Oh Susanna

  • Photo: Heather Pollock

    Click enlargement (right) for hi-rez version to download
    (Drag or right-click and Save as to download hi-rez)

  • Photo: Heather Pollock

    Click enlargement (right) for hi-rez version to download
    (Drag or right-click and Save as to download hi-rez)

  • Photo: Heather Pollock

    Click enlargement (right) for hi-rez version to download
    (Drag or right-click and Save as to download hi-rez)

  • Photo: Heather Pollock

    Click enlargement (right) for hi-rez version to download
    (Drag or right-click and Save as to download hi-rez)

  • Click enlargement (right) for hi-rez version to download
    (Drag or right-click and Save as to download hi-rez)

  • In a career spanning almost two decades, Oh Susanna has released seven 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.  

    Her newest project is Namedropper, a killer collection of songs written especially for Oh Susanna by Canada's top songwriters. The album was created with and produced by Jim Bryson.  

    This project is about friendship.  Through music we want to express our admiration, gratitude and respect for our fellow Canadian songwriters.  They kick us in the ass. They break our hearts. They inspire."

    The album came out in October 2014 on Sonic Unyon Records in North America and on CRS in the UK and Europe.


  • Bio

    Namedropper:  Someone who tries to impress others by casually mentioning the names of illustrious people she knows or may have met.

    Namedropper:  Oh Susanna's new album:  A killer collection of songs written for her by some of Canada's best songwriters.

    This project is about friendship.  Through music we want to express our admiration, gratitude, and respect for our fellow Canadian songwriters.  They kick us in the ass. They break our hearts. They inspire.  We have been making records of our own songs for over 15 years.  Our music has made us part of an amazingly talented and generous community.  Now it is time to show off our friends' talents by recording their songs.  We have been given songs by Ron Sexsmith, Royal Wood, Jim Cuddy, Joel Plaskett, Luke Doucet, Jay Harris, Rueben deGroot, Melissa McClelland, Amelia Curran, Old Man Luedecke, Keri Latimer of Nathan, and The Good Lovelies.

    These artists have generously given us their time and talent to write songs specifically for this project, all of which have never been recorded before. Diamonds in the rough that we have been given to polish and make shine.  We aim to do them proud!

    Oh Susanna and Jim Bryson


    Namedropper marks a place in Oh Susanna’s journey…one where she has proven herself as songwriter and is now paying tribute to her comrades.  Many times Oh Susanna, aka Suzie Ungerleider, has been a lone woman on stage, singing songs about personal journeys and crossroads.  But this singing of songs, this sharing of stories, has brought her friendship and connection into a community of fellow misfits and renegades.

    “When I first started singing and performing, I was completely alone onstage.  The characters in my songs reflected that loneliness.  But music has brought me so much connection:  to myself and to other people.  It even brought me to my husband.  So music, which was an expression of loneliness and individual struggle, has brought me out of loneliness and made me a part of a community.  So it made sense to make a record that was symbolic of that transition from loneliness to communion.”

    "Namedropper is an album that pays tributes to her many friends in the close singer-songwriter community.  Initially, Suzie imagined it would be simply an ordinary covers record.  But when she approached her old friend Jim Bryson to produce the album, he hatched a new idea.  He decided they should ask artists to write brand new songs specifically for the album.  Suzie agreed and much to their delight, their friends were more than happy to oblige.  

    It made perfect sense that the catalyst for this new approach was Jim Bryson, Suzie's chief collaborator on Namedropper.  Being old friends, Suzie instinctively knew he would want to explore different musical possibilities with her relatively straightforward concept. “Jim is always subverting,” she says. “That’s not my tendency as a musician, I’m usually more classic in my approach but I wanted to be brought into this other space and that’s why I asked him to work with me on this record.  I also wanted to sing other people’s songs in order to do music in a way I hadn’t done before.  Jim thought that made total sense, but he immediately had the idea of asking people we knew to write something new for me.”

    Jim explains, “Suzie pitched me on doing a record of covers from people she knew, but I just heard ‘covers’ and immediately thought, ‘That sounds okay, but I’m not sure.’  Then on the spot I suggested having people write the songs.  It was honestly just a random thought I vocalized, and dang me if it didn’t work out great!”

    Suzie continues, “We were able to jump onto the songs when they were still in a fragile, untested state.  Then we watched them become three-dimensional and I got to inhabit the character of the song.  I got to be an actor bringing the script to life while Jim got to be the director of this movie.”

    “I like to think that Suzie and I have a mutual crush,” Jim concludes.  “Professionally, it’s like a marriage of sorts.  We respect each other and maybe push each other’s buttons a bit because of the familiarity.  Honestly, her voice always stops me dead in my tracks.”

