With all her concert dates cancelled by the coronavirus, singer-songwriter Sarah McQuaid decided to stay close to home, recording in the English village where she’s lived for the past 14 years. There, in the cavernous 15th-century St. Buryan’s Church, playing solo to engineer/producer Martin Stansbury, she collected two decades of songs and reimagined them into the strongest album of her career, also released as a series of YouTube videos.
McQuaid’s voice, a fragile, starkly resonant alto, has always been a thing of folk-trad beauty, but here, with ambient mics placed around the church’s interior, it takes on a new joyfulness and a deeper darkness. At the same time, her beloved Andy Manson acoustic guitar keeps all its warm, ringing precision, while her DADGAD tuning takes on a rich, plangent sustain as its sound travels up and down the nave. (If you listen closely, you can hear trucks driving past the church, and the distant chattering of swallows.)
The album’s only “new” song is a shimmering version of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves,” while the rest are highlights from her catalog, including “Last Song,” which intertwines the lives of mother, daughter, and granddaughter; the instrumental “The Day of Wrath, That Day,” performed on electric guitar; and the beautifully brittle “Time to Love,” about the present moment. All gain in subtlety, wisdom, and understanding in these solo arrangements. Best of all, 2012’s “In Derby Cathedral”—where McQuaid sings of the names carved into the church’s stone walls—takes on new life, deftly merging past and present.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.