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Oh Susanna


Country of origin:

Canada

Type of music generally:

Contemporary country-folk with rock, pop, and blues inflections

Status:

Most recent release, A Girl in Teen City (2017)

See also:

Oh Susanna's site

Comparisons:

Maria McKee; has earned comparisons to Gillian Welch and Caitlin Cary

Covers/own material:

Own

General comments:

Early this year, I picked up Sleepy Little Sailor on a lark, which was followed almost immediately by Johnstown once I figured out how much I adore Oh Susanna. One of these days I'll manage to find a copy of her first EP. I really should have known to do this sooner, based on the fact that "Williamsburg Bridge," which features Suzie Ungerleider, is one of my favorite songs on Veda Hille's You Do Not Live in This World Alone.
     Perhaps if I had seen one of the Scrappy Bitches shows, it wouldn't have taken me nearly so long to become obsessed with Oh Susanna. What great stuff. Definitely on the twangy country side of things, but there's a strong blues/r&b component too. She's rather reminiscent of Maria McKee, so if you like that sort of thing (and I'm thinking particularly of You've Gotta Sin to be Saved), then you should probably check out Oh Susanna. And vice versa. (burka@jeffrey.net)

I know Suzie isn't very popular on this list but she is undeniably talented and she has a couple of less-twangy songs now that are genuinely good. (kamesan@geocities.com)

Comments about live performance:

after catching her for a 30 min set last week in toronto, popped into her edinburgh, scotland gig (not that I am following her around or anything...just turns out our schedules matched)...she was quite excellent hearing her with full band backing..."alabaster" was stunning :). One of the best concerts of the year. (11/03, gordoja@optonline.net)

From the Scrappy Bitches Tour: Veda Hille, Kinnie Starr, and O Susanna.

O Susanna ("Lass-o Susanna") was the last up. I wish I could say that I found new things to appreciate this time and that I enjoyed her set as much as I had Veda Hille's and Kinnie Starr's, but I can't, appearances by Bitches #1 and 2 in supporting roles notwithstanding. She seems talented and I like her voice but I guess she's a bit too country for me. (c. 1999)
     Suzie went on first, and with the first two songs she utterly shocked me by playing songs I really liked. Could this be the country artist who bored me first on Veda's tour and then on the Scrappy Bitch tour? There was not a hint of country in those first two terrific songs. After that though she settled into that familiar old boring western twang and reaffirmed my distaste for her music. One highlight of her show though was bringing up Sarah Slean to accompany her on one of her songs. The huge audience was extremely quiet and attentive throughout. (kamesan@geocities.com)

oh susanna finished up this evening. i imagine that i'll be losing ecto-cred by saying so, but i liked her set too. her doom and gloom country folk may not be an appropriate closer and her guitar skills may be lacking but, for some reason, i like what she does. the combination of her powerful voice and stark, simple guitar playing gets under my skin. plus, i have to admire someone who has the gall to follow Kinnie Starr and Veda Hille, knowing full well that most of the people she is playing to are not going to react favorably and not giving a flying fuck. eat your heart out johnny rotten—oh susanna is way more punk than thou! (woj@smoe.org)

Although folky country isn't exactly my favorite genre, I was entertained by Oh Susanna—partly because her songs were dark and moody. I wouldn't mind seeing her again live. (stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

the three of them did some really silly bickering as part of the whole scrappy bitch thing, which was a lot of fun. oh susannah is... well, not to my taste, as i knew from last time. pretty country. (damon)

Susanna did a short 40 minute set of her songs. I was unfamiliar with her work, but will be keeping an eye out for her in the future. Her beautiful voice was accompanied by her own acoustic guitar playing, and on a few songs by Veda Hille on piano and vocals, and Kinnie Starr on vocals. Her songs all seemed to have a heavy "western" mood that fit well with the almost country-ish style of her vocals. (drewh@bitwise.com)

I wasn't a fan of hers either, until I went to see Sarah Slean perform and Sarah and Suzie performed as well (the SarahO'Sarah tour! :), and she was actually really good...I was impressed. :) Definitely worth checking out, I think. (Songbird22@aol.com)

Recommended first album:

Sleepy Little Sailor

Recordings:


Johnstown

Release info:

1999—Nettwerk—0 6700 30313 2 5

Availability:

Wide on release in Canada

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Suzie Ungerleider—Stella, Simon & Patrick guitar, 1953 Gibson J50, 1944 Johnny Cash Martin, Silvertone, high strung Seagull, tambourine, banjo, vocals

