Two-time Canadian Juno Award nominee Suzie Ungerleider officially opens a new chapter of her already distinguished and highly successful career with the August 13 release of her new album entitled My Name is Suzie Ungerleider. It’s her first since the artist formerly known as Oh Susanna announced that she would now record and perform under her birth name.
Bursting with trademark evocative melodies and trenchant lyrics, it’s the tenth solo studio album by the American-born, Canadian-raised artist revered for such landmark records as Johnstown, Sleepy Little Sailor and A Girl in Teen City. The decision to say “so long” to her long-time moniker Oh Susanna represents her recognition that the “exciting, dark, funny, charming” character that she thought was Oh Susanna was actually Suzie Ungerleider all along. “So here I am, leaving behind the trappings of a persona that gave me the courage to climb up onstage and reveal what is in my heart,” she reflects. “It once protected me, but I need to take it off so I can be all of who I am.”
The name change is both a personal and political decision, fuelled by her realisation that ‘Oh Susanna,’ the Stephen Foster song of 1848, contained racist imagery and a belief system that she wanted no part of. She came to understand its historic associations to Minstrelsy, a tradition both demeaning and dehumanising to black people. Leaving Oh Susanna behind, she’s become her true self with a wonderful record that marks a fresh beginning, a collection of new compositions that refresh and redefine who Suzie Ungerleider is.
The new album is introduced by the characteristically searing ‘Baby Blues,’ a song about how the traumatic events we witness when we’re young can haunt and indeed shape our older selves. It’s a deep subject with an upbeat punchline. “Like ghosts,” she says, “sometimes you just need to just sit with them, feel their power, and, because they feel seen, they release their hold on you for a little while.” Elsewhere, the album depicts an older and wiser artist and mother sometimes writing for her daughter, both at the time of her dramatically premature birth and miraculous survival on the achingly pretty ‘Summerbaby’ and, now a teenager herself, courageously dealing with her own identity on the intimate ‘Hearts,’ on which mountains of blue watch over her.
Now based again in her home town of Vancouver, she made My Name is Suzie Ungerleider with producer Jim Bryson, whose assured touch amplifies the atmospheric dreamscapes contained in Suzie’s reflective, intimate songbook.
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Editor, Maverick Magazine
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