‘Guitar Queen’ Sarah McQuaid holds court
Sarah McQuaid is the rare singer-songwriter whose singing, compositions and guitar mastery unite on equal footing to prove how wondrous music made by a single voice and instrument can be.
A captivating performer, she connects original songs and carefully curated covers with witty stage banter and flawless pacing. Now touring on this side of the Atlantic, McQuaid will play at White Horse Black Mountain on Saturday, Oct. 8.
McQuaid’s bio befits an eclectic artist whose musical choices are hard to pigeonhole. She was born in Madrid, Spain, to a Spanish father and an American mother, grew up in Chicago, lived and worked as a music journalist in Ireland for 13 years and now makes her home in rural Cornwall, England. Her folksinging mother taught her piano and guitar, and she remembers being inspired by meeting her distant cousin, singer-songwriter and storyteller Gamble Rogers.
McQuaid launched her solo career in 1997 with the release of her debut album, “When Two Lovers Meet,” an exploration of traditional Irish songs and instrumentals. Subsequent releases celebrated arrangements of old-time Appalachian tunes and, increasingly, her own songs interspersed with exquisite readings of unexpected covers. Her most recent CD, “Walking into White,” has been hailed as her most personal, acutely observed and adventurous collection yet.
McQuaid’s guitar work elevates the instrument far beyond the role of mere accompaniment, recently prompting one festival organizer to dub her a “guitar queen.” She makes extensive use of DADGAD tuning (the name is derived from the string pitches), an alternate tuning that offers deep bass notes, spacious chord voicings and ringing resonance.
McQuaid has even authored “The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book,” which expounds upon the tuning that’s become a favorite of Irish players and musicians seeking out new sounds.