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Sarah McQuaid | The Plum Tree and the Rose

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The Plum Tree and the Rose

by Sarah McQuaid

The third album by a gifted and captivating performer whose warm, haunting alto is delicately cradled by her “sparkling guitar” (Sing Out!). “A great songwriter and traditional singer, and a wonderful guitarist.” — Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2
Genre: Folk: Modern Folk
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Lift You Up and Let You Fly
3:10 $0.99
2. Hardwick's Lofty Towers
3:43 $0.99
3. Solid Air
5:04 $0.99
4. Kenilworth
3:03 $0.99
5. In Derby Cathedral
5:03 $0.99
6. The Sun Goes On Rising
4:14 $0.99
7. S'Anc Fuy Belha Ni Prezada
4:18 $0.99
8. Can She Excuse My Wrongs
4:25 $0.99
9. New Oysters New
1:00 $0.99
10. So Much Rain
4:10 $0.99
11. What Are We Going to Do
2:57 $0.99
12. The Plum Tree and the Rose
4:29 $0.99
13. In Gratitude I Sing
1:02 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The Plum Tree and The Rose is the third album by Sarah McQuaid, a gifted and captivating performer whose warm, haunting alto is delicately cradled by her “sparkling guitar” (Sing Out!). She is both song crafter and song collector, equally at home with traditional Irish and Appalachian folk songs, Elizabethan ballads and 1930s jazz numbers.

Her musical output is a direct and unfolding reflection of her own eclectic background: Sarah was born in Spain, raised in Chicago, holds dual US and Irish citizenship, and currently lives in rural England. While the genre, era and geographical location of her songs may change, at their core is a musician who has soaked it all in – and, luckily for us, is able to eloquently express the stories she’s gathered.

Produced by Gerry O’Beirne (Midnight Well, Patrick Street, Sharon Shannon Band), engineered by Trevor Hutchinson (Waterboys, Lúnasa) and released on the Chicago-based Waterbug Records label, The Plum Tree and the Rose opens with “Lift You Up and Let You Fly,” one of nine originals on this thirteen-song album. Warm strains from Bill Blackmore’s flugelhorn envelop a tender love letter from mother to daughter. Up next is “Hardwick’s Lofty Towers,” Sarah’s ode to the remarkable woman who in 1590 built the magnificent Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

“Hardwick’s Lofty Towers” introduces a set of sister themes – spiritual questioning and the relationship between soul and place – that inspired a trio of originals dedicated to this topic: title track “The Plum Tree and The Rose” (track 12), “In Derby Cathedral” (track 5) and “Kenilworth” (track 4). “Living in the UK, I’m constantly struck by the powerful imprint made on the landscape here by thousands of years of human habitation,” Sarah explains. “And I think we all wonder at times about the big questions – why are we here, where are we going, does any part of us remain after we’ve gone. I’ve tried to address that in these songs.”

A folk album is not complete without comment on our current socio-political climate, and Sarah does excellent justice to the global economic downturn on “The Sun Goes on Rising” (co-written with producer Gerry O’Beirne). As percussionist Liam Bradley’s shuffling snare sets a tone of relentless perseverance, the fear of debt and poverty is embodied in the proverbial lurking “wolf at the door” – but, as the chorus points out, there’s hope for the patient. Also co-authored with O’Beirne are “So Much Rain,” a rumination on lost love and the changing of seasons, with Sarah’s plangent guitar and string-like vocal harmonies embellished by gossamer piano backing from Rod McVey, and “What Are We Going To Do,” an old-fashioned ‘first kiss’ song in the Golden Age style of Rodgers & Hart, George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

Sarah’s cover of “Solid Air,” the late John Martyn’s tribute to Nick Drake, is delivered here as a soulful duet, this time with Bill Blackmore on trumpet; other surprises include “S’Anc Fuy Belha Ni Prezada,” a 13th century “alba” or dawn song sung in Old Occitan, a sparse arrangement for voice and DADGAD-tuned guitar of Elizabethan composer John Dowland’s “Can She Excuse My Wrongs,” and “New Oysters New,” a three-part canon published in 1609 by Thomas Ravenscroft, featuring guest vocalists Niamh Parsons and Tom Barry. The album closes with Sarah’s original six-part canon of Thanksgiving, “In Gratitude I Sing.”

Born in Madrid (to a Spanish father and an American mother), raised in Chicago and holding dual Irish and American citizenship, Sarah McQuaid was taught piano and guitar by her folksinging mother, and remembers being inspired by meeting her distant cousin, well-known singer/songwriter/storyteller Gamble Rogers, at her grandmother’s house in Indiana. From the age of twelve she was embarking on tours of the US and Canada with the Chicago Children’s Choir, and at eighteen she went to France for a year to study philosophy at the University of Strasbourg.

She moved to Ireland in 1994 and lived there for 13 years, working as a music journalist and active member of Dublin’s arts community. In 2007, she re-released her critically acclaimed 1997 debut solo album, When Two Lovers Meet, and launched her solo career with a performance on Irish national television as the musical guest on John Kelly’s popular Friday evening arts show The View.

The same year saw her moving to England and playing major festivals like Sidmouth and Trowbridge, and in 2008 she released her second album, I Won’t Go Home ’Til Morning, which like its predecessor was recorded in Trevor Hutchinson’s Dublin studio and produced by Gerry O’Beirne. In contrast to the first album’s focus on Irish traditional songs and instrumentals, the follow-up was a celebration of old-time Appalachian folk, with Sarah’s arrangements punctuated by her own fine compositions and a cover of Bobbie Gentry’s classic “Ode to Billie Joe.”

Crow Coyote Buffalo, an album of songs co-written by Sarah with fellow Penzance resident Zoë (author and performer of 1991 hit single “Sunshine On A Rainy Day”), was released in 2009 under the band name Mama and garnered rave reviews: Spiral Earth described the pair as “Two pagan goddesses channelling the ghost of Jim Morrison,” while The Irish Times said they had “Janis Joplin’s freewheeling spirit crossed with Joni Mitchell’s lyrical density.”

Sarah is also the author of The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book, described by The Irish Times as “a godsend to aspiring traditional guitarists,” and has presented workshops on the DADGAD tuning at festivals and venues around the globe.

Sarah’s first two solo albums were re-released as a double-CD set in North America in February 2010 and immediately went to No. 1 on both the album and artist Folk-DJ chart. At year’s end, she had the No. 6 album on the Folk-DJ chart for 2010 overall, and was offered an official showcase at 2011’s International Folk Alliance Conference.

Now living in Cornwall with her husband and their two children, Sarah currently spends six months of each year on the road in the UK, Ireland, Continental Europe and the USA, with ambitions to extend her range to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Her new album, The Plum Tree and the Rose, will be released in March 2012.

“A great songwriter and traditional singer, and a wonderful guitarist.” — Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2, UK
“Brilliant musicianship, a warm and welcoming stage presence and a voice as rich, matured and knowing as the finest thrice-distilled Irish malt whiskey.” — Geoff Wallis, fRoots, UK

“Folk music as it should be sung — warm, gentle and real.” — Alf McCarthy, Late Date, RTE Radio 1, Ireland
“A must for everyone who loves a CD you can put on again and again, and never tire of it.”
— Roz Larman, FolkScene, USA



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