Rita MacNeil,
Blue Roses
(Big Pond, 2004)

Rita MacNeil's new release, Blue Roses, is like her previous recordings -- so distinctively Rita. With a voice that alternates between a warm honeyed clarity and a relaxed drawl, she is absolutely unique. She sings about issues that cloud our days, romantic and all too often tinged with sadness.

Some of the musicians have recorded with Rita on other albums, including Geoff Arsenault (drums), Kim Dunn (piano and keyboard) and Chris Corrigan (guitar). Others who play music especially suited to Rita's voice on this CD are Bruce Dixon (electric bass), Ray Legere (mandolin and fiddle), Morgan Davis (slide guitar), Ed Woodsworth (acoustic bass), Hillary Brown (cello) and Celeste Jankowski (violin).

The 10 songs, nostalgic and wistful, are signature pieces of Rita's spiritual voice and verse. She paints human silhouettes into familiar backgrounds of enduring and mature love, lost and unrequited love, sadness and swift young love, kindred loves, and friendship. Her oral canvasses tend to reveal tender and poignant images, and this is especially true of Blue Roses. These are gentle sounding with lyrics that carry strong emotional currents.

For instance, "You Can't Go Home Again" is a soulful song about remembering the past. Young or old, how would you feel hearing these words spoken to you? Anyone might find himself inside this song. Home will become just a memory.

Mmmhmmm. But listen to a verse of "Some Things Never Change."

Now he never quite remembers
When the birthdays come and go
He forgets to say the little words
That he told her long ago
She is wise in her forgiveness
For she knows his heart is true
Some things never change
But some things do.

Sometimes, even memories are lost.

Of course, Rita sings too of endurance and hope. "Memphis" is a wonderful jazzy number; "Blue Roses" has a country twang with a verse that hints at an older country roses song, but Rita puts her own spin on this one and it becomes her own.

The songs don't fill the full range of Rita's former sound. Granted, the theme is more pensive and sedate. Perhaps that's why this recording has a bit of rawness, an unfinished feel, as if this is only a toe testing the waters.

"Floating," the opening song, jumps around a bit but has a strong last verse. She's almost boisterous in "Moon Was Rising" and "Never Under 85." The latter is a playful ode to a couple of old souls feeling their age, yet who can keep the fires burning.

There is a theme here and I hesitate to say it's a generational one because that sounds too limiting and Rita MacNeil's music is rarely defined by borders. Her songs are pure reflections of human longings.

She's a spiritual singer with a common touch, and Rita says it for those who can't. In this case, she expresses emotions as strong and heart-rending as the young ordinarily would, confirming that our spirits don't age like our minds and bodies do. Love, loss and loneliness are timeless emotions.

We can only enjoy as she acknowledges our lives using her own words.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 23 October 2004

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