CD Review: Holly McNarland’s Run Body Run
by: Craig Dubecki
It’s been five years since Canadian and Juno Award winner Holly McNarland released her sixth album, Chin Up Buttercup in 2007. Her seventh and current release Run Body Run marks a new direction for the “whisper-to-a-scream” pop-rock artist.
There’s a trend of independency these days, which I believe is partly due to the ever-growing popularity and socially acceptable marketing and distribution abilities of music performers via the Internet. For Holly McNarland, Run Body Run is her first completely independent release. No agent, no manager and no record label.
It’s no wonder that Holly, a 1998 Juno Award winner for Best New Solo Artist, holder of gold and platinum records, collaborator and/or performer with the likes of Matthew Good and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and songwriter for other various artists, needed some time off between releases to relax and start raising a young family. Taking over a year to produce, Run Body Run took lots of sweat and heart, balancing her real-time life of being a mother of two. And it’s no wonder that after all that, she would want to be in control of her own destiny in an attempt to get closer to her fans. For all of these, and for the final product itself, Holly should feel very proud.
Holly writes about life: experiences, visions, friends, family and moods. Her words are heart-felt, inspiring, and at times hard-core, brutally honest. But above all, her singing is topnotch!
The first song is meant to hook the listener and leave them wanting more. “Alone’s Just Fine” does just that. It’s safe but compelling. It strikes a chord with experiences where sadness and moving on are in struggle for balance. The standard band instruments comprising of guitar, bass and drums provide a solid backing for Holly’s fabulous voice.
“Only Money” is a cool rocker with a slight country flare. “Dig A Little” slows us down a few steps. Something’s gone wrong in this story and it’s all about wanting and waiting. “My cards are all on the table – I’ll be home for you.” Ah, to find a woman like this (smiles).
Sad songs can be, well, sad. And “After I’m Gone” is so sad! It’s a well-designed song with the perfect melody and instrument arrangement to practically prompt tears. “Why you waiting, so sick and fuckin’ tired of waiting. I don’t wanna see nothing, just curl up and die.” I mean, you go figure out what this is about.
To this point, I have been nicely impressed with her songwriting skills. The music itself is very simple but extremely effective for this style of pop-country-rock. The musicians are very sound and tight, exemplifying the emotions that are obviously running rampant through this album.
Now we are back to rocking out with “Whisper.” It just might be my favourite storyline. It tugs at the heart. Sometimes the reasons and rhymes behind what the artist wrote about are tough to interpret. After all, perception plays a big roll on our musical listening skills, but this made me think of Robert Munsch’s book, Love You Forever. It’s that sweet (I think?).
“You’ll Forget About Me” continues Holly’s up-and-down, rock-to-ballad reflective journey we are being honoured with. Slow and melodic, it’s a relationship rebound song full of inspiration. “One day when you forget about me, you’ll see me and think you must be dreaming. I’ll be there with flowers in my hair, and I won’t give a damn about you no more.” Ouch! Rock on, Holly!
Next in line is another slow ballad, “Widow’s Pane”. Trying to hang in there after losing a loved one, I think it was written for the guys. Thanks Holly, we needed one here.
My favourite song on this album is “Fish”. I enjoyed the analogy of a bad relationship, one that seemed to be about music, being compared to living in a fish bowl. Have any of my girlfriends ever given me gills? I feel cheated, but it’s certainly not because of this song’s beat. Comparatively speaking, “Fish” rocks this album. I could feel a slight tinge of Evanescence, which, coming from nowhere, was a very pleasant surprise.
“Such a pretty face with that long blond hair, deep blue eyes and an 80’s ugly stare.” The ninth and second last song “Darl’in” paints this profound statement a couple of times. What’s an 80’s ugly stare? I’m trying to picture my friends that grew up in the 80’s. Oh, that’s what she means. It’s another sad, reflective song about better times gone by and Holly sings the story with her wonderfully unique style!
The fitting and well-deserving finale to this fine album is the title track and last song of the album, “Run Body Run”. Inspired by her daughter who was 3 years old at the time, it’s about her telling herself that she has the ability to do anything! The beginning and how it builds in intensity is great. Going from a simple and quiet intro, with the same beat carried throughout, the song evolves into this powerful and motivational anthem for all to enjoy! Musically, I feel it’s easily the best on the album.
Run Body Run was a joy to listen to. It’s safe. Many of the songs carry the same theme and stay near the same intensity instrument-wise. That is not at all a bad thing. It is the chosen and proven style and, it’s the way Holly McNarland writes. What takes us time and time again on a terrific emotional ride is Holly’s brilliant voice, and that is what makes this a must-have for your collection!