Oh Susanna

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  • Photo: Heather Pollock

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  • Photo: Heather Pollock

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  • Photo: Heather Pollock

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  • When Oh Susanna first dreamed of making music, she wanted to create songs that would stand the test of time – just like the Stephen Foster classic from which she takes her name.  With the release of her sixth album, SOON THE BIRDS, she has again achieved this dream with a collection of enduring songs that resonate deeper and deeper upon each listen.  Her voice, always a marvel, is a haunting, expressive instrument that she uses to stunning effect on SOON THE BIRDS, a beautifully rendered album by an artist who has realized the full power of her voice as a narrative songwriter.

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  • Bio

                      Soon the birds will be flying away
                      over hills of snow and grey.
                      They’ve come to carry you away
                      but they’ll be back for me one day.


    When Oh Susanna first dreamed of making music, she wanted to create songs that would stand the test of time – just like the Stephen Foster classic from which she takes her name.  With the release of her sixth album, SOON THE BIRDS, she has again achieved this dream with a collection of enduring songs that resonate deeper and deeper upon each listen.  Her voice, always a marvel, is a haunting, expressive instrument that she uses to stunning effect on SOON THE BIRDS, a beautifully rendered album by an artist who has realized the full power of her voice as a narrative songwriter.

    In a career spanning just over a decade, Oh Susanna has released five critically acclaimed records noted for their contemplative, thoughtful, folk-inspired songs that transport listeners into an imaginary emotional landscape.  Whether applauding a young woman’s need to stand tall in the face of dire circumstances, expressing love and tenderness to a dying loved one or embodying the anger of a soldier’s widow, Oh Susanna’s songs aim straight for the gut.  The timeless themes of love, loss and longing are expressed in soaring melodies and vivid lyrics. These songs beg careful listening.

    “I like to take people into a dream world and make them reflect on what’s essential,” explains the singer-songwriter, “In this world, the idea of slowing down and looking inward is really important.”

    “My songs often are about a crossroads in someone’s life, about someone facing a choice.  I love when a song unwraps the layers of a person or situation and makes us look at all the facets and contradictions.  We don’t always understand our own desires and motivations and I like songs that ask questions rather than give answers.”

    She credits Juno Award winning producer David Travers-Smith (Jane Siberry, Wailin’ Jennys) with the album’s rich, layered sound.  With a loose recording schedule, the pair were able to work on SOON THE BIRDS for more than a year, allowing for a more organic production process and room for experimentation. “It was the first time since JOHNSTOWN (Oh Susanna’s 1999 debut full-length album) that I had the luxury of time.  Here we could change things. We could work slowly and get the right feeling and mood.”

    The Oh Susanna/Travers-Smith collaboration yielded the integration of more than 30 musicians.  The players, who read like a Who’s Who of the Canadian roots music scene, include Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), renowned guitarist Kevin Breit (Rosanne Cash, Norah Jones), vocalists Ruth Moody (Wailin’ Jennys) and Brenley McEachern (Madison Violet) and members of the Foggy Hogtown Boys.  Handpicked to add their unique sounds to SOON THE BIRDS, these artists join longtime band members bassist Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo), guitarist Gord Tough (Kathleen Edwards) and drummer Cam Giroux (Weeping Tile, Ron Sexsmith).

    A stand-out in terms of feeling and mood is Van Dyke Parks’ arrangement of Oh Susanna’s song '1941' (a bonus track available on iTunes). The legendary composer/producer (Beach Boys, Ry Cooder, Rufus Wainwright and Loudon Wainwright III) gives this ode to school friends lost to the Holocaust a truly cinematic orchestral treatment.   

    With SOON THE BIRDS Oh Susanna brings her breathtakingly effortless countrified alto into the foreground with a collection of haunting songs that shine light into the darker areas of the human experience.

