UNXIGNED Highlights: Suzy Callahan

While her style has surreptitiously evolved 15 years since Happier Than Everybody Else, her time-honored musical identity remarkably remains unspoiled.

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You know her best for her intimate, augustly cathartic songwriting approach that has for so long refused to be banal. All these years her fine, effortlessly powerful lyricism has particularly remained genuine, subliminal, and outright moving. With over ten full-lengths of sheer poetry lodged under her name since her Devils Wielding Scimitars stint, nothing but admiration can be thought of the Bethesda, Maryland-based folk music veteran.

Meet Suzy Callahan, our latest July featured artist.

At the age of 16, Callahan began playing in pubs doing Linda Ronstadt covers around her erstwhile abode, Yorkshire, England. Upon her return to the states, Callahan joined roots-infused bar bands that immensely helped hone her artistry and musicianship. After meeting multi-instrumentalist Scott Tyburski and discovering they both have a strong liking for “minimalistic psychedelic folk”, the two formed Devils Wielding Scimitars and worked with various collaborators (must-check out too; for fans of The Sundays; with more folk/country pop vibe). DWS went on to release three albums before Callahan and Tyburski dissolved the band in 1997 to start a family.

Returning to the music scene in 2005, Callahan, supported by Tyburski, optimistically recaptured and reinvented her folk roots, this time sprinkling dark, ambient pop/rock crumbs atop. While her style has surreptitiously evolved 15 years since Happier Than Everybody Else, her time-honored musical identity remarkably remains unspoiled. She’s the same Suzy Callahan to this very day: honest, delicate, sharp, bold.

Not Exactly Sad is the latest offering from the singer-songwriter whose works have received several significant accolades throughout her career. Put out in June, the nine-track album is a bittersweet folk-pop masterpiece—a 30-minute sojourn into Callahan’s pensive, vulnerably arcane muse on loss and awakening. The employment of atmosphere and space in each song is at its finest, the lyrical earnestness enthralling.

The second track called “To a Child” is one that is perhaps the most mysteriously appealing. Not only is it the most uncomfortably cold-sounding, it is also the most cryptically structured. The song opens with what sounds like a vintage synthetic pan flute sound juxtaposed with a slowly played six-string. There’s chirping in the background that quickly diminishes as Callahan voices the opening verse, absorbing listeners into the song’s poignant core in an instant, not letting them go until it finishes.

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The fretless bass crawls in the backdrop as though dancing in complete indecision, trying to match the bleakly singing persona’s pace. “I hear a mother calling/ I hear a baby cry/ Every sound is a warning/ But this morning I don’t know why,” it goes. A tug of war between Callahan as narrator and Callahan as character immediately surfaces out of these lines. Who is she really in this prose? As the song proceeds to imply a sense of disconnect between a mother and a child, Callahan ultimately succumbs to frailty in the chorus, “You/ You are so strange/ You are so strange to a child/ And you/ Your eyes can’t hide/ Your eyes can’t hide from a child,” she sighs, as does the not exactly sad orchestration.

The track’s excruciating message becomes clearer as it progresses. “I want to skate in the middle of the rink/ But I’m holding on to the edge/ Doing circle and figure eights/ While I’m balancing on the ledge,” Callahan mutters—of what sounds like a straightforward metaphor for abandonment and helplessness.

Stream Suzy Callahan’s complete discography below. Support her directly by purchasing her releases via Bandcamp.

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