Shauna Burns – Scarborough Fair
Since her 2005 debut with the album Every Thought, Shauna Burns has consistently released musical work that grips the imagination and stirs the heart. She certainly sports certain influences in her approach to both songwriting and making music, but Burns, over a decade into her recording career, occupies her own particular niche in the popular music landscape and has found success and acceptance on her own terms rather than via pandering for mainstream attention. Her thoughtful songwriting takes a pause with this newest single, “Scarborough Fair”, as Burns turns her musical vision towards refurbishing a venerable folk classic that’s received countless interpretations down the years, but her interpretive powers are obviously in full bloom. This is a meticulously produced outing for Burns, as all are, but the meticulousness she shows is the never the sort that drains a song of its warmth or capacity for surprise. Her version of “Scarborough Fair” practically throbs with emotion and a sense of stakes.
The song keeps to a manageable length and Burns shows the same wont she always has for avoiding self-indulgent trips of any sort. There isn’t any wasted motion in this performance and, in fact, its evocative use of timing and space adds much to its overall effect on listeners. She’s structured her re-imagining of this song with an eye towards creating a coherent yet dynamic musical narrative. It’s accomplished first by a beautifully phrased, but brief, piano introduction before her vocals and guitar enter for the first time. Unlike traditional folkies going after this song, Burns is more chanteuse than strummer and the six string work serves as a very unobtrusive counter point for the ivories rather than sharing any significant stake in the song’s sonic tapestry. Burns benefits from production that emphasizes her vocal and piano playing, but also creates a balanced unity of sound that establishes itself from the first and listeners can rely on. There are incongruous shifts or visible stitching defining this performance.
Burns delivers one of the best vocals of her recording career with this performance. One can sense her desire to get every word and phrasing just the way she wants, but it doesn’t come with any wavering or obvious tension. She sounds relaxed throughout and, above all else, confident. Artists of every stripe experience multiple peaks in their development and, frankly, Burns’ emotive skills and attention to detail have improved with time while her already memorable voice has lost none of its capacity to enchant. This performance is an experience for Burns as well and she brings us, the listener, along for the ride if we are willing to close our eyes and let her sweep us away. “Scarborough Fair” seems like a song wafting out of a dream and onto a recording in Shauna Burns’ interpretation and rates as one of her finest moments yet. We can expect, as well, that these sorts of forays will only immeasurably enrich her future songwriting.