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Shelagh McDonald biography
The Scottish folk singer SHELAGH MCDONALD may be more interesting for her story than for her music, although her wispy and emotive style of folk-rock was both timely and well-received during the late-sixties/early seventies folk revival in both Great Britain and the U.S.

McDonald's records featured supporting artists from the likes of FAIRPORT CONVENTION, THE PENTANGLE, FOTHERINGAY, MIGHTY BABY and the legendary CENTIPEDE project.

Shortly after recording her second album McDonald disappeared from public view, leaving behind a mystery that remained unsolved until she became aware of a renewed interest in her music and walked into the offices of the Scottish Daily Mail in 2005 to tell her story. Like too many artists of her day McDonald was deeply affected by a bad LSD trip and had retreated to her parent's home in Scotland, where she remained until the early eighties when she met her current partner Gordon Farquhar. McDonald and Farquhar began to retreat from society entirely in the mid eighties and eventually adopted a nomadic lifestyle that consisted of traveling the countryside living out of a tent with little contact to the outside world. Though McDonald stated during the 2005 interview that she was working on new material, she vanished once again shortly afterward and no further significant contacts have been made.

>> Bio by Bob Moore (aka ClemofNazareth) <<

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SHELAGH MCDONALD top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.08 | 3 ratings
3.88 | 7 ratings

SHELAGH MCDONALD Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

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4.00 | 1 ratings
Let No Man Steal Your Thyme: Anthology

SHELAGH MCDONALD Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Stargazer by MCDONALD, SHELAGH album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.88 | 7 ratings

Shelagh McDonald Prog Folk

Review by sl75

4 stars Shelagh is much more in control on her second album - all her own compositions apart from one traditional song, and so much stronger than her first album as a result.

The first half of the album is dominated by sparsely-arranged tracks - more or less solo performances self-accompanied by guitar or piano, with only minimal intervention from backing singers or other musicians. The guitar songs, "Rod's Song", "Liz's Song" and "City's Cry" are all very reminiscent of early Joni Mitchell in guitar style, melodic approach and lyrical preoccupations (meaning beautifully detailed character sketches and observations of daily life - not the self-examination of later Joni). The key word for "Lonely King" is sparseness - a sparse piano accompaniment, plenty of space in the melody, much use of the reverberation of the studio. My closest reference point would be some of Laura Nyro's songs like "Map To The Treasure" (though Shelagh is much more vocally restrained). Later in the album, "Canadian Man" returns to this kind of mood, though not at the same length.

The turning point for the album is the traditional song "Dowie Dens of Yarrow" - for the first time we hear a full band, in an arrangement that captures the drama of the ballad, building slowly in restrained way to a powerful climax, the building driven mostly by the drums and to a lesser extent the organ. One of the highlights.

We're mostly in poppier territory after this - "Baby Go Slow" and "Good Times" are both light folk-pop, very US West Coast. "Odyssey" is a more substantial song, played with the appropriate gravitas - though to me it's more like, say, CSN's "Wooden Ships" in character.

Finally we get to the title track, the song that first made me fall in love with Shelagh when I heard it on the Dust On The Nettles compilation - Shelagh's rich voice and piano, lifted even more by Robert Kirby's amazing string arrangement, and finally that wonderful choral coda setting the epitaph of Johannes Kepler. A tiny masterpiece, this song alone is reason enough to own this album.

The CD re-release has five tracks (four songs, one recorded twice) laid down for Shelagh's unfinished third album (obviously abandoned when Shelagh disappeared). It sounds like she was heading in more of a Carole King direction - particularly on the twice-recorded "Spin", which has a fantastic pop hook and would surely have been a big hit if released at the time. "Rainy Night Blues" is very similar, "The Road To Paradise" slightly heavier. "Sweet Sunlight" is mostly piano, very gospel-tinged. Although I like these songs (especially "Spin"), I don't think I would have been into her subsequent work if she'd continued in this direction. Though the Stargazer demos that appeared as bonus tracks on the rerelease of Album didn't really prepare me for the scope of the actual Stargazer album, so it may be that these songs aren't that representative of what a completed album would have sounded like.

