Writing reviews (in words) of albums (music and song) can be a bit like hearing colours – scarlet – loud and confident, maybe towards being aggressive; lilac – gentle and thoughtful, a peacemaker perhaps? You get the gist. Sometimes, something comes along which is outside of easy linguistic translations from one medium to another. The music doesn’t quite fit into genres, there are aspects of elusiveness that won’t allow it to be pinned and formulated, Prufrock-like. With You In My Life by Sheila K Cameron was released recently and is one of these albums.
Prosaically, the new Sheila K Cameron album could be described as being somewhere on the borders of songs and semi-spoken tracks; it could classed, perhaps, as English Chanson, touching on the French tradition of Chanson and Modern Chanson – spoken music, maybe semi-classical bordering on easy listening – not that there is much ‘easy’ about the lyrics on With You In My Life, touching as they do on some of the more weighty aspects of life.
Let me give an example. The track ‘Rock Me Like A Child’ opens:
Your body contains within it the seed of the earth
And completely satisfies me
In your arms I am reborn
I am ceiling and sky
I am sun and stars
I am flower and dream
I expand I ignite, I take space in my hands
I am part of the universe
Endless, I am sand
One grain magnified like a jewel
I shine, I reflect in your eyes
I am cradled in time
These lines are slow, melodic, delightful intonation, musically ethereal – and then, as, in a different sense, the title alludes, the track progresses to rhythmically and lyrically rock me; it becomes almost bluesy-slow-honky-tonk, two parts expertly joined into one song.
There are seventeen tracks in the album; all of them, as the cover picture shows, are linked with Brian McNeill. In her early years as a recording artist, Cameron, having come up with “a makeshift plan”, went to a local recording studio, met McNeill and “he agreed to work on some of the songs …. Then he disappeared …after a further period of several years during which I made random attempts to interest him in more of my material he reappeared”. This album is the result. The album’s sub-title is “Songs Recent and Renewed” – renewed because the original McNeill arrangements have been remastered for this album (by Geoff Allan).
The title is equally elusive – the title song, originally about having someone in the singer’s life, has been re-shaped to also mean association with a creative force (McNeill) behind this album, these tracks all being ones that McNeill was involved with.
Lyrically, musically, even in its title, then, this is a multi-textured album.
It’s also, unusually, an album that you feel you can never fully know. I’ve described the elusiveness of some of the lyrics, but equally, there are musical references, phrases and genres that you pick up on a later hearing. Even as I’ve pinned and dissected it in the words above, there is more to discover on future listenings.
Here’s hoping these words give a colour or flavour of the songs on With You In My Life and you are beguiled enough to go and find this work; like the rest of Sheila K Cameron’s albums, it will repay you if you do.
Artist’s website: https://skcsongs.com
‘Rock Me Like A Child’: