Sarah McQuaid is a singer songwriter whose music nestles in the space between folk and pop. The St Buryan Sessions is essentially a concert without an audience, and all the tracks were recorded in St. Buryan, a late 15th century Church in the Cornwall village of the same name. But far from being a set a of songs lost in the space, that space becomes part of the personality of the recording with the Church’s natural reverb wrapped around the lone voice and instrument in the same way the Earth has its own atmosphere.
It’s hard not to get lost in the sheer indulgence of this album, and with sixteen tracks, this is akin to ignoring fun size treats for the biggest box of luxury chocolates on the shelf, with the biggest treat of all being Sarah’s voice. It’s as clear as mountain water but deep and plangent, it’s golden like dusk in Summer, as filling as a medieval banquet and as strong as rope. With every song another facet of her voice is revealed, from the unaccompanied voice of opening track ‘Sweetness and Pain’, the mournful ache of my personal favourites ‘The Silence Above Us’ (see the video below) and ‘Time To Love’, the syncopation of ‘What Are We Going To Do’ through to barely-there voice on ‘Last Song’. Sarah McQuaid is also a very accomplished musician with her guitar and piano playing showing complete empathy with her singing; for example the piano playing on ‘The Silence Above Us’ weaves perfectly around her voice so much that it sounds like a second musician playing with her, or ‘Tug Of The Moon’, where the guitar’s warm tremolo would bring a tear to David Lynch’s eye.
The lack of gigs due to COVID was like losing a limb for Sarah who tours so much I suspect her next evolutionary step would be to grow wheels. The St Buryan Sessions was a way of filling that void, and a crowdfunding campaign allowed Sarah to realise the project and record it in the Church which is not far from her home in rural West Cornwall. It also owes a debt to the superlative work of sound engineer (and Sarah’s manager) Martin Stansbury who clearly understands her work so well that he was able to capture the intimacy of the performances in the recording: “conceived as a concert set… a journey not only through a wide range of instrumentation and styles, but also through the spectrum of emotions that Sarah evokes in her performance and invokes in the listener”.
I don’t think it’s too grand to say that Sarah McQuaid pulls water from the same well as artists like Joni Mitchell or Gillian Welch. Her voice has the resonance of Carly Simon and, when you listen to a track like ‘Time to Love’, you get the hypnotic quality of Tim or Jeff Buckley. The St Buryan Session is an album that is worth putting your phone on silent for, commandeering the sofa and blocking out time in your calendar to luxuriate in it.
Fri 15 Oct: Album Launch Benefit Concert in St Buryan Church
Fri 22 Oct: St Peter’s by the Waterfront, Ipswich
Sat 23 Oct: Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, Rossendale, Lancashire
Thu 28 Oct: The Musician, Leicester
Sat 30 Oct: Praa Sands Community Centre, Cornwall
Tue 2 Nov: The Miners’ Theatre, Ammanford
Thu 4 Nov: Caerleon Arts
Sat 6 Nov: Norley Village Hall, Frodsham
Sun 7 Nov: The Milton Rooms, Malton
Mon 8 Nov: The Lightship, Blyth
Thu 11 Nov: MET Studio, Stafford Gatehouse Theatre
Fri 12 Nov: Folk at the Falcon, Bromyard
Sat 13 Nov: The Wolf Folk Club Cabaret, King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Tue 16 Nov: The Roses, Tewkesbury
Thu 18 Nov: Snailbeach Village Hall, Shrewsbury
Fri 19 Nov: The HopBarn, Southwell, Nottinghamshire
Sat 20 Nov: The Green Man Gallery, Buxton
Tue 23 Nov: The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
Thu 25 Nov: Crail Folk Club
Sat 27 Nov: The Mackenzie Hall, Brockweir, Chepstow
Sun 28 Nov: Sterts Studio, Liskeard, Cornwall
Review by Paul F Cook