Through years of reviews, I heard many artists who went nowhere though they were indeed talented. But they didn’t have enough passion or weren’t committed. Proficient musicians with no songs, or, had songs but no voice, musicians that could play — but could only imitate. Then there are artists who are engaging, challenging, satisfying & consistently wonderful. Linda McRae occupies this space. She has for years.
The tag former member of Spirit of the West may always be a scarf around her neck in her bio, and deservedly so — but make no mistake — Linda McRae should be acknowledged as Linda McRae, period. She earned it.
Her latest stripped-down collection (42 RPM Records drops Oct 1) was recorded as a 5-piece in Ontario, Canada. With polished covers & a generous helping of McRae originals, the musicians play sporadically over the 11 songs, maybe not together.
From Lucinda Williams’ band the ever-reliable Gurf Morlix (guitar, vocals). Bill Kirchen – veteran Commander Cody & his Lost Planet Airmen (guitar, vocals), Deni Gauthier (guitar & Producer), Shara Gustafson (vocals) & Linda (acoustic guitar, banjo & vocals).
Linda covers David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” on banjo & “Heroes” on track 9 (with Deni’s guitar). Linda’s penetrating vocal is miles (in a good way) from Bowie’s original yet, she exposes more lyrical value as it’s sung in a lucent personal folk-edgy manner. The hocus pocus of a good interpreter – this is the outstanding vivid talent in Linda McRae’s fingers & voice.
With exceptional production the guitar clarity is gripping. The originals, “Long Shadow Trail,” & “Double Star,” sound like tunes Spirit of the West would’ve recorded. But, it’s Linda alone. Individuality rich, haunting & compelling as each note drips like dew from a glistening spider web.
Linda’s voice doesn’t ache like Lucinda, isn’t angelic as Emmylou Harris, or sweet as Shania Twain. She provides mature articulation – she lived it, did it, experienced it. There’s no fiction in her performance. She peels back layers of the skin of the truth.
Richard Thompson’s exquisite & intense “Dimming of the Day,” (a brilliant Clive Gregson cover with Any Trouble years ago), is equally rendered by Linda’s poignant, sincere tonality. Gurf Morlix’s guitar gently hovers over Linda’s deep to high voice. She wrings emotion from each vowel & squeezes. It almost becomes a spiritual.
The excellent Bill Kirchen’s “Man in the Bottom of the Well,” with its old-fashioned eerie country guitar — if Tom Waits sang country – it would sound like this.
But Ms. McRae’s most superb vocal comes on an old Don Williams song: “Till the Rivers All Run Dry.”
Linda could have many at the Grand Ole Opry reaching for tissues if she sang this song in those hallowed walls. Any die-hard country fan of the old school would easily be touched. The ones who passed would be proud of her. Linda McRae has always had style & substance in abundance & could perform easily with any major country, folk or roots-Americana artist today.
I said ANY — I stand by it.
The 43-minute CD is available on her website & Bandcamp. https://www.lindamcrae.com/