QUICK HITS: Speaking of Joe Clapp, he'll be playing with popular South Shore rock band The Sleepeaters Saturday night, as they accompany Weymouth songbird Suzanne McNeil at The Spire Center in Plymouth. In fact, the SleepEaters, which also includes Braintree guitarist Tim Mahoney, was essentially McNeil's studio band for her latest album, "Shimmer," released last February. McNeil, who teaches elementary school music at Mount Alvernia by day, has three adult albums to her credit, as well as one children's CD, but the new one takes her folk-rock sound in a more country direction, although a pair of acoustic numbers suggest she might thrive in coffeehouses too. McNeil and the SleepEaters share Saturday's bill with the bluesy-folk stylings of singer/songwriter Shaun England.

Suzanne McNeil takes it several notches higher with Shimmer

SuzanneMcNeilShimmerCoverArtSuzanne McNeil’s third CD Shimmer finds her a bit feistier and funkier. She’s found her stride and she expresses it with a little edge this time around. Utilizing singer-songwriter sentiment, country, folk, and pop idioms, and her own astonishingly pure vocal, McNeil’s album tugs at the listener’s ear and heart in pleasingly equal amounts. It would be a crime if nobody important in the music industry notices this surefire work by this good girl from Boston.

McNeil opens her disc with “Mary Go Round,” a song about the crazy things done by girls named Mary. McNeil uses a bit of a honky tonk approach with her saucy vocal gliding over a plucky, country rhythm section. Tasteful applications of electric guitar and Dobro flavor up the backdrop while McNeil’s well paced narrative builds the song with power. The listener can feel how this singer-songwriter pushes forward with the strength of her voice, a voice that paces this song with an unfettered gusto.

Title track “Shimmer” is a plucky jaunt through McNeil’s thoughtful lyrics, arriving at a compelling, confident, heartfelt chorus. This singer-songwriter’s strident march through life makes one believe in her. Pleasant vocals traversing an irresistible chorus make this one a potential radio hit.

McNeil gets her edge on for “If Words Were Money.” She’s had it with the love of her life, and her feisty delivery fits perfectly with her rocking support band. Swaggering attitude is the order of the day, with McNeil’s sharp, cutting vocal piercing its way forward with ballsy abandon. This tune’s hooky chorus makes for another possible radio hit, and saxophone player Anthony C. Grant’s melodic line burns a second draw throughout this number.

“God Jar” is about a mason jar the singer-songwriter inherited from her favorite aunt. All of her aunt’s notes and memories become a metaphor and a message about the important things in life. Not only is this song the most tender on McNeil’s CD, it succeeds on the sweet strength of her voice and all of the subtle touches from producer Joe Clapp’s acoustic guitar and Dobro and Amy Basse’s fiddle. This one will leave no dry eyes at coffeehouses and listening rooms.

“One Of Those Days” finds McNeil describing the vexations of a trying day. Catchy as hell and instantly relatable, its drum fills and electric guitars give McNeil a platform to strut around, like she’s an annoyed country and western star venting her litany of gripes. Her vocal sustains are packed with attitude and sweet beauty and the whole song becomes a two stepping party favorite.

With flinty electric and acoustic guitars blazing a trail, McNeil asserts that she’s a “Girl Worth Fighting For.” She swaggers through this tune with a girlishly sweet attitude. This is another that could make it to radio, country as well as adult contemporary pop. Clapp’s lead guitar work sets off a second string of fireworks to walk in measured step with all of McNeil’s lyrical fight and feisty delivery.

“Sister’s Hands” is another touching acoustic guitar driven tune that reaches the heart with its universal theme. Holding her sister’s hand at serious, pivotal moments in life become a metaphor for the sacred relationship between female siblings. Diona Devincenzi’s acoustic guitar helps drive forward this tender march through time as McNeil’s even, smooth vocal takes us into a journey of the heart. Interestingly enough, it’s also as catchy as many pop song.

McNeil paints a perfect picture of “Sunday Morning.” With vivid, familiar details, her voice carries sweetly through a myriad of fine, acoustic country instruments. This is an ode to love as well as an ode to the beginning of a glorious day. Mandolin, acoustic guitar, baritone guitar, fiddle, and a whole mess of other fun outdoorsy feeling melodies spring through this easeful joyride, making it a fun two step, the kind that makes one picture the musicians having fun playing it. That fun sensation is infectious here.

McNeil sings “He Don’t Care” with more of a country star attitude, making us picture her shimmy around on a giant stage like Shania Twain. Like today’s female country stars, McNeil is unafraid to call men out on their guy qualities while also describing their masculine prowess. Here, she does the opposite, in a witty kind of way. She paints a striking picture while maneuvering her vocal through a myriad of well delivered drum fills and electric guitar boogie.

McNeil closes out her disc with an ode to every musician’s worst nightmare. “Rejection Letter” is about how she posts her dismal record company refusals all over her walls while giving them all a sweet, girlish retort. Even as she tells them to “go to hell,” McNeil is positively charming, asserting her desire to move forward with her dreams. She maintains this balance between sweetness and defiance because she is a true talent who doesn’t deserve all of those rejection letters.

McNeil has taken her already proven sound several notches higher on Shimmer. She offers something special for many different listeners and everything track here shimmers with potential, radio potential, personal favorite potential, and a shimmering personality behind everything going on in this disc.

 

Singer-songwriter Suzanne McNeil recently released her third album, titled "Shimmer, " through Candescent Records.  The South Shore songstress, who recently moved to Weymouth, is known for her warm stage charisma and rootsy, Nashville sound that blends the rock of Sheryl Crow and the country romance of Miranda Lambert.

Born in Massachusetts, McNeil grew up on the east coast of Canada on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. While she started out with a career in social work her passion for singing led her down a musical path that included a road tour across the Midwest and regular performances at venues across New England both with her band and acoustically.  Her latest album blends songs with driving rhythms and a little edge, like "Girl Worth Fighting For" and softer tracks like "Shimmer, " which delivers smooth vocals and a message of possibility.

I am so excited to be featured as the Entertainer of the month for the Boston Women in Media & Entertainment!
Being interviewed by Amanda Carr was to say the least, a blast! 
What an honor, thank you thank you thank you!

At what age did you know you wanted to be a professional singer? Did it begin in Nova Scotia?
I remember strutting around the living room in a diaper, wearing my mom’s high heel shoes, using the extension chord as a microphone, belting out Tanya Tucker. For as long as I can remember! It all began in Framingham, MA where I was born.

Have you always played guitar? Did you start singing first or playing first?
I started singing first. All the girls in my family were expected to play the piano. All the boys seemed to gravitate toward the guitar.  After my first few piano lessons, I remember telling my mom, “I want to rock on the guitar like Greg, Mark and Paul”.  At 9 years old that’s when I started my private guitar lessons.

Has your attitude changed after being in the business for a number of years, and if so, in what way?  How difficult is it to keep your thinking positive and how do you maintain that?
I started thinking the other day about my first professional job as a musician.  It was 10 years ago. I toured with a country rock band in the Midwest.  An agent got me the gig.  I basically lived in hotel rooms. We played 6 nights a week, 5 sets a night, and my pay was $200 dollars a week.  I thought I died and went to heaven I was so happy, getting paid to sing.

Well, my attitude has changed since that time.  The reality of  “making a living” as a musician has been a challenge at times that’s for sure. I think if you choose this life, you have to be versatile, open to change, and thick skinned. Looking back 10 years, if I knew then what I know now, would I do it all over again? Hell, yeah!

Do you find audiences more appreciative in your home region in Canada or in one place over another?
The support I have received from New England audiences has been overwhelming at times. I definitely am appreciated here.  That is a good feeling.  In Canada my profession was primarily Social Work, so there was never the opportunity to receive that appreciation.  My career in music blossomed in Boston!

How important is it to be an entertainer as well as a musician?
For me it is very important.  It all depends on what kind of musician you strive to be. I like to think of it as, I’m the host of the party, and I want to make sure everyone has a good time.  These are some of the things I am thinking about in between the music.

Before I became a professional musician, I worked aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as a Cruise Staff member (that’s right, Julie McCoy) where I hosted the events onboard.  Looking back at being forced to speak to people on a microphone day in and day out, that experience really prepared me to be at ease on a microphone.  I am thankful for those 2 years on the ocean.

Can you talk a little bit about the incarnation of “Lipstick & Laughs?” and how is that being received?  Do you feel there’s an advantage in having a group rather than being a solo artist?
Five years ago Diona Devincenzi (Nashville), Jill Miller (Iowa), and myself (Boston) met at a songwriting conference in Nashville, TN. Five years and a reunion lunch later, they decided to come together as a cooperative to perform a Nashville “in the round” style show and bring that intimate, acoustic, listening experience to other parts of the country.

All based in separate cities and all having their own solo careers, they bring their own twist to the party. Separately, their musical influences run the gamut from folk to pop to jazz to country to rock. Together, their sound is a sonic confluence of those American styles and textures…with the additional “fairy dust” that comes from three artists who love what they’re doing.

Lipstick and Laughs combines stories and songs to inspire, motivate and empower women. Acoustic arrangements, rich harmonies, meaningful lyrics, and a good dose of humor are what sets Lipstick and Laughs apart from the same old keynote experience. Exploring topics unique to women, they can touch an audience in a unique way…. through the power of music. Their message is delivered in a way that is honest, sometimes irreverent, sometimes serious and oftentimes funny, but always entertaining!

Can you describe what you feel about the advantages or disadvantages of being a women in the music business?
I think the role of women in the music business is changing. More and more women today are running their own careers. The advantages women have in the business of music are our communication skills, teamwork approach, and multi-tasking abilities to name a few.

It can still be an intimidating place to be at times, but when you run your own music empire, you can choose what kind of people you want to surround yourself with.  I try to get rid of any negative influences as soon as possible.

Since most independent artists are ‘self-managed’, can you talk a bit about your learning curve in this area and what you would say to younger women who are just getting into or want to pursue being a professional musician.
Self-managed musician, in a nutshell, means that you pretty much do everything. I think it’s important to figure out what your strengths are and outsource the rest. Create a support system for yourself.  If you don’t have the money you can barter with people. People usually want to help (especially fans).
For example, I have learned a ton in the past few years about maintaining my own website, writing my blogs, sending emailers, press releases, social media campaigns etc…
What I don’t have time for is to learn how to engineer my music.  I’d rather be writing music than learning how to be an engineer.  Therefore I know that I need people like Ducky Carlisle to work his magic.

“You can do anything, but not everything”

If you could turn the clock back 10 years, what would you change to your approach in what you’re doing now?
If I could go back in time, I would have probably started writing songs right away.  Your authentic voice is the key.  You can groom your craft but “your sound is your sound”. I find songwriting to be such an incredible journey that the more I write the better I get, so I wish I had started really taking it serious right away.  That is the only thing I regret.
Oh, and that one horrible band I joined too!

How has the landscape changed over the years for artists promoting original material?
The good news is that it is all at your fingertips.  The bad news is, that there are a million people out there wanting to be heard, so the market is almost saturated.  Your music has to stand out from the rest. You also have to brand yourself and connect with people authentically.

How important do you feel having a college education is when entering the music industry?  What other skills besides just playing music do you feel are crucial in this business?
I do not think you need a college education to make it in the music industry.  I don’t think it will hurt you either. If you can figure out how YOU learn best.  Can you teach yourself?  Is private instruction better for you? Right here in Boston we are so fortunate to have a wealth of master musicians from Berklee College of Music.  We also have people like Mark Baxter, (a world class voice teacher).  The list goes on and on. Being a solo artist oftentimes means that you are a lone ranger. This is where emotional intelligence comes in.  Figure out how to support yourself, and who you can talk to when you need to vent, celebrate, talk about things like rejection, and then just keep on keeping on.

For me, I think of my music as a service. I want people to connect my songs.  If they don’t, then I need to go back to the drawing board until I get it right.

What are some of the pitfalls or mistakes you see young musicians/singers make who are just starting out and what would you like to say to them?
Hone your craft as best you can, and don’t be afraid of constructive honest feedback.  Be honest with yourself and your development. Know where you are and what your goals are.  Success means different things to different people. Musicians need to stick together and support each other. I often feel this competitive attitude from new musicians. If you respect everyone you work with, then you will have tons of opportunities.  Boston is a great music scene, but a small world at the same time.  As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did.  But, people will never forget how you made them feel.”   Just be you, nobody else!

Quincy singer-songwriter Suzanne McNeil has received word that her music will be featured on the August 1 broadcast of New England Cable News (NECN) "Morning Show" between 7-9 a.m. McNeil, who was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Cape Breton, has been informed that her songs "Lost in Boston" and "It's All About You" will be part of the soundtrack for that August 1 broadcast.

NECN has a continuing program of exposing music from the region, and performers are invited to submit material, with the best music being featured during one whole morning's show. McNeil's "Lost in Boston" is a product of her leaving the area from 2005-2007, and the things she came to remember and regret losing, and it includes a reference to Paddy Barry's Pub in Quincy, where she had frequently played while establishing her career. 