Guest artists:

Joel Anderson—'78 Gretsch kit
Bazil Donovan—upright bass, '64 Fender P-Bass, '63 Hofner Beatle bass
Bob Egan—1958 Les Paul Junior, Hammertone guitar-mandolin, lap steel, pedal steel, Harley Davidson Chrome Stratocaster, '63 Fender Telecaster, National Resophonic, Greenfield Canadian Hawaiian hollow-neck guitar
Veda Hille—stage piano, Fender Rhodes piano, classical piano, Hammond B3 organ, vocals, whispers
Kinnie Starr—vocals
Anne Lindsay—violin
Rob Phillipp—sitar, 1953 Gibson J50
Peter Moore—temple bells

Produced by:

Peter J. Moore

Comments:

Just received a new CD that may be of interest to some of you. It's the new album by Oh Susanna (aka Suzie Ungerlieder) titled Johnstown on Stella Records in Canada.
     I know we have many Veda Hille & Kinnie Starr fans who saw Suzie on the trio's Scrappy Bitches Tour last year. Although Oh Susanna was mentioned the least of the three on Ecto, she's the one that interested me the most, personally. I really enjoy her dark, blues-influenced writing & I particularly like her voice.
     I've been following her development for several years now & I'm extremely impressed with this new album. For those few already familiar with her, this new album consists of much of the same material on her indie cassette from last year titled "A Shot Of Oh Susanna". The big difference is that all those (& additional songs) are now more developed & feature augmented arrangements of most of the songs, where that cassette release was primarily solo acoustic.
     Also of interest to many of you, is that Veda Hille is prominent as the keyboard player on many of these tracks.
     This CD is likely impossible to find here in the states, but I suspect it's available easily in Canada. (ABershaw@aol.com)

I heard a few snippets of this a couple weekends ago, while visiting a Canadian friend who had it with her. And it actually sounded interesting! It's no secret that I was no fan of Oh Susanna after seeing her on the Scrappy Bitch Tour, but it sounds like she knows more than three guitar chords in the studio at least, and she really does have a nice voice. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open for this.
     Veda Hille's also credited with backing vocals on the track I heard, but I couldn't hear her anywhere. Her piano additions seemed on first glance to be really good, though. (meth@smoe.org)


Sleepy Little Sailor

Release info:

2001—Catamount—CCR 008

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Suzie Ungerleider—electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals

Guest artists:

Joel Anderson—drums, tambourine
Bazil Donovan—upright bass, bass
Luke Doucet—electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar, vocals
Anne Lindsay—violin
Alex McMaster—cello
Bob Packwood—grand piano, Hammond B3 organ
Colin Cripps—electric guitar, tambourine, mandolin-guitar

Produced by:

Colin Cripps

Comments:

In my opinion her best, and a bit of a coming of age album. (dlw@sympatico.ca)

Disturbing Americana with a nautical theme, sometimes overwhelmingly beautiful; one of my favourites of the year but if you don't like her earlier stuff you won't like this one!
     Perhaps begin with the melodies, because they are exquisite, and once you have heard the lyrics you'll find it hard to detach your unease from the pure beauty of the music. Oh Susanna (Suzie Ungerleider) is a storytelling singer in the old ballad form and often crafts her tales to unfold gently through the song, and then twist you tightly at the unexpected end.
     In the vein of the classic "Alabaster" from earlier lp Johnstown, are "Sleepy little sailor" and "Forever at your feet." These are both co-written with bassist Bazil Donovan (who's he?) and are among the most beautiful and swoonsome melodically. The former brushes your consciousness so delicately with its sighing melody, brush-tipped drums-sticks, stately upright bass and lyrics which lull you in like a lullaby, then shake you awake when you understand the unhealthy love this now-grown philandering sailor has for his mother. "Forever at your feet" sways gently through its years of unmet devotion, and the strings, piano and upright bass hold the beauty up so gracefully. Similarly gorgeous is "Beauty boy", a song of misbegotten worship and self-degradation. "St. Patrick's Day" is built around plucking waves of a mandolin and regrets a lost love.
     Other songs are more of heartland/folk/Americana, such as "All that remains" is the ballad, almost legend, of someone sea-born, torn from their near-slave mother and her shame, now on land and overcoming the beckoning limbs of a tree ("come, my child, hang from me") with their resolve that "you can't be no saint, no sinner, no lamb, when the devil himself says you ain't worth a damn, but you can live without fear of damnation's reign, and fight till what's right is all that remains." Also taking this line musically are the lovely single "River Blue", and "Sacrifice", which reveals the narrator's unreasonable nature slowly.
     The louder guitar songs "Kings road" and "Ted's so wasted" are fine, just not as stunning as the delicate pieces. "Ride on" has a strong western Johnstown feeling. The only song I don't care for is "I've got dreams to remember", an Otis Redding cover. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

