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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

CD Review: Sheila Mac Donald

Regular followers of this blog might be surprised to see this CD review, since I don't regularly write about Folk music. But the fact is that I listen to all kinds of music, and at earlier stages in my life as a guitarist I accompanied and performed widely in Rock, Jazz, C&W, and Folk venues.

This review is of a new Folk CD released in January of this year by Boston-based independent recording artist Sheila Mac Donald. The album is titled This Way. She is a songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist.

Mac Donald's new CD is comprised of interesting and mysterious songs with lyrics that hint at harsh realities and matters of personal loss. Yet, at least on the surface, the songs transcend the ordinary to provide a rare insight into the human experience.

(photo by Karen Holland)

There is a high degree of imagination, fantasy, and wisdom in Mac Donald's lyrics. She writes and sings from the heart, even though at times her songs seem deeply philosophical, metaphorical, abstract, or even pensive and dark.

Musically, the melodies and accompaniment are spirited, joyful, and very pleasant to listen to. Mac Donald's songs have a simplicity and honest quality that's clearly hard-earned and rings true. It's hard not to tune into and receive the bittersweet message that this artist portrays in her album of songs.

Her song "The Blue" is a song about workplace imprisonment. It reflects on the psychological mindset of a creative person eking out a living while working in retail. It is a song that I can fully understand and sympathize with.

Mac Donald was born and raised in Quincy, MA, and hails from a combination of Irish and Scottish heritage (her paternal grandparents were from Nova Scotia). This Celtic ancestry can be heard in some of her songs - particularly "Bare Branches" and "Burning Slow" - which have an explicit Irish sound. But the songs are also quite contemporary and individual.

When I inquired about the genesis of her music, Mac Donald provided the following bit of information, "Most of the 14 songs are recent but I pulled some out of the notebooks that were older. I wrote Sarah and Sandra in 1993, Grazna, and Burning Slow in 1998."

Mac Donald has composed many songs, and recorded several of her works for Fast Folk Musical Magazine (organized by Jack Hardy in the early 90s and available on Smithsonian Folkways). Her song "Night Bird's Song" was covered at a Fast Folk Live at the Bottom Line show in NYC and recorded on CD. Mac Donald's "My Wallet" was included on the Chill Out East Coast Edition, Vol. 10 compilation CD (2008).

This Way
is Mac Donald's first full length CD. It was recorded, engineered, and mixed at blue fish sound productions in Marblehead, MA. Mac Donald collaborated with some of Boston's finest musicians on this album, which was skillfully produced and arranged by Raymond Gonzalez. Gonzalez plays guitar, bass, mandolin, and keyboards on many of the tracks. Violinist Pam Kuras joins them for two tracks with her Celtic sounding violin playing. The CD is professionally mastered by Toby Mountain at Northeastern Digital, in Southborough, MA.

Mac Donald's training includes formal academic studies in music and composition at Brandeis University in the 1980s. At Brandeis, she was awarded two of the music department's most prestigious awards: the Remis and Reiner. She studied composition, counterpoint, harmony, and music theory. I once had her as a student myself. Her avant-garde musical compositions from that period include a wonderful but edgy atonal solo violin work that was performed in concert. But it is in Folk music that she has found her true voice.

Mac Donald is a member of ASCAP.


"This Way" can be purchased directly on CD Baby at: or from iTunes

The Artist's MySpace page provides more information about the singer/songwriter as well as ways to purchase the CD by mail:

Information about Mac Donald's Folkways recording: