Ali McGuirk has a pleasant singing voice when she’s crooning a tune to a pretty melody. She sounds friendly and thoughtful. She’s careful to enunciate each word so that what each one means comes through clearly. However, the magic happens when the Burlington, Vermont, via Boston resident gets more emotional. She lets her voice twist and turn. McGuirk employs a crackerjack band that prods her into different grooves before taking her back to the song at hand. The music gets jazzy and soulful as she shows off her pipes. The result on Til It’s Gone, her debut for Signature Sounds provides a wealth of sonic enjoyment.
Singer-songwriter McGuirk perceives the past from a personal, familial, generational, feminist, and social perspective and reflects on her own behavior. She understands the burdens of the past “there’s a price to be paid / For the futures we made,” she sings in “The Work” and uses that fact as an inspiration to create a better present. Or, as she puts it in another tune, “Love is just an empty vase.” We can fill it with flowers, metaphorically speaking, and make things the way we want them. Of course, she knows life and love are not always so simple.
While McGuirk is a literate and intelligent lyricist, her voice is the star. She captures her audience with the way she expresses herself as if one is getting an exclusive invitation into some special, secret society. There’s an intimacy in the way she sings, even when she’s belting out her words. “If our love were milk / By now, it’d be sour,” McGuirk snarls on the slow-burning “Milk”. If she were in front of her lover, one would expect her next move would be to punch the person in the face. She never lets the intensity drop. That’s true in the quiet, cozy songs such as “All Back” that suggest a more warm and friendly encounter.
Jonah Tolchin recorded and produced Til It’s Gone in Los Angeles Til It’s Gone with a band that included Little Feat guitarist/mandolinist Fred Tackett, organist Larry Goldings (James Taylor, Norah Jones), singer Valerie Pinkston (Ray Charles, Luther Vandross), percussionist Lenny Castro (Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder), and others. Godlings’ B3 accompaniment is especially notable for its excellence at bringing McGuirk to church. He gives the secular lyrics a gospel edge. Her pleas come off as prayers in songs such as “Let It Be You”. Hallelujah indeed!
But McGuirk’s not looking to be saved by some higher deity. These are songs of empowerment. “Every woman is a warrior / 200,000 years we’ve done your dirty deeds,” she proclaims on “Leave”. The protagonists in her narratives may have been victims of oppression, such as the title character “Evelyn”, but McGuirk paints a rich portrait of their situation. They are not just victims but actors in their own dramas. The songs on Til It’s Gone are hopeful even when sad because the singer knows things have worsened. Still, we are here.
In the title song, McGuirk announces that she’s casting a spell to eliminate the distance between her and whomever. While she’s addressing a lover in the lyrics, one can also interpret the words to reveal that her music is meant to bring her closer to her audiences. She does an excellent job of this. McGuirk makes us all feel like her ex-boyfriends (regardless of one’s gender).