Country of origin:
Type of music generally:
Folk rock, blues, country, traditional. Most recent work is occasionally bluesy folk rock.
Most recent release, Raven Girl (covers, 2016)
Carol Noonan's site
The Ectophiles' Guide entry for Knots and Crosses, a band that Carol Noonan was part of.
I'm kind of put in mind of late-era Swimming Pool Q's/Anne Richmond Boston. Also hints of the British folk tradition á la June Tabor and Sandy Denny. (7/02, neal)
American traditionals, cowboys songs, covers, and own material
I've really been enjoying Carol's music over the years (originally the lead singer of Knots and Crosses), she released 3 excellent albums on Philo/Rounder before being dropped. She's now self-released two albums, one of mostly traditional songs with a few originals, the other mostly originals with a few traditional songs. She has a lovely trad folk voice, maybe slightly reminiscent of Sandy Denny or some of the other folk revival singers from that time.
Carol's albums are little gems. Without flash or extraneous flourishes, she covers a lot of ground without sounding scattered or disjointed. Maybe it's because the stylistic excursions don't wander too far from a traditional folk center, or perhaps it's just that they are all linked together by her lovely and expressive voice. Plus, she always surrounds herself with excellent musicians who flesh out the tunes quite nicely.
Carol is a song interpreter like some of the great British folk singers, though she is an American and tends to focus her attention more on traditional American songs. And while she does a fine job with that, it's really singing her own songs where she shines. She's got a clear, pure voice, and her songs have a powerful immediacy. One thing that has always elevated Carol's albums is the fact that she surrounds herself with excellent musicians who beautifully complement her music. It's amazing that she has kept these people around for so long supporting her largely independent and underappreciated career. (6/02, neal)
1998: Carol Noonan now has three albums under her name, all on Rounder: Absolution, Noonan Building & Wrecking, and The Only Witness. Around the time of Noonan Building & Wrecking, the name changed to "Carol Noonan Band", but she doesn't really have a band exactly, more like a rotating cast of highly skilled musicians who are all playing with other artists. Recently she's been touring with her core two band members as the "Carol Noonan Trio". These two are Paul Bryan and Kevin Barry. The rotating cast includes Tom West, Duke Levine, Ben Wittman, and sometimes a backup singer Carol knows from the restaurant they both work at in Maine, whose name I forget.
I'd have to call the music "folk-rock", but when I try to describe it by analogy I can never think of other folk-rock acts to compare to. What comes to mind most often is Groovasaurus, a Boston-based 6-person rock band. It's not that Carol sounds like Anita Suhanin, although both of them have distinctive and powerful voices. It's more that Carol's vocals sound like the guitar & bass grooves of Groovasaurus. Even with just the trio, she fills the venue with her voice and it's another world. The instruments blend in and reinforce the effect, but the voice is what dominates, and the voice is "on" for almost the entire song sometimes. The overall effect is somewhat eery and ethereal, I think, and quite absorbing.
One of the other reasons that Carol Noonan reminds me of Groovasaurus is her sense of timing. Her "Train Song" and Groovasaurus' "Accident" are two of my favorite songs ever, largely for this reason. They build up slowly and steadily, up a little, down a little, faster, repeat the pattern... It's like classical music. The timing is just right, and very satisfying. Afterwards, just about any other band I listen to sounds impatient & hurried. (Even Groovasaurus' latest
album, actually :)
Carol Noonan's songwriting is mostly on dark & depressing themes. Lots of breakup songs, but none of them cliche. She's Irish Catholic, from a family of Irish Catholics in Maine, and that shows in the religious overtones of a few songs (none preachy, though), and the celtic traditionals she sometimes covers—usually the more haunting ones, and sometimes done a capella.
Of the three Carol Noonan albums, my favorite is still Absolution. However, it's not the one I'd recommend as a starter. It's the least varied of her albums, most of the songs sound very similar—they just happen to be my favorite of her styles :) To start with, I'd recommend her second album, Noonan Building & Wrecking. It's got what I think is her best song yet, "The Ballad of Brownfield" (it's based on an actual triple-murder which happened in her hometown). If you like "Ballad of Brownfield", "Come Up For Air", and "Creatures of Habit" (the latter two are Knots and Crosses songs) then proceed backwards: get Absolution, and get Creatures of Habit by Knots and Crosses. If you like "Getty", "Comes in Waves", and "Leaving on Your Mind", proceed forward and get The Only Witness next.
