Norma MacDonald Burn the Tapes www.NormaMacDonald. com
I’ve had enough of wispy-voiced waifs, of all gender, singing folk-pop music slicker than margarine. This summer, I am demanding voices of substance, ones that move me, ones which do more than blend with the car floor carpeting.
Give me Gabrielle Papillon. Give me Amelia Curran.
Give me Norma MacDonald.
Burn the Tapes is the Halifax-based Cape Bretoner’s fourth album, a charming, self-produced effort that reveals an acuity of vision and execution as impressive as it is enjoyable. It is an album that makes demands of the listener not because it isn’t engaging, but because there is so much to appreciate that an initial, inattentive glean may leave one feeling inadequate.
Does one focus on the multi-dimensional arrangements, ones that meld folk awareness with nostalgic, 70s pop orchestral complexity? The washes of pedal steel on select tracks, ones that any neo-country traditionalist would be proud to call their own? The voice, rapturous with a soft, embracing lilt and phrasing that is comfortable and effective?
Give Burn the Tapes two or three attentive listens, and the picture becomes clear. MacDonald has crafted an album equal parts Rosanne Cash and Handsome Family, speaking to the heart and soul of listeners who have experienced dark, lonely evenings surrounded by strangers, ghosts, and regrets.
“You Can’t Carry It Around” calls for action, encouraging the encumbered to lighten their accumulated anguish. “To Nebraska” isn’t the first song to use repeated plays of Nebraska (The Cash Brothers went in a different direction in 2001) as a cultural touchstone, but dang it if it isn’t fine. Dripping with mood courtesy of Dale Murray’s pedal steel, Ben Ross’s percussion, and the harmony duo of Kim Harris and Gabrielle Papillon (funny what you discover reading liner notes!) MacDonald’s protagonist questions her faith (“my heart’s on fire”) in a challenged relationship: the emotions are genuine, but one hopes creatively achieved.
Reflecting on relationships appears to be MacDonald’s forte, whether weaving meaning into an “Old Song” (“I’m not saying you should burn the tapes, I’m just saying let’s see what difference that it makes”) or tentatively reaching across bridges too long left unattended (“Company.”) “Hard to Get Back” closes the album on buoyant, but still longing, notes, with MacDonald singing—as she does throughout—in a natural manner, her voice vaguely reminiscent of Nanci Griffith. A duet with gravel voiced Gabe Minnikin is a refreshing mid-disc change of pace.
Burn the Tapes is an album that is deeply moving, marked by sensitivity that isn’t cloying or overwrought, and musically complex. Norma MacDonald has hit her stride with this one; we’ll be hearing more, I believe. I hope. There’s a lot out there to listen to, and you can’t absorb it all: make an effort to find MacDonald.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald