Donna Dunlop,
Spirit of the Crossroads
(Northern Dancer, 2001)

Spirit of the Crossroads is a gentle and soothing recording that features Toronto singer Donna Dunlop's honest voice and thoughtful folk-roots songs.

An accomplished singer-songwriter who has been recording since the mid-'80s, Dunlop continues to develop her musical talent. Spirit of the Crossroads has a simplicity about it that seems to harken back, in a good way, to an earlier era of folk and country music. Recorded by Steve Sherman in Toronto, Ontario, the album features Dunlop's voice (often in multitracked harmony) with her tasteful acoustic guitar. The other players, familiar to the Canadian acoustic scene, include Eddie Baltimore on percussion; Dennie Keldie on accordian, organ, mandolin and piano; Chris Whiteley on coronet, trumpet and harmonica; Chris Coole on banjo; Kye Marshall on cello; and Sherman on electric and acoustic guitars and bass.

There are no drums as such on the album, just hand-percussion instruments, and that choice results in a lilting and soft overall sound. Dunlop's songs range from fairly traditional gospel-tinged country ("Guided by Moonlight Recklessly," "Blue Wedding Gown") to contemporary songs ("This Kiss," "Carry Me Down," "No Chains on the Broken Heart") that would qualify as pop/roots if they had full band arrangements and harder-hitting vocals.

Given the same well-crafted and radio-length songs, many producers would add drums and kick up the tempo. That choice might have led to a more ear-catching album, but on the other hand might not suit Dunlop's personality. Still, I think a few uptempo numbers might be a good idea just for variety.

One of my favourites was "Jacob's Ladder," a lovely traditional-sounding song with simple banjo accompaniment and four-part harmony. Very pleasing in this age of O Brother Where Art Thou, the song suits Dunlop's voice and sensibility, and would have even more bite with less processing on the vocals, creating a more "live" sound.

Spirit of the Crossroads is very consistent from beginning to end, which is both a strength and a weakness. I tended to want more variety and felt the project was long at 14 songs, many of which are similar in tempo and arrangement. My sense is that Dunlop may be at a "crossroads" in her music, caught somewhere between solo-acoustic folk and more fully-produced pop. She has the talent and the songwriting ability to go either way.

[ by Joy McKay ]
Rambles: 23 March 2002