Susan Cattaneo is a folk singer-songwriter who is also a professor at the Berklee School of Music. It’s no wonder, then that she knows how to craft a song. Her previous album The Hammer and The Heart charted at #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. She is also a three-time participant at the kerrville Folk Festival, so clearly she has some credentials.
Her new album All Is Quiet was recorded in 2020, and it shows in the introspective lyrics throughout the album. Cattaneo meditates on not only what the pandemic has done to the public, but also what it has done to fundamentally change who we are and how we approach life.
Cattaneo doesn’t waste any time displaying her profound lyrics. The first lines of the album on the opening title track are, “Sitting vigil in this house until the morning comes, wondering if I’ll be myself still when all is done.” Even if you don’t have the context from which those lyrics were born, you can’t help but think that she summarized the isolation of the pandemic in just two lines. On top of that, the song includes some amazing harmony vocals and a combination of acoustic and baritone guitars that produce the sort of rich sound you’d expect from a 12-string.
This album has a lot of similarities with Joni Mitchell, and it’s not just in Cattaneo’s vocal quality. Like Mitchell’s songs, the melodies are hushed, but also intricate. The fingerpicking on the guitar adds some depth to the sound as she tells intimate stories in her lilting voice. Likewise, the beautiful vocal harmonies also add a dimension to the simple instrumentation.
While the spare arrangements and the harmony vocals weave a rich tapestry of sound, the real focus of this album is the lyrics. A good example is in “Blackbirds.” This song is very much in the folk storytelling tradition. It unfolds something like a fairy tale with references to “happy ever after” and “four and twenty blackbirds.” She even muses at some point, “Dear love, can fairy tales come true?” To say that there is a literary character to this song would be an understatement.
Ultimately, this album is about seeing the light through the darkness. It is particularly profound because we have all experienced some darkness in the last few years. Cattaneo has a way of reassuring the listener that things will get better. “Diamond Days” is one example. You can’t help but feel something when you hear her sing, “None of us start out looking like a jewel. We’re all rough around the edges, unfinished, a little jagged too.” The listener is left with the message that, no matter how bad things get, just remember that you are not a finished product.
“Hold onto Hope” is an even more brilliant illustration of the encouragement to look beyond the darkness. Over a spare melody that includes acoustic, electric, and pedal steel guitar, she sings in a muted voice, “When you feel at the end of your rope, tie a knot and don’t let go. Hold onto hope.” The lyrics are so much more powerful against the subdued melody. The sound swells toward the end of the song as if to show the listener that, in fact, things do get more hopeful.
Yes, this is a folk album. And maybe folk albums aren’t as in demand as they once were. However, you shouldn’t sleep on this album simply because folk isn’t your normal listening choice. This is a beautifully crafted album that provides the promise of hope, which has been sorely lacking in the pandemic. All Is Quiet is available everywhere now. https://susancattaneo.com
Enjoy our interview with Susan, here: Interview: Susan Cattaneo is Kiss the Ground Grateful