April 2008

Oh Susanna
April 12, 2008 Hugh's Room Toronto
Oh, Susanna, Don’t You Cry For Me
by Tova G. Kardonne with photo by Mike Colyer
The virtue of rootsy rock lies in the beautiful voices that sing it, the simple, steady rhythms that drive it, and the sweet, triadic harmonies that follow the three chords and the truth. The truth, the lyrics, expanding as most lyrics do on a few well-worn themes, earn their keep by their uniqueness of expression and poignancy. But lyrics never did much for me, and simple rhythms and triadic harmonies bore me to tears, so rootsy rock that gets a good review from me would have to be something that just about redefines the genre.
Oh Susanna does not redefine the genre. She has a beautiful voice. The country-music inflections get away from her a bit in her lower range, but for power and clarity her voice takes no prisoners. She writes her music mostly slow, favours the country-rock waltz on melancholy moments in her personal history, and exploits her voice’s break to good effect when reaching for those high notes. The patter between songs is often charming, though I can’t relate to her cheerful recollections of childhood gambling and the men who did her wrong. Hugh’s Room was packed on a Saturday night with folks who whistled and called out for encores from both Susanna and her opening act, Brian Macmillan, who sang in a similar style with pared-down accompaniment. He brought to his songs, as she did, a beautiful voice, though his was a rumbling baritone, and aside from that, shmaltzy, hackneyed sentiments sung to one- or two-note melodies. Susanna’s melodies had more in the way of tonal variation, and picking out combinations off a pentatonic can produce some lovely results. But when all the beats are the same and the imagery is so familiar it’s practically public domain, how unique can the unique personal story be?

On the other hand, the 300-plus audience members were getting what they paid for, and loved every minute of it.

Oh Susanna
We welcome your comments and feedback
Tova G. Kardonne
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Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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