It’s been a while since I made any additions to the HMSOD website, and, as always, it’s not because I haven’t had anything to write about. You know me, when it comes to music, I could talk all day — finding the time to sit down and write about it is another story… When I read this morning that one of my favorite singer-songwriters had died of cancer three days ago, I felt compelled to find some time to write.
Kate McGarrigle had the voice of an angel and beginning in 1993 I went to hear her, and her sister Anna, sing every chance I got. The McGarrigle sisters’ shows were intimate performances full of tenderness, humor, sadness, exquisite musical arrangements, impeccable musicianship, soaring vocals, and provocative song writing laced with honesty and humanity. As they worked through the evening’s playlist, they changed and exchanged instruments constantly: piano and guitar one song, accordion and banjo the next. The sisters switched seats and instruments as frequently as their lyrics shifted between French and English, and the result was always spellbinding.
The sisterly banter between songs was infamous and comically entertaining in a way that made you feel as though you were gathered round the McGarrigle’s kitchen table or sitting with them in their living room listening to familiar family stories that shouldn’t be told in public. One time I remember Kate insistently interrupting her sister’s piano intro four or five times just to make a trivial point. Rather than get upset, Anna soldiered on after her sister’s last interruption — only to stop the intro midway herself to inform her sister that she was wrong and she had the photos to prove it.
Unlike most people, my introduction to the music of The McGarrigle sisters was not through the hit covers of their songs by Maria Muldair, Emmylou Harris or Linda Ronstadt. I went back to those earlier McGarrigle recordings only after I had worn out the grooves on their sixth album: Heartbeats Accelerating. Out of the seven that I own, I think it still ranks as my favorite recording by the sisters. Tonight’s Happy Medium Song of the Day is the title track from that album — and one that still gives me goose bumps whenever I hear it.