Susan Crowe,
A Pilgrim's Mirror
(Corvus Records, 1999)

With her vibrant spine-tingling voice, intelligent introspective lyrics and melodies which reflect an impressive array of musical traditions and styles, Susan Crowe has to be a soul sister to Anna and Kate McGarrigle. The ten original songs on her third album, A Pilgrim's Mirror, are like a chain of precious stones, each individually beautiful, yet all fitting together flawlessly.

The first track, "Our Love's Return," is a poignant bittersweet song about the turns a relationship takes, and the complexity of her poetry is revealed in lines such as "As we lie waiting for our love's return." It seems a simple statement, but there are so many nuances within it that it makes you stop and think about the words. "The First Lean Night in June" continues the bittersweet tone, but this time with a touch of resigned wryness. As the moon disappears and the sun rises, the song reveals far more than it tells.

Crowe's frailing banjo and John Reischman's mandolin underscore urgently the haunting ballad-like "Amalia," in which the narrator mourns a friend lost to suicide. Again, the lyrics are fraught with multiple meanings: "I think about a long lost friend" and "Amalia stays the same." The song is haunting, and its narrative is powerful for both the story and for what flows beneath its surface.

Crowe shifts to a more wistful tone in "Remembering Me," which reflects on a past love and whether s/he remembers the singer. The waltz tempo, Calvin Vollrath's slightly mournful fiddle and Reischman's mandolin mesh beautifully, and the sentiments of the lyrics ring true. "Do You Linger" is about a relationship that is falling apart and asks the unanswerable questions about what is happening. Her images are precise and telling, beginning with the opening lines: "When and where and why / Does a star slip from the sky" and the recurring line "Do you linger faithlessly" speaks volumes. Gwenn Swick's harmonies add subtle dimension to the deceptively simple melody.

The bright sound of the frailing banjo and Vollrath's smooth rich fiddle introduce the cautionary "I Was Handsome, I Was Young," which warns of the pitfalls of love. Geoffrey Kelly's bodhran is a nice touch anchoring the merry melody written solidly in the folk tradition. Crowe carries the folk sound into "The Other Side," a philosophical song about acceptance of death and anticipation of crossing over to a better place. The melody is appealing, an optimistic and hopeful folk hymn. "Chained" shifts gears to a more contemporary sound with lyrics again rich in metaphor.

Just the title of the brief "When the Day is Over" is reminiscent of a prayer or hymn, and that's exactly how the lyrics read, and Crowe's unadorned honey-rich voice paired with Michael Creber's piano, Gwen Swick's harmony vocals and Geoffrey Kelly's mournful wild whistle, the song is achingly lovely.

The bittersweet tone returns in the closing track, "You Might Care to Know," which evokes poignantly resigned images and feelings. The song brings the CD to an emotionally and musically satisfying close.

This is a remarkably polished album, at once intensely personal and universal. Crowe chooses her images and words carefully and sparingly, and her music is composed with equally tight cohesiveness. Apparently, Crowe is making a name for herself in the Canadian music scene, and after listening to this CD, it's easy to see why. A Pilgrim's Mirror is definitely worth seeking out.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Check out her Web site.