Eleanor McCain,
(Retriever, 2001)

The title of Eleanor McCain's debut CD may be Intimate, but I think there are better words to describe the album, including "classic" and "timeless."

McCain is a classically trained singer who studied voice at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, where she grew up as part of a prominent family. Intimate is an ambitious and far-reaching collection that includes traditional folk songs ("Shenandoah," "She's Like the Swallow," "An Eriskay Love Lilt"), classical repertoire (Bach's "Ave Maria," Schumann's "Du Ring an Meinem Finger"), new adult-contemporary songs by successful songwriters, and one pop classic ("Songbird" by Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie). The album is likely to appeal to fans of Charlotte Church and other popular classical performers.

Another word that comes to mind is "lush." The album is bathed in luxurious, complex arrangements and recorded with glossy sophistication. Some of Canada's finest musicians are here: Aaron Davis on piano and string arrangements, Natalie MacMaster on violin and Kevin Breit on autoharp, guitar and banjo. John MCDermott does a duet on "When You Were Sweet Sixteen." The Elmer Iseler Singers join McCain on "Shenandoah." Two separate string sections are used throughout the recording. Terrance Sawchuk, who deserves tremendous credit, produced the project with additional engineering from Jeff Wolpert. Sawchuk also wrote the song "Shiver," which in my opinion is the best contemporary song on the disc apart from "Songbird."

I found Intimate to be a soothing and harmonious accompaniment to today's rainy afternoon when I happened to be home with a sick child. In particular, I appreciated the familiar, traditional material, including "She's Like the Swallow" and "An Eriskay Love Lilt," which I myself sang as a young woman. (McCain's mom plays piano on the latter track "just like the old days" and I can't help but wonder if Eleanor and I began taking voice lessons at the same time.) The timeless classics can't help but tug at the heartstrings, and McCain's pure and glittering soprano always does them justice -- even though she takes few risks and seems somewhat cool and detached. That's the risk, I guess, in producing such a "perfect" package -- I'd love to hear some imperfect outtakes just for contrast!

Also, it's a challenge to successfully combine both the very old and the very new. This challenge is compounded by the fact that McCain has (to her credit) included new songs by new songwriters. However, the new songs don't grab me the way the classic material does. In a world overpopulated by contemporary singer-songwriters, Eleanor McCain may carve out a niche for herself by singing the songs that endure.

[ by Joy McKay ]
Rambles: 6 April 2002