This has been in heavy rotation lately. If you liked her before, you'll probably love this most recent album. I've enjoyed all her past releases, but they all had a demo-like feel to them. Although that has been part of her charm, Suzie U takes everything up a big notch on this and does it quite successfully, in my opinion. (ABershaw@aol.com)


Oh Susanna

Release info:

2003—Nettwerk—0 6700 30336 2 6

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Suzie Ungerleider—guitar, vocals

Guest artists:

Joel Anderson—drums, percussion
Colin Cripps—guitars, melodica, vocals
Bazil Donovan—bass
Luke Doucet—guitars, vocals
Travis Good—guitars, fiddle, vocals
Bob Packwood—piano
Kathleen Edwards—vocals
Cam Giroux—vocals
Richard Underhill—alto saxophone, horn arrangement
Bryden Baird—trumpet
Stephen Donald—trombone
Chris Gale—baritone saxophone
Cy Scobie—string arrangement
Rebecca van der Post—violin
Lynn Kuo—violin
Javier Portero—viola
Meran Currie—Roberts—cello

Produced by:

Colin Cripps

Comments:

Strong album, often funky and soulful in a '70s way. One of my fav albums of the year. You can make it through this album without feeling overly disturbed. There aren't any of the more intimate and affecting explorations of pathetic-ness that Suzie Ungerleider excels in. Instead, 'The One' is purdy and uplifting. 'The Fall' doesn't celebrate the degradation of love as it could on her other albums; instead, "I had fallen so deep that my tongue had tasted the stars." 'Zoe' has a birthday tantrum in her delicate song, and no-one dies. 'I'll keep it with mine' bubbles with more emotions than the touching surface requires, and nods a head to the songwriter Dylan with a harmonica. When Oh Susanna uses the form of traditional murder ballads, they are safe in their gestures and historicism (like this album's 'Down by the quarry'). Ok, she sings "I'll cut off your limbs and bury your body at sea", but that's returning to right the remains of a failed dreamer. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

I expected this to be a little more pop instead of the strong folky *girl and a guitar* that it is. (Riphug@aol.com)


Short Stories

Release info:

2007—Stella Records—6-23339-9032-2-6

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Suzie Ungeleider—vocals, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Luke Doucet—pedal steel and electric guitar
Bob Packwood—piano, organ
Bazil Donovan—bass
Cam Giroux—drums, harmony vocals
Burke Carroll—pedal steel
David Baxter—slide, acoustic, and electric guitar
Kevin Fox—cello, string arrangements
Joey Wright—mandolin, electric guitar
Chris Church—violin
Anne Lindsay—violin
Johann Lotter—viola
Justin Rutledge—harmonica, banjo, harmony vocals

Produced by:

Suzie Ungeleider, Cam Giroux, and Bazil Donovan

Comments:

Stories about personal lives, often loss and regret, told as much through the music as the lyrics. Similar to her last album, but stronger, I think. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Soon the Birds

Release info:

2011—Continental Song City—8713762010744

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Suzie Ungerleider

Guest artists:

Cam Giroux
Bazil Donovan
Ruth Moody (The Wailin' Jennys)
Justin Haynes
Andrew Downing
Gord Tough
Kevin Breit
Michael Johnston
Burke Carroll
Brenley MacEachern
Chris Coole
Andrew Collins
John Showman
David Baxter
David Travers-Smith
Jim Cuddy
Chris Brown

Produced by:

David Travers-Smith

Comments:

Simply put, her best album yet. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Further info:

Oh Susanna has contributed tracks to several compilations including:

  • "Go Tell It on the Mountain" on Maybe This Christmas Too? (2003)
  • "Bootlegger's Blues" on Things About Comin' My Way: A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks (2009)
  • "Things About Comin' My Way" on The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert—Live in Vancouver concert DVD (2010)


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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DISCLAIMER: Comments and reviews in the Ectophiles' Guide are excerpted from the ecto mailing list or volunteered by members of the list. They are the opinions of music enthusiasts, not professional music critics.

Entry last updated 2017-06-08 23:52:36.
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