Sing Out! August 2009

Sing Out! Magazine
August 2009
Review by Rich Warren
Maria Dunn
The Peddler

Maria Dunn launches into this CD no-holds-barred with the rollicking “Katie Comes a-Callin’.” The McDades, a lively and talented band from Alberta, accompany her in this lively tune about a burst of sunshine into a cloudy life. Were it not for a line about not answering the telephone, it could easily be mistaken for a traditional tune. The remainder of the 10 songs on this CD tend toward the more serious and somber. Producer Shannon Johnson, Dunn’s longtime friend and violin accompanist, masterfully produced this CD, imbuing it with a strong Celtic flavor, but with Dunn’s own sensibility as well. Unlike many contemporary singer-songwriters, Dunn looks outside of herself for material and finds it aplenty–from a Mary Russell novel to contemporary politics. Perhaps the most powerful song confronts the listener on the second track. After lowering defenses with “Katie,” Dunn delivers the knockout with “The Peddler,” who is peddling war. With this song, she poetically excoriates those who sell war. The song seems inspired by a particular American former president. In “Tell Her I Was Brave,” she takes the persona of the soldier trying to explain war to his lover at home with the beseeching final line, “Just tell them we were brave.” She explores love, not the romantic kind, in “You Cant Take That Away,” a song about losing a beloved sister. “Signal Hill” tells the story of a man who leaves home to earn a living in the oil fields, but realizes that living humbly on the land you love is worth more than a paycheck. Dunn writes historical narratives that easily convince you they’re stories about real people and not characters she’s invented. In the case of “Chavala, Eva,” the person is real, a Polish Jew who immigrates to Canada in 1922. Dunn’s songs resonate like traditional material. She’s assured, strong, and her versatile voice carries her songs straight to the head and heart, while Johnson’s arrangements infuse them with a taste of tradition and authenticity. Dunn has a real voice, and she can sing forcefully or gently. This is an interesting CD in the most positive sense. While in some contexts that may be faint praise, in the case of The Peddler, it’s a bold compliment. Perhaps some of Dunn’s songs will sneak into the tradition over the years. That’s the highest compliment of all.