To The Well For Water is the second album from Irish singer-songwriter Bernadette Morris and comes some ten years after her debut All The Ways You Wander. After such a long time (in which an EP was released), it’s not surprising this second album is very different to the first. To start, the inclusion of Ryan Beagan on double bass and Paul O’Reilly on saxophone, in the impressive backing line-up, brings new depth and complexity to the music. Perhaps more importantly though, this is a much more personal album.
While All The Ways You Wander was an album of traditional songs, all tracks but one on To The Well for Water are written by Bernadette, on her own or with various collaborators. Lyrics explore themes of life, self-belief, and love, drawing on Bernadette’s own thoughts and experiences. For the first time, she also includes songs that draw on her profound Christian faith.
‘Fanore’ is the first of two tracks that celebrate the beauty of the Irish landscape. Written with Matt McGinn, who also provides backing vocals, the song describes the beauty of the coastline around the West Coast village, that Bernadette visits each year. The lively tune contains part of a traditional jig, ‘Jerry’s Beaver Hat’, played on fiddle and whistle.
The landscape around Bernadette’s home near Loch Neagh is celebrated in ‘The Silver Birch’. She takes particular delight in a crop of Silver Birch and the wildlife seen there; “Madah Rua and Fiadh Rua run wild and free, between the silver birch and me”. Those are the fox and red deer. The gentle tune includes a good whistle solo.
Another song written with Matt McGinn follows. ‘Leave Your Troubles’ is a very lively and cheerful Americana style song, about how music, songs and company can take us away from life’s troubles. Enda Scahill of We Banjo 3 plays some impressive banjo, while Ross Holmes of Mumford & Sons, and Nity Gritty Dirt Band provides great bluegrass fiddle. Foot stomping stuff!
The title track, written with Cormac Neeson, has a gentle but soulful tune, in which John McCullough’s piano is prominent. The lyrics emphasise the importance of finding our own way and being ourselves, regardless of the expectations and the actions of bullies. These subjects are a recuring theme on this album.
Written with Declan Sinnott, ‘Let Go’ has a jaunty, light-hearted tune and a message about the need to let go of relationships that are over. “Always a fight, who’s wrong or right, we’ll never know, Let go’. Going endlessly over it all won’t help anyone!
Another Americana style song follows. ‘Better Way’ was inspired by a US internal flight, on which Bernadette noticed the contrast between the structured straight lines of human constructs – such as roads and field boundaries – and a river meandering through the landscape in its own way. Interestingly, this becomes an analogy for life, in which the straight lines are the easiest to take, but not always the best way. We need to trust our instincts and follow our own path. That’s good advice, but easier said than done. If only life wasn’t so annoyingly difficult!
The first of two songs with a Christian theme follows. ‘Calling Out Your Name’, written with Scottish Songwriter Bob McNeil, is about asking God to teach people how to pray. The tune has an appropriately serious and soulful feel.
A more upbeat tune follows, with a nice recuring fiddle melody. Written with Johnny Brady, ‘Believe In Yourself’ could be an appropriate, but less elegant, title for the album. The song is about finding self-belief after a damaging relationship.
‘Not Alone’, written with Anthony Toner, is the second song with a Christian message, but is musically very different from ‘Calling Out Your Name’. It opens with a jazzy guitar riff, and jazz touches continue, notably with Paul O’Reilly’s saxophone solo. The theme of the song is finding consolation in Mary, and references the isolation experienced by many during lockdowns.
‘John O’Dreams’ might not need much introduction. Written by English singer-songwriter Bill Caddick, it’s been covered many times, by artists as diverse as Christy Moore and Max Boyce, while Bernadette fell in love with the version by Anais Mitchell and Rachel Ries. A great song, and well performed here, with Bernadette singing in unison with her long time friend Joanne Reihill.
For the final track, Bernadette returns to a very personal and difficult subject, her three miscarriages. She has already bravely addressed this in her song ‘Until We Meet Again’, and does so again here, in ‘Rainbow After A Storm’. Happily, Bernadette now has three children and, as rainbows come after storms, they are her rainbow children. With its gentle tune and ending with a line from ‘Sing a Rainbow’ this is the most sentimental track on the album, but understandably so
A very personal end then, for a very personal album. The songs on To The Well For Water cover subjects that matter to Bernadette. The result is a heartfelt, as well as a positive, gentle, and optimistic album. The converse of this is that it lacks any of the fire or angst that many might want from music, but that’s not what this album is about. The intention is to be uplifting and to give hope. The songs are intelligent, well-crafted, and beautifully performed by Bernadette and the very fine musicians who she has worked with. A very likeable album.
Artist website: bernadettemorris.com
‘Until We Meet Again’ – in the studio: