NIAMH VARIAN-BARRY – Wings (own label NVB001)

WingsSometimes you just want to snuggle down and be wrapped in the voice you’re listening to. Niamh Varian-Barry has one of those voices. Have a listen to ‘Dusty Little Wings’, the opening track on the album Wings, and you don’t want to do anything other than just listen. Wings was released earlier this year and is the debut solo album of Varian-Barr, former lead singer of the highly respected Solas. The link below takes you to the video she used to help fund the album and gives you a good feel for the music – not just aurally but also, as befits the daughter of an artist, a visual sense of how embedded her work is to the landscape as well as the sounds of Ireland.

The album pulls off the difficult task of keeping the sense of being a single piece of art while covering a range of music in its eleven tracks and it maintains a sense of Irish musical style throughout. And it does this even though the middle of the album has a track ‘Tar Eis an Bhastaigh’ which reminds me of the art rock of Marianne Faithful from later periods of her career. This is pretty impressive given that the track sits effortlessly between a couple of tunes which are very different to this – it follows the strings, cor anglais and piano of ‘She’s Here’ (Varian-Barry’s newly born daughter) and is followed by ‘Gerry Barry’s’ a tune for violin and accordion written after hearing a melodic chime on a TGV station.

Varian-Barry has composed six of the eleven tracks. Whether it’s the pull of her voice or her violin/viola playing I’ve just wanted to sit and listen to Wings. There are tunes which can holds you with their stillness – the traditional ‘Dancing The Baby’ for example – or their liveliness (‘Escapade In A Minor’ or ‘Padrino’). And to finish where I started, there are songs where all you want to do is to listen to Varian-Barry’s voice. ‘The Lark Of Mayfield’ is just as affecting as the opening track. The stripped down version of ‘Satisfied Mind’ which closes the album is as affecting as any version (I’ve just dug many of them out on YouTube) of this widely covered song.

Wings is a debut album, but a debut from an experienced singer and musician with a handful of equally talented colleagues. It was engineered by Donogh Hennessy (ex of Lunasa) and is just a delight to listen to. Play it loud on a decent hifi and wait for your partner, or other passing strangers, to come in and say “That’s lovely, what are you listening to?

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

Introductory video:


A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Twinnie - SIngles Bar 9TWINNIE follows her two singles, ‘Home’ and ‘Cool’, with an eponymous debut EP which opens and closes with those two songs. Twinnie’s style is described as country-pop but the opening bars of ‘Home’ sound as though it’s looking to be a soul classic. The second track, ‘Lie To Me’ changes tack with solo piano and acoustic guitar but the backing vocals inexorably build to a climax before Twinnie pulls it back again. The third track, ‘Looking Out For You’ goes for vintage appeal with a touch of vinyl crackle before rocking acoustic guitar leads the song off into the distance. Finally, ‘Cool’ is really country-pop and possibly the best song in the set with its tumble of words and a backing that has everything.

Oates_HenwoodWell known and respected in their own right JACKIE OATES and MEGAN HENWOOD have joined forces for Wings, a five track EP of originals, traditional and covers. Although Oates provided harmonies on Henwood’s last album, here the two voices mostly blend beautifully together, as is the case with the opening track, the first of three covers, a melancholic acoustic reading of New Order’s Love Vigilantes. A cover also closes the album, Oates bringing her viola to bear on a faithful take on Lau’s ‘Ghosts’, the pair trading verses and coming together for the chorus. Henwood contributes the only self-penned number, ‘Bettystown’ a song about endings (“clearing out your daddy’s house”) and beginnings (a new relationship, a new home) on which she takes initial lead, the gentle fingerpicking gradually swelling to embrace their combined voices, viola and Pete Thomas’s double bass. The third cover is Brian Bedford’s wistful protest number ‘What’s The Use of Wings?’, the pair again trading verses, which just leaves Oates to take to the piano for her waltzing arrangement of the traditional west country ballad ‘Setting Of The Sun’, a typically upbeat tale (also covered by Seth Lakeman) in which the singer accidentally shoots and kills their true love having mistaken her for a swan. As you do. Given the pair are (along with Thomas) playing live dates, hopefully this promises to have an extended life beyond this release; a full album would be most welcome.

Warrior DaughterDevon trio WILDWOOD KIN release a single, ‘Warrior Daughter’, in advance of two autumn tours supporting The Oh Hellos and Seth Lakeman. Seth has already recruited them for his new album on the strength of their exquisite harmonies and those harmonies are very much in evidence but this is a powerful song built on big percussion, strings and guitars. The song is about female empowerment, sung as from a mother to a daughter: “You are warrior, strength and courage lies within your heart” and here Beth, Emillie and Meghann are surely looking ahead to being able to reassure their daughters that the fight may not be so hard. ‘Warrior Daughter’ is scheduled for the trio’s next EP but surely a full-length album can’t be far away.

TeaseroPABLO VASQUEZ is a New Zealand guitar duo comprising Jolyon Mulholland and Elroy Finn and the story of how the album from which this single, ‘Teasero’, is taken came to be recorded would take up most of a review. Even more surprisingly the track will be available as a free download from Welsh label, Cae Gwyn Records at the end of the month. The guys’ thing is nylon strung guitars and they are described as classically-styled but they also say that their music is best enjoyed over dinner. No flying fingers or flamenco footsteps here, just two guitars interweaving a melody.