Linda McRae- Going to the Well review

Linda McRae Going to the Well 42 RPM

Given how many outstanding and unique singer-songwriter-Americana-folk-troubadour-banjo-pluckers we have, even if only considering Canada, it is no shock that we sometimes forget Linda McRae between album releases.

Living as I now do beyond the night lights of the city—“just a place you pass by on the highway…” as she sings in the new song “Empty,” co-written with Kelly Kessler and featuring Gurf Morlix—I am not reminded when she makes her way to neighbouring burghs, but there was a time when seeing the name Linda McRae on a store counter flyer or grimy poster represented a firm calendar date. House concert, coffee house, or more, McRae has never failed me.

That holds true on disc. Not sure how or why I came across Flying Jenny all those years ago; the album held immediate appeal, an attraction that hasn’t wavered in the subsequent twenty or so years. [Previous Fervor Coulee McRae review linked here.]

Going to the Well is an intimate, full of life recording of McRae singing and playing with select accompaniment.

Recorded in a new friend’s home studio, and intended to represent the music of a McRae house concert, Going to the Well is a treat. There are recent songs presented, performed to highlight the intensity of McRae’s words and melodies. “Long Shadow Trail” and two other high-marks from 2015’s Shadow Trails are presented in stripped-down fashion with only “Singing River” having guests Deni Gauthier (and producer) on guitar and Shara Gustafson sharing vocals.

The majority of the material are songs we may not have heard McRae previously performing unless one has witnessed a recent live set, and half the songs feature only McRae and her banjo or guitar.

McRae offers two David Bowie songs, “Ashes to Ashes” transformed to lament, “Heroes” as resolute celebration. Also included are a pair of Willie P. Bennett songs, the always appreciated “Caney Fork River,” given additional heft via McRae’s raw vocal treatment, and the immortal “The Lucky Ones.

Bill Kirchen’s “Man in the Bottom of the Well,” featuring Kirchen’s precise electric guitar notes, is near sublime, a word I’m not sure you’ll find elsewhere here at Fervor Coulee. [Ed. Note: Just checked- you’ll find it, but I haven’t used it since 2010, so fair use me thinks.] Two additional showstoppers are included, both absolutely stunning. “’Til the Rivers All Run Dry” and “Dimming of the Day” are simultaneously hopeful and lonely as presented by McRae, a consummate communicator through song.

How strong is Going to the Well? It is penned in on my year-end list, no pencil required. Linda’s notes state they recorded 15 songs in this unexpected circumstance, meaning there are still four more floating around the digital archive. Can hardly wait for the (fingers crossed) subsequent EP.

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