Sheila Mac Donald,
Half Light
(independent, 2011)

A song might be considered successful when it "connects" with a listener. If that's the case, then Sheila Mac Donald's new album is a success -- at least with this listener. She's a storyteller with charm, and her soft, warm voice conveys an impression of intimacy.

The lyrics of these haunting melodies may seem simple, but on reflection they reveal a deep insight into human nature and the trials of everyday life. In some respects, the plain-spoken quality of the lyrics in Mac Donald's voice remind one of the early days of the folk renaissance.

Though "Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter" is done in a traditional style, the majority of the tracks are modern songs, speaking of contemporary themes, like one that muses on Mary Jo at the "Dollar Store" or the nature of a man called "Dave."

In addition to the 12 original compositions, there's a cover of Jack Hardy's "The Black Hole." Mac Donald said the cover is a tribute to the legendary singer-songwriter who she said was "a real inspiration to me as a songwriter." She studied with Hardy at his songwriters' workshop and also recorded a few songs on Fast Folk in the early 1990s.

Mac Donald said Hardy didn't live to hear this album, though he did hear and comment favorably on her first album, This Way, released in 2010. "Like a lot of people, I wouldn't be writing songs if it weren't for him," she said. A native of Massachusetts, she did her formal training in music at Brandeis University. Much of her music seems to reflect her Celtic roots, and Mac Donald appears to have found her place in folk music.

She's backed on this CD by her producer Raymond Gonzalez on guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass and keyboard, and by Pam Kuras on violin.

As Hardy himself once said, "Songs are not poems set to music or words crafted to a melody but rather both words and melody crafted together." I think he'd be pleased with what his former student has done here.

music review by
John R. Lindermuth

7 April 2012

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