MUIREANN NIC AMHLAOIBH – Foxglove & Fuchsia (own label MUNA 002)

Foxglove & FuchsiaFoxglove & Fuchsia is actually the third solo album by former Danú lead singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh. The first, Fainne an Lae, was released in 2006 and the second, Ar Uair Bhig an Lae, reached us in 2012. Muireann comes from the Dingle peninsula where she still lives and describes as “a musical Mecca”. Unsurprising then, that she has been able to surround herself with a fine bunch of musicians including Gerry O’Beírne, Dónal O’Connor, Séamus Begley and Pauline Scanlon.

There is a lack of snobbishness about the material that seems to typify an old fashioned and perhaps uniquely Irish approach to the selection of repertoire – if it’s good song, sing it. I’m going to get my one minor criticism out first off and it is that there are insufficient notes for us foreigners. It wouldn’t have taken much to inform us that ‘An Sciobairín’ is ‘Skibbereen’, although it quickly becomes apparent when we reach it. With so many songs in Irish we need a bit of help. The opening track, ‘Bríd Óg Ní Mháille’ is an old song of attempted matrimony from County Mayo and that’s followed by a set of slides. Then the mood and style change with the almost title track, ‘Where Foxglove’, written by O’Beírne. I found it a bit too sentimental at first but it’s growing on me. Next comes Archie Fisher’s ‘The Final Trawl’, a song I’ll never tire of. Muireann is accompanied by O’Beírne’s guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies from Scanlon, Éllis Kennedy and Méabh Ní Bheaglaoich.

‘Muirisín Deas Is Nóra’ is another lovely song, an old poem set to a melody by O’Beírne. This is case where language doesn’t matter: I don’t understand the words but the sound is perfect and I suspect that it wouldn’t work in translation. Muireann plays flute and whistles but it’s her voice that is her lead instrument. That said, she does get to strut her instrumental stuff in a set of reels and another of polkas. ‘Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier’ is another example of the lack of snobbishness. It’s an Irish song, of course, that has travelled the world and Muireann got her version from Pete Seeger – across the Atlantic and back again.

Foxglove & Fuchsia is a splendid album, full of all manner of delights.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Gerry O’Beírne and Dónal O’Connor live at The Gathering:

JANET DOWD – Home (Blue Cow Records)

HomeAlthough Janet Dowd writes songs, and there are three of her own compositions on Home, her particular forte is in covering other writers. Her subjects are mostly Irish and an album like this will serve to introduce British audiences to some new songs, but she also encompasses Scotland and Australia and unless you are a particular fan of the writers involved these too may be songs you haven’t heard before.

The album opens with Eric Bogle’s ‘All The Fine Young Men’ which has been covered quite frequently (but good luck finding Eric’s original these days). It features producer Donogh Hennessy on guitars, keyboards and programming with strings from Niamh Varien Barry. Janet’s strong, clear voice does full justice to a song that should be rated alongside ‘No Man’s Land’.

Irish songwriters have a sentimental streak and Tommy Sands indulged his on ‘County Down’, a song of the auld country calling the expatriate home. It features Alan Doherty on whistle and Colin Henry’s Dobro, an instrument which appears several more times. Quite why a resonator guitar should suit celtic songs so well, I can’t say, but it just does. The theme of home, and not being there, returns in Dougie MacLean’s ‘Garden Valley’, Janet’s own ‘Westport Town’ and, supremely, Brendan Graham’s ‘My Land’.

The second Australian represented here is The Waifs’ Josh Cunningham whose ‘Lighthouse’ actually has someone coming home and happy to be doing so. Another highlight I must mention is the traditional ‘Súil A Rúin’ which again features Niamh Varien Barry and Pauline Scanlon’s backing vocals.

Home manages to combine the simplicity of emotion in both writing and singing with arrangements that are always interesting without being too clever or overwhelming the songs. Beautifully done.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

Damien Dempsey announces new album

Damien Dempsey

Damien Dempsey’s debut album in 2000, They Don’t Teach This Shit In School, set him apart as a unique and important voice, championed from an early stage in his career by Sinéad O’Connor. The follow-up, Seize The Day, marked the beginning of his relationship with producer John Reynolds, picking up many awards and leading to extensive international tours. Commercial and critical success continued with the release of the No. 1 album, Shots (2005), backed by Brian Eno, and To Hell Or Barbados (2007), which debuted at No.2 in the Irish charts.

An award-winning artist in his home country of Ireland – he has several prestigious Irish Meteor Awards to his name including Best Irish Male and Best Traditional Folk Award – and seventeen years into an astonishing career, Damien Dempsey releases his seventh studio album, Soulsun, possibly his most exciting work to date.