    The process of making Namedropper went smoothly from its beginnings in 2012 up to its near-completion in the spring of 2013. It was then that Suzie received the difficult news that she had breast cancer.  Her initial reaction was actually a sense of guilt that her ensuing treatment would put the brakes on what had become a highly anticipated musical project for her, her collaborators and fans. But the love and support from fans and friends only intensified over the next year as Suzie recovered. That support and anticipation now culminates with Suzie proudly releasing Namedropper in the UK/Europe with CRS on Oct. 7, 2014 and in North America with Sonic Unyon on October 21, 2014.

    Namedropper Track List

    1.   Oregon (Jim Bryson)

    2.   Into My Arms (Joel Plaskett)

    3.   Goodnight (Royal Wood)

    4.   Cottonseed (Keri Latimer)

    5.   Wait Until The Sun Comes Up (Ron Sexsmith)

    6.   Mozart For The Cat (Melissa McClelland)

    7.   Provincial Parks (Old Man Luedecke)

    8.   Letterbomb (Luke Doucet)

    9.   Loved You More (Amelia Curran)

    10.  1955 (Jay Harris)

    11.  Savings And Loan (Rueben deGroot)

    12.  This Guy (The Good Lovelies)

    13.  Dying Light (Jim Cuddy)

    14.  I Love The Way She Dresses (Ron Sexsmith/Angaleena Presley)


    Suzie Ungerleider began performing as Oh Susanna in the mid-1990s, crafting a persona that matched the timeless qualities of her music, sounds that drew from the deep well of early 20th Century folk, country and blues, yet rooted in her finely-honed storytelling skills.  This Canadian songstress has a voice that can pierce a heart of stone.  Her superbly crafted songs often tell stories of troubled souls who rebel against their circumstances to attain a quiet dignity.  These are tales of longing and love, of small town joys and pains, of our simple feelings and strong passions.  These are tales that look into our beautifully flawed human hearts.

    Born in Massachusetts and raised in Vancouver, Suzie first recorded a cassette of seven songs for a couple hundred bucks, making 50 copies and catching the attention of the music industry before Alt-Country even had a name.  The positive reaction she received inspired Suzie to quit her day job as a library clerk and take her chances in Toronto.  Soon after, she recorded her internationally acclaimed debut album Johnstown with assistance from Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo), Peter Moore (Cowboy Junkies) and Bob Egan (Wilco/Blue Rodeo).

    The follow-up, Sleepy Little Sailor, firmly established her reputation within what was then known as Alt-Country circles, and her third, eponymously titled album from 2003 found Suzie expanding her sound in an exciting roots rock direction.  After pausing to start a family, she returned in 2007 with the stunning collection, Short Stories, bolstered by a top-notch band anchored by a rhythm section comprised of her husband Cam Giroux (Weeping Tile) and Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo), along with a crew of string-bending virtuosos including Luke Doucet, Kevin Fox, Joey Wright and Burke Carroll.  This group reconvened for 2011’s Soon The Birds, which brilliantly blended the stark beauty of her early work with fleshed-out ensemble arrangements.

    Looking back at how her career developed, Suzie says that she definitely had a narrow focus at the beginning, drawing on American influences such as Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Tom Waits, and field recordings of traditional balladry which she maintains was necessary for her to find her voice.  However, Suzie now says, “In order to grow and feel inspired, I have to open up my field of vision.  The drawback is that people still want to define you somehow.  At the same time, whatever music I make will always have similar themes of people at the crossroads, trying to cope with the situations they’re in.”

    In that respect, Namedropper is vintage Oh Susanna, in spite of the songs coming from other sources.  Interpreting those words with her unique combination of grit and subtlety has made them her own, while also providing ample proof that Canada’s songwriting tradition is in safe hands with this generation of artists.  Being a member of that community has even moved Suzie to pursue her Canadian citizenship, and now that she’s healthy, she fully expects to have new material ready to record in the not too distant future.

  • www.ohsusanna.com

  • Press

    Daily Express (UK)




    Canadian singer-songwriter Suzie Ungerleider's latest album is a little left-field diversion.  Namedropper sees her asking her famous Canadian friends to write songs for her to record.  Of course, when the artists involved include the likes of Ron Sexsmith, Royal Wood and Blue Rodeo's Jim CUddy, you're going to get some high-quality material.  Slow, country-folk is her specialist subject, and Cuddy's bluesy "Dying Light" sees her shine, but here there are also poppy numbers (Sexsmith's "Wait Until The Sun comes Up", the Byrdsian jangle of "Into My Arms" and the angular new wave of "1955".

