Sue Pyper,
Before You Learn to Fly
(self-produced, 2002)

Not since a good friend popped an Indigo Girls tape into my Walkman back in the late 1980s have I been as pleasantly surprised by a folk musician as I was by Sue Pyper. Oh, there have been individual songs that I've liked, technical prowess that has impressed, and voices that have wowed, but for overall musical tone, subject diversity and lyrical interest, Pyper wins hands down.

Originally from London, England, Pyper grew up in a decidedly nonmusical family. Her father was a telephone engineer and her mother a nanny. Pyper herself had no intention of becoming a musician, although she taught herself to play the guitar and sang for fun. She studied art in college and went on to build a successful career for herself in communications and photography. But at age 27, something clicked. She quit her job, traveled the world and returned to the UK having made the decision to pursue singing full time. She now makes her home in Canada, where she has built a large and devoted following.

The influences on Pyper's music are apparent the moment she opens her mouth -- John Denver, Joni Mitchell and Nancy Griffith all come to mind with a healthy dose of Celtic influence thrown in for good measure. Followers of folk and country music will recognize songwriters such as Mary Chapin Carpenter ("This Shirt") and Nancy Griffith ("Love at the Five and Dime"), amongst the titles on the CD, but it's in her own music and lyrics that Pyper really shines. In "Before You Learn to Fly," she touches on the power of the individual to create and shape life. On another and very different note that demonstrates her versatility, "Highland Clearance" is about the love of homeland and a people's struggle to survive.

Pyper's voice is rich, clear and versatile. When she hits a note she does so with ease and precision. Moreover, the vocal and musical accompaniments are simple and supportive, designed to complement Pyper's voice rather than compete with it. The acoustic guitar handles most of the backup, with occasional help from cello, flute, violin and drums. The songs themselves are diverse, ranging from Scottish ballads and bawdy folk tunes to country-western and quasi-new age songs.

Best of all, she is that rare performer who is capable of bringing you to tears one moment and startling you into laughter the next. This is the total package, folks, and it's presented with the ease of a consummate pro.

- Rambles
written by by Jena Ball
published 20 September 2003

[ visit the artist's website ]