Nancy McArthur is a musician based out of Brooklyn with a history in theatre. Her debut EP Shenandoah was inspired by a theatre production of the same name she developed herself. She realized after performing the show several times that the music could stand on its own, which was the start of the album.
McArthur describes her sound as “Freak Folk” and I’d have to agree, although “freak” is definitely a term of endearment. The overall vibe is dramatic and intense while McArthur’s vast vocal range tells an interesting story. She does an excellent job of creating visual imagery with lyrics and melodies. Every song has its own aura.
The album starts with “In Solace”, where we’re introduced to McArthur’s unique vocals. The high soprano notes are a little daunting at first but she quickly shows us her broad range, which she uses in a very strategic way.
Her melodies are intentional, which is evident when the first song blends into “Down By The Edge”, a continuation of “In Solace”. The song has a mystical feel and conjures up images of deep green forests covered with moss. It even features a few detailed verses about grasshoppers. Listening to her sing feels more like reading a book than listening to an album. McArthur has theatre running through her veins, that I’m sure of.
“Nonsense” has a fast paced folksy vibe. The song has a country twang and pretty harmonies. The lyrics are at some points nonsensical without context, but you get the feeling that they’re supposed to be.
The album takes a darker turn with “Indecision”. It starts off with an ominous instrumental that blends into complex lyrics with haunting harmonies. The lyrics read like a story, there isn’t the usual verse and chorus blueprint. McArthur takes her own path with this song and it’s refreshing and original.
“Nebraska” is based on a poem of the same name by Ted Kooser and stands apart from the other tracks. It’s melodic and pretty, with hints of a Sarah McLachlan vibe. Her voice is clear and pure in this one with less of a dramatic flare. It’s a perfect way to round out the album.
McArthur is a talented songwriter and uses words in such a powerful way in her music. Her melodies are intricate and complex, reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. The melody becomes a character in the song and almost seems separate from her voice as if it is the melody that is guiding the vocals not the other way around. Shenandoah is an interesting debut. McArthur has seemed to have created her own genre that is hard to define, but I’d like to see where it leads.
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