Oh Susanna, you know your way around the human heart.
By: Jonathan Aird
“Don’t get taken in by that Suzie Ungerleider” they might say shaking their head judgementally. “Oh, she looks as sweet as pie in that lacy top and with those flowers ‘n’ all. But let me tell you something about her….”. It’s scandalous, what they say, and I won’t repeat it, but I can see their point. A sweet heart of a voice, and beautiful country-folk arrangements might mislead you, but this girl has been around, and she knows what’s going on.
From the off she tells you she’s no angel – “I’m drunk as a sailor again” she coos as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. And in places she cusses like a trooper, but only when it’s really necessary – she’s not going to skirt around things with euphemisms to protect your sensibilities.
It also works really well to prick the beautiful romanticism of a song like “See What Promises Can Bring” where a line like “so he swept you off your feet / got you rolling in the sheets / and your belly full and round” can be suddenly grounded by “and you’re carrying his baby / but you don’t give a shit what they say”. It’s the songs of small town life and the impossibility of avoiding ridicule or tittle-tattle for an indiscretion that gets Suzie Ungerleider fired up, but there’s more going on than small town tales.
What she’s produced here is an album of one under the dozen story songs, three minute novels. Some veer to the dramatic – the banjo and mandolin driven “By Rope” is a full western tale of a young man forced by starvation to turn to a life of crime robbing stagecoaches and trains. In a few fleeting words a whole cinematic world is vividly presented – from the decision to leave home, the robbing of a train, the capture by a pair of bounty hunters and the final act “See my brothers, see my sisters / See my mother’s face / They’ve come much too late for by rope I am hanged”. It’s perfectly done and could sit happily alongside “Jesse James”.
Then, a song will come along that’s a snap shot of an emotional state – the ironically titled “Lucky Ones” describes the pain of love stretched out so thin it’s become invisible and there’s nothing let of it but a brave face to show the world. In short, extended phrases, a whole world of hopeless drifting and lifelong agony is exposed to the light – “People can say / We’re the lucky ones / But they can’t believe / that together we don’t belong / So we make believe / But together we don’t belong”. Even here though there is an inner strength through an acceptance of fate, and this inner strength is a common trait of the women who are sung about. Whether it’s the large canvas or the tiniest but oh so important fragment of a life, every word is carefully chosen and delicately placed. The singing – it is like an angel when it needs to be, and sobs with pain when that is what the song requires. The playing throughout is uniformly excellent – whether it be all acoustic, or featuring some restrained electric guitar and drums.
It’s a joy of an album.