These days McNeil can be found performing every Thursday night on the outdoor patio at the Adams Inn in Quincy, and most Fridays at the clubhouse at Granite Links golf course, and she maintains a steady schedule of other gigs around the South Shore. McNeil is also one-third of Lipstick and Laughs, a trio devoted to light-hearted tunes about the trials and tribulations of being a modern American woman.  

BEST ALBUMS: Great music you won't see on the charts

“Willow” by Suzanne McNeil (Candescent)

It’s always a trap to cite a friend’s work, because there is always that assumption that the fix was in, but in truth we’re probably overly hard on friends’ music, and frequently expect too much. Quincy’s McNeil, who usually gigs about seven nights a week in the area, has nonetheless delivered a startlingly potent collection of songs. There’s an emotional arc to the album, and an overriding air of endurance and perseverance – a more personalized take on the Holmes Brothers’ theme, if you will. The rebirth inherent in “Spring” is immediately affecting, and the pathos in “Bend” is stunningly powerful. “Cut ‘Em Loose” has to be one of the year’s best twang-rockers, and “Lost in Boston,” this Canadian import’s ode to Beantown, never fails to stir the juices. Fronting a five-or-six-piece rock band, led by Braintree’s Tim Mahoney, McNeil reaches heights her local solo and duo gigs only hint at.

Quincy singer-songwriter McNeil’s second CD is a pleasant surprise. Her smart pop comes with more twang this time, lending it an Americana flavor that should broaden her appeal. A Massachusetts native raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, McNeil shows a wide range of influences that can be heard in her 11 originals, some co-written with her trio partners from Lipstick and Laughs. Reminiscent of Kathleen Edwards, McNeil’s poignant stories are sung in a strong and affecting voice, with enough hooks to catch the ear. She shows deep affection for Boston, even for its crazy traffic in “Lost in Boston,” a song any local will relate to. Download: “Bend.”

We have written previously about the quality of Suzanne McNeil's new album, "Willow," but hearing the Quincy songwriter fronting her quintet is truly a revelation. Performing solo, or in her usual duo with protean Braintree guitarist Tim Mahoney, McNeil is a superb musical craftsman navigating a wide variety of covers.  But when given the chance to do her own material with her own band, McNeil reaches a level of passion and emotional resonance that elevates her work to the rarified territory of singer-songwriters like Rosanne Cash and Kim Richie.

McNeil's 50-minute set had several highlights, from the soft-to-rocking dynamic tour de force of "Spring," with Mahoney provided espeically scintillating guitar lines, to the brisk two-step of "All About You" where Mahoney's stellar guitar solo channeled his inner Marty Stuart.

But it was McNeil's rendition of "Bend," from its dramatic tom-toms-only start from drummer Jason Nute, to the singer's pulse-pounding vocal catharsis with its stunning sustains, that really raised goosebumps.  McNeil's mastery of subtle nuances is usually her strongest point vocally, and to hear her cut loose with such unbridled passion, while maintaining such perfect tone, is frankly breathtaking.

Elsewhere, McNeil's "Cut 'Em Loose" was the hardest rocking tune, a kissoff song that'd make Lucinda Williams proud. And "Mr. Non-Committal," from her 2005 debut album, came across as a Tom Petty-like rocker, with a few tasty dollops of Janis Joplinesque wails at the end. 

Hearing McNeil do a set of her own music with a full band, you wish she could do that every night. But in the meantime, until the rest of the music world wakes up to this huge talent among us, Quincy fans can hear her doing mostly covers at tiny places like Paddy Barry's, where she and Mahoney will be gigging Saturday night.


LOCAL SHINDIG: A massive  turnout for last Sunday’s CD release  for Quincy’s Suzanne McNeil at  Dante’s at Firefly’s in the city. Braintree guitarist Tim Mahoney doubtless  won many new fans with his sizzling  set, celebrating his own CD debut,  which is mainstream rock with melodic grace and plenty of power. Much of  the South Shore music community  turned out, including Quincy rocker  Tom McGinnis, whose reformed ’80s  band was fresh off packing The  Beachcomber the night before, the  Marsdens, proud parents of one-fourth  of the hot power-pop group A Loss for  Words, and Rockland’s Jim Saley,  blues photo-journalist.

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TOUR

  • Nov 22
    The Voyage,  Scituate, ((Humarock)
     
  • Nov 24
    Thirsty Souls Brewery,  Mt Airy,
     
  • Dec 2
    Hurricane's,  Fort Pierce,
     
  • Dec 3
    Notes Music Room and Wine Bar,  Stuart