The Irish gypsy who formerly led Saint Joan through two folky albums of exquisite beauty steps out of the band setting for her opening solo salvo, accompanying herself on banjo, piano, and zither and singing of Greek myths, lords, acolytes, and lots of death. Hints of Vashti Bunyan, Mellow Candle, Sharron Kraus, Joanna Newsome, and other femme fatale sirens of the night swarm around McGee’s high pitched vocals while her rolling guitars effortlessly regale us with tales of “A Watch of Nightingales,” “Upon Death and Dying,” and the eerie ghost story, “He Is No Earthly Man.” McGee’s banjo plucking on the latter amidst a maelstrom of swirling violins, guitars, and drums evokes images of a lost and lonely girl racing through nearby Sherwood Forest pursued by all sorts of scurrilous nasties.
Along the way, we get a glimpse inside McGee’s psyche, which has been fueled by years of reading Alan Sillitoe, Arthur Miller, Italo Calvino, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Bedsitter images of yearning for unrequited love flitter through the intimate “The Fatal Flower Garden,” which, like more than a few songs here, inevitably ends in death. Occasionally offering a glimmer of hope for the lost souls that pepper her stories, McGee finally succumbs to a happy ending, sort of, in “From The Stars” but ending on the suicide note of “The Wintering” suggests she’s still working out a lot of personal demons.
Not exactly the most upbeat album you’ll hear this year, there are moments when I recalled the soul-laid-bare intimacy of Janis Ian’s debut or early Leonard Cohen. While this will certainly drown your sorrows if you’re writing your doctoral thesis on Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, or Virginia Woolf, the downtrodden are encouraged to lock up the bar and hide the razor blades and car keys before listening.
9/10 -- Jeff Penczak (12 August, 2009)