I love this album far too much to rate it any less than four stars - but again, is this prog? I think you could put a good argument for the title track and "Dowie Dens of Yarrow" - and *maybe* "Lonely King" or "Odyssey", although I think that's drawing a longer bow - but I'm not so sure the argument can be made for the album as a whole.

[Since I've been prosecuting the "if-Shelagh-is-here-Joni-should-be-here-too" argument on the forums: In answer to the example of "Stargazer", I would submit "Judgement of the Moon and Stars", "Let The Wind Carry Me", the studio version of "Shadows And Light", and "Paprika Plains". In answer to the example of "Dowie Dens of Yarrow", I would submit "Slouching Towards Bethlehem"]

 Album by MCDONALD, SHELAGH album cover Studio Album, 1970
3.08 | 3 ratings

Shelagh McDonald Prog Folk

Review by sl75

3 stars Generally, if asked to describe Shelagh by way of comparison to other artists, I'd probably say she's like Joni Mitchell crossed with Sandy Denny, but with a richer singing voice than either. On this first album though, she reminds me mostly of Judy Collins. The comparison is partly vocal - their voices have a very similar timbre - but it's also to do with the arrangements, the mix of repertoire, and how those choices affect her singing performance.

On this album, 5 of the 11 tracks are covers - one a traditional song, and four by other singer-songwriters - leaving 5 of her own compositions (one recorded twice in two very different arrangements. Generally speaking, the cover songs are weaker than Shelagh's own compositions. For all of them, she uses a pickup band, whose performances often veer dangerously towards vapid country-tinged soft rock, especially on the penultimate "You Know You Can't Lose' (the worst track), and to a lesser extent "Richmond". Her vocal performances on these tracks always maintain a beautiful tone and line, but lack the same emotional connection as on her own material. Both characteristics (the band arrangements, and the beautiful but emotionally distant vocals) remind me of Judy's work, except that Judy always chose stronger material to cover. I am however a fan of "Waiting For The Wind To Rise", stronger band and vocal performances lifted by some excellent jazz piano (apparently from Keith Tippett? my CD edition has no musician credits). I also except the traditional song "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" from such criticism - here she accompanies herself with her own excellent guitar, and delivers what may be the definitive performance of this song.

Her own songs are generally much stronger. She uses the band only once - for "Mirage", which is distinguished by it's vibes solo. Elsewhere, Nick Drake's arranger Robert Kirby orchestrates two of her compositions, "Ophelia's Song" and "Peacock Lady" - the effect again reminiscent of some of Judy Collins' work in the mid 60s. I'm lukewarm on these orchestrations - I prefer the second, self-accompanied version of "Ophelia's Song". Otherwise, she accompanies herself on guitar, or piano on "Crusoe", and proves herself a particularly deft guitarist especially on "Silk And Leather". Most importantly, she really sings these songs, without that sense of detachment

I have the CD re-release, which adds 8 bonus tracks - the compilation track "Jesus Is Just Alright", which I find completely jarring (a go-nowhere rock track where Shelagh doesn't even sound like herself), and seven demos for songs which were mostly included on the subsequent Stargazer album. In all honesty, I prefer the bonus tracks to most of the original album. One track didn't make it to Stargazer, "What More Can I Say" - probably left out because of some heavy-handed lyrics in a couple of the verses, but I love this song a lot. Her early Joni Mitchell influences are very strong in the guitar songs - similar use of tunings, picking style, and preference for pedal point chord progressions, and similar melodic tropes (particularly Joni's fondness for the falling minor 6th at phrase endings or other key moments). There is also a piano-only demo of her transcedent "Stargazer". Though I don't know why we needed the 'false start' as a separate track.

I feel guilty only giving this three stars, because in the short time I've known Shelagh's music I've really come to adore her -but this is definitely the weaker of her two original albums. Moreover, given that this is a prog site, I'm not really sure that anything here really counts as prog?

Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the artist addition.

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