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  • Press

    Americana UK

    2011-07-09

    AMERICANA UK
    Jonathan Aird

    Saturday, 09 July 2011
    Oh Susanna "Soon the Birds"

    Reviewers Rating:  8

    Oh Susanna, you know your way around the human heart.


    "Don't get taken in by that Suzie Ungerleider" they might say shaking their head judgementally. "Oh, she looks as sweet as pie in that lacy top and with those flowers 'n' all. But let me tell you something about her....". It's scandalous, what they say, and I won't repeat it, but I can see their point. A sweet heart of a voice, and beautiful country-folk arrangements might mislead you, but this girl has been around, and she knows what's going on.

    From the off she tells you she's no angel - "I'm drunk as a sailor again" she coos as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. And in places she cusses like a trooper, but only when it's really necessary - she's not going to skirt around things with euphemisms to protect your sensibilities.

    It also works really well to prick the beautiful romanticism of a song like "See What Promises Can Bring" where a line like "so he swept you off your feet / got you rolling in the sheets / and your belly full and round" can be suddenly grounded by "and you're carrying his baby / but you don't give a shit what they say". It's the songs of small town life and the impossibility of avoiding ridicule or tittle-tattle for an indiscretion that gets Suzie Ungerleider fired up, but there's more going on than small town tales.

    What she's produced here is an album of one under the dozen story songs, three minute novels. Some veer to the dramatic - the banjo and mandolin driven "By Rope" is a full western tale of a young man forced by starvation to turn to a life of crime robbing stagecoaches and trains. In a few fleeting words a whole cinematic world is vividly presented - from the decision to leave home, the robbing of a train, the capture by a pair of bounty hunters and the final act "See my brothers, see my sisters / See my mother's face / They've come much too late for by rope I am hanged". It's perfectly done and could sit happily alongside "Jesse James".

    
Then, a song will come along that’s a snap shot of an emotional state - the ironically titled "Lucky Ones" describes the pain of love stretched out so thin it's become invisible and there's nothing let of it but a brave face to show the world.  In short, extended phrases, a whole world of hopeless drifting and lifelong agony is exposed to the light - "People can say / We're the lucky ones / But they can't believe / that together we don't belong / So we make believe / But together we don't belong". Even here though there is an inner strength through an acceptance of fate, and this inner strength is a common trait of the women who are sung about.  Whether it's the large canvas or the tiniest but oh so important fragment of a life, every word is carefully chosen and delicately placed. The singing - it is like an angel when it needs to be, and sobs with pain when that is what the song requires. The playing throughout is uniformly excellent - whether it be all acoustic, or featuring some restrained electric guitar and drums.

    
It's a joy of an album.

    http://www.americana-uk.com/reviews-cd-live/latest-cd-reviews/item/oh-susanna-soon-the-birds

    Canadian Interviews

    2011-06-03

    canadianinterviews.com/interview/index.php

    Edmonton Journal

    2011-04-26

    Soon the Birds Oh Susanna (Outside)
    Rating 3 1/2

    Canada might not have enough trustworthy, or even inspiring, politicians, but we suffer from a glut of talented female singersongwriters.

    Lost in the deluge is Oh Susanna, a folk-roots musician now based in Toronto. With the release of Soon the Birds, the Vancouver native has five full-length albums to her name -and the support of respected musicians such as Jim Cuddy, Bazil Donovan and Van Dyke Parks -but she has yet to receive the same veneration as Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards or even newcomer Hannah Georgas. On her latest, Oh Susanna's voice doesn't possess quite the same ache as some of her counterparts -she only gets close on Long Black Train, a young widow's lament; and the title track, lightly sprinkled with a gentle haze of pedal steel guitar and rootsy organs. What the artist also known as Suzie Ungerleider lacks in dejection she more than makes up with frankness as she sings about cold-hearted girls, cruel boys, small towns and murder in Canada's wild west, often with a joyous, bright voice and backed by rumbly guitars, sprightly banjos and mandolins. Most memorable line: "You flipped the bird and mooned your meat to the town." How can you not love a girl who writes such, er, vivid lyrics?

