I don’t know Sarah MacDougall well. Somehow our paths haven’t crossed. But after listening to her new CD, The Greatest Ones Alive, that will have to change. She’s someone I’d like to know better.
So I’ll have to rely on her CD to speak for her. And since the first words on this album are “some people put their lives into a dream/I put my life inside a song”, I think I’m justified in this approach. Her voice and lyrics exude an honest and vulnerable poetry.
MacDougall was born and raised in Sweden but has recently settled in Whitehorse after spending some time in Vancouver.
Her Nordic background comes through on the song “The Greatest Ones Alive”, about wanting to reconnect with an old friend: “We were Vikings in the woods, we had ships in our eyes”.
But in the years since they would “give personas to our bikes and make up lovers’ names”, she’s moved further and further away from that innocence: “Stumble ’til I fall/pollution, alcohol, I find my place in it all”.
The album is full of touching lyrics like these, and a close listening can bring you to tears.
Another example is “Permafrost”, about a heartbroken friend. “And all the memories how do you let them go? How do you forget about the one you used to know? …You don’t want to spend the night with someone like me.”
Although there’s a lot of loss and heartbreak, the CD is not without hope. “mmm” is a sweet love song, about how the right person can make you better, just by being there:
“You make me the best I can be/mmm, mmm/spinnin’ me up in the air/then back to the sea”. Or in “It’s a storm! (what’s going on?)” she sings, “Let’s dream all our dreams, dare them to come true/I want to dream all my dreams with you.”
And where is the place that MacDougall can live her dreams? In “Song #43”, she says, “And in the North, the mountains stand steady for you.”
So settling in Whitehorse is probably a good move for her.
The CD was recorded mostly in Vancouver, with an additional two songs recorded at Old Crow Studio in Whitehorse, with two different backing bands.
The Vancouver songs feature a larger supporting band, including Awna Teixeira on vocals, Tim Tweedale on pedal steel and Weissenborn, Patrick Metzger and Shawn Killaly on perc`1vussion, Metzger on bass and producer Matt Rogers on keyboards, glockenspiel, bass, and guitar.
Her Whitehorse band is more stripped down: producer Bob Hamilton on pedal steel and Annie Avery on harmonium, and on “We’re all gonna blow away”, a singalong about mortality, Kim Beggs, Kim Barlow and Gordie Tentrees on vocals.
The musicians support MacDougall’s own guitars and vocal (she often provides her own harmonies), never overpowering her or detracting from the emotional delivery of her lyrics.
Even in the pop-folk song, “It’s my place (and I want it!”), her voice is always in charge, capturing your attention, just as it does on “mmm”, a song she performs alone.
MacDougall’s beautiful lyrics and honest delivery make listening to this CD like getting to know her, like spending a cold, northern evening with her a bottle of wine, as she pours her heart out and into your ears.
Outstanding Tracks: “The Greatest Ones Alive” and “Permafrost”.