's best way to support a friend on a self-destructive track.
McNeaney is clearly a musician and not your everyday singer-songwriter. I hope for more refinement in her lyrics in the future, but ultimately McNeaney's voice, its roars, cries and calls in the dark elevate the album to a must-have.
Listen here and if you like it, it is $9.99 on iTunes, or available on ainsleymcneaney.com .