Release Info: Shelagh McDonald - Stargazer (Great Folk UK 1971)
Size: 135 MB
Ripped by: ChrisGoesRock
Source: Japan 24-Bit Remaster
As much myth as musician, singer/songwriter Shelagh McDonald seemed poised to emerge as a major voice in British folk music when she abruptly vanished mere months after the release of her breakthrough LP. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, McDonald arrived in London sometime in the late '60s. While performing at the Troubadour, she befriended fellow singer/songwriter Keith Christmas, who would prove instrumental in landing her a record deal with the B&C label. Album followed in 1970 to decent reviews but mediocre sales, but 1971's Stargazer was a far different story. With McDonald dubbed "the new Sandy Denny" by the U.K. music press, the record was a critical smash and sold respectably.
But after recording a handful of tracks for a proposed third LP, McDonald suddenly disappeared, leaving no clues to her rationale or her whereabouts. While many friends and fans speculated she returned to Scotland, unhappy with her life and career in London, others believed she fled to either the U.S. or Canada in an attempt to recover from a failed relationship or to cure a drug problem. In truth, it was a life-altering LSD trip that sent her into seclusion and also ruined her voice. After a time spent putting her life back together, she married a Scottish bookstore owner and drifted away from society again, only this time happily.
With the CD re-release of Album and Stargazer, her music was embraced by a new generation of fans, and in 2005 Castle/Sanctuary released Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, a compilation of McDonald's complete recorded output, including outtakes and demos. 2005 also was the year McDonald finally resurfaced. After reading a story about herself in The Scottish Daily Mail, she submitted to an interview that cleared up much of the mystery behind her disappearance.
This record could well represent the closest anyone has ever come to crossing circa-1970 Joni Mitchell with circa-1970 Sandy Denny. As a composer, McDonald leans toward the Mitchell half of that equation, with a similarly angular melodic sense, and a phrasing that often shifts register quickly and substantially. It would be mighty surprising if she didn't ingest songs like Mitchell's "Marcie" thoroughly before coming up with narratives in the same style like "Liz's Song." The parallels come out most in the songs in which McDonald emphasizes her piano rather than her guitar. As a singer, her tonal quality is more similar to Denny's.
The result is a double-edged sword. The album can be unequivocally recommended to fans of Mitchell and Denny who have run out of things to buy by those two singers, and want something that's for the most part undiscovered, but with a similar vibe. At the same time, McDonald inevitably comes up short in the unavoidable comparisons with those role models, as she puts far less of her own personality into her work than either Mitchell or Denny did. Dogmatic criticism aside, it's a pleasant album with subdued folk-rock arrangements, and the piano ballad "Lonely King" is haunting enough to make one forget the obvious likenesses to Mitchell's own piano outings for the moment. Occasionally, there are effective slight departures from the standard production of folk-rock albums from the period, as with the sad strings and operatic backup vocals on the title track, and the extremely Garth Hudson-esque organ of "Good Times." The CD reissue adds five bonus tracks from other 1971 sessions, three of which were previously unreleased, and two of which only appeared on compilation LPs in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, the liner notes do not make it clear which two of the other twelve songs were the ones used on compilations, rather than on the Stargazer LP itself
01. Rod's Song
02. Liz's Song
03. Lonely King
04. City's Cry
05. Dowie Dens Of Yarrow
06. Baby Go Slow
07. Canadian Man
08. Good Times
+ Rare Bonus Tracks