Oh Susanna is Canadian singer/songwriter Suzie Ungerleider, who has been releasing music since 1997, has won a Genie Award (Canadian Oscar) for her song 'River Blue' and has several Juno nominations to her name. 'A Girl In Teen City' is her seventh full length album.
This is a concept album of sorts. Encouraged by her friend and producer Jim Bryson, Suzie wrote about her teenage self, growing up in 80's Vancouver. Listening to these songs you get into her world, learn about the people she hung out with, the times she had her heart broken, the mischief they got up to and the bands they listened to. It is very much a looking back album, comparable perhaps to Patti Scialfa's '23rd Street Lullaby', though that contained memories of a woman in her thirties.
This brings me to 'A Girl In Teen City's limitations. The subject matter is very specific and after a while the very detailed descriptions of clothes and hairstyles in particular become wearisome. They do provide some good lines (the "made to measure skin tight leather Mexican pants" in 'My Boyfriend' being particularly catchy), but towards the end of the album the nostalgia got a bit saccharine for me and I longed to escape to the present.
Suzie has a strong and clear voice, which is the standout ingredient of this album. On 'Puget Sound' especially she sounds exactly like Nanci Griffith, which is not a bad thing at all. For me this is the best song on the album, alongside 'Walked All The Way Home', which has a very lovely melody. The instrumentation has been kept very mellow, even on the more up tempo songs. The vibe is folk (one reviewer used the term Canadiana) and this illustrates that Suzie has been on quite a journey, as the songs list the teenage girl's favourites: The Clash and D.O.A. In 'My Old Vancouver' she describes "the Ballroom above the arcade, where X and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys played" (nice!).
There are mentions of Gastown, Chinatown, Hastings and Main, trips to America - mostly fond memories. There is also a little bit of trouble with the police, some troublesome boys and lots of ripped up jeans, spiked up hair, a jacket with the sleeves cut away - many clothes references. The difficulty with a concept album is that it is almost inevitable that the subject matter becomes quite samey after a while. Yet it equally interesting to get a look into this teenage girl's life and to realize that she has come a long way. She is now a wife and mother, a cancer survivor and a musician with a loyal following, enabling to make this her second Kickstarter-funded album.
'A Girl In Teen City' was my first introduction to Oh Susanna. I like her voice and her melodies and am therefore curious to seek out some of her earlier albums now.
Oh Susanna will be touring the Netherlands from 6 to 16 April, followed by a UK tour starting 19 April (some dates co-headlining with Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage).
Full details on her website