    Americana UK



    Originally due for release in 2013, but delayed due to her being diagnosed with breast cancer, something that she has now fortunately been given the all clear on, Suzie Ungerleider’s latest album is a covers set. The hook for the album is that none of the songs have previously been released.
    Ungerleider has picked songs from well known (Ron Sexsmith, Royal Wood) and less well known (Jay Harris, Reuben DeGroot) Canadian writers, several of whom guest on their tracks. There’s also a song from producer Jim Bryson who appears to have acted as eminence grise for the album with notably good results. Ungerleider’s expressive vocals are foregrounded, frequently hanging on the edge of pain, but also capable of righteous anger as on “Mozart For The Cat” or more suppressed rage on DeGroot’s Randy Newman-esque “Savings & Loan”. Bryson has broadened the musical palette that she uses to excellent effect, so rather than just basic instrumentation there’s a richer and layered sound, which never overwhelms but enhances. While it’s a pity that there are no originals here, hopefully there will be next time around, and in the meantime this is a rara avis, a covers album that’s actually worth your time and money.

    Calgary Herald


    Canadian artist Oh Susanna beats cancer, then drops some names with new album

    By Mike Bell
    Try as you might, there are a few names that Suzie Ungerleider won’t drop.
    Sure, the Canadian singer, who performs under the moniker Oh Susanna, will enthuse over the Canadian artists who, when asked, lent a song to her latest album Namedropper — folks such as Jim Cuddy, Joel Plaskett and Amelia Curran, to, er, drop just a few.
    But nudge, needle and pester her, she simply won’t give up any names or throw anyone under the bus who failed to make the cut, who may have mailed in a musical stinker.
    She laughs. “No. I can’t say that. That would be so bad,” the T.O.-based Ungerleider says, before noting some songs were rejected because they ran out of time and they had to make decisions based on who they asked first.
    “No one gave us anything terrible. Some things felt a little unfinished, that’s what I would say.”
    Fair enough. You can understand why Ungerleider might be somewhat reticent to be goaded into souring something that is pretty special on a number of levels.
    There’s the album, itself, which will stand as, perhaps her finest moment: a lush, gorgeously alive and vibrant showcase for her sweet, clean, pure, country pipes. There’s also the reason that it features, again, material supplied by some of this country’s finest songsmiths, people she calls her friends and peers, those whom her producer Jim Bryson approached with the request for something new, something for Suzie. You can also add onto that the album was recorded using funds from a Kickstarter campaign, fans and believers who gave generously so that she could create this something special.
    Oh. And also there’s the little fact that Namedropper is getting released now, finally, a year-and-a-half after it was completed, following her diagnosis with breast cancer and her subsequent successful fight to beat the bastard back. That, obviously, has made the album that much more special.
    “It was like a big bomb dropping,” Ungerleider says of the news that came after they’d finished mixing the 14-track blessing. “But, yes, it did take on more resonance simply because ... when you’re in the middle of something and people are expecting it or they’re working on you with it ... it felt like I had to tell everybody. And that wasn’t my first instinct.”
    When she did, though, she was met with an “outpouring of love” and support from all of those involved in Namedropper, reassurance and humanity that she took with her into her treatments, and has now further enhanced the joy she’s taken in the album’s late October release.
    “It made it a lot deeper and a lot more emotional and more meaningful, I think. It was already pretty special and this added something else to it,” she says.
    “I’ve been sitting on this thing, for, gosh, a year a half, knowing how fun it is and how much pleasure I got from making the record and now it’s great that I really get to share it with people.”
    She’ll also do that in a live setting, as Ungerleider, backed by Bryson, has now hit the road for a tour that will bring her to the Ambassador Hotel in Nanton on Sunday night and the Ironwood in Calgary on Monday.
    But. Wait. What. Fun? Now there’s a word that’s rarely been associated with Ungerleider throughout her almost two-decade-long career that has been defined by songs of heartbreak, heartache, heartsick and every other affliction associated with love’s most important organ.
    She laughs. “I can be fun, but I know my music is not always fun,” she says.
    “That’s probably why I wanted to do this, and that’s why it was really exciting because I got to do some fun music that wasn’t — how do I say this? — it wasn’t so intense. It was just kind of freeing and pleasurable ... to step into someone else’s landscape or script or emotional journey and I could channel it and put it out there.”
    And she does so with an infectious joy, with the highlights many and much wonderful, including: a sweet remembrance of campsite love on Old Man Luedecke’s Provincial Park; a coy, cool understanding of Jay Harris’s contribution 1955; a hopeful spin on Sexsmith’s melancholic Wait Until the Sun Comes Up; the happy, urgent beckoning of Plaskett’s popsterpiece Into My Arms; and, yeah, the uber-fun Mozart for the Cat, which was written by Melissa McClelland and inspired by Ungerleider’s young son.
    So, as you can see, it’s easy to understand why the artist would prefer to focus on all of that, all of this, and remain in a positive space, keep the good thoughts present and the negativity at bay. Well. For the most part.
    “Of course my pessimist brain goes, ‘What’s going to happen when I put out my own record?’ “ she says and laughs. “I don’t think I want to anything ever again because this has been so much fun.”

