TRACY McNEIL ‘Fire From Burning’

Reviewed by Marlo Spikin

There is an expression: the great miracle of wood is not that it burns, but that it floats.  Tracy McNeil’s new album ‘Fire From Burning’ floats.  It soars.  With full knowing of the precious life that can burn and be dark and vulnerable, and the exhilaration of living it daringly anyway.  The title song brings to light for us:

“You say you were on the ship that sailed
The seven seas that took you to nowhere
And you should’ve walked the plank
With a belly full of drink
And waved farewell to all those who stared”

This is McNeil’s first album created with her family of Melbourne musicians, after her acclaimed debut ‘Room Where She Lives’, made in 2007 in her homeland Canada.  And ‘Fire From Burning’ is again such a rich and rewarding experience.  Immediately captivating, McNeil’s story-telling whisks you up to fly with her into the break of night.  Her voice is defiant within the driving rhythms of ‘Rise and Fall’, an album highlight:

“Beauty and its end float in mid air
Side by side till the night winds wail”

Her honesty and bravery are palpable in a contrasting highlight, ‘Unchartered Ground’, where her guitar intermingles with guest musician Steven Hesketh’s Hammond Organ with spine-tingling effect.  And you will rise with her again:

“And I’d rather fly
To the depth of the darkest and saddest of skies
Where there’s no end to the night
And I camp by your memories light”

It’s McNeil’s realness and integrity that make us fly with her.  And she whisks you away with glee into the day too with the spectacular ‘To Spend A Day’.  This track is rollicking, with contributions by Garrett Costigan on pedal steel and Luke Sinclair’s backing vocals adding to her winning warmth.  On the living and learning tale ‘Melody Breakers’ Greg Field’s violin and Liz Stringer’s banjo collaborate with band members’ Rod Boothroyd’s slapping double bass and Bree Hartley’s pulsing drums with rousing effect.

A lingering gift within ‘Fire From Burning’ is McNeil’s wisdom and generosity.  She is unafraid to give implicit advice in the opening track ‘High Horse’ which eases you in with its stunning and gentle intro highlighting Hesketh’s harmonium and Matt Green’s guitar sensibilities.  In the sincere ‘In My Time’ and the raw ‘Only Road’ she inspires us with her patient, yet vulnerable, heart:

 “I’ll take you with me when I go
But I’m gonna go slow”

Wisdom and inspiration are embodied in yet another album highlight, ‘Whippoorwill’.  A northern American legend says the Whippoorwill bird can sense a soul departing, and can capture it as it flees.  And the Whippoorwill possesses a haunting, ethereal song.  McNeil gives us oh so exquisitely and knowingly:

“There go the sound of the Whippoorwill fading fast                
I hope it don’t tell no lies
Spreading the word of who is who and who will leave
Best thing going right now.
Cause nothing’s built to last or stay…
So you shuffle your feet to pay for the fireworks display”

Live now.  Feel the fire burning now.  And the most profound fun is to float up with Tracy amongst her fireworks display.

Check out Tracy’s music for yourself here