Although 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.
Artist’s website: www.janetdowd.com
It’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.
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