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Oh Susanna | Johnstown, Pa (Stella)
When the South Fork Dam in the town of Johnstown, Pa burst on May 31 1889, it caused a flood that killed more than 2000 people. Although only overtly referred to in one song - the title track's tale of the murder of a prostitute - this tragedy acts as the thread which ties the songs of Johnstown, PA together. For this, her second release, Toronto's Oh Susanna (aka Suzie Ungerleider) has assembled twelve ill-starred stories of death and devastation that see her continuing her blend of overwrought folk music with an eye on the past. Referring to her music as "songs of distress" on stage recently, Oh, Susanna probably came as near as damn it to hitting the nail on the head, this is folk music without any of the coffee house delicacy or crybaby tweeness, as she mines the seam of sinister stories that every grandparent has hidden away. The blues of You'll Always Be showcases the purity of her voice as it soars high into the chorus, along with Alabaster, where she sings to a circling arpeggio: "love you so much so the only thing that you remember is what it's like to be in love with me." But there's a feeling that if Oh, Susanna could just cast aside the overt musicianliness of Johnstown, Pa and encapsulate the bare intensity of her live shows we'd be left with something really special.
CWAS #6 - Autumn 2000