PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Oh Susanna: Namedropper

American-Canadian singer-songwriter Suzie Ungerleider ropes in other Canadian musicians to write songs for her to wildly varying results.

Oh Susanna


Label: Sonic Unyon
US Release Date: 2014-10-21
UK Release Date: 2014-10-21

Suzie Ungerleider, who performs under the stage name Oh Susanna, is somewhat well known in Canada, and her catalogue stretches back into the late 1990s. She was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, but raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, and now calls Toronto home. Her latest project, though, is a departure for Ungerleider. Namedropper is an album of covers of fellow Canadian musicians, but not one of the songs on the record has been previously released. Instead, the songs were specifically written for her to record and perform.

Initially, Namedropper was going to be a traditional covers album, but her producer, Jim Bryson, suggested that others write the songs with her in mind. And Namedropper would have come out earlier, perhaps in 2013, but Ungerleider, unfortunately, was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed some time to recover. However, Namedropper is finally here and it boasts practically a who’s who in Canadian music. The songwriters include Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, Ron Sexsmith (who penned a song with Angaleena Presley), Joel Plaskett, Bryson, Old Man Luedecke, Luke Doucet and others. You could say that Namedropper is a celebration of a Canadian-American talent, contributed to by other Canadian talents.

What’s most surprising about Namedropper is that, aside from a reference to trendy Toronto restaurant Sneaky Dee’s, it appears to be something that could help Ungerleider make inroads into the United States. The US mail is mentioned, along with an “Uncle Sam", and there’s even a song titled “Oregon”. It’s a bit baffling that all of these Canadians would want to write about America, which essentially sets the clock back to 1970, when the Guess Who were singing about an “American Woman” just to get a hit south of the border, but maybe they just wanted to celebrate Ungerleider's birth heritage.

Anyhow, Namedropper is relatively consistent as an album even though it is made up of songs from other people. This would be a testament to Ungerleider’s power to unify the songs and sequence them in a way that makes this more an album rather than a random collection. Granted, you will get the lingering feeling that the Canadian artists who contributed here didn't necessarily turn in their best material. While there’s an altruistic feel to the disc, consider this: if you were a recording artist, and you had a really crackerjack song, would you want to give it away or keep it for yourself? Chance are, you might opt for the latter route, so that means that Namedropper does drop its share of duds, particularly in the last half of the album. Still, the collection is well-served, and is, at least, an interesting experiment. One could knock that Bryson’s production does seem thin and unflattering at times, but this is a quibble considering that Ungerleider is a consummate talent and, of course, you don’t want to appear critical in the least given the fact that she appears to be a cancer survivor.

So what works on Namedropper? First single “Mozart for the Cat” is a hooky pop song boasting a silly and absurd chorus of “It’s champagne for the children, Mozart for the cat” that will make inroads into the pleasure centers of your brain. The album generally succeeds on some of the lighter numbers, as the production is the most suitable here. “Cottonseed” is a gentle piano ballad that drips with the kind of melancholy that Karen Carpenter used to specialize in. Final track “I Love the Way She Dresses”, another ballad, is pretty, fragile, and ornate. “Provincial Parks” is also memorable in that it’s just a female and male harmony vocal backed against a hesitant piano. Close your eyes and you’ll be able to practically see the sheet music for this float before you. However, the album does trip up on some of the upbeat rockers: “Into My Arms” feels slight and empty, even though it boasts an appropriately jangly guitar riff. “Savings and Loan” has a head-scratching lyric in the form of “I hopped up on the barber’s chair / I said, I’m losing the mustache and the three-week old beard." But the worst offender is the simply nonsensical “1955”, which has a refrain of “You love’s like suicide / 19 and 55.” Say wha? There seems to be no connection there.

Still, while Namedropper hits and misses at roughly the same ratio, it is an appealing concept, and you have to give credit to Ungerleider for being able to rope in enough Canadian acts to fill a 14-song record, even though some of those 14 songs could have been easily lopped off. Although the disc has its share of American references, it is a celebration of Canadian talent, and since Canada isn't exactly a nation known to toot its own horn -- instead being the sort of quiet, friendly country that people turn to in terms of putting a flag on their backpacks while travelling abroad because they know if they do so, they’ll be treated well -- this is a welcome project. And while the record does boast star power, there’s bound to be a few acts that you might not have previously heard of, so the album goes a long way towards promoting underground Canadian culture. And Ungerleider’s voice is a pleasure to hear, as it is both seductive and innocent at the same time.

All in all, Namedropper might not be an out-of-the-ballpark smash, but it is broadly alluring and a simply nice LP to snap up and share. While it’s not as artistically rendered as something created by one entity, it’s intriguing to hear how the material by others is handled by Ungerleider and how this is tracked to make a full-length. So Namedropper is certainly pleasing, and should go a long way towards appeasing fans of Oh Susanna while they wait expectantly for the next album, presumably one that will show the artist return to her own songwriting roots. Since she has had a tough uphill battle and fight these past couple of years, it’ll be fascinating to see what topicality gets weaved out of that. For the time being, Namedropper is the stop gap. Nothing more. Nothing less.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.