    Oh Susanna will perform Wednesday, June 8 with Matthew Barber at The Pawn Shop. Tickets are available at yeglive.ca. Barber will release his sixth and self-titled album on May 31.

    Sandra Sperounes, Edmonton Journal

    www.edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/Quick+Hits+misses/4673488/story.html

    Chart Attack

    2011-04-21

    www.chartattack.com/reviews/2011/apr/21/oh-susanna-%E2%80%94-soon-the-birds

    Only Suzie Ungerleider could write a song called "Drunk As A Sailor" and make it sound beautiful.

    You can expect the usual gentle, rootsy folk from Oh Susanna's fifth full-length, and as always, there's a chiefly caustic album hiding under Soon The Birds' serene surface. Ungerleider has no qualms about dropping lines like "get fucked on alcohol" and "You flipped the bird and mooned your meat" (both from standout ditty, "Your Town").

    The misery is relentless: engagement rings are hocked, families are abandoned, stagecoaches are robbed, people are murdered and the album ends with a widowing. Ungerleider mentions a "wheel of misfortune" in "Pretty Blue Eyes," and that's a decent way to describe this disc as a whole.

    Despite all its despair, Soon The Birds is never a depressing album. Ungerleider and her pack of veteran musicians (Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan, Kathleen Edwards guitarist Gord Tough and Weeping Tile drummer Cam Giroux) are working with too soothing a palette to ever create something somber. It's almost tender enough to make you feel sorry for the robber/murderer in "By Rope" who gets caught and hanged.

    Exclaim!

    2011-04-19

    By Kerry Doole

    It's interesting that Oh Susanna's self-titled 2003 album can now be viewed as her most atypical work. It veered into rock terrain, but on the subsequent Short Stories and now Soon the Birds, Suzie Ungerleider returned to her more familiar country-folk path. For that we can be grateful, as few explore the genre this well. Her signature strong, haunting voice is in top shape, as are her poetic, narrative-based songs. Both are framed expertly by producer/engineer David Travers-Smith and the A-list musical cast. Many songs feature eight to ten players and backing singers, but things never sound cluttered. Jim Cuddy is featured on classic-sounding country duet "Lucky Ones," while harmony vocalists Ruth Moody and Brenley MacEachern are used judiciously (as on "By Rope"). The album's vivid cast of characters include the jilted young lad of "Your Town" ("you mooned your meat to your town"), the battered wife bidding her abuser "So Long," the doomed outlaw of the aforementioned "By Rope" and the single mom of "See What Promises Can Bring." Their stories are told with compassion and aural beauty.

    exclaim.ca/Reviews/FolkAndCountry/oh_susanna-soon_birds

    Exclaim!

    2011-04-18

    exclaim.ca/News/oh_susannatalks_soon_birds

    By Kerry Doole

    It has been four years since the release of the Juno-nominated Short Stories, the 2007 album by acclaimed roots music songstress Oh Susanna (aka Suzie Ungerleider). She now returns to the fray with the April 19 release of her fifth album, Soon the Birds, via Outside Music. Ungerleider acknowledges the gap between albums is long, but that's par for the course with Oh Susanna.

    "It usually takes me a while to get back into writing after I've recorded something. I get lazy, then I panic and start writing, and then it usually takes about a year to get the songs," Ungerleider tells Exclaim!

    Also, becoming a mother led to some delays, as well as necessitated a change in her songwriting approach. "I joke around that I have my kindergarten block of time, with two hours to start a song," says Ungerleider. "I can begin something in that little window, then work on it in my mind throughout the rest of the day."

    She enlisted noted Toronto producer David Travers-Smith (Wailin' Jennys, Harry Manx and Kevin Breit) to produce, engineer and mix Soon the Birds with sessions taking place at Travers-Smith's own studio Found Sound, Escarpment Sound and Blue Rodeo's Woodshed studio.

