PAULA RYAN – Turas Cumadóir (Maverico MAVO/SA/1003)

Turas CumadóirBorn and bred in Tipperary, Ryan is the working definition of a solo artist, writing, arranging and performing everything (and that includes bouzouki, marimba, bodhran, sax, low whistle & guitar) on this, her third solo album. Turas Cumadóir translating as “songwriter’s journey” it embraces the personal and the political, the latter getting things rolling with the first two tracks. Clearly influenced by Cohen and Baez alike, a circling guitar riff underpins ‘Vision’, a call to open our eyes both figuratively and literally and bring about change with a shared vision she sings how some are blind because they will not see and some are mute because they have no voice. A similar message informs the ‘Raise Our Voice’ with its backing drone intro, a call to join hands and reach out to each other and celebrate our differences that opens on a hymnal not before shifting to a jaunty folk bounce that reminded me of Judy Small.

The stark hard wood marimba backing underscores the emptiness that enfolds ‘Garryroe, a song about the Tipperary townland, once a thriving community but reduced to crumbling walls when the Irish famine saw most sell up their farms emigrate to America or Australia, a letter written in 1938 noting how just six families remained, none of whom could speak Irish.

A similar note is struck on the drone-backed ‘Ebb And Flow’, a song about villages and communities swept away by a tsunami and a life lesson about the human spirit that saw the survivors not dwell in despair but forge a new life from the ruins. It’s a message that also lies at the heart of ‘Caught In A Trap’ as, anchored by a muted bodhran beat, she sings about not letting hatred pull you down and be eaten up with resentment, but to embrace the future and let go the past.

Such optimism soars as her bodhran beats its rhythm through the joyous ‘You Make Me Laugh, a number in the same skipping song tradition as ‘Belle Of Belfast City’, giving way to the simply picked ‘All I Wanna Do Is Hear Your Voice’, a love song about the need for communication rather than keeping problems to yourself. There’s a strong sense of fun too, evident in both the good time bounce of ‘Handsome Irish Man’, essentially set to the tune of ‘Put Your Hand In The Hand’, and ‘Only A Cabinet Maker’, a waltztime ode to Christian Frederick Martin, the German-American luthier who came from a family of cabinet makers but, in the early 1830s, made the first guitar in America, his design going on to become one of the most famous and respected names across the world.

Turning to matters of the hearts, ‘I Just Wanna Let Go’ is a merry-go-round melody waltz about escaping from a relationship that’s run its course, without hurt or recriminations, and again finding the sort of joy and freedom embodied in ‘Sing For Today’, a rousing singalong celebration of the universal bonds of music.

Turas Cumadóir closes in haunting style with the unaccompanied ‘O My Blue Eyed One’, originally released a single in 2015 to coincide with Armistice Day, an anti-war number sung (and self-harmonised) in the voice of an Irish soldier having to leave to do his duty at the outbreak of WWI even though it’s not his cause and “this war it must be wrong” that ends with a heartbreaking coda of ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’.

A well-established name in Ireland and the festivals circuit, Ryan remains somewhat under the radar in the broader contemporary folk scene, but this should go a long say to seeing her songwriter’s journey cross wider horizons.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.paularyan.co

‘O My Blue-Eyed One’ – live: