Album Review: Ali McCormick – Clean Water


The first time I met Ali McCormick was at a small show at Pressed Café in Ottawa. It was a quiet Friday night and I was going to see Matty McKechnie. I had been listening to his band, Graven, non-stop over the month because I was using his music for videos I was making for a local lumber supplier. The night started like most small shows with a handful of people and opening act that relied on cover songs to get through their set.

During the opening sets Matty, Ali and I talked about their recent cross-Canada tour, life on the road and life as an independent artist. By this point I hadn’t heard any of Ali’s music or heard Graven live. All I wanted that night was to hear Graven play ‘Movies of the Mind‘ because it had been the theme song to my spring. I had assumed that Ali was just another generic folk singer-songwriter and I didn’t expect the night to be one of the most memorable music experiences of my life.  But by her second song I found myself thinking ‘wow, this is what it would have been like to see a young Joni Mitchel.’ I don’t throw around compliments of that magnitude often, but I was genuinely moved by Ali and Matt’s live performance. Ali’s stage confidence is enchanting and when I heard that they were performing together again at Irene’s on April 1st I wanted to make sure to bring my writing partner Adrian so that we could try to capture their sound in words and we were able to scribble a few thoughts down in the moment.

There’s an immediate and mysterious familiarity to her original sound. Her pristine voice hints at her influences without betraying her originality.  She hits all the right notes, cooing sweet summery melodies, then rising into a resounding and powerful chorus.

Ali’s right hand demonstrates a mastery of rhythm, alternating between the low and high strings of her open chords in a classic country-strumming pattern.  The kind of strumming that gets the crowd up out of their seats and onto the dance floor.  The crowd danced furiously until you could feel the perspiration in the air.  It must be very rewarding as a musician to see people really moving to your songs. That something they created makes people nod their heads along with it, start tapping their feet, and finally getting up out of the seat to start bopping around.

When Ali asked me if I could write a review of Clean Water I was thrilled because I could get my hands on her new music before everyone else.

I was also a little nervous. Ali’s live shows are powerful. They bring out the best of live music and create unique moments that seem impossible to record.  But Spartan was able to skillfully captured Ali’s vocals and guitar and added percussion, some piano, bass and his signature ambient ‘noise’. Then the Clean Water tracks made their way to the Big Muddy Studio and into the hands of Brock Zeman. With the help of Blair Michael Hogan on guitar, piano and mandolin Brock forged a production to be reckoned with, which he then mastered with Steve Foley at Audio Valley.

The opening track ‘Along the Way’ sets the tone for an album that’s thoughtful and hopeful in a misguided and jilted world. The theme gets carried through to the title track ‘Clean Water’ a critique of the conventional urban/suburban lifestyle with the lyrics “When you’re driving, driv’n to work, work’n to drive, liv’n to die.”

‘The Hardwood Floors’ has a hypnotic guitar riff that carries you on a hunted walk of a country home that feels as if it’s burning down.

‘Number and Shoes’ gives you a vulnerable glimpse of what it means to be a travelling musician and the difficulty of reconciling the artist’s life with what is deemed to be normal with the image “I’m loading up, while the drunks are going home and I feel so alone.”

I’ll let ‘The Spark’ speak for itself with this leaked YouTube video courtesy of the Lioness of Lanark herself.

‘The Spark’ is a great sample of what you’ll get throughout the whole album.

Clean Water tells a story of someone who has come to terms with their existence in this world. An outsider, constantly looking for and finding beauty but always on the road longing for past loves, past experiences, though, having lived life long enough, knows that there will be more highs and lows to come and that life, art and love are a process that we experience through ‘Time tick’n on the clock.’

You can stream and buy a copy of Clean Water on BandCamp  and catch Ali on her cross-Canada tour this spring and I highly recommend that you do.  I’ve had Clean Water on repeat for the last week and with each listen it gets better. Most albums have at least two or three ‘filler’ tracks to lengthen out the album but none of the songs are wasted or out of place. From the beginning to end Ali’s songs build off each other creating a whole listening experience similar to one of her shows.

Apr 30 @ w/Graven @ O’Reilly’s Ale House, Perth ON <CD RELEASE!!!>

May 7 w/Petunia & the Vipers @ The Cove, Westport ON

May 10 w/Allison Brown @ Not My Dog, Toronto ON

May 13 @ Whitewater Brewery, Forrester’s Falls ON

May 14 w/The Mayhemingways @ Irene’s, Ottawa ON

May 27 @ Love That Barr, Pakenham ON

June 2 @ LopLops, Sault Ste. Marie ON

June 3 @ The Apollo, details TBA, Thunder Bay ON

June 4 @ Prairie Wind Music Festival, Cypress MB

June 5 @ Sandy Lake Hotel, Sandy Lake MB

June 8 @ Piggy’s Bar & Grill, Saskatoon SK

June 9 @ The General Store, Twin Butte AB

June 10 w/Farm Band @ WineOh’s, Calgary ON

June 12 @ The Last Chance Saloon, Wayne AB

June 13 @ Rolla Pub, Rolla BC

June 14 @ Nancy O’s w/ Britt AM, Prince George, BC

June 17 @ Ocean Island Inn, Victoria BC

June 18 @ The Showroom, details TBA, Duncan BC

June 19 @ Red Tree Specialty Coffee, Courtenay BC

June 30 @ Raven & Republic, North Bay ON

July 29 @ Crown & Kilt Pub, Renfrew ON

Matthieu Foreman

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