The record features a stellar cast of female guest vocalists, referred to in the sleeve notes as ‘the mighty Celtic Warrior High Queens’. Dido joins Damien on a tender love song, ‘Beside The Sea’ and fellow Dubliner, Imelda May, appears on ‘Big Big Love’, an anthemic mid-tempo rock love song, showing a bolder, more contemporary sound that Dempsey explores on the album. Finally, ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ features Dingle singer Pauline Scanlon, a regular collaborator over the years.

Soulsun was recorded with long-term producer and collaborator, John Reynolds in north London. Damien lived in the English capital for months, immersing himself in writing songs and soaking up inspiration from London’s rich tapestry of all human life.

‘This might sound strange but London is a real retreat for me” he explains. “I don’t know too many people in London, so I don’t go out raving or partying. When I go to the pub, it will usually be somewhere around Kilburn, sitting on my own with a notebook.”

The striking cover art was created by renowned Dublin graphic artist Maser, who Dempsey worked with on large-scale mural works and the title track is accompanied by a colourful and life-affirming video directed by legendary rock photographer Steve Gullick, who has shot iconic images of Nirvana, Beck and Nick Cave over the years.

Amidst all the plaudits Damien Demsey has won over the years, one of the most notable is contained in Morrissey’s Autobiography where he describes Dempsey performing at a session in Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel : ‘Damien captivates and enchants with all the love of one blessed and unselfish’ Morrissey writes, ‘I see myself crying at his funeral, missing him already.’

‘I’m not sure exactly what I did to deserve such praise,’ Dempsey says. ‘I had absolutely no idea I was in it until the book was published, but it’s nice to be appreciated by such an incredible artist and writer who’s unquestionably an absolute genius …. When you think of something like that, it can really help if I’m getting a bad time off someone.”

Perseverance and not allowing oneself to be consumed by negativity are consistent themes of Dempsey’s songwriting. At the beginning of his career, he said that making music was about saving his own life ….. healing himself. These themes are even more pertinent in 2017

“There’s music for everything; getting up and dancing having a good time, music to think deeply to…you name it, absolutely everything under the sun. There’s music for all situations, but my music is about healing and hope”.

Artist’s website:

PAULINE SCANLON – Gossamer (own label)

GossamerIt 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.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘False False’:


ReSessionRe:Session is the third album from Belfast band The Rapparees; an album of songs about Ulster or written by Ulster writers.

The material varies from the traditional ‘Slieve Gallion Braes’, an old song about hardship and rising rents to Barry Kerr’s song of ecological revenge, ‘Mother Earth’. This album, particularly the instrumental sets, are weighted towards modern material although it can be hard to tell sometimes and I’m still not sure if ‘Belfast Mountains’ is a variant on the traditional song collected by Lucy Broadwood or a new version (mostly) written by Alan Burke. What it does mean is that the record presents a smooth spectrum from the obviously traditional to the definitely modern.

The core instrumentation is guitar, banjo, fiddle and bouzouki but each of the chaps plays three or four instruments and three of them take lead vocals. Producer Liam Bradley plays keyboards and Eamon Murray provides percussion with distinguished guests including Beoga’s Sean Óg Graham and singer Pauline Scanlon. The music is largely up-tempo, even the tale of the harsh conditions in ‘Derry Gaol’, and the more reflective pieces, like ‘The Stranmillis Fox’ and ‘Randalstown Rambler’, often have an optimistic outlook – OK, not ‘Belfast Mountains’ or ‘Slieve Gallion Braes’ – but Re:Session won’t have you crying in your poitine.

Dai Jeffries

LUMIERE – My Dearest Dear (IRL Records IRL075)

Lumiere My Dearest DearThe art of successfully bringing ‘folk’ music to a wider audience has been surmounted before by the likes of Steeleye, Fairport and The Corrs and with the duo Lumiere it looks as if we have another artist batting for ‘our’ side. Whether we in the folk world deserve it or not remains to be seen as sometimes it would appear a thankless task pleasing the die-hard ‘traditionalists’. Personally speaking, to scorn anything ‘commercial’ would, in my opinion be churlish as both Eilis Kennedy and Pauline Scanlon have fine voices and, when joined by the more brittle vocals of guest Sinead O’Connor on Sandy Denny’s timeless “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” this really would be an unfairly negative response. Adding a touch of gloss to this musical undercoat producer John Reynolds has assembled an exemplary band of musicians including ex-Lunasa guitarist Donogh Hennessy, Clare Kenny (bass), Caroline Dale (cellos), Kevin Armstrong (guitars), Eamonn De Barra (piano/keyboards), Julian Wilson (Hammond organ), Catriona MacKay (Harp) and Reynolds himself on drums. Although the album is unashamedly commercial it will undoubtedly appeal more to say a Radio 2 audience than Radio 1 listener but there’s nothing wrong with that so long as you’re also happy to be tagged “easy listening”. Reflecting the duo’s passion for traditional songs such as “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”, “The Streets Of Derry” and a nicely understated “Ye Jacobites” it will sit nicely among those ethereal sounds of Clannad you have in your collection.


Artist’s website: