The music of Ireland is as varied as its landscape, with stories to tell as varied as the lives shaped by those landscapes. In the physical landscapes of Ireland each turn of road or walk down a street reveals a new angle of light, or an undiscovered viewpoint.
That is also true of the twists and turns and directions of the work of Irish musicians. Many of them are grounded in the landsacpe’s long tradition. Grounded in it, yes, and taking it along new paths.
Aoife Scott ‘s album Homebird is filled with interesting stories, informed by tradition but very much in the present of Ireland. There’s Ireland’s Hour of Need, which calls on Ireland’s past heroes to help in the present. There’s Fuel I Need, which sees anger and frustration turned into positive energy. There’s also the gentle Another Reason, a song Scott and her partner Andy Meaney wrote to welcome the brith fo their niece, and The Dublin Saunter, a lively song Aoife learned from her grandmother Scott. She credits her other grandmother, Granny Black, with teaching her how to sing.
Aoife is part of the Black family, of which her mother Frances Black, her aunt Mary Black, and her cousin Danny O’Reilly are several of the best known. Aoife did not at first go into the family business, but eventually realized that singing was what made her truly happy. She is forging her own distinctive career in Irish music, a gifted singer with a natural talent for storytelling. Also to know about Homebird: Ron Block of Alison Krauss and Union Station produced the project, which in addition to Block and Meaney includes musicians from both Ireland and Nashville. Among them are Sierra Hull on mandolin, Floriane Blancke on harp, Cathal O’Currain on bodhran, and Frances, Mary, and Martin Black. Eoghan Scott and Roisin O on backing vocals. Amongst all that talent, however, it is Aoife Scott’s voice which centers the album.
The Great Irish Songbook comes from top Irish band Dervish. They have indeed chosen a baker’s dozen of well known and well loved songs of Ireland. They have challenged themselves with a bit of a different approach, though, or rather, several different approaches. For many of the tracks, Dervish’s lead singer, Cathy Jordan, steps back from the spotlight to allow a guest artist to be the lead voice. Some of these chocies work better than others, to be sure, but it is an interesting adventure altogether. Andrea Corr’s version of She Moved Through the Fair is gracefully understated. David Gray brings a meditative aspect to The West Coast of Clare, Rhiannon Giddens offers a bluesy tinge to The May Morning Dew, and Jordan offers a fine take on Donal Og.
Among the three of them, guitarist John Doyle, banjo player Eamonn Coyne, and accordionist concertina player Dermot Byrne have worked with artists including Joan Baez, Alison Brown, Kris Drever, Karan Casey, Altan, Salsa Celtica, and many others. When the three of them decided to collaborate on making an album together, they chose the landscape of southwest Donegal as their focus, and called their album after one of its mountains, Liag . Each of them has personal connections to this landscape, and though each lives away from southwest Donegal now, they remain inspired by it. They chose, then, to focus on lesser known music from or inspired by its landscape. You can almost see dancers swirling to some of the tunes, though others are such high energy as to invite foot stamping rather than dance.
There are few quieter pieces as well. What comes through clearly is three artists with deep love and knowledge of music, instrument, and landscape. Listen out especially for The Shelf, The Isle of Saint Helena, and the Nia’s Barndance set.
Nic Amhlaoibh has traveled the world with her music, as lead singer with the band Danu and with broadcasting and solo music projects. It is the Dingle peninsula in Ireland’s where she makes her home, however. It is a place where the ever changing rhythms of the sea and the varied cadence of Irish speakers are part of the landscape. History and present day live in both language and landscape in wets Kerry, too. All of these things inform Nic Amhlaoibh’s song choices and performance. She has one of the finest voices in Irish music and well knows how to use it to illuminate songs including Faioseamh Faoistine, with words which are from poet and boatman Danny Sheehy, which encourage the listener to connect to land and sea, and to find solace there, the classic story of unrequited love that is Blackwaterside, and Port na bPucai, song of the fairies, which, the story goes, may have come to a fisherman on the wind.
At this writing, travel to and from Ireland is limited. Music, however, is not. Music remain a way to connect, to learn, to explore through imagination, whatever your geographic situation.
Photograph of Rostrevor in County Down by Kerry Dexter; photograph of Slieve Liag cliffs in County Donegal by Ian Taylor. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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