Home Concert review Oh Susanna – Nov. 7 online

Oh Susanna – Nov. 7 online

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Suzie Ungerleider is working. At the start of 2020, Suzie, a.k.a Oh Susanna, was opening for the Jim Cuddy Band’s Countrywide Soul tour at Vancouver’s famed Commodore Ballroom. For Suzie, the gig was an opportunity to showcase her fierce vocal style for a thousand buzzing fans. Having collaborated with Cuddy Band members Bazil Donovan, Colin Cripps, and Jim himself at various times over her two- decade career, it was a natural fit. Of course, the optimism of the new year quickly turned to disbelief as artists and fans alike struggled to find a ‘new normal’ in pandemic times. For Oh Susanna, the work continued in a re-release of her sophomore album, Sleepy Little Sailor, from 2001, with five added tracks – two new acoustic recordings of fan favourites “River Blue” and “Kings Road” produced by Jim Bryson, along with the original acoustic demos for “Sleepy Little Sailor,” “Sacrifice,” and “Beauty Boy.” The album release was followed by a podcast series, The Making of Sleepy Little Sailor, discussing the album with original contributing band members Luke Doucet (guitar), Joel Anderson (drums), and producer Colin Cripps. Although the album fits easily into the folk music genre, Oh Susanna’s music has at various times been described as art folk, country, and blues pop. Regardless, it brings fresh voice to a deep-rooted art form.

“I was influenced most definitely by old folk recordings where you don’t even know who’s playing on the records, or old fiddle music, country blues stuff,” Suzie said during an episode of the podcast.

What isn’t obvious is the rippling current of energy that underlies each song, unmistakably the hallmark of good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, but captured in a way that gives urgency to traditional folk music themes.

Not content with the album release and podcast series, Oh Susanna moved on to livestreaming from her Vancouver home, and on Nov. 7, armed only with her Gibson acoustic, she cruised through 20 songs, which were poignant and intense at times, but stitched together with breezy, humour- filled anecdotes from writing the material. The intimacy of a home broadcast is a new experience for all artists – without the benefit of audience feedback – but it provides a portal for fans to speak directly to the artist.

“When I’m recording, I try to be in the song… it’s very introverted,” she told the audience during the live stream, “and when I’m performing for other people… I’m feeling their energy… Livestreams are a very interesting combination of both those things… being alone, and seeing that you guys are there”.

Playing the requests in “semi-chronological order,” Suzie reached all the way back to her 1997 debut EP, for “Roll Me On Home,” “All Eyes On Baby,” and “Crooked Down The Road” before her punk rock girl roots were laid bare in her rendition of “Here Comes A Regular,” shattering the dichotomy of alternative and folk music – The ‘Mats meet Woody Guthrie. Here Oh Susanna provides a bridge to something few have achieved: harnessing the spirit of a punk rocker into lilting ballads in uncommon time signatures and minor keys. The duality is not lost on Suzie, as she explained in the introduction to Kings Road.

“[in Grade 8] my friends and I lived five minutes away from our high school and at lunch would rush home… It was a crazy scene of punk rock girls all crammed together on a futon watching All My Children”.

On the show closer, “Tickets On The Weekend,” from 2017’s A Girl In Teen City, Oh Susanna drew a vivid picture of how our worlds collide, singing of formative teenage years:

“All ages, leaping from the stages, Joey’s in the pulpit preaching ‘Smash the State,’ in his green-backed jacket and his sleeves all cut away, in a sea of sweat we were floating away.”

And in a town where Joey (D.O.A.’s legendary Joey ‘Shithead’ Keithley) is an elected member on Burnaby City Council, everything makes sense now.

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