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Today, Americana singer-songwriter, Oh Susanna, releases her critically acclaimed album, Sleepy Little Sailor (via MVKA), in a new deluxe edition. The “magnificent country soul” (Nigel Williamson, Uncut) record is available on CD, digitally, and (for the first time) on vinyl – featuring the original 11 songs, plus acoustic recordings of five of the tracks, including the title track, and a bonus acoustic version of You Win Again.
“After I played in London last September, Andrew Bowles, who was the main person I worked with at Hot Records twenty years ago, wrote me to say how he saw I was just in London and he was ‘gutted’ that he missed the show,” reflects Oh Susanna. “This got Andrew and his business partner Tom Norrell in a nostalgic mood and they started listening to Sleepy Little Sailor and 2003’s Oh Susanna on full blast in their office. They now run a management and label company called MVKA based in England. A few days later they wrote me to say how much they wanted to re-issue Sleepy Little Sailor because of their strong emotional connection to those songs. They said that it is a ‘buried treasure’ that new audiences should hear. Of course, this all felt very wonderful, cozy and warm and fuzzy. I adore those guys and loved working with them back then and it feels right to be working with them again.”
Adds MVKA’s Andrew Bowles, “Sleepy Little Sailor is an album that means a lot to Tom and I, having both worked on the original release, we’re extremely proud to re-issue this brilliant album on MVKA.’’
Four singles were dropped in the build-up to the album’s deluxe release, including acoustic versions of Sleepy Little Sailor, Sacrifice, Beauty Boy, and River Blue. Accompanying each release is a special hand-drawn behind the song video, revealing the origin and narrative of the lyrics, acting as a fascinating insight to the person Suzie Ungerleider was 20 years ago.
Sleepy Little Sailor brought her considerable critical acclaim in 2001, following her intense, concept-style debut album, Johnstown – inspired by the 1889 flood that ravaged the steel city of Johnstown, and redolent of old Appalachian ballads. Her captivating follow-up bared all in dreamy late-night rootsy songs showing off a voice that was alternately gutsy and fragile.
For every track belted out with gusto, such as Ted’s So Wasted, or her heartfelt country-soul version of Otis Redding’s I’ve Got Dreams to Remember, there were yet more vulnerable songs telling of obsessive love and loss: Forever at Your Feet, Sacrifice, Beauty Boy and River Blue.
Some of these songs are given a beautiful reworking on the reissue, including River Blue and Kings Road, which were newly recorded with producer Jim Bryson, while Sleepy Little Sailor, Sacrifice and Beauty Boy were taken from the original demo sessions with her producer Colin Cripps (Kathleen Edwards).
These pared-back acoustic versions highlight both the effortless strength of Suzie’s bewitching voice and her immense songwriting talent, bringing their haunting power to the fore. Confessional songs such as Beauty Boy and Sacrifice burn with pure intensity.
“The idea of violence and hate being intertwined with passionate love was something that I was experiencing so much in my late teens and twenties,” Suzie reflects on the former. “It is hard to love someone and be loved by someone who wants to hurt you. I needed to sing about that to get through the pain and leave it behind.” On the latter, she recalls being chastised by a lover for not making sacrifices for him. “This declaration scared me because it made me feel like I was supposed to martyr myself in order to keep his love. I wrote the song to express those passionate feelings of wanting someone and longing for them, all the while knowing that you have to give them up for your self-preservation.”
Stripping away the electric guitar and Hammond organ, Kings Road is imbued with lovelorn tenderness. This reissue shines a light, too, on her compelling storytelling of rich characters, and the finely told darkness within. River Blue tells of the long-lasting effect of child abuse on close relationships.
“The song is a plea for reconciliation and forgiveness by an older sister who as a kid tried to save herself at the cost of her sister’s safety. Over two decades later, it still is one of the most requested songs that I have ever written,” says Suzie.
These are songs just as powerful today as they were 20 years ago, and they hold new resonance in today’s world. Take the evocative title track, about which Suzie says: “Who is the sleepy sailor? I think we have all been the Sleepy Little Sailor at some point in our lives, trying to save our dreams in the face of greater forces of nature.”
SLEEPY LITTLE SAILOR – DELUXE EDITION TRACKLIST:
- Sleepy Little Sailor
- River Blue
- I’ve Got Dreams to Remember
- Kings Road
- All That Remains
- Beauty Boy
- Forever At Your Feet
- Ted’s So Wasted
- St. Patrick’s Day
- Ride On
- Sleepy Little Sailor (Acoustic Version)
- Sacrifice (Acoustic Version)
- Beauty Boy (Acoustic Version)
- River Blue (Acoustic Version)
- Kings Road (Acoustic Version)
- You Win Again (Acoustic Version)