Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Maia Macdonald – Islands Are Born

Singer-songwriter Maia Macdonald quotes Rachel Carson on the page for her new cd Islands Are Born: “It is one of the paradoxes in the way of earth and sea that a process seemingly so destructive, so catastrophic in nature, can result in an act of creation.” Aptly put. This is a pensive, evocative, resonant meditation on distance and absence. What’s strongest here are Macdonald’s casually soulful voice and her thoughtful, direct lyrics, set to sparsely fingerpicked guitar. Boston is where it all begins, where the narrator finds the guy. Not everything here is dark and wary, as when, completely out of the blue, Macdonald says “testing.” Of course, it’s a loaded statement. “Nice is not open,” is the mantra that recurs tellingly at the end. By the way, why does Boston figure so frequently and so poignantly in breakups? Mary-kate O’Neil’s Green Street, Steve Wynn’s Boston, now this?

The title track is the initial breakup – or the separation, since there’s far less rancor here than simple wistfulness and longing: “Islands are born as you disengage.” The next cut, Some Success is spiced with bass, percussion and plaintively echoey electric guitar accents: “You’re out in the midwest you confess, hiding with some success. And the isolation”coats me with too much whiskey, wine.” The City Is Sea foreshadows  resolution, and it’s not optimistic: “There’s a reason I’m staying here, it’s the simple life I fear.” A storm hits, she runs to the kitchen: “You asked me where I went, I said where I have wings…sometime in the summertime, you’ll find a box of tapes we wrote.” All of a sudden there’s a new level of meaning here: a band breakup, ouch.

Set to a charmingly sad, spiky guitar arrangement, It’s Cold and I’m Cold sees her putting him on a plane to Cali. And then she wants to follow him. “You took my hand. Goddamn!” More curse than exclamation. In Hungry As You Were, she’s back in Somerville, he’s way across the country in Potrero Hill – maybe. “Ever since the war began I’ve been living as comfortably as I can…still haven’t gone south to get my hands dirty,” campaigning for Kerry maybe? The cd closes with Steps: “Do you see Coney island in winter we do not speak.” But he sees her on the train, calls her name and she moves away. “Pick up those pieces of your heart, throw away what you don’t need anymore, plant those seeds in a big big garden…these weekends feel like The End.” What’s nicest about this cd is its refreshing individuality. Macdonald gets umpteen opportunities to lapse into cliche and misses every one. This is a really good quiet rainy day ipod album, for times like when you want to go out to the deli but it’s too wet and nasty and you’re too depressed to move much anyway. A good companion piece to Robin O’Brien’s more wrenchingly sad Eye and Storm. Maia Macdonald plays Sidewalk on June 12 at 10 PM.

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May 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment