Releases > Releases November 2020

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When the Stars Went Out
Daisy Rings Music, 14 Tracks, 53 Minutes, 46 Seconds
The album title stops you in your tracks - will the songs live up to the darkly beautiful visuals of the CD name? The line-up looks promising - Kansas-born song-writer Ashley Davis (graduate of UL’s World Music Centre in Limerick) is known for the haunting quality of her voice but also an astute intuitive take on creative collaboration, intriguing influences now from Ireland, Appalachia, Manchester and Ashley’s own American roots tradition.
Band includes the multi-instrumental texture of Dave Curley/ Colin Farrell/ Will MacMorran / Duncan Wickel. Featured guests include Heidi Talbot, Shane Hennessy, Tim O’Brien, John Doyle, Mick McAuley, Tony Furtado, Grammy-award-winner Shawn Colvin.
Mostly original songs, two covers, instrumental tracks. These songs are full of texture and emotional complexity. Lorem Ipsum (co-written by Ashley with the acclaimed Shane Hennessy) takes the bland blank canvas of place-holder text that’s supposed to mean nothing and subverts that into a melodically superb metaphor for the oft fraught emotional landscape between men & women. I was already familiar with Ashley’s capacity for depth and diversity, songs re-imagining new molecules of life and light onto the bones of tradition - no surprise so that Ashley’s approach to lockdown involves an even sharper incisive co-writing challenge - reaching across the silence between artists to explore the effects of isolation - A shadow falls around and under…..I saw a cloud, I heard no thunder…that’s from A Dry Cloud, (Ashley & Duncan Wickel), Tim O’Brien an inspired inclusion in this beautiful song that reminds me powerfully of Ola Belle Reed’s Appalachian music.
More highlights: duet melodic beauty How ‘Bout You (Ashley & John Doyle). That’s the night that the moon was glowing…That’s the night that our hearts were showing through; also, Ashley’s innate musical phrasing with Shawn Colvin on Annachie Gordon; Tony Furtado’s blue-grass brilliance, on Mountain Jane, a smokiness in Ashley’s voice that is also (astonishingly) as clear as a Kansas summer’s day. And yes – the visual beauty of the album title is matched in the listening by an indelible image of gorgeous songs encased in the most exquisite instrumental sounds. Lovely CD.
Deirdre Cronin

Pat Broaders
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 55 Minutes
The Dublin born bouzouki player who is well known for his work with Bohola and Open the Door for Three, has been a long time exile in Chicago, but you’d not know from this superb album of classic Irish songs. Recorded during the pandemic lockdown, it’s a truly solo album, with Pat playing and singing without the aid of any guests. The first thing to remark on is the quality of his bouzouki playing. The instrument has a gorgeous deep tone and Pat brings out both melody and harmony in each track. He double tracks a whistle on the Croppy Boy with a fade out to The Minstrel Boy. He acknowledges his musical debt to fiddlers Liz Knowles and Liz Carroll on the Liz Effect a fast paced dance tune, whereas his original tune The Merrimac Ferry is played on the whistle with bouzouki backing; it gently worms its way into your brain.
Pat has listened to and absorbed music from some of the finest singers in the genre. His version of Reynardine was learned from June Tabor, he digs deep into the tradition for The Holland Handkerchief, which he had from Frank Harte, and Farewell Lovely Nancy from the hard to find but essential Mick Hanly album A Kiss in the Morning Early. It’s not all ancient ballads on this album, as he sings Where Harry Sat from the Canada based David Francey; one of the leading lights in modern folk song writing.
Of course no singer of this quality got the music out of thin air, evident on the final track, The Irish Jaunting Car, a field recording made in 1962 of his father singing at a pub in Newborn Wexford, with Pat adding subtle bouzouki backing. If we had an album of the month this would be mine, an unfussy, unvarnished, unhurried masterpiece.
Seán Laffey

