OH SUSANNA at the Cameron House, September 4. Tickets: free. Attendance: 40. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Invite-only industry showcases always make me feel kinda weird, like I'm intruding on someone's family reunion. I had that odd prodigal cousin sensation during Oh Susanna 's short 'n' sweet stint at the Cameron last Thursday. Although the savvy crowd of biz types, from press stalwart Kerry Doole to the entire de Cartier management dynasty, spent the pre-show lead-up munching pita scraps and buzzing breathlessly about Universal's announcement about slashing CD prices from earlier that afternoon, they were rapt as soon as Suzie Ungerleider took the stage.
The sparkle-faced Ungerleider radiated the confident excitement of a little girl showing off ballet moves in a brand new tutu as she swayed through a slew of raucous blues-rock tunes from her new self-titled disc.
She's morphed from the apprehensive Cat Powerish alt-country upstart of her last Sleepy Little Sailor disc to a far more seasoned singer with the resonant pipes of a blues mama. It works, although her voice was almost too huge for the tiny Cameron back room.
Her pleased family members (I mean, uh, Nettwerk label execs and entourage) chuckled knowingly as Ungerleider introduced each tune with mumbled anecdotes that came off like inside jokes. OK, so Mick Jagger, "a man with big lips I thought sang only to me when I was a little girl," inspired lead single Right By Your Side.
And remember when Suzie barfed birthday cake on a white carpet as a kid? You know, the story in that Zoe song? Maybe her stories were just over-rehearsed, but they didn't have quite the effect she intended.
Yet her languorous cover of Dylan-penned 60s pop hit I'll Keep It With Mine was goose-bumpily lovely, if a little slow. And all the tunes had excellent bones - Ungerleider's ability to write a super-solid pop song is irrefutable.
Without producer/guitarist Colin Cripps (Kathleen Edwards) on hand, though - a fact the singer bemoaned midway through her set - Ungerleider's new tunes lost a shade of the nuanced dynamics they have on disc. And I missed the soulful Tower of Power horns sprinkled throughout the album. Almost unrecognizable in a massive cowboy hat and the tightest jeans this side of Christina Aguilera, gee-tar phenom Luke Doucet beat the shit out of his whammy bar to add a hint of sonic colour, but there was still something missing.