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Slow Burn, the debut album from stirring songstress Ali McGuirk, possesses the kind of intense introspection usually reserved for artists twice her age. The singer dives headfirst into the turbulent waters of heartbreak, longing, and adulthood with cognizance that is wistful yet liberating; raw yet still devastatingly beautiful.
The November record’s opening songs “The Calling” and “I Can’t” reveal the conflicted nature of someone who is simply following their creative passion. McGuirk knows all too well that those feelings are par for the course. “I’ve been performing for a long time and am still trying to figure out my place in the music scene,” she tells Vanyaland. “I haven’t always told myself that I wanted to be a professional musician, but I became obsessed with becoming the best singer I could be. Those songs are about my frustrations when it comes to being ambitious.”
McGuirk’s ambition, though, has irrefutably paid off: She has garnered praise from local publications, was nominated as New Artist Of The Year at last month’s Boston Music Awards, and will kick off a residency at Brand New Orleans Art Gallery later this week. Tonight, she’s at Club Passim in Cambridge with the Slow Burn alternative band. All of these occurrences are significant for McGuirk, considering her transition into music hasn’t been the most direct.
“About five years ago, I was on vacation in Greece and came across these musicians who invited me to crash with them for a little bit while I figured out how to live there,” she says. “I was playing six shows a week and it was the first time I considered music as a full time career. In August, I quit my job to make a bigger commitment to music which was pretty monumental for me. It also made being nominated for a Boston Music Award that much more affirming.”
While she understands that the future is as vast as it is unpredictable, McGuirk is optimistic and excited for whatever lies ahead: “In a few years, I want to do a wider variety of music. I’m into folk, I love jazz. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as just a blues singer or just a soul singer. And I don’t want to necessarily change, but expand on what people think is in my wheelhouse.”
She quickly becomes more adamant about this statement, as if she’s speaking it into existence. “Experimenting with genre is a huge goal of mine,” she adds. “I just have to be strategic with the way I do it.”