Moon Hotel Records 001, 13 Tracks, 55 Minutes
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we showcased Saoirse’s father Paddy at an IMM gig at Vicar Street, yet nearly a quarter of a century on, 23 year old Saoirse Casey is a fresh voice and a sophisticated songwriter, proof if we needed it that musical creativity is built into Irish DNA.
Saoirse has shared gigs with the cream of Irish contemporary singers: Declan O’Rourke, Mundy, Aslan, Mary Coughlin, Wallis Bird and (of course) her Dad. She shines as bright as each of these twinkling stars.
Her album serves up a baker’s dozen of original songs, the bulk arranged by Saoirse and producer Pat Donne; titles include Moon Hotel, Celeste, Carousel and Infant Star. Lunaria is noteworthy for the maturity of its lyrics and its musical depth, with tracks such as Mother Bear exhibiting sinuous changes in dynamics and tension, the music perfectly in keeping with Saoirse’s intention to write about “fables, lullabies and powerful expressions of love”.
Breathe Easy has a discordant opening, eventually warping its way to echoing phrases and a shimmering rippling harp as its final harmonies stand proud above the droning high note of a fiddle. The title track is number 12 on the CD, voice, cello and piano featuring, the song fading out as Saoirse repeats, “I will wait till I can wait no more”. Butterflies flutters with its simple guitar introduction, her poetic words alighting lightly on our ears, “December how I love you, you have taught me to let go”. Here we find a trademark of her song writing, around three quarters of the way through, the track appears to end, but no, she adds a carefully considered coda. Lunaria is a plant known as Honesty in English, which if allowed, forms see-through full-moon-shaped seed heads. Like the flower, this album has honesty at its heart and holds the transparent prospect of even more to come.
Seán Laffey

The Living Mountain
Hudson Records, 12 Tracks, 52 Minutes
With the environment set to dominate our lives for the next generation this album from the Scottish singer-songwriter Jenny Sturgeon is timely and prescient. Inspired by Nan Shepherd’s book The Living Mountain, which lay dormant for thirty years, Sturgeon selects elements of this awakening to craft songs that hike different trails from the obviously bucolic or the weary anger of green polemics.
Both Shepherd’s book and Sturgeon’s album are centred on Scotland’s massif, the Cairngorm mountains, intimately so as the recording was made at Clashnettie Arts Centre in the Cairngorms National Park in October 2019. The tracks follow the chapter headings in Shepherd’s book, such as Physical geography: The Plateau, the natural inhabitants: Birds, Animals, Insects, the changing seasons: Frost and Snow, and the way that the area impacts on humanity, inspiring fiery imagination on Man and self awareness in Being.
The single Air and Light is the backing track to a stunning video, which is available on YouTube; it’s an easy gateway to the album and Sturgeon’s simple yet beautiful and inspiring word-scapes, poetic lines such as: “A summer like gold drifting on the edge of time”. Encapsulating place and perspective.
Seen as part of the paradigm of the re-wilding movement, which had its origins in 1970s America, and has been recently tested through the Kepp Wilding project of Isabella Tree, this album echoes its ‘let nature get back to nature’ philosophy. Sturgeon’s songs distil thousands of words into accessible ideas, and one might argue that it is only when they are moulded in the hands of artists like Jenny Sturgeon, that powerful messages of the wilderness have the potential to move all our lives in a green direction.
Seán Laffey

Sowing Acorns
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 44 Minutes
Produced by Chris O’Brien and Graham Murphy at The Production Suite, Dublin,
Sowing Acorns is the new album from Limerick musician Emma Langford which is available on CD and vinyl. This is very much an acceptance of oneself, this collection of work is an act of seeing Langford for who she is now.
Opening with Birdsong, we are immediately drawn to the power of the female collective. Not only because she has a choir of powerful women singing on this, but the words are encouraging and they’re inspiring women to work together to move forward.
We are then engrossed in a number of songs whose titles feature around the sea. A piece of nature that Langford is very drawn to. She wrote a lot of this work imagining herself by the sea. We have Sailor’s Wife, He Came From the Sea, The Winding Way Down to Kells Bay and Port Na bPúcaí. He Came from the Sea is so contemporary focusing on men and the need to talk about mental health. There’s a real sense of serenity listening to this one.
The title track Sowing Acorns features poet Vanessa Ifediora reading Off-White Sheets and was intended as a lullaby to help Langford relax during a stressful time of study. The second half of the album is a collection of songs very much rooted in Langford’s life. Inspired by the women in Mariana, and then learning from her past and remembering mistakes she’s made in the songs that follow. The collection ends with You Are Not Mine where she advocates that she is independent and must make her own place in the world.
Throughout this collection, the music and sound change, the sound changes with each track. Just as Langford has changed and grown as a person in life. These songs showcase Emma Langford as a songwriter in the contemporary world. Although rooted very much in her own life, it has meaning for us all.
Gráinne McCool

