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

Damien Dempsey announces new album

Damien Dempsey

Damien Dempsey’s debut album in 2000, They Don’t Teach This Shit In School, set him apart as a unique and important voice, championed from an early stage in his career by Sinéad O’Connor. The follow-up, Seize The Day, marked the beginning of his relationship with producer John Reynolds, picking up many awards and leading to extensive international tours. Commercial and critical success continued with the release of the No. 1 album, Shots (2005), backed by Brian Eno, and To Hell Or Barbados (2007), which debuted at No.2 in the Irish charts.

An award-winning artist in his home country of Ireland – he has several prestigious Irish Meteor Awards to his name including Best Irish Male and Best Traditional Folk Award – and seventeen years into an astonishing career, Damien Dempsey releases his seventh studio album, Soulsun, possibly his most exciting work to date.

The record features a stellar cast of female guest vocalists, referred to in the sleeve notes as ‘the mighty Celtic Warrior High Queens’. Dido joins Damien on a tender love song, ‘Beside The Sea’ and fellow Dubliner, Imelda May, appears on ‘Big Big Love’, an anthemic mid-tempo rock love song, showing a bolder, more contemporary sound that Dempsey explores on the album. Finally, ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ features Dingle singer Pauline Scanlon, a regular collaborator over the years.

Soulsun was recorded with long-term producer and collaborator, John Reynolds in north London. Damien lived in the English capital for months, immersing himself in writing songs and soaking up inspiration from London’s rich tapestry of all human life.

‘This might sound strange but London is a real retreat for me” he explains. “I don’t know too many people in London, so I don’t go out raving or partying. When I go to the pub, it will usually be somewhere around Kilburn, sitting on my own with a notebook.”

The striking cover art was created by renowned Dublin graphic artist Maser, who Dempsey worked with on large-scale mural works and the title track is accompanied by a colourful and life-affirming video directed by legendary rock photographer Steve Gullick, who has shot iconic images of Nirvana, Beck and Nick Cave over the years.

Amidst all the plaudits Damien Demsey has won over the years, one of the most notable is contained in Morrissey’s Autobiography where he describes Dempsey performing at a session in Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel : ‘Damien captivates and enchants with all the love of one blessed and unselfish’ Morrissey writes, ‘I see myself crying at his funeral, missing him already.’

‘I’m not sure exactly what I did to deserve such praise,’ Dempsey says. ‘I had absolutely no idea I was in it until the book was published, but it’s nice to be appreciated by such an incredible artist and writer who’s unquestionably an absolute genius …. When you think of something like that, it can really help if I’m getting a bad time off someone.”

Perseverance and not allowing oneself to be consumed by negativity are consistent themes of Dempsey’s songwriting. At the beginning of his career, he said that making music was about saving his own life ….. healing himself. These themes are even more pertinent in 2017

“There’s music for everything; getting up and dancing having a good time, music to think deeply to…you name it, absolutely everything under the sun. There’s music for all situations, but my music is about healing and hope”.

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Damien Dempsey – Soulsun link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

Artist’s website: http://damiendempsey.com

PAULINE SCANLON – Gossamer (own label)

GossamerIt doesn’t happen so much in England but there were singers, such as Gordon Hall, who considered that the only criterion for singing a song was “is it a good song?”.  The Irish seem to have stuck by that tenet which goes some way to explaining Pauline Scanlon’s album, Gossamer. Pauline has been featured vocalist with Sharon Shannon’s band as well as a soloist but this album seems to be the apotheosis of the blend of old and new.

The set opens with ‘The Poorest Company’ by John McCusker, Roddy Woomble and Kris Drever and epitomises the album’s approach. If you didn’t know better you might place it any time in the last couple of centuries although the setting is modern as are all the arrangements here. Next is the Scottish traditional ‘False False’ and ‘The Old Churchyard’, a hymn that may, in this version at least, originate in Arkansas. The title of the album begins to make sense now: the false love and the departed spirits are both intangibles.

Pauline now switches back to contemporary writers. L J Hill’s ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ is new to me but Leonard Cohen’s ‘Joan Of Arc’ – a superb version – is very familiar. There are songs from Lucy Kaplansky and James Keelaghan before Pauline returns to the tradition. I found ‘I Wonder What’s Keeping My Love This Night?’ a bit overdone but the story of Waterloo has a suitably military texture. That said, I would have been happier if ‘The Lover’s Ghost’ had been throttled back a bit.

Pauline has a fine band including producer John Reynolds, Donal O’Connor and Tim Edey. The powerful voice of Damien Dempsey duets on ‘Pretty Bird Tree’, making this one of the record’s strongest tracks. I have a couple of reservations as you can tell but this is an album that delivers a lot of pleasure.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the PAULINE SCANLON – Gossamer link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.paulinescanlon.net/

‘False False’:

THE RAPPAREES: Re:Session (OWN LABEL)

ReSessionRe:Session is the third album from Belfast band The Rapparees; an album of songs about Ulster or written by Ulster writers.

The material varies from the traditional ‘Slieve Gallion Braes’, an old song about hardship and rising rents to Barry Kerr’s song of ecological revenge, ‘Mother Earth’. This album, particularly the instrumental sets, are weighted towards modern material although it can be hard to tell sometimes and I’m still not sure if ‘Belfast Mountains’ is a variant on the traditional song collected by Lucy Broadwood or a new version (mostly) written by Alan Burke. What it does mean is that the record presents a smooth spectrum from the obviously traditional to the definitely modern. Continue reading THE RAPPAREES: Re:Session (OWN LABEL)

LUMIERE – My Dearest Dear (IRL Records IRL075)

Lumiere My Dearest DearThe art of successfully bringing ‘folk’ music to a wider audience has been surmounted before by the likes of Steeleye, Fairport and The Corrs and with the duo Lumiere it looks as if we have another artist batting for ‘our’ side. Whether we in the folk world deserve it or not remains to be seen as sometimes it would appear a thankless task pleasing the die-hard ‘traditionalists’. Personally speaking, to scorn anything ‘commercial’ would, in my opinion be churlish as both Eilis Kennedy and Pauline Scanlon have fine voices and, when joined by the more brittle vocals of guest Sinead O’Connor on Continue reading LUMIERE – My Dearest Dear (IRL Records IRL075)