Canadian Suzie Ungerleider released her debut album, ‘Johnstown’, back in 1999 to critical acclaim. The Johnstown Flood of 1889 inspired the title track but the other eleven tracks on the album also had a cloud of darkness hanging over them for the main part and introduced the world to an obviously talented songwriter. It was Ungerleider’s vocalsthat impressed the most though. A powerful and expressive vocalist, she displayed a talent for exhibiting beauty in the most despairing situations.

With production from Peter J. Moore (Cowboy Junkies, The Band, The Clash) and backing from, amongst others, Bazil Donovan, Joel Anderson and Bob Egan, the album could hardly fail, but Ungerleider’s stories set to memorable melodies and her impressive vocals made the album something special.

‘Johnstown’ was reissued for the first time on vinyl for Record Store Day, earlier this year along with a download of acoustic songs; this is now available on CD, so we get the original twelve-track album re-mastered by Peter J. Moore, coupled with five acoustic tracks of unadorned versions of songs that feature on ‘Johnstown, which were originally sold on cassette at Ungerleider’s live shows in 1998. For those who are familiar with ‘Johnstown’ but have not yet heard these stripped-back versions, they are almost worth the price of this new edition alone. In a strange way, they are even more powerful than the final versions that made up ‘Johnstown’, and provide confirmation that Ungerleider had talent and the songs before she stepped into a studio with seasoned musicians. ‘Alabaster’, one of the highlights on the original album and which was blessed with gorgeous sitar and Hammond B3 on the finished version, is just as affecting with only Ungerleider and her acoustic. If you purchased the original ‘Johnstown’, the 20th Anniversary issue is worth getting, the re-mastering is noticeable and those bonus tracks really deserve to be heard.

For those still unfamiliar with Ungerleider’s debut, the opening title track features searing lead guitar from Bob Egan on a chilling murder ballad, which sets out this talented singer-songwriter’s stall perfectly, at least for this album. ‘You’ll Always Be’ is another journey into the darkness, with Ungerleider’s powerful vocals stealing the show. Then it’s time for the aforementioned ‘Alabaster’, a more sensitive vocal delivery from the singer, although no less powerful on this tale of a love that’s far away and the pain of waiting for their return.

‘Old Kate’ again shows Ungerleider’s skill at cramming a whole story into a five-minute song, this time about searching for a lost love. Again the imagery conjured by her lyrics coupled with yet another powerful vocal performance confirms that Ungerleider was a talent to watch out for.

‘The Bridge’ was always a favourite, showing a gentler side to her singing, and accompanied only by her acoustic, piano, Hammond B3 and violin it’s still one of the most affecting songs on the album.

It’s no surprise that ‘Johnstown’ hasn’t dated in the slightest; songwriting of this caliber will never age and maybe, just maybe, Moore’s re-mastering has played a small part in keeping these songs sound like they were put to tape just yesterday. Since recording ‘Johnstown’, Ungerleider has released another six albums all of which deserve your attention, but ‘Johnstown’ for introducing the world to the talents of Suzie Ungerleide, will always be that extra bit special, even more so with this 20th Anniversary edition.












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