As pandemic albums go, Boston’s Susan Cattaneo’s latest, All Is Quiet, is an assured reflection on those (these?) troubled times. Recorded early on as lockdown was at its height, Cattaneo recorded these songs, some referring to the strangeness and isolation, others suffused with a sense of hope for the future. As with so many other albums emerging from the darkness, remote working allowed the songs to be fleshed out, creating a gentle, multi layered comfort cushion with Cattaneo’s crystal clear voice quite captivating. There’s so much temptation here to compare Cattaneo to Joni Mitchell’s early work so, rather than resist it, we’ll say here and now that All Is Quiet is an album which could sit quite comfortably between Clouds and Ladies Of The Canyon.
While the focus is on Catteano’s voice and well tempered acoustic guitar, graceful waves of electric guitar and muted harmonies feature throughout, allowing the album to flow from song to song, all the while remaining engaging. When she mildly erupts into a slight sense of defiance on the song Hold Onto Hope, it fits seamlessly into the ebb and flow which surrounds it. While never despairing, nevertheless, several of the songs reflect the isolation and uncertainty of being told to stay at home. The opening title song, delivered quite brilliantly with a sense of trepidation, bustles with a Pentangle like folkiness to it as Cattaneo sings with a restrained fury against the Groundhog Day like repetitiveness of lock down. Time + Love + Gravity finds her in a relationship limbo, reaching out but unable to meet.
A withdrawal from society, forced or not, leads to introspection and several of the songs here find Cattaneo musing on subjects which seem more personal. Borrowed Blue is a lovely song that examines the relationship between mothers and daughters, especially when the daughter is essentially passed on to another, a husband. Blackbirds, graced with a quite glorious guitar arrangement, is more contemplative with memories of nursery rhymes evoking the past and the past also features on the gossamer like Broken Things.
At the heart of the album is the quite magnificent Diamond Days, a song which equals the likes of Joni or Janis Ian in its quiet and simple beauty. Ambient guitars hover and hum as Cattaneo essentially distills the essence of a life, the hopes, expectations and disappointments which shape us all.