RR1, Box 635
Brownfield, ME 04010
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Carol Noonan is one of the few truly remarkable singer/songwriters of the past twenty years. In answer to the perennial question, what music would you carry with you to a deserted island, Carol Noonan would be at the top of my list. |
So, what is it about Carol Noonan and her music? In the 1980's she led the acoustic ensemble Knots and Crosses to stardom. Her vocal skills have been compared to everyone from Natalie Merchant, to Shawn Colvin, and most appropriately, to Sandy Denny. The answer to that question, I think, lies in the unique quality of her voice. What makes Billie Holiday special, or Ella Fitzgerald? As with Carol Noonan, it is simply that there is no one like her - she is that special.
Noonan's latest release, the self-titled Carol Noonan, was made without the backing of a recording company. It comes out of a particularly dark period of Noonan's life, when her husband lost most of his livelihood, and she had to support the family at odd jobs other than music. Discouraged and without a recording contract, she almost left the music industry entirely. Fortunately for her listeners, she began writing songs once again. Carol Noonan is the result of those efforts.
The first cut, the traditional Open the Door, hooks the listener right away. It is both haunting and beautiful. It is immediately followed by the self-penned Lost Soul, a song with lyrics that are so suffused with loss that in lesser hands it would simply be a lament on pain and depression. In Noonan's hands, both the writing and the vocals are transcendent. There must be hope at the end of this tunnel.
The theme of loss continues with the quietly elegant Just Because. Noonan's gorgeous tremolo carries the lyrics:
The particular beauty of Noonan's voice lends special magic to such traditional English ballads as Unquiet Grave and John Riley. No one since Sandy Denny has made these songs as contemporary and compelling as Carol Noonan.
Noonan always surrounds herself with the best musicians, and this recording is no exception. Duke Levine, the best guitarist on the acoustic scene today, contributes his signature lead guitar on all but a handful of cuts, elevating the entire production to a level on par with Noonan's voice and lyrics. Paul Bryan provides the bass line, which lends a defining structure to all of Noonan's music. Additionally, Bryan produced the recording, and he alone is responsible for the sound of Noonan's voice so elegantly presented here.
Whether she sings a cover of a Richard Thompson tune, a Celtic ballad, or one of her own original compositions, it is Noonan's voice that stays with you. Any new Carol Noonan recording is reason enough to celebrate, but the self-titled Carol Noonan is so good that it has to be one of the best recordings of the year. The day Noonan ceases to sing will be a sad one, indeed. May that day never come.