    No Depression


    Oh Susanna - Namedropper

    Seven albums into her career, Suzue Ungerleider — better known by her stage name of Oh Susanna — is a well-travelled and well-loved veteran of the Canadian music scene. Over the years she’s played with just about everybody from Blue Rodeo to Justin Rutledge, and lived on both sides of the country.
    Namedropper sees Oh Susanna capitalizing on those connections with a unique concept for an album: every song on the album was written by another artist, specially for this album. None of the material has been released before. The songwriters in question make up a "Who’s Who" of the Canadian music scene: there are tunes penned by Joel Plaskett, Luke Doucet, Ron Sexsmith, Jim Cuddy and more — 14 in all. (You can get a bit more detail on the album's Kickstarter page.)
    The result is an album that, had it been released just slightly earlier and before the deadline for such lists, would have easily made my Top 10 of 2014. This is no small feat in a year where I agonized over which album to push out of the top ten either.
    The album’s stunningly understated opener "Oregon" was written by Jim Bryson, who also produced the album. The song opens with the line, “She says days like these / are mostly built for coffee and for dreaming,” before unfolding into just about the most perfect song about the Pacific Northwest you can imagine. With just a hint of piano layered underneath Oh Susanna’s beautiful voice, it invites repeat listens and serves as a fantastic opener.
    Namedropper isn’t a covers album: there’s no "original" to compare the renditions here too. The album invites a fun game of “guess the Canadian songwriter” and it’s true that the songs retain the characteristics of their composers: Ron Sexsmith’s and Melissa McLelland’s contributions in particular stand out in this respect.
    Bryson's production work is a significant contribution to the album's success: an album like this could have easily sounded disjointed but Bryson has deftly avoided that. If you're not familar with Bryson's solo work — he may be better know for his role as sideman to Kathleen Edwards (though that word doesn't even begin to describe the significance of that relationship — you owe it to yourself to check it out. He's one of Canada's hidden talents.
    Namedropper is a collection of 14 interpretations of new songs collected into a single coherent whole that makes for a near perfect listening experience and and album that shows that mixing two great things together can produce something wholly different and often stunningly beautiful. This may be the must have album of the fall.

    Winnipeg Free Press

    Oh Susanna
    Namedropper (Sonic Unyon)
    SUZIE (Oh Susanna) Ungerleider is an American-born, Toronto-based singer-songwriter who fully identifies as a dyed-in-the-wool Canuck. Since 1999 she has carved out a sizable fan base; her ability to write charming and uniquely easygoing music has put her in the upper echelon of folk artists and her latest album is a captivating set of solid tracks written by some of her musical contemporaries.
    Ungerleider's calling card is her lovely, unaffected voice and it is a testament to her faultless vocal abilities that she can easily deliver other people's musical visions so impeccably. Producer Jim Bryson (the Weakerthans) stays mostly out of the way here, enveloping Ungerleider's voice with only minimal musical affectation.
    Local songwriter Keri Latimer's Cottonseed is a perfect example of how a less-is-more production technique can draw the listener into a kind of beautiful quietude, allowing the singer to float airily above the sparse arrangement. Melissa McClelland's rocking Mozart for the Cat and the Jay Harris-penned 1955 ratchet up the energy, proving that this gal can even rock if she wants to. 

