Ciaran O’Kane describes his debut album, Round & Round, as “a collection of the songs I like to sing” which is the best reason for singing them and also a very Irish way of looking at things. Like his countrymen since time immemorial he has picked up music on his travels, kept some songs and written others. The result is a record of great variety.
Round & Round opens with ‘The Banks Of The Lee’ sung over drones, a technique Ciaran returns to on his own song, ‘Done’. There is no clue as to how the effect has been achieved; it doesn’t sound like tape loops and there is no synthesiser credited so I guess it is bass and accordion played live and treated in some way. Whatever, it’s cleverly done and makes for an arresting start to the album. Ciaran has a great voice for songs like this and ‘The Moorcocks Crow’ and transfers the same vocal technique to some of his own writing. ‘Snow’, for example, has a tune that sounds old and contains the kind of grace notes that are frequently found in Irish singing. Give it a while and someone will tell you that it’s traditional.
There are two other traditional songs; a relatively straight take on ‘Willie Taylor’ and a rather gorgeous ‘Lord Franklin’ sung as an unaccompanied duet with Ciaran’s mother Helen O’Kane. Then there are two accordion tune sets, ‘The Ranaghan Reels’ and ‘The O’Num Polkas’, plus a rather good version of Ger Wolfe’s ‘The Curragh Road’.
And so to Ciaran’s own songwriting. I’ve already mentioned ‘Snow’ but the tragic story told in ‘The Fulldiew Stone’ is even better – a hundred years from now it will be traditional. These two are not necessarily typical of his output, though. The title track, a slightly rueful song of self-realisation appears twice, the second being a stripped-back version accompanied only on bodhran which I prefer. ‘The Belfast Lass’, a cautionary tale, has its roots somewhere in the tradition and must be a live favourite and ‘I Won’t Give Up’ is an upbeat song full of positive attitude.
Ciaran O’Kane has made a fine debut album – check it out.
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‘Skim’ – live: