Take out a map. Find the spine of the Appalachians running down from the Canadian east coast to the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. Trace the musical lineage that runs through it like a nerve, from storyteller folk to classic country. Norma MacDonald’s voice hits that nerve, tinging in the tension between here and there, now and then.
Her four previous albums were critical darlings, receiving considerable airplay in North America and the UK, landing perfectly in that contemporary country-folk sweet spot. Her latest album, Old Future, leans into nostalgia a bit more, picking up 1960’s Dolly and Loretta vibes while also nodding to 1970’s California folk-rock, with layered acoustic guitars and lush harmonies. In fact, the working title of the album was Death by Nostalgia, admitting to MacDonald’s penchant towards dark humour, but “no one thought it was as funny as I did,”.
“Trick of Light” also hints at why that title didn't stick. It starts in the insomniac hours of early morning when “It’s so hard to get it right / All these shadows that we hold so tight” but resolves on the major chord with a repeated mantra: “Gotta let go / It’s just a trick of light.” The heart of the album that came to be called Old Future lies in this shift – from shadow to light. Whether crying through your ex’s wedding (even though you know leaving was the right thing) on “Your Wedding Day,” or the slow caution of new love in “Golden Age,” MacDonald never leaves us in the dark. On the lead single, “One Man Band,” she promises: “I’m here to tell you / Everything’s gonna be alright.”
As a song-writer, MacDonald manages to avoid cliché while still making every song feel familiar. From the opener, “Temperamental Year,” which swings between “good luck and heart ache”, to the sun-drenched beach day bliss of “Wonder in the Summer,” to the mindfulness-meets-classic- country charm of the final track “Some Days,” Old Future is a record that will keep playing in your mind long after it hisses and crackles. MacDonald co-produced the album with Dale Murray (The Guthries, Cuff the Duke, Hayden); their musical kinship sounds effortless here, with no distance between MacDonald’s unmistakable vocals and Murray’s signature pedal steel and guitar chops.
Born in Cape Breton, MacDonald is a staple of the Halifax music scene. Her fourth album, Burn the Tapes (2015) was included in the Polaris Prize 2016 “Longer List”. It debuted at #3 on the national Earshot Folk/Roots chart the week of its release and stayed there for months. It was nominated as Americana/Bluegrass album of the year by Music Nova Scotia. MacDonald’s third album Morning you Wake received glowing reviews in Canada, the U.S and Europe. It received three Music Nova Scotia nominations in 2011 (Female Solo, Folk and Country/Bluegrass Recording of the Year).
MacDonald is a frequent collaborator, having sung on dozens of albums by her contemporaries, and is a member of the Halifax folk-rock supergroup Bend the River. When not behind the mic, Norma works as an ER nurse and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.