    NOW Magazine


    Oh Susanna

    Namedropper (Sonic Unyon)

    On her sixth album, Toronto’s Oh Susanna (Suzie Ungerleider) sounds immensely comfortable breaking out of her comfort zone. As the title implies, Namedropper is an album of covers by Ungerleider’s friends and colleagues, produced by Jim Bryson, who also wrote the first song, Oregon.
    Gone are the slow, sad alt-country numbers; in their stead is an Oh Susanna record you can actually dance to (at least to Melissa McClelland-penned pop/rock earworm Mozart For The Cat).
    Ron Sexsmith’s signature sound is identifiable from the first whiff of guitar melody on Wait Until The Sun Comes Up, while it takes the second bridge to identify the charming Into My Arms as a Joel Plaskett song.
    Ungerleider has a lot of big names to drop (she covers Jim Cuddy, Old Man Luedecke and the Good Lovelies), but two of the standout tracks come from lesser-known, Kingston-based artists: Rueben deGroot’s Randy Newman-style bank robber song Savings & Loan and Jay Harris’s 1955, which nods to Elvis Costello. 
    Top track: Mozart For The Cat

    SUN Media


    ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Oh Susanna’s Namedropper

    Oh Susanna  
    Namedropper (Sonic Unyon)

    4 stars
    Oh Susanna’s Namedropper is charmingly disarming, a collection of earnest, impeccably delivered storytelling from Vancouver’s Suzie Ungerleider. Going in without knowing that every song on the album is a cover, you would think those were all Ungerleider-penned gems. And that’s a great thing because, although the project conceived by Ungerleider and longtime collaborator/songwriter/producer Jim Bryson is exactly that, Namedropper never feels like a gimmick.
    Instead, Ungerleider makes the most of words and melodies provided to her by musical pals like Luke Doucet, Melissa McLelland, Royal Wood, Amelia Curran, The Good Lovelies, Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, and more.
    Namedropper offers a few perfect nuggets: Ron Sexsmith’s Wait Until The Sun Comes Up shimmers with golden country greatness, Ungerleider delivering the tune with a Dolly Parton-esque twang, while Joel Plaskett’s Into My Arms features the East Coast rocker’s signature pop snap.
    The jaunty Mozart For The Cat, by McLelland, is a humorous treat that will undoubtedly make you crack a smile.
    Cuddy’s smouldering, organ-heavy Dying Light is especially touching considering Ungerleider was diagnosed with breast cancer as the album was nearing completion in 2013. “Maybe I’m clear now, ’cause I know it’s the end/Of ending up lost, with no money or friends/Always thought it’d be greener if I went one more mile/All that I needed was to stay close to your smile.”
    Namedropper is a sweet, affecting listening experience by one of Canada’s most criminally underrated voices.



    Oh Susanna Details Star-studded 'Namedropper,' Opens Up About Breast Cancer Treatment

    By Alex Hudson
    It's been nearly two years since Suzie Ungerleider began raising funds for Oh Susanna's next record, Namedropper, which was to feature brand new songs written by various Canadian artists. Now, the album has finally been announced, with the due date set for October 21 through Sonic Unyon Records/Sony.
    None of these 14 songs was written by Ungerleider. Rather, they were penned especially for this project by contributors like Joel Plaskett, Ron Sexsmith, Jim Cuddy, Luke Doucet, Melissa McClelland, Jim Bryson, Royal Wood, Old Man Luedecke, Amelia Curran, the Good Lovelies and more.
    Ungerleider began the project in 2012 and she was nearly done by the spring of 2013, but it was delayed for an extremely serious reason: the singer was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she spent the next year getting treated and recovering.
    Bryson produced the record. Ungerleider initially suggested a covers record, but Bryson upped the ante by suggesting they commission original songs.
    See the tracklist below; the composer for each song is listed in parentheses. Scroll past that to stream the McClelland-penned "Mozart for the Cat," which juxtaposes a low-key pop-rock groove with powerfully belted vocals.
    1. Oregon (Jim Bryson)
    2. Into My Arms (Joel Plaskett)
    3. Goodnight (Royal Wood)
    4. Cottonseed (Keri Latimer)
    5. Wait Until the Sun Comes Up (Ron Sexsmith)
    6. Mozart for the Cat (Melissa McClelland)
    7. Provincial Parks (Old Man Luedecke)
    8. Letterbomb (Luke Doucet)
    9. Loved You More (Amelia Curran)
    10. 1955 (Jay Harris)
    11. Savings And Loan (Rueben deGroot)
    12. This Guy (The Good Lovelies)
    13. Dying Light (Jim Cuddy)
    14. I Love The Way She Dresses (Ron Sexsmith / Angaleena Presley)

    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.









    Canadian Interviews





    Edmonton Journal


    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


    Chart Attack



    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.



    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.





    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


    ****– 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.

    **** – 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.

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

    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.

    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.

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

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




    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.




    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


    The Toronto Star


    April 21, 2007

    The Anti-Hit List for April 21

    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)



  • Discography

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

    • Namedropper (2014)

    • Soon The Birds (2011)

    • Short Stories (2007)

    • Oh Susanna (2003)

    • Sleepy Little Sailor (2001)

    • Johnstown (1999)

    • Oh Susanna EP (1997)
  • Live 411