It doesn’t happen so much in England but there were singers, such as Gordon Hall, who considered that the only criterion for singing a song was “is it a good song?”. The Irish seem to have stuck by that tenet which goes some way to explaining Pauline Scanlon’s album, Gossamer. Pauline has been featured vocalist with Sharon Shannon’s band as well as a soloist but this album seems to be the apotheosis of the blend of old and new.
The set opens with ‘The Poorest Company’ by John McCusker, Roddy Woomble and Kris Drever and epitomises the album’s approach. If you didn’t know better you might place it any time in the last couple of centuries although the setting is modern as are all the arrangements here. Next is the Scottish traditional ‘False False’ and ‘The Old Churchyard’, a hymn that may, in this version at least, originate in Arkansas. The title of the album begins to make sense now: the false love and the departed spirits are both intangibles.
Pauline now switches back to contemporary writers. L J Hill’s ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ is new to me but Leonard Cohen’s ‘Joan Of Arc’ – a superb version – is very familiar. There are songs from Lucy Kaplansky and James Keelaghan before Pauline returns to the tradition. I found ‘I Wonder What’s Keeping My Love This Night?’ a bit overdone but the story of Waterloo has a suitably military texture. That said, I would have been happier if ‘The Lover’s Ghost’ had been throttled back a bit.
Pauline has a fine band including producer John Reynolds, Donal O’Connor and Tim Edey. The powerful voice of Damien Dempsey duets on ‘Pretty Bird Tree’, making this one of the record’s strongest tracks. I have a couple of reservations as you can tell but this is an album that delivers a lot of pleasure.
Artist’s website: http://www.paulinescanlon.net/