Halifax-based performer Norma MacDonald is particularly excited about her upcoming album release shows at The Carleton and with good reason. After all, she has been waiting a long time.
MacDonald’s fifth album, Old Future, originally came out last April but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, MacDonald has not been able to officially support the release with live performances.
“It’s twice now that we were supposed to have it. In May — obviously that didn’t happen, and then in November everything looked great until we had that uptick in cases and it got cancelled two days before the show,” says MacDonald before adding with a chuckle that’s she’s “still a little worried that’s going to happen again.”
Overall, MacDonald is relieved that she will finally get an opportunity to play her latest batch of alt-country songs to a live audience over two nights at The Carleton.
The shows are scheduled for March 11 and 12, and as eager as MacDonald is to perform, she almost pushed the event later.
“I almost waited until April and called it a one-year anniversary show because we’re almost at a year (since the release),” laughed MacDonald. “But I think it’s going to feel like a big relief to finally launch these songs.”
Drawing comparisons to such diverse folk as early-era Dolly Parton and 1970’s California folk-rock, Old Future embraces a vintage alt-country sound that mixes pedal steel and twang with soulful vocals that are reminiscent of a less-muted Margo Timmins from Cowboy Junkies.
“A lot of these songs I’ve never even played live with a band,” says MacDonald, who is keen to perform Old Future’s 10 tracks.
“Some songs are (based) on an actual story — Your Wedding Day is pretty much one of those,” says MacDonald of her tribute to the mixed emotions that come with watching an ex-lover get married. “But then there are some songs that are just stream of consciousness (and) about creating a mood opposed to what the actual lyrics are, so it really runs the gamut between those poles.”
MacDonald’s unique alt-country songcraft is certainly receiving great reviews as well, and not just on this side of the Atlantic. Her previous four albums have gained a following in the UK, where more recent reviews of Old Future have been positive with one critic even writing its nod towards a by-gone era is “sure to please alt-country fans.”
But as much as MacDonald has seemed to capture the nostalgic sounds of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, it seems her mastery is a bit of a mystery. While she admits she grew up listening to a lot of vintage country through her father’s music collection, it wasn’t necessarily her taste in tunes.
“I didn’t like it at the time. I wanted to listen to Wham! but he wasn’t so into that,” laughed MacDonald. “But it’s weird because once I started writing songs, I guess these things that I’ve been listening to since I was a kid became influences in the back of my subconscious.”
Although her March shows at The Carleton will mark the first time playing live music since the pandemic began, MacDonald has not been idle. An ER nurse by day, MacDonald admits that while she may not have spent much time working on new music since the original release of Old Future, she has been rather preoccupied.
“COVID-19 has taken up a lot of brain space — for everybody really. So I don’t think I was feeling very creative in a lot of ways just because I feel like my brain was taken up thinking all about these things,” says MacDonald.
She adds, pandemic aside, it is still not that unusual for her to stagnate creatively after she releases an album.
“For about a year after a record comes out, I’m not able to just let go of the other songs and move on to something else,” says MacDonald. “(But) I feel like, finally just in the last month or so, I’ve been able to start writing some songs again.”
For more information on Old Future, check out NormaMacDonald.com