To mark the 20th anniversary of her full-length debut, ‘Johnstown’ has been re-mastered for CD and can be purchased for the first time on vinyl. Products (and a digital Soundcloud link) also include stripped-down acoustic versions of five of the album’s tracks which were previously only available in cassette form at live shows under the title: ‘A Shot Of Oh Susanna’.
Suzie Ungerleileider recalls “I decided to call the album Johnstown, so that, like a movie in audio form, the songs had a setting, a place to live and unfold”.
With songs that juxtapose darkness with light and death with life, you can easily imagine it being inspired by (or being the influence for) an existential Western. She relishes in vivid imagery in which blood and liquor flow freely while details like “the murky waters” of The Bridge add to a vivid sense of location.
The core players are Bazil Donovan (Bass), Joel Anderson (Drums), Bob Egan (Guitar), and Veda Hille (Piano) who contribute to the crispness and clarity of the piece which producer Peter J. Moore expertly captured at his studio on Beaconsfield Street in Toronto.
The album was championed by Bob Harris and the veteran DJ’s support was instrumental in the Canadian getting a UK record deal. It’s easy to hear what fired Whisperin’ Bob’s enthusiasm.
Despite the fact that this is her first album, there’s a remarkable assurance to her songs with impassioned singing that seasoned performers would struggle to achieve.
The re-release serves as a reminder of the record’s timeless qualities. For instance, the overtly feminist slant of Oh My Good Ol’Gal makes it perfectly in tune with the #MeToo generation.
Oh Susanna has made numerous fine albums since but the rawness and directness of ‘Johnstown’ has never been bettered. The sublime closing track Tangled and Wild encapsulates all the record’s strengths – “Run away with me won’t you, It don’t matter where we go” she sings and it’s an invitation that only a fool would refuse.
Oh Susanna’s website