Walking Into White is the fourth solo album from Sarah McQuaid. To record it, she travelled from her adopted home in Cornwall, England, to the small town of Cornwall, New York, USA, in order to work with co-producers Jeremy Backofen and Sarah’s cousin Adam Pierce.
Coming from outside the folk world and having never worked with Sarah before, Adam and Jeremy found and nurtured the raw edge and intensity that’s always been present in her live performances, while their occasionally unorthodox recording methods (a mini-cassette recorder mounted on a microphone stand, for example) bring out a striking intimacy and immediacy in both her vocals and her guitar sound. Walking Into White is by far the most personal and emotional album Sarah has made to date.
Three of the songs take their inspiration from Arthur Ransome’s classic Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books. The title track uses the arresting image of two children lost in a moorland fog as an allegory for the sensation of stumbling blindly through life; in “The Tide”, a mud-bound sailboat becomes a portrait of a marriage, while “Where The Wind Decides To Blow” performs a similar transfiguration on a homemade sailing sled sent hurtling across a frozen lake by an unexpected blizzard.
In “Yellowstone”, a young boy’s obsession with the spectre of volcanic apocalypse sparks a rumination on the buried terrors that haunt us all: “I know I’m not the only one / To fear the ground I tread upon / Volcano’s of all kinds / Torment our minds,” Sarah sings almost meditatively over a samba rhythm delicately embellished by Adam’s cajón and Dan Lippel’s classical guitar.
“Jackdaws Rising” takes the form of a three-part round, with Sarah’s lyrics and vocal melodies overlapping in counterpoint to a guitar instrumental composed by her friends Pete Coleman and Clare Hines. The other two parts are sung by Adele Schulz (who also contributes beautiful harmonies on “The Tide”) and Sarah’s manager and touring sound engineer, Martin Stansbury. Sarah, Martin, Adam and Jeremy all supply the stomps and handclaps that punctuate this 4/4 song in 5/4 time – a brain-tickling polyrhythm that was one of many ideas introduced by Adam.
Other guest musicians include Gareth Flowers, whose soaring trumpet brings the upbeat single “The Silver Lining” to a stirring climax (he also duets with Sarah on the title song), cellist Kivie Cahn-Lipman (“Where The Wind Decides To Blow” and Sarah’s evocative guitar instrumental “I Am Grateful For What I Have”), and pianist Rob King (“The Tide”). Jeremy plays bass on “The Silver Lining”, and Adam pitches in on a plethora of instruments. On the album opener “Low Winter Sun”, he uses an electric guitar and an early 1980s synthesizer to create a wash of sound that acts as foil and underpinning for Sarah’s acoustic guitar rendition of a church bell peal; elsewhere, he plays everything from the aforementioned cajón to drums, tambourine, bass, vibraphones and air organ (this last item is also played by Martin to fine effect on Sarah’s setting of the early 20th century hymn “Canticle Of The Sun/All Creatures Of Our God And King”).
Rounding out the album are “Leave It For Another Day”, co-written by Sarah with Gerry O’Beirne, who produced all three of her previous solo recordings; “Sweetness And Pain”, an a cappella song split into three parts that serve as brief interludes between the other tracks; and a cover of Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”.
Walking Into White from Sarah McQuaid is released on the 2nd of February 2015.