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CMJ Music Marathon – Margot MacDonald At Rockwood 1, Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Margot Macdonald at the speed of sound

Margot MacDonald’s first song of a 30 minute set goes past the 6 minute mark and you might think that, you know, if three minutes is enough for the Beatles, right? OK, but you’d be wrong. The song is “Speed Of Sound”, it is off the Washington, DC natives November 5 album Canvas (number three I think) and it is even better than this line, “take your t shirt, yes I want your key”.

With a pianist accompanying her and a loop feeding back vocal hooks as she sings it, Margot harmonizes with herself on what is simply one of the prettiest songs of the year and Margot sings it very well. The song, is, indeed, a show stopper and buys her time because she follows it with a piano based “Changing Times” – good enough but a breather.

It would take the last two songs of the set for Margot to reach the peak of her gifts again and till then we are left to wonder about the limitations of looping. I was as thrilled as any one back in 2010 when Tune-Yards opened for Dirty Projectors and yes,  I was pretty much blown away, but a good song can stand up to a simpler arrangement live and a loop can add shading but not flavor to a good song. For the most part I enjoyed without being fascinated by her obvious looping skills, but a beat looped into the coda of “Whatcha Going To Do” (actually, I have no idea what the songs are called for the most part) derails the song.

MacDonald is less a commanding  stage presence as much a smart center of gravity, she betrays zero nerves and has the assurance of a pro, the songs are all good but it takes her a little too long to tighten up the set. Still, once she does, the closing songs are brilliant. “The Book Of Love”, which she dropped on Valentines day this year and which she appears to have (maddeningly) chosen not to include on Canvas, is the second best song she has. Performed a capella,  it sounds like  Paul Simon meets Graceland, yes, I know, but what I mean is that it has a Bookends sweetness to a Graceland rhythm. From its opening couple, “The book of love is long and boring” to its powerful and lovely denouement “and I love it when you give me things, you ought to give me wedding rings” which Margot extends into a gorgeous coda of giving (“give me anything”) it is an instant piece of joy. You can hear it here.

The last song was a cover of Massive Attacks “Teardrop”, and it is a lovely reimagining of one of Massive Attacks loveliest songs to begin with. Very impressive, the entire set is very impressive. It is like an update of the sing songwriter only with much better songs. Margot is back at Rockwood on November 4 2013, the album drops the next day. Well worth checking out.

Grade: B+

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