When you were small, somebody probably read you The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown — and, perhaps for the first time, you experienced mixed emotions. That 1942 picture book about a mother’s inescapable love draws in parents and kids through Brown’s lulling words and Clement Hurd’s gently surreal illustrations. The passion that allows the mother to transform into a fisherman, a tightrope walker, a tree, even the wind itself is magical. Yet her relentlessness is creepy. Bunny boy just wants a moment away from helicopter mom.
Molly Sweeney’s poison-pen seduction in “You Mustn’t Worry” similarly traces the way loyalty can tilt toward obsession. The song, like many on the Montreal-based singer-songwriter’s debut album Gold Rings and Fur Pelts, personalizes a classic story — a fairy tale, really — by focusing on the wrenching emotions such stories both describe and stimulate.
The verses tell of a woman’s search for her lover, who has gone off to war. A slow march played on a chorded zither and Sweeney’s opalescent alto open the song: “You mustn’t worry,” she croons, “I will find you.” Other instruments — cello, dewy keyboard, a heartbeat bass line — build to a whorl as the pace quickens and Sweeney’s voice swoops up in ways reminiscent of a young Kate Bush.
“I don’t believe I should grieve, though they tell me that you’re dead,” she wails, pushing against the music’s mossy wall of orchestration. Then the dynamics shift — everything quiets down, and Sweeney nearly hisses that she will defeat any rival, be it another woman or death itself, to reunite with her man. As the music rises and retreats, Sweeney’s voice runs through it like a river’s current. In the end, only the refrain survives: “I will find you.”
Sweeney, who first gained notice singing with composer Sam Shalabi’s orch-pop project Land of Kush, mines the same ground that Bush has so fruitfully explored, and also recalls the likes of Joanna Newsom, Mariee Sioux or Josephine Foster. Though her compositions range beyond typical pop song structures and her lyrics lean heavily toward the mythical (other tracks on Gold Rings and Fur Pelts include “Eros and Psyche” and “Spirit, I Will See You”), Sweeney’s music never feels quaint. It’s too intimate, too musically and emotionally risky, for that.
“You Mustn’t Worry” stands out on this rewarding album because of its deceptively simple structure, a finely executed bit of musical suspense. The listener, drawn into the heroine’s quest, begins to wonder by the end if her steadfastness may be just what her soldier lover was fleeing. Run away, buddy.