    Duetting with Oh Susanna on "Lucky Ones" is Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy, and the pair are no strangers to singing together. "That was fun. We've been singing together for the last few years on different things, on his records and live," says Ungerleider. "When I wrote that song I completely thought of him. I love pretending we are in a relationship together that is going bad. That is what that song is about."

    Soon the Birds is released in Europe today (April 18) on the Netherlands-based label Continental Record Services, with a fall tour in Europe being a possibility. "We're trying to figure out distribution in the U.S., but you can get it on iTunes there," says Ungerleider.

    The album on iTunes also includes a bonus track, "1941," arranged by the legendary Van Dyke Parks (Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, Rufus Wainwright). Longtime friends, Ungerleider and Parks first collaborated on the recent Mississippi Sheiks tribute album. "He sent us the arrangement and then David recorded it all here. It was very brilliant, unusual and very much him," she says.

    Oh Susanna is now getting set for summer dates with Hawksley Workman, Justin Rutledge and Matthew Barber. "It has been a while since I've done a tour where I've had to play every day, and I'm scared about it [laughs]. I do a lot of stuff on my own. I'm going to do the Hawksley gigs with Burke Carroll, who'll play pedal steel. I'll try to get him to do our June Western Canada tour with Matt, and maybe one other instrument. It won't be a full band, but I quite like doing different things. I like to change it and not have it exactly how it is on the record."

    Oh Susanna will celebrate the release of Soon the Birds with a show at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on Tuesday (April 19).

    Assorted Highlights

    2007-08-15

    ****– August 2007
    It opens with a sweet, joyous love song, beautifully sung, folky, with judicious use of strings – a warm, full mood that the Canadian singer-songwriter returns to a few more times on her fine fourth album. For fans of her darker side there’s Three Shots and Greyhound Bus, plus a fine slow cowboy/border song, Filled With Gold.
    MOJO

    **** – August 2007
    Fourth from Vancouver songbird
    Fitting between spectral folk and downbeat blues, 2003’s eponymous last LP earned Oh Susanna several rave notices over here.  This time around, Suzie Ungerleider’s intention was to make more of a “band” record.  But the pianos, steel and strings are so artfully understated that she still sounds as lost and wind-bitten as before.  There’s a Southern soul feel to much of this lovely music, particularly “Schoolyard” and clear standout “Greyhound Bus”.  And while there are hints of Appalachia, the other gilded moment is “Holy Roller”, a spare, folksy beauty set to equally lonesome piano. 
    UNCUT magazine
     

    Oh Susanna has become a musician to be reckoned with.... The strength and intensity of her voice has an edge that conveys the evil of country blues.
    No Depression

    That voice really is a marvel, a haunting, expressive instrument that can proudly stand alongside those of Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch in the roots elite.  This album [Short Stories] stresses mood and narrative over melody to stunning effect.
    Exclaim!

    Her narrative force, incisive and amazingly detailed lyrics, and simple musical approach mark her as an artist to watch.
    Billboard

    On Oh Susanna’s aptly titled Short Stories, the singer (whose real name is Suzie Ungerleider) uses her clear and lonesome country voice to tell sweetly poignant tales about people who are damaged by love or bullies, take off on a Greyhound bus to look for their long-lost daughter or fall in a heap on the floor, shot dead.
    Elle

    Suddenly, the stark acoustic blues of her debut EP, the dreamy pop, and the band-driven rock that followed all seem to have been heading toward this point: a lightly burnished naturalness that perfectly reflects the material rather than underplaying it or tugging too hard at its corners.
    The Toronto Star

    Her tales of love, loss and yearning are utterly engrossing and sung with a delivery that gives them weight beyond the words.  Like those in a good book, Ungerleider’s characters linger long after the last notes of each song fade, putting her in a class above your typical troubadour.  This woman is a writer – she just happens to sing her stories rather than type them out.
    FFWD

