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Susannah Clifford-Blachly, Middle Of The Night 

(Self-released, CD)

Susannah Clifford-Blachly is a veritable fountain of great original music. The Marshfield songwriter's winning 2004 debut, Girl in the Photograph, so impressed the editors of national folk publication Sing Out! that they included one of her compositions on a recent compilation. Blachly's latest, Middle of the Night, provides more examples of her masterful composition style and deep understanding of folk-music forms.

The driving bluegrass of "Rescue Me," the funky "Demon Blues" and the current-event-inspired "When Will We Learn" and "Colored Balloons" all showcase aspects of Blachly's songwriting. Elsewhere, contra-dance music rubs elbows with Zydeco two-steps, adding up to an album's worth of smart tunes from multiple traditions.

A true album highlight is the irresistible "The Line Between." Lyrically and musically stunning, it features vocal interplay between Susannah and her Bellatrix bandmate Patti Casey. Their combined talents had me nearly levitating; if this song doesn't end up as a major hit in radio land, programmers must truly be deaf.

Like its predecessor, Middle of the Night features some of Vermont's finest acoustic musicians, including Bellatrix's Patti Casey and Kristina Stykos. Longtime bandmate Lewis Franco, Cajun box-man Cannon Labrie, slide and pedal-steel guitar master Jim Pitman and multi-instrumentalist Colin McCaffrey also appear. Pete Sutherland, who gave Susannah Blachly her first fiddle lesson in 2000, makes a fine contribution. Kudos to Sutherland for introducing her to the instrument -- she's a natural.

In addition to playing guitar, bass, mandolin, fiddle, piano, organ and percussion, McCaffrey co-produced, engineered and mixed the album. He's also credited for many of the arrangements, and his pop sensibilities are recognizable throughout the disc. Thankfully, his soft touch doesn't take the edge off of Blachly's powerful tunes.

Along with being a fine songwriter and vocalist, Blachly is an instrumental force to be reckoned. You can hear for yourself at her CD release party this Saturday, November 5, at the Plainfield Town Hall. Several of the musicians on the album will back her up, so a great night of original Vermont music is practically guaranteed.

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