Well, you certainly can’t accuse Eleanor McEvoy of being predictable when it comes to releasing albums. Over the past six years she’s done stripped down solo (Alone), bluesy (If You Leave), a collection of fan-requested rarities (Stuff) and studio recordings of songs played as in a live show (Naked). Now, for her 14th album she’s recorded a collection of her arrangements of songs and poems by the Dublin-born 18th/10th century poet, singer, entertainer and songwriter Thomas Moore who, along with John Murray, was responsible for burning Byron’s memoirs after his death.
Although regarded as Ireland’s answer to Robert Burns, and with poems having been set to music by the likes of Schubert and Britten as well as referenced by James Joyce, his work is probably less popularly well known to contemporary audiences not of Irish heritage, so the album serves as both homage and introduction.
One of his best known songs is ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’, a song about memory quoted by Joyce in Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and recorded by, among many, Sarah Brightman and John McCormack, and it’s this that opens the album, giving it a tumbling, pop-folk melody etched out with piano, Hammond and electric guitar. Another much adapted and covered lyrics is ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, with recordings by Clannad, Charlotte Church, James Galway. Indeed Beethoven used it twice, although McEvoy’s arrangement is somewhat different, the jaunty glockenspiel, ukulele and trombone belying its meditation on mortality.
‘Come Send Round The Wine’ is a celebration of good company and good drink, and not allowing differing opinions get in the way of a good night, and, featuring piccolo trumpet, Hammond and even maracas and flamenco clapping, is suitably endorsed here. The theme of good company further extends to ‘Though Humble The Banquet’, Damon Butcher’s Hammond and Eamonn Nolan’s flugelhorn giving it a late night jazzy vibe.
Lyrically rather less upbeat, ‘At The Mid Hour of Night’ takes the form of a one sided conversation with a loved one who has recently passed, McEvoy’s musical box arrangement for piano and strings resonating with the fact all five of Moore’s children died in his lifetime. An Irish patriotic song, ‘The Minstrel Boy’ is another popular work concerning a warrior harpist, often played at the funerals of American police and fire department officers, McEvoy eschewing the usual military snare arrangement with the rousing finale interpolating the crowd vocals of “The Minstrel Rabble” (among then Ronan Kelly, author of The Bard of Erin) before a flugelhorn last post.
The Rabble return for Moore’s song of enduring true love, ‘Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms’ and, while you might not recognise the title, those familiar with Warner Brothers cartoons, usually starring Bugs Bunny, featuring a keyboard rigged to explode at a certain note will know the glockenspiel tinkled slow march melody. You’ll be pleased to learn McEvoy makes it through unscathed.
Arranged for moody Rhodes and spare jazzy piano and flugelhorn, ‘The Song of Fionnuala (Silent Oh Moyle)’ is based on the Irish legend of the Children of Lir, whose wicked stepmother turned them into swans, spending 900 years on the Sea of Moyle before returning home and having the spell broken by St. Patrick (only to die soon after, being 900 years old). Butcher’s minimal piano underpins Erin, ‘The Tear And The Smile In Thine Eyes’, is themed about the contradictory entwined aspects of the Irish persona as echoed in the mournful, reflective flugelhorn and McEvoy’s dreamy violin solo.
At just over a minute, ‘Oh! Breathe Not His Name’ is the album’s shortest track, its title inspired by the words of Irish revel Robert Emmet, a close friend of Moore’s regarding his epitaph, shortly before his execution, sung here with just an itchy percussive backing of matchbox, congas triangle and woodblock.
The Minstrel Rabble return (as drunken crowd) for the final number, a rousing romping reel on the back of ringing guitars, shuffling snare beat, tambourine, Hammond and bass through ‘The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls’, a deftly ambiguous lyrics about Irish nationalism (Tara being the hilltop castle home to the Irish high kings, here symbolising Irish rule and the harp its people’s culture and spirit) but also the fleeting nature of fame. Though, for Moore, with the likes of McEvoy’s fine album keeping the flame burning, not that fleeting after all.
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Artist’s website: www.eleanormcevoy.com
The Thomas Moore Project launch event: