I Am Of Ireland is a collection of twenty-four poems by William Butler Yeats newly set to music by Raymond Driver and featuring more than thirty musicians of a generally Celtic persuasion. I’m a bit of a fan of Yeats – yes, I’ve been to Sligo and seen the Lake Isle – and I’ve often been a bit disappointed with some of the settings of his work. The exceptions are the “original” setting of ‘The Song Of Wandering Aengus’ and Mike Scott’s take on ‘The Stolen Child’. I think that the others really weren’t “of Ireland” but Driver’s tunes certainly are.
The opening title track, performed by Cathy Jordan and Seamie O’Dowd, could be mistaken for a traditional song with a light, dancing tune and the same can be said of ‘Brown Penny’, sung by Jackie Oates, and ‘Faery Song’, again by Jordan with Kevin Burke doing what he does best while Jordan plays bones as the song plays out. Seamie closes the set with ‘The Fiddler Of Dooney’ in similar style.
Other tracks are more firmly based in the poetry of the lyrics but Driver performs a remarkable feat in giving ‘The Lake Isle Of Innisfree’ a tune that Christine Collister can sing with dignity. She returns the compliment with a gorgeous version of ‘The Two Trees’ accompanied by Kevin Burke and Cal Scott, reaching the lowest notes with a purring warmth. ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’ is an important poem, particularly given Yeats’ politics, but I find it sits awkwardly as a song. It really needs to be read and thought about. John Doyle and Cillian Vallely are also given ‘September 1913’ – or chose it – another important poem in which Yeats laments the loss of Ireland’s romanticism. This, by contrast, works well as song.
It seems that Jackie Oates performing ‘Cradle Song’ is most appropriate given her status as a new(ish) mother and it does feel that great care has been taken in matching songs and performers. I’m sad that this is a digital only release because the company has done an excellent job with the accompanying booklet – OK, it’s downloadable but that’s not the same. I Am Of Ireland is a thoughtful and thought-provoking album with some of the best settings of Yeats’ poetry that I’ve ever heard.
Label website: https://yeatsinsong.com/
There aren’t any videos from the album but here is William Butler Yeats reading ‘The Lake Isle Of Innisfree’ and ‘The Fiddler Of Dooney’: