Eleanor McEvoy – ‘Yola’ An SACD review by Nigel Pond

Last year when we posted news of the first SACD single – Eleanor McEvoy’s ‘Did I Hurt You?’ released by Market Square Records in the UK – I was sufficiently intrigued to contact the record company and ask for review copies of the single (reviewed here by Stuart Robinson), and of the SACD album from which the tracks in the single were taken.

Stuart has provided some background information on Eleanor McEvoy and the album in his review so I will not repeat those details here, but basic details about the disc are in order – it is a stereo hybrid release with the DSD track on one layer and the Red Book CD track on the other layer.

I have to say right at the outset that I think this is an outstanding disc – the music, the performance and the fidelity. Eleanor McEvoy is obviously an extremely talented singer and song-writer (she wrote or co-wrote all the tracks on the disc). As a singer she is up there with the best female vocalists – the likes of the late Eva Cassidy, Diana Krall, Norah Jones and Patricia Barber – her voice has superb dynamics and range of expression, the words are intelligible and she sings in tune – qualities that are sorely lacking among the more popular female singers of the moment – what more could you ask for?

The album begins with ‘I’ve Got You (To See Me Through)’ – a track with a very pleasant melody that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The second track, ‘Isn’t It a Little Late’ also appears on the SACD single, and is one of the most interesting and shortest tracks on the disc. The somewhat bare combination of Eleanor’s vocals, overdubbed backing vocals and percussion accompaniment works well – not many singers can hold a solo vocal line with just percussion for company. The single, ‘Did I Hurt You’ is up next and is one of the best tracks on the disc. It has a strong melody and piano accompaniment and the lyrics, if not altogether uplifting, are never soapy or schmaltzy:

‘All my arguments sound pretty weak
So I’ll be quick and concede defeat
All the evidence lies on your side
So I’ll come clean and say that I lied
I guess it’s OK if I’m hated and damned
But don’t go away thinking I had it planned
It wasn’t part of my scheme to be hateful to you’

I noted the subdued rhythm guitar as Stuart did, but I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt and say that it was probably intentional.

There are four very beautiful ballads on this disc and track 4, ‘Seasoned Love’ is the first of them. Eleanor’s Irish accent shows itself several times and I think the track is better for it. Too many singers these days try to hide their natural accents behind what is perceived, wrongly in my view, to be a more “commercial” “Americanized” sound. The track has a melody that stays with you even after just one play and the idea behind the lyrics, while not new, is well executed. ‘The Rain Falls’ tells the tale of the break up of a relationship by an e-mail message, a high-tech spin on an old theme, with another catchy melody. The second ballad is ‘Dreaming of Leaving’, another well written song that requires a little more than casual listening.

Track 7, ‘Easy in Love’ is probably my favourite track on the disc. The melody is very memorable, especially the chorus and piano accompaniment, and the lyrics sound like they came very easily. Here’s the first verse, simple and uncontrived:

‘Walk down the road eyes on my feet
Out of the window came an easy beat
A love song hit me like a bolt out of the blue
Made me realise for the first time ever
We’ve never been apart, every second we’re together
It dawned on me, hey babe, has it dawned on you?’

Track 8 is the third ballad, ‘Last Seen October 9th‘ and it is the most poignant track on the disc, about a missing person and those left behind, but it is not slushy or sentimental. The lyrics are beautifully sustained by Eleanor’s voice and Brian Connor’s piano accompaniment. The last three tracks round off the disc very nicely: ‘Leaves me Wondering’ revisits the theme of possible lost love; I Hear You Breathing In’ is the fourth and final ballad; and ‘Something So Wonderful’ is an almost spiritual celebration of love.

At this point I should say something Brian Connor, who plays Steinway piano and also co-produced the album with Eleanor McEvoy. He is a classically trained pianist and it shows. His piano playing is outstanding and the piano parts really display his talent. He and Eleanor McEvoy have performed together many times and the rapport between them shines through on this disc, it never sounds to the listener like it is hard work.

Yola‘ is a well written, well performed and well produced disc. The SACD mastering does it full justice. It is only two-channel, but that does not really adversely affect the end result. To use a well worn phrase, the recording has “plenty of air” and the phantom image between left and right is rock solid. The CD layer does not grab the attention quite so much but it did enable me to experiment with how the disc might have sounded in a surround mix – applying some Lexicon Logic 7 processing to the PCM track yielded very pleasing results. Fidelity on the DSD layer is excellent.

This disc gets my recommendation and is definitely a keeper.

Further information about Eleanor McEvoy (including lyrics) can be found at: http//www.eleanormcevoy.net.