EMILY MAGUIRE – A Light To Follow (Shaktu Records, SHK)

A Light To FollowFor her seventh studio album, A Light To Follow, Emily Maguire shimmers brightly in the strong Australian sun. As she advocates, “go and seek out the sunshine” (‘Sunshine’). Take heed; this woman knows the value of the light, because she has confronted the darkness.

Recorded on her and husband/producer Christian Dunham’s goat farm in Queensland, sometimes in 40C heat (with the musicians sealed tightly indoors to avoid both ambient noise and insects), it’s no surprise that the sun’s warmth is a strong presence on the album. But mostly, the warmth spills out from Maguire herself: her empathy and wisdom, hard-won through years of health setbacks and recoveries.

Where this album’s predecessor, 2017’s A Bit Of Blue, snatched glimmers of light from leaden skies, A Light To Follow strides out, resilient and optimistic. There’s a sense of Maguire’s accommodation with her bipolar condition, a watchfulness for the dangerous clouds gathering (“it’s coming round again, another wave to make me drown again” from the urgent ‘Let Me Be’), but also a sense of joy in the brighter times (“there’s nothing like the feeling of being sane”, from ‘Stay’). While Maguire addresses frankly her bleakest hours, her strong Tibetan Buddhist philosophy may help her summon such exceptional positivity and defeat the demons that frequently appear in these songs, their powers now seemingly diminished, like vampires at sunrise. And she knows she’s not alone, listen to ‘Northern Star’ shift seamlessly from “I” to “we” in the last verse.

That ethereal voice with its clean diction, can still pack a hidden punch when least expected (try “all the voices in my head shouting that I should be dead”, from My Way Home). Maguire plays piano/keyboard, has a charmingly light touch on the guitar, and plays cello on her moving string arrangements, alongside Sarah King’s viola/violin. The live, home-studio band is fleshed out by Dunham’s basslines, Shane Nesic’s drums, and Dan Lyons’s lap steel adding country flourishes.

Maguire’s songwriting gifts are evident. Several songs here could make banger hits for top chart artists, if that was her path. She’s mistress of the swelling crescendo and while emotional honesty is her forte, she also tackles other subjects intelligently. There’s a neglected relationship (‘She’s Gone’), women versus late-stage consumer capitalism on the brilliantly filmic ‘How To Conquer’, the need for adaptability set to a softly swinging lullaby (‘The Only Thing’), and the planet (‘Another Wild World’).

Closing with the rhythmically intense title track, ‘A Light To Follow’, Maguire is keen to reassure us all, “you are beautiful and brave facing all that sorrow, but you will find some peace someday and a light to follow”.

Su O’Brien

Artist’s website: emilymaguire.com

‘Wanting Time’ – live: