‘It’s a delightful showcase of how securely she understands her eras and genres of influence.’
Intro to Madeline Doornaert
Sometimes when an artist sends you an album to listen to, you press the play button and from that moment you wish that you had heard it sooner. And this was exactly the case when I recently did that for Madeline Doornaert’s debut album ‘Muddy Water’. Based in Canada, and part of the growing and eclectic roster at Soul City Music Co-op, this twenty-something singer-songwriter has not only had an impressive career to date, but a life that has led to her creating a beautiful, and autobiographically influenced 10-track release. From the childhood memories within opener ‘Sunscreen’ and self-advocacy of ‘Lost It In The Laundry’, to her unmasking abuse in ‘Harvey High School’, and the harsh reality of life for calves born in the dairy industry with ‘Baby Calf’, it’s clear there is no lack of diversity. Equally, in her taking inspiration from folk singer-songwriters such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell, there is no lack of stylish musicality either. Read more at: Behind the Music: Interview with Madeline Doornaert
Taking us in a new direction to what has occurred to this point in Muddy Water, on arriving at Track 5 ‘Running Back’, a sense of contrasting musicality appears. A picked bassline feels like it’s been pulled from the archives, its upbeat nature generating a sense of energy. A delicate tambourine rhythmically jangles away in the distance, causing you to move. An air of relaxation, the kind that makes you feel almost weightless finds a place inside you too. However, unlike what you may expect to hear when you read those words, there isn’t vast space or emptiness. Instead, these sensations are generated by a glorious combination of piano chords, snare strikes, string slides, and delicate strumming patterns which create a refined, and completely authentic sound.
With this approach being established so early on, as the verse content emerges the influence it has on the track shines through. Processed and recorded in a way that conjures up images of 70’s folk singer-songwriters making the best music, every element is captured for us to auditorially digest. The percussive accents, for example, carry an unclipped, genuine musicality about them as the reverb decays in an era-centric way. Similarly, their placement in the mix is unapologetic, allowing us to hear the formation and conclusion of cymbal crashes. To be honest, at a time where we are pretty much conditioned for a narrowness of sound, it’s a delight to hear the sonic openness that producer Dane Roberts has created.
Completely enhancing its surroundings, as the accompaniment takes on those aforementioned qualities Madeline’s vocals showcase themselves too. Soft, honest, and intention-filled, there is a real individuality, and while there may not be the wideness of vocal range that appears elsewhere in the album, there is no doubting the effortless nature of them. Projecting the storyline – that of gaslighting – the hook ‘Here you go again’ carries multiple meanings, while the switch to ‘You say you want it to end’ soon after provides further insight. Connecting the lyricism in a way that’s not blatant, but completely reflective of the situation, it’s a really beautiful way to set such a topic.
Bringing contrast to the musicality, within the chorus extra lightness appears via the inclusion of melodic percussion. Decorating the main lines, and in fact making the texture its most complex, the sense of feeling is emulated in the most perfect way. Interweaving among each other as they do, these sequence-based motifs are an absolutely joy. However, with them first occurring alongside stunningly harmonised phrases such as ‘it’s got to be one those dreams’, they generate not just a dreamy sound, but one that accentuates the busyness of inner thoughts too.
Taking this further still, as we journey through the return of verse and chorus content, you can’t ignore the defined separation, yet blending of textures between them. Removing the basslines and taking on a fully acoustic form, the former space returns. As though replicating the distancing from, but being pulled back toward the situation it’s a moment of showcase subtlety. Additionally, it is – as is the case for so many moments on the album – a wake-up call to the quality of Madeline’s songwriting. A quality much greater than her years, and one that many others could learn from. This, of course, isn’t to say that age dictates the level of musicality we should expect of an artist, but when it’s at this standard it’s quite hard to comprehend.
Pushing this sense of how securely Madeline understands her eras and genres of influence, rather than heading straight into a closing statement we experience a final change of direction. Setting up an almost session-like conclusion, an expressive and expansive combination of improvised sax and harmonic Wurlitzer pours into our ears. Oozing sophistication and inferring freedom, it’s a glorious moment. Then, in segueing with the preceding instrumental, the chorus returns for a final time before a musically self-assured, and effortlessly cool instrumental takes us into the distance. Sure there is much beauty to experience throughout Muddy Water, but for me, Running Back is most definitely the one to return to.