Sometimes the music you didn’t know you needed to hear will find you anyway, as a rare and serendipitous encounter with Canadian singer/songwriter Annie Sumi recently demonstrated. Performing in an overly-warm pub room at a community fundraiser with musical partner, local cellist Jessica Burrows, Sumi quickly captured and entranced the room, drawing on a number of songs from her 2017 album, In The Unknown and her 2015 debut, Reflections.
In The Unknown is a fine place to begin exploring this ethereal-folk artist whose controlled yet fluid finger-picked guitar perfectly complements her warm, intimate vocal style. Up close to the microphone, she draws the listener in with compassionate, human stories wreathed in natural and spiritual metaphors. Her songs are mature and introspective, with something meditative, healing even, about them.
On disc, her live “girl-with-guitar” sound is fleshed out by some sympathetic accompaniments, be it delicate strings or the metallic shimmer of pedal steel, both featuring on opener, ‘Evaporating Life’, a reflection on impermanence.
A jazzy swish of percussion and angular steel guitar reflect the hard surfaces of ‘The City’ which, paired with a matching urban soundscape interlude, sees Sumi in carefree mood. More sombre is the environmental change contemplated by ‘Baby Blue’, melodically informed by the bending notes of whalesong.
A glimmer of hopefulness dusts life’s gloomier corners, whether that’s melodically in the climbing chorus of ‘Eye Of A Rose’ or lyrically, as in the moving, tender meditation of ‘Get By’ on life’s compromises and struggles. Yet sometimes a positive spin is hard to come by, as the mournful, slurring strings of the bleak ‘Helpless Dancer’ attest. It forms a stark contrast with the witty, spirited take on broken hearts of the lovely ‘Nightingale’.
Even to these grumpy old heathen ears, ‘In Everything’ with its chorus of “there’s a little bit of God, In everything” shouts out “hit song”. It’s interesting – if perhaps a bit unfair – to compare live and recorded versions of this song made over two years apart. More poppily uptempo and somewhat dominated by an insistent drumbeat in 2017, its 2019 stripped-back live counterpart elicited an audible emotional response from the audience. No matter how it’s served up, this strong, heartfelt song connects.
If ‘Peter Pan’ is a swooping, swooning flight, ‘Time Is A Dream’ is much more reflective on the role of imagination in Sumi’s creative process, “I am falling in and out of my imagination, In, and Out, I am fading to a dream”. With its muted brass, it’s a song that might slide comfortably into The Unthanks’ repertoire.
A quick mention of a newer song, not on this album but hopefully available in future, ‘Skybound’ swaggers like Short Sharp Shocked-era Michelle Shocked and is well worth checking out online.
Although on a flying visit to the UK this time around, Sumi hopes to return next year (promoters, please take note!) for the release of her much-anticipated next project, Solastalgia. With her infectious warmth and joy, it would be an absolute delight to welcome her to these shores again very soon. Until then, get acquainted with Annie Sumi by setting foot In The Unknown.
Artist website: www.anniesumi.com
‘Skybound’ – official video: