There is a sense of solitude throughout If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous that has continual conceptual and musical reinforcements. Lyrically, McQuaid queries big questions on the individual in nature, experiencing loss and trauma, and confronting death. At all points, the music is characterized by careful and tasteful arrangements, clear and clean performances captured in a bright and intimate recording. McQuaid’s approach here is rooted certainly in the traditional folk music style of the British Isles, but she also has an intuition for adding or removing musical textures where the moment calls for it.
“Forever Autumn”, for example, exhibits these tendencies. McQuaid’s cover is a reinterpretation but not a reinvention. The lyrics, structure, and the mournful melody, carried by McQuaid’s voice with sturdy resolve, are preserved intact. But in its sparseness, the arrangement and instrumentation differ from the original and most well-known subsequent versions. The focus is her voice and guitar with some subtle texture provided by a second guitar and cello. Unlike the original by Justin Hayward, and even more dissimilar to another apparently popular version (if YouTube views are an indication) by Gary Barlow, McQuaid’s version does not gather instruments by the verse, does not hint at any growing drama, and does not accrue momentum.
But that is the key to her reinterpretation. This version holds still with three verses and a chorus, a voice, a guitar, and a cello. Like the song’s narrator, on whom it has dawned that their loved one has departed and who will stay forever autumn keep them close, McQuaid’s version is inert. It simply stops and thinks. But that is the beauty and the essential honesty of the song, as well as the painfulness of the moment it captures. In undressing the emotional core and pausing over it in this way she has a claim of performing the definitive version of the song.
It is a highlight but there are others. “Forever Autumn” comprises part of the middle-third of the record during which McQuaid goes to surprising places. “The Silence Above Us” is the only song in which McQuaid’s piano playing is prominent, and it is another regal and starkly beautiful piece. The song’s evocative chorus describes Orion the hunter, low in the sky, and the guiding star. “Dies Irae”, the late-medieval hymn on transience and mortality complete with six Latin verses appears here, followed by an instrumental called “That Day of Wrath, That Day”. Together at almost eight minutes, they form a kind of centerpiece on the album – no hooks, but pure mood and atmosphere.
The last third of the record seems consciously sequenced to break the apocalyptic tone. “Break Me Down” frankly acknowledges the inevitability of death and provides one answer to the ultimate question of how one might come to terms with it – in this case, quite literally, as broken down organic matter returned to the carbon cycle rather than as a “prisoner in some marble museum”. She revisits these themes on “The Tug of the Moon” where she observes in the liner notes that, in accordance with Newton’s Third Law of motion, the moon recedes from the earth by about four centimeters every year. The hours lengthen but the end still “comes too soon”. Look up, and look inward, and keep digging as deep as you need to figure out answers to the big question for yourself.