Review of Maybe Day (Seven Days)

Casey Rea, Seven Days

Burlington singer-songwriter Karen McFeeters is blessed with a pleasant voice and an instinctive way with melody. Her new release, Maybe Day, is a comfortable stroll through folk-tinged pop, occasionally reaching powerful emotional heights. With little pretense to current musical trends and fashions, McFeeters delivers what comes naturally — thoughtful, well-arranged songs both soothing and somewhat familiar.

McFeeters shines on the folksy numbers; “My Only Son” places the singer’s confident vocals alongside gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar. A heartfelt song about a mother’s prayers for a son at war, the tune’s lack of instrumental embellishment puts the focus squarely on McFeeters’ lyrics. “My only one, my only son, my soldier, my boy/Don’t worry about your mama now,” McFeeters croons with palpable ache. “Wishful Thinking” features robust harmonies from local folk hero Patrick Fitzsimmons; his naturally rich voice is a fine counterpoint to McFeeters’ yearning vocals. The tune’s lyrics describe unrequited love with graceful simplicity, but heavy-handed production obscures the naked emotion conveyed by the singers.

“Forgive You Again” is easily the disc’s most adventurous track; a hypnotic drumbeat thwacks out a repetitive tribal pattern alongside the singer’s haunting melody. McFeeters’ multi-tracked harmonies fill the empty spaces with unearthly elegance — the resulting sound is somewhere between witchy paean and ancient madrigal. The edgy, pensive lyrics suggest unfulfilled passion and romantic resignation: “Perfection’s curse is old and gray,” McFeeters sings. “It’s like I was a ghost there haunting you/Crept and cried while you looked through/To hold your gaze is what I craved.” It’s too bad the rest of the record is not as bold.

McFeeters often echoes other female singer-songwriters; if she had been releasing music a decade ago, her tunes would be right at home on a Lilith Fair compilation. Her strong, high register bears a resemblance to that of Joni Mitchell, but the record’s play-it-safe arrangements fail to evoke Mitchell’s adventurous flights of fancy. McFeeters is more than capable of writing a hummably tender tune, however, and Maybe Day will certainly appeal to fans of gracious, user-friendly songcraft.

It would be nice to hear the songwriter tackle gutsier material — with a little time she might become a real powerhouse. With a strong voice, poetic skill and compositional chops, McFeeters is one to watch. Although Maybe Day doesn’t reinvent the songwriting wheel, it’s an agreeable documentation of a rising talent.