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THE MCDADES - The Empress 

THE MCDADES - The Empress 
Free Radio Records FRCD007 

Familial groupings seem to flourish in the Canadian Maritimes. We have had the McNeils, the Rankins, the Scumulash MacDonald’s and more, and now the McDades from Edmonton, Canada adds to the number of sibling revelry-based outfits to emerge from there. The McDades are a trio of Jeremiah and Solon McDade and their sister, Shannon Johnson. They are based in central Edmonton as opposed to the traditional hotbeds of Nova Scotia or Newfoundland, which adds a more rural, rustic character. Having recorded with their father Terry McDade and also singer/songwriter Maria Dunn, their solo records have been limited to three albums within the past decade, of which The Empress is the latest.

Perusing the sleeve for The Empress I came across the name Andy Hillhouse, himself a driving force in Canadian folk/rock having been guitarist with Mad Pudding, a formidable outfit from the 90s. John Joe Kelly also figures in the guest list, which fans the curiosity flame that bit more - clearly The McDades have some serious hitters on board which reflects the hand of creative cards they deal.

The sound on The Empress is a cauldron of richly defined shards of traditional styles laced with contemporary folk and worldly nuances. The opening track, Willie Riley, a traditional adaptation, clearly emits a warm welcoming slab of Canadian style folk rock, with gentle acoustic guitar and exotic percussion. Shannon Johnson’s vocal purrs intuitively while the bass and drums anchor the sound in cosmopolitan folk rock waters. Further traditional repertoire includes The Golden Willow Tree, a sabre-rattling cousin of The Golden Vanity, and Les Trois Capitaines, adding a dash of French-Canadian traditional song to the fray.

Instrumentally they are no slouches either, as depicted by The Oak, Ivy And Ash, a blithely skipping set of slip-jigs/reels laced with tightly rhythmic guitar, bass and percussion suspended over layers of fiddle and whistle, emitting a sound not unlike Flook, The Corrs and The Barra MacNeils. November 8th opens with a graceful air and delicious fiddle and low whistle leads, and the title track displays some refined melodic lines and ideas redolent of Flook and Kila in their folk/world mixes.

Another interesting inclusion is an up-tempo cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s 1974 hit, Sundown, Jeremiah’s lead vocal having that sonorous nasal sound while his sax weaves with Shannon’s fiddle in a result not dissimilar to Mad Pudding’s wide-angled fusion efforts. There are jazzy vocal inflections and rhythmic turns too. This is part of the appeal of The Empress in its seamless assimilation of the urban, the rural and the ethereal - all gracefully cohabiting. With this album, The McDades have created a compulsively vital canvas of rustic and cosmopolitan soundbites that caress the ear as much as illuminate the senses.

John O’Regan


This review appeared in Issue 142 of The Living Tradition magazine