SHEILA K CAMERON – Those They Chose (Glalell SKC1708CD)

Those They ChoseOver the past couple of years, Sheila K Cameron has completed the reissue of her 7-CD back catalogue and recently released Those They Chose, an album whose artless title reflects the fact that the songs featured were selected for play on the Women Of Substance podcast. It’s typical of Cameron that the title manages to be both very direct and rather oblique at the same time. The songs, which all come from her previous releases, have been remastered for this release.

Beginning in Glasgow, ‘As You Wrapped The String’, opens the album, with gentle lushness, followed by the harmonica blues lope of ‘I Looked Alright This Morning’.

The few covers featured are generally delivered quite sparely and simply, like the short, sweet ‘Drink To Me Only’. ‘The Water Is Deep’ has a quiet determination, but it’s Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time Ever’ that really goes somewhere earthy and raw. MacColl famously loathed the various versions of his song, but Cameron invests it with such emotional truth that surely even he would have been persuaded.

Musical arrangements are kept subtle, never overpowering Cameron’s voice. ‘With You In My Life’ is a touching tribute to a partner or friend, backed with gently jazzy brass that brings a touch of the 1950s. A fuzzy Hammond organ sound lurks behind the resolute blues of ‘You Don’t Know My Mind’, while ‘Go On Then’ stretches country-wards.

Cameron’s singing is not pitch-perfect but it’s absolutely authentic, intimate and lived-in, a real voice of experience making a visceral connection. She can be warm, tender and sensual as in ‘My Love Is Velvet’. On ‘Goodbye Baby Blues’ she is darkly world-weary, the long-drawn out delivery of the word ‘choose’ in the line ‘you have left me with no option but to choose these goodbye baby blues’ says everything about the pain beneath the decision. Occasionally, she adopts a semi-spoken approach, well-suited to the poetic repetition in ‘All You Really Need Is The Sea’.

Finishing up in the British Columbian archipelago of Haida Gwaii, Cameron takes her leave (for now) with the reflective, ‘Where The Last Tide Runs’. A steadfast traveller on her own road, Cameron is rare, precious and utterly unique.

Su O’Brien

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SHEILA K CAMERON – Kiss Deep And The Missing Beat (Glalell SKC1706CD)

Kiss DeepKiss Deep is sixth and final volume in the first series of Sheila K Cameron reissues. There are nineteen tracks here encompassing all the styles she has essayed over the years beginning and ending with the old blues sound of ‘Universal Energy’. From there she moves to the rich pop of ‘On The Road To Haida Gwaii’ (her home off the coast of western Canada) and the slightly quirky ‘Another Dream’, a clever, almost spoken lyric over a rolling piano backing. It’s a frustration dream, the like of which we’ve all had, of being unable to get to where we want to be.

‘Did I Do Something Wrong Again’ is piano driven country, a style continued in ‘So You Said’, a song that reminds me of Eleanor McEvoy at her most acerbic. The thing about Sheila is that you never know what to expect so after these band numbers we have the solo acoustic ‘You Tell Me Nothing’ with its undertones of Weimar cabaret. ‘Let’s Put Love In The Back Seat – For A While’ is a spoken word piece incanted over a percussion accompaniment; yet another Cameron style.

Kiss Deep is probably the most complete of the reissues. It has a sense of continuity that some of the others lack and the benefit of being completed songs with the likes of Brian McNeill and Fraser Spiers mentioned in the credits. If you’re unfamiliar with SKC’s work – and I was before these reissues appeared – this is probably the place to start. Follow it with Alone On The Road before venturing any deeper – it’s not an easy journey but you’ll find it very rewarding.

Dai Jeffries

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SHEILA K CAMERON – Alone On The Road (Glalell SKC1703CD)

Alone On The RoadIt’s a truth universally acknowledged (pace Jane Austen) that to really sing the blues you have to feel the blues, have to live the blues. As amply demonstrated in Alone On The Road, one of a trilogy of reissues, Sheila K Cameron is most definitely the real thing. Somewhat enigmatic, she’s an artist, a lyricist, a singer – her creative force spilling out in all directions. There’s a relentless, restless outpouring of experience, that one art form simply can’t contain.

Hers is a voice that speaks of maturity and a life lived defiantly, if not always easily. It has a natural, unforced sound with occasional displays of unexpected depth that pack a powerful emotional punch.

Comparisons have been made with Leonard Cohen and there are certainly elements of his style of speak-singing in the flattened out melancholy and resonance of her voice. On ‘When I Say You Owe Me Nothing’ her urgently barked delivery has more than a dash of Nick Cave.

Lyrically, there are so many glimpses of a real original talent on this album. Some standard blues tropes get rehashed, for sure, but always with a unique verbal twist in her original material.

Francis Speirs’ (although credited as Spiers on the album cover) harmonica provides a blistering introduction to the album and then never lets up. In fact, the spot-on accompaniments by Speirs, Geoff Allan, Brian McNeill and Brian Young are what really lift this set of songs into another class altogether, providing a versatile mood-board from the slight country tinge of ‘Mr Moon: I’m Working Against Time’ to the Doors-y fuzz of title-track “Alone On The Road’.

Vocal effects have been used to create an old-school blues atmosphere, as on the loping roll of ‘I Looked Alright This Morning’ and the slightly tinny, compressed ‘Bluebird Outside My Window’ as heard through an old horn gramophone. (This song also contains the divinely blunt put-down “she’s a selfish, self-concerned tart”). In total contrast, ‘Baby How Long’ sounds like she’s right up in your ear, so intimate is the vocal.

Sheila K Cameron is a unique artist whose work deserves a wider audience. Her songs cry out to be heard and will no doubt be reinterpreted by singers of the future. This album is a little treasure trove for lovers of the quirky, the downbeat, the blues.
Su O’Brien

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Sadly Sheila K Cameron’s videos are not available to us in the UK – presumably for copyright reasons. Unless you know differently.