The prospects for a young woman making her mark as a country-styled singer songwriter are daunting. In a crowded field, icons Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, and Gillian Welch rule and show no signs of abdicating; and newcomers like Eileen Jewell, Sarah Borges, and Martha Scanlan have staked claims after encouraging critical and popular recognition.
One wonders where this leaves Torontonian Tracy McNeil, currently resident in Australia. McNeil describes the genesis of her debut recording as a four-year exile in a Montreal basement apartment. Making ends meet through a rag-tag assortment of jobs, she inevitably found herself drawn west on Highway 401 to her hometown and the comfort and musicianship of brother Logan.
Brimming with literate, beautifully crafted songs, Room Where She Lives is the strongest of debuts. McNeil's spirited vocal style, strong, clear, Kaplansky-reminiscent, sits comfortably with the harmonies of her brother, showcasing the simpatico of siblings. Bassist Christopher Clattenburg sings as well, with drummer Adam Warner rounding out the core. The infusion of lap steel, dobro and fiddle provides additional depth and color.
"Three Good Reasons" is the sucker punch. It demands your attention, rocking and romping, dobro-driven, savvy in lyric and delivery:
It's the time you wept upon my sleeve
Citing Gillian Welch as her songwriting muse, McNeil roams across the spectrum of country roots themes, from the introspection of the gently melodic "Room Where She Lives," through the country swing of "Headlong Into Nothing" and "Weather Gauge" then wistful weepers like "Barroom Chair" and the waltz "Catastrophe."
Within such an appealing collection, it's perilous singling out particular cuts, but two highlight McNeil's current prowess. "Wishbones" is a poignant, elegantly constructed song, replete with lovely swaying instrumentation, and longing lyrics. McNeil's vocals ache, and the harmonies soar. "Queen Of The Night" is class itself, and perhaps indicative of Tracy McNeil's emerging pathway:
So what's your favorite color
This is a brave recording, one that stands above the precious fare projecting depth and sensitivity, but rarely getting there. Tracy McNeil and her Hummingbird do so with ease, grace, and immense promise.
tracymcneil.com (coming soon)