    “Oh Susanna”  -  Critics’ Top Albums of  2003  -  Rolling Stone.com

    “Sleepy Little Sailor”  -  Critics’ Top Albums of 2001  -  Rolling Stone.com

     

    Elle

    2007-07-22

    Oh Susanna
    Short Stories

    On Oh Susanna’s aptly titled Short Stories (Outside Music), the singer (whose real name is Suzie Ungerleider) uses her clear and lonesome country voice – sparsely accompanied by members of Blue Rodeo – to tell sweetly poignant tales about people who are damaged by love or bullies, take off on a Greyhound bus to look for their long-lost daughter or fall in a heap on the floor, shot dead.

    MARY DICKIE
     

    EXCLAIM!

    2007-06-20

    Oh Susanna
    Short Stories

    On her 2003 self-titled disc, Suzie Ungerleider added decidedly rock elements to her troubadour template to oft-bracing effect. She returns to her roots here by emphasizing her voice and lyrics, and rises to the challenge with graceful ease. That voice really is a marvel, a haunting, expressive instrument that can proudly stand alongside those of Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch in the roots elite. Sparse and subtle accompaniment comes from her A-list players, including Luke Doucet, David Baxter, Blue Rodeo’s Bazil Donovan and Bob Packwood, Justin Rutledge (who harmonies beautifully on “Pretty Penny”) and drummer/hubby Cam Giroux. Strings are used judiciously and effectively on “Miss Liberty” and powerful closer “Filled With Gold.” Lyrically, Suzie presents a rich, colourful cast of characters, telling their stories with real empathy. There’s the “beauty queen strapped to a Coke machine” and the teenager who gave up her baby then ran off to “hang my heart on a hitching post where they got clean air to breathe” on “Greyhound Bus.” Even Billy The Kid makes an appearance, via her fine cover of Dylan’s “Billy 4.” This album stresses mood and narrative over melody to stunning effect.

    With the last record, you said you felt like a singer in a band. This one seems more like a singer/songwriter record. Agree?
    Completely. It was just the nature of the songs I wrote this time, where I had a quiet thing going on. With Oh Susanna, I thought it’d be fun to make more of a rock’n’roll record. Here, it was like, “I’m sick of those boys. I just want to be by myself,” and I was happy to do it that way.

    Does the album title reflect the way you approach the songs?
    I’m always attempting to make the songs like short stories. These ones in particular emphasise that, though I probably could’ve called every record I’ve made Short Stories. The title is a simple way of having someone pick it up and listen to it in that context.

    This is clearly not a confessional style singer/songwriter record. I feel like what I do has a confessional aspect to it, though it’s not necessarily me that is confessing. I find pretending I’m someone else that much more intriguing. I don’t think my life is all that worthy of writing into songs in a literal sense. If I were to write about my life, I’d still be manipulating it in such a way as to fictionalise it.

    By Kerry Doole
    (Stella/Outside)


     

    The Toronto Star

    2007-04-21

    April 21, 2007

    The Anti-Hit List for April 21

    1. OH SUSANNA
    Like the rest of her fourth full-length, this moving lead-off [“Pretty Face”] track serves the larger function of bringing the stylistic wanderings of her previous releases sharply into focus. Suddenly, the stark acoustic blues of her debut EP, the dreamy pop, and the band-driven rock that followed all seem to have been heading toward this point: a lightly burnished naturalness that perfectly reflects the material rather than underplaying it or tugging too hard at its corners. Part of that can be chalked up to the co-production by Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan. A bigger part is Suzie Ungerleider's willingness to have taken the winding journey to get from there to here.

    (From Short Stories, out May 1, info only: outside-music.ca)

    JOHN SAKAMOTO
     


     

  • Discography

    Click on an album cover to download a high res version.


    • Soon The Birds (2011)

    • Short Stories (2007)

    • Oh Susanna (2003)

    • Sleepy Little Sailor (2001)

    • Johnstown (1999)

    • Oh Susanna EP (1997)
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