JANET DOWD – Home (Blue Cow Records)

HomeAlthough Janet Dowd writes songs, and there are three of her own compositions on Home, her particular forte is in covering other writers. Her subjects are mostly Irish and an album like this will serve to introduce British audiences to some new songs, but she also encompasses Scotland and Australia and unless you are a particular fan of the writers involved these too may be songs you haven’t heard before.

The album opens with Eric Bogle’s ‘All The Fine Young Men’ which has been covered quite frequently (but good luck finding Eric’s original these days). It features producer Donogh Hennessy on guitars, keyboards and programming with strings from Niamh Varien Barry. Janet’s strong, clear voice does full justice to a song that should be rated alongside ‘No Man’s Land’.

Irish songwriters have a sentimental streak and Tommy Sands indulged his on ‘County Down’, a song of the auld country calling the expatriate home. It features Alan Doherty on whistle and Colin Henry’s Dobro, an instrument which appears several more times. Quite why a resonator guitar should suit celtic songs so well, I can’t say, but it just does. The theme of home, and not being there, returns in Dougie MacLean’s ‘Garden Valley’, Janet’s own ‘Westport Town’ and, supremely, Brendan Graham’s ‘My Land’.

The second Australian represented here is The Waifs’ Josh Cunningham whose ‘Lighthouse’ actually has someone coming home and happy to be doing so. Another highlight I must mention is the traditional ‘Súil A Rúin’ which again features Niamh Varien Barry and Pauline Scanlon’s backing vocals.

Home manages to combine the simplicity of emotion in both writing and singing with arrangements that are always interesting without being too clever or overwhelming the songs. Beautifully done.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.janetdowd.com

JANET DOWD: SAILING AWAY – Blue Cow Records

Sailing AwayIt’s a brave soul who chooses to record a serious version of ‘Danny Boy’ on a serious album. Whalebone did so and I regarded it as their one lapse of taste but in Janet Dowd’s hands it seems to link her Irish heritage with her taste for Americana – it is arguably more popular across the Atlantic than it is here.

Janet is from Co. Armagh and has been in the business for more than two decades. For all that her solo debut, an album of traditional songs, only came in 2010. Sailing Away is her second album with three of her own songs and seven covers plus ‘Danny Boy’. I get the feeling that Janet records songs just because she likes them which is as good a reason as any. The opening ‘Appalachian Rain’ by John Smith and Buddy Mondlock is a beautiful country-lite song of separation followed in a similar vein by Tim O’Brien’s ‘Lost Little Children’ and the record looks like settling down to be a real tear-jerker. But then Janet switches tack with Richard Thompson’s ‘Farewell, Farewell’.

The accompaniments are all handled with the lightest of touches. There are Dobro, fiddle and mandolin to give a country feel but nothing as crude as pedal steel and there’s a button accordion when something more European is suggested. Janet has a strong clear voice which doesn’t need to push against the instrumentation but I’d love to hear her tackle a song with a bit more edge. Having written and sung ‘Leaving The Blasket’, a song of her own part in the Irish diaspora, there are plenty more to choose from.

Sailing Away is doing well in Ireland right now and I’m sure it appeals to Irish misty-eyed sentimentality (now tell me that’s a myth) but I can drift away to it with the rest.

Dai Jeffries

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JANET DOWD – 300 Miles (Blue Cow Records)

In much the same way that Mary Black and Maura O’Connell established themselves with their distinctive vocals the same could be said of Janet Dowd whom I first heard on Richard Digance’s Radio Devonfolk programme. Unlike Black and O’Connell however there are no American inflections, just the pure tone of Janet’s vocal that will enamour her to anyone who enjoys an unblemished but spirited performance. Starting with the gorgeous “Dingle Bay” accompanied by an arrangement that would I’m sure have been approved by The Furey’s in their “Sweet Sixteen” days she immediately establishes her credentials with an assured performance that will gain her a legion of octogenarian (for this read BBC Radio 2) fans. The track that originally made me take note of Dowd was the song “John Condon” who was thought to be the youngest soldier to die in the Great War of 1914-1918. Much like Eric Bogle’s epic “Green Fields Of France”, I’m sure this song will be accepted by the ‘folk’ music community in much the same way and it won’t be long before it is utilised by every major artist (maybe it already has) looking for another holy grail? This album showcases Dowd’s obvious talents leaning towards a good ballad including the Northumbrian “The Water Is Wide”, “Loving Hannah” (also covered on the debut album by the afore mentioned Mary Black) and the evocative “Both Sides The Tweed” penned by Dick Gaughan. Rounding things off with the Dixie-Land style brass arrangement on “Wayfaring Stranger” (which I haven’t heard since the heydays of The Seekers!) this lady should be required listening for those that enjoy a good songstress and a must have for festivals in 2011.

PETE FYFE

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.