One minor modification to the above review: I said that if you like "Ballad of Brownfield" that indicates you should work backwards, to Absolution and the Knots and Crosses stuff. I've changed my mind. I think liking "Ballad of Brownfield" points towards getting her newest
album, The Only Witness. (06/98, email@example.com)
Recommended first album:
Wide on release
Recommended for Carol Noonan fans
Carol Noonan—vocals, acoustic guitar
Kevin Barry—acoustic & electric guitar
Paul Bryan—electric bass, backing vocals
Duke Levine—electric guitar, mandolin, lap steel
Tom West—Hammond organ
Martin Sexton—backing vocals
Carol Noonan used to be in a wonderful country-folk-rock band from Peaks Island, Maine, called Knots and Crosses. They put out two great albums, then went their separate ways. Absolution is okay, but the lyrics are a bit too overtly Christian for me. She has since moved to the Boston area, and now has another band (The Carol Noonan Band) and a new album that sounds just like the old Knots and Crosses. She has a wonderfully powerful voice, but the songwriting isn't particularly outstanding. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Absolution was everything I liked about Knots and Crosses, but better! And it even had some of my old favorites from Knots and Crosses, songs which Carol had written for the band. (06/98, email@example.com)
(as the Carol Noonan Band)
Wide on release
Kevin Barry—electric and acoustic guitar
Paul Bryan—electric bass, backing vocals, fretless bass
Duke Levine—electric guitar, mandola, mandolin, backpacker guitar, slide guitar, baritone electric guitar
Tom West—Hammond organ, piano
Ben Wittman—drums, percussion
Ray Green—backup vocals
Chris Rival and The Carol Noonan Band
This album seems more bluesy/folk-rocky, more driving, than her later offerings. It contains mostly original tunes with one traditional song and two covers (one that appears to be by the Indigo Girls). The most traditional-sounding song is an original murder ballad, while the traditional "Kitchen Girl" gets a harder-edged workout. Of course, she still manages to include "Going Under", a plaintive piano-centric ballad of an uneven relationship (a pretty regular topic) that is as hauntingly beautiful as anything she has recorded. (7/02, neal)
(as the Carol Noonan Band)
Wide on release
Carol Noonan—lead and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, piano
Kevin Barry—acoustic and electric guitars
Paul Bryan—bass, synthesizer, Wurlitzer electric piano, chamberlain, optigan, vibes, backing vocals
Jay Bellerose—drums and percussion
Mike Deneen—synthesizer, Rhodes electric piano, Hammond organ
Bill Janovitz—backing vocal
The same mix of songs as on the last album: 7 originals, 2 covers and a traditional song. The production is punchier though, which makes the instrumentation sharper and the stylistic variations more distinct. This is a generally melancholy album, full of songs of lost love, broken relationships and even a suicide. But it's not a depressing album to listen to. The vignettes are well-imagined (it's easy to imagine "Steadfast" appearing on a Natalie Merchant solo album) and cover a full spectrum of folk, pop, country and folkrock. (7/02, neal)
1999—Noonan Music, 695 Dugway, Brownfield, Maine 04010
Available on web site
Highly recommended to people with an ear for folk.
Carol Noonan—vocals, acoustic guitar, roxy organ
Merrie Amsterburg—backing vocals, glockenspiel
Kevin Barry—acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric sitar, nylon string
Jay Bellerose — drums, percussion, udu
Paul Bryan—bass, electric piano, synthesizer, chamberlin, hammond, clarinet, percussion, bass pedals
Frank Gallagher—viola, violin, low whistles
Gerry Leonard—guitars, loops
Duke Levine—electric guitar, nylon guitar, baritone guitar, mandolin, mandola
I'm always happy when I can enthusiastically recommend the latest work by an artist and say it is the best thing they have done yet. I'm not really sure what makes this album stand out for me. After listening to her older albums, it doesn't sound wildly different. Just...more. More powerful. More haunting. And, of course, the usual mix of covers and originals, all tastefully arranged and passionately sung. Her song "Lost Soul" is one of the most mournful I have heard in ages. (The chorus goes "Somewhere I lost my heart. Somewhere I lost my soul.") (8/02, neal)
2001—Noonan Music, 695 Dugway, Brownfield, Maine 04010
Available on web site
For fans of either the musician or the music.
Carol Noonan—vocals, acoustic guitar, dobro, hammond, little Jeannie Blake's accordian
Kevin Barry—nylon string, 12 string, acoustic guitars, back packer, electric mandolin
Paul Bryan—bass, chamberlin, hammond, orchestron, piano
Duke Levine—electric guitars, mandolin, electric mandolin, guitorgan, national guitar, lap steel
Dennis Brennen—backing vocals
Gerry Leonard—electric guitar, drone
Paul Bryan and Chris Rival
In recent years, a number of artists have released cover albums (notably Tori Amos and Emm Gryner), and several have even released albums full of traditional material they enjoyed as kids. Carol Noonan's Big Iron belongs on the shelf in between Kristin Hersh's murder, misery and then goodnight and Jane Siberry's Hush. The similarities with Jane's album are most striking, as both contain versions of "Streets of Laredo" and "Shenandoah". Carol throws together 8 traditional "cowboy" songs, adds two stylistically and topically similar originals, and revives and recasts "Unknown Thing" (originally on the Carol Noonan Band's 1997 release The Only Witness) as a Sept 11 elegy.
Carol's treatments sound nothing like Jane's, and are interesting in their own right. Her typically excellent band adds lots of tasty flavors, and some of the arrangements are strikingly different in detail to the ones I knew as a kid. Her original tunes blend right in and could easily be lost cowboy classics. But when it's all said and done, these albums are never the first choice if you want to introduce someone to the artists. If I really did put all these CDs together on a shelf, I'd be far more likely to visit the rest of the artists' catalogs then revisit these offerings. They are fine when they're on, but they don't lure me back like the best of their work does. (5/02, neal)
Thanks to neal for work on this entry.