Cherry Blossom After Rain
BPCD001, 24 Tracks, 42 Minutes
The Scottish composer and harpist Hilary de Vries has produced an album of original tunes for the wire-strung harp. Responding to a series of poems, within a Japanese setting, by the Canadian poet Robert MacLean, she has themed the work around her environment and the natural world. The mood ranges from contemplative to playful, fluidity in form; some of the tunes are short, energetic bursts, others longer and more ponderous.
The title tune, Cherry Blossom After Rain is a plucky piece, only 36 seconds, and a cascade of high-definition notes at the start, plucked to a sudden end, leaving a sweet aftertaste. The mid-tempo Butterfly befits the title, light and airy, a rejuvenating tune, likewise The Safe Haven, uplifting and also meditative. Blessed Rain is more staccato, acoustic echoes of raindrops, tapping, delicate phrasing, the instrumentation and melody well matched.
The careful listener will hear the influence of poetry, line breaks, couplets and poetic rhyming meter. Metaphor, allusion and imagery in the poetry is captured in some of the very lyrical tune titles: Fragrant with Blue, In Darkness Shine, With The Geese I Rise, Blessed Rain, Leaf Fall and the title track Cherry Blossom After Rain. In this year, 2020, the album is a comforting break from pandemic headlines, and for those who are enjoying the solitude, a perfectly reflective companion.
Wind, sunshine, rivers, birds and all atmospheric elements can be interpreted in the playing, bell-like intonations in all of the tracks; the varied tune lengths create an unusual and pleasant listening experience. Minimalist in tone, the music is given space and wide expression, shades of Japanese minimalism perhaps, in keeping with MacLean’s inspirational writings. Potential for a spoken word and wire-strung harp accompaniment as a future collaborative project between the composer and poet perhaps?
Anne Marie Kennedy

Erin Ruth
Own Label, 14 Tracks, 46 Minutes
A section of cover art in Erin Ruth Thompson’s self-titled album invokes the opening lines from Michael Considine’s Spancil Hill, his narrator dream-walking to the place of birth, finding solace in memories unspooled from his childhood fadó, fadó in Éireann!
San Francisco based, Erin Ruth Thompson, also takes a journey here, around familiar Irish folk songs and ballads, interlaced with beautifully original material, powerful American songs and a gospel lullaby. She takes confident ownership of all, with vocal ease and versatility.
Her a-Capella version of The Rocks of Bawn, a room-silencer, confident and earthy, her style is self-assured. Sarah Remington provides beautiful harmonies in Hallelujah, a honeyed blend of female voices, layers of vocal intrigue, call and answer rhythms. Steve Gardner provides superb fiddle accompaniment in Mantle So Green, original words in Vince Keehan’s Working the Streets, lyrically and musically contemporary, yet earning its comfortable place in among the older songs.
There’s a rich purity to Erin Ruth Thompson’s voice, particularly evident in her dramatic take on Boulavogue, an imaginative rendition, drone-like accompaniment giving it a modern-day twist. Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby is one of the highlights, with stellar harmonies from Kristoph Klover, male and female voices effortlessly infused.
With Richard Mandel, guitar and bouzouki, David Chadwich, guitar and Kris Yenney on cello, laid-back styles, arrangements concerned with melody and texture rather than innovation, the mood of the album is warm and immediate, solid acoustic instrumentation, songs allowed breathing space, skilful musicianship and intuitive variety in the material chosen.
Erin Ruth Thompson, like Considine’s dreamer, regularly awakens ‘…in California, many miles from Spancil Hill’, but regardless of geography, this finely tuned album should guarantee her performance slots at sessions, concert halls, festivals and any Irish music gathering where the green is worn, talked or sung about.
Anne Marie Kennedy

John O’Dreams
Own Label, 16 Tracks, 57 Minutes
We all know about the excellent Irish traditional music coming out of the North West of England: Mike McGoldrick, the Kelly family, Dezi Donnelly and in an earlier generation Sully “banjo” Sullivan, but there is also an equally vibrant Irish ballad tradition in the region. On this album Jane and Steve Gerrity pay homage to the memory of a stalwart of the Lancashire Irish ballad scene, the sadly deceased John Green whose maternal roots were in Tipperary.
There are echoes of Luke Kelly here as Steve adds his five-string banjo to Si Kahn’s reworked Belfast Mill (the original was Aragon Mill), adding extra bounce with synth strings. They cover Ralph McTell’s Clare to Here (written after McTell met Bobby Casey digging a trench in a London street); Tapestry’s version moves at a fair clip with some excellent whistle playing driving the song back home. There are instrumental tracks Ships Are Sailing, The Maid Behind the Bar and Planxty Irwin featuring the mandolin that was bequeathed to Steve after John Green’s death.
There are some rough edges too, Muirsheen Durkin and Dicey Reilly, both live tracks, Steve having fun with an audience on Three Drunken Maidens, an English song learnt from the singing of Christy Moore. Jane steps forward on The Sally Gardens and Wild Mountain Thyme, the latter is completed with a charming children’s choir singing on the final verse. The album closes with John Green’s favourite song, the Shakespeare inspired John O’Dreams, guitar and octave mandolin provide the luscious melody and the song is sung with complete conviction.
At three minutes short of an hour this is convivial company for a morning commute, a memory of a cherished friend and a reminder that the Diaspora sing wherever they put down roots.
Seán Laffey

From Ulster To Appalachia
Emerald Heel Music, 14 Tracks, 50 Minutes
Mike Ferry’s liner notes for this CD are brief and to the point, asking the key question who were the Scots-Irish? He answers; they were Protestant dissenters from the North of Ireland who landed in Philadelphia in the 18th century and headed south, many settling in his own home state of North Carolina; they brought with them an independent spirit, a work ethic and fiddle music.
The musical aesthetic of those early settlers permeates much of this album, from tunes such as Ducks on the Pond (a breakdown, first appearing in print in Virginia Reels, volume III Baltimore, 1839), Icy Mountain (a popular breakdown attributed to the West Virginian fiddler Frank Santy) and Soldier’s Joy with an electronic didgeridoo calling the fiddle to action. These are dovetailed with tunes that we’d associate with the native Catholic Irish, who made the trans-Atlantic journey in their hundreds of thousands in the half century after the famine. Mike includes the Donegal tune King of the Pipers and the much more modern Killavil Reel. As Mike can trace three of his grandparents to Donegal and the other to Cork, inclusion of those tunes adds a personal dimension to his album.
The tunes themselves are played on the fiddle in a straightforward style, reminiscent of the Contra-dance tradition of the Eastern USA, Mike adding presence to the tracks, giving them an ethereal quality. The big surprise is Mike’s choice of accompaniment. He backs himself on electronic keyboards and percussion, with an emphasis on a very strong and deliberate rhythm; drumbeats and washes of harmony populate the majority of the tunes. This gives both a modern twist on old dance music and anchors the melodies in a style that is not as loose-limbed as we would associate with a century of Irish music since Michael Coleman.  For me the standout track is the Scottish slow march The Mist Covered Mountains of Home, it is said to have been played at the funeral of King George VI and certainly was at the funeral of John F. Kennedy. The album closes with two tunes spanning the time shift from the present back to the 1790s: Tommy People’s Reel and The Devil’s Dream. Appalachia has a long and impressive history of fiddle music and this album is another page in its continuing evolution.
Seán Laffey

Poems and Songs From The Woodlands Edge
Own Label, 31 Tracks, 69 Minutes

Martin Butler has undergone a momentous journey from Tipperary’s Cloughjordan to Boston and on each step of the way he has had a companion, Thomas MacDonagh, the piper, poet and patriot, signatory of the 1916 Irish declaration of independence, only to be executed a few weeks later in Kilmainham’s Stone Breakers’ yard. He has been Butler’s life-long muse and inspiration.
This is Butler’s third CD, each one taking an Irish perspective on events from the second decade of the twentieth century. To do so he has recruited an enormous crew of 60 musicians, singers and actors. All of whom are thanked in the copious liner notes covering almost every inch of the CD sleeve; Butler is, you see, thorough. The project was modestly crowd funded and it’s a mark of the respect to Martin and his vision that so many well-known names came on board to bring Poems and Songs from the Woodlands Edge to the world.
Those well known names include Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, singer-songwriter Liam O’Maonlai, and actor Patrick Bergen, together with some not so well known, but most significantly descendants of Thomas MacDonagh: Turlach MacDonagh, Muriel McAuley, Michelle Drysdale and Dylan MacDonagh. This is more than a musical album; you could consider it a documentary or perhaps more accurately over an hour in the company of the poet and his muses. MacDonagh was a traditional musician himself, an uilleann piper and was well acquainted with traditional musicians in the Cloughjordan area. Butler shows us those connections by including works that may well have influenced the young Thomas, such as Ned of The Hill, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, written by the young Irelander Patrick Dwyer Joyce; like Butler he too found respect as an émigré in Boston.
Butler’s album paints a three dimensional picture of the poet-patriot and although we all know of his ending, it is his life, his passion and his Nationalism that Butler brings to the fore, on this major work of aural documentary making. Closing with the song The West’s Awake from Monica Brennan, the song was written by Cloughjordan native and inspiration to Thomas MacDonagh, Thomas Osbourne Davis. Inspiration can create some wonderful things.
Seán Laffey