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Reviews

Karan Casey Karan Casey
Album: Hieroglyphs That Tell The Tale
Label: Vertical
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.karencasey.com

A former member of Irish-American outfit Solas back in the late 90s, Waterford-born Casey has built a rock solid solo career, selling well over half a million albums, this, her first in four years, a mix of covers and self-penned material with a traditional Irish number for good measure.

Recorded with musicians that include producer Donald Shaw from Capercaillie on piano and accordion, guitarist Sean Óg Graham, cellist Kate Ellis, Ewen Vernal on bass and Dirk Powell on banjo, she kicks off with Dylan's stark murder-suicide number 'Hollis Brown', a suitably moody take that, violins swirling, gathers in intensity as it heads to its tragic climax.

The first of three originals comes with 'Down In The Glen', a traditional-flavoured Irish folk song which, shaded by Michael McGoldrick's sorrowful flute, revisits the 1916 Easter Rising to tell the love story of Julia Grennan and Elizabeth O'Farrell who were in Dublin's GPO, the headquarters of the rising's leaders, but whose contribution has largely been ignored. The second, 'You Are The Flowers,' a collaboration with Óg Graham that features Karen Matheson on harmonies, is a straightforward love song, the third being brass-stained absent lover-themed jazzy blues 'Hold On', Niamh Dunne on fiddle and harmonies with sax-stained brass arrangement by trumpeter Ryan Quigley.

Dunne and brass also figure on 'Man of God', a funky blues arrangement of Eliza Gilkyson's 2005 Song of the Year winning attack on Bush administration's war on Iraq and its use of religion to justify prejudice. It's followed by a simple mandolin and piano-based arrangement Janis Ian's, 'I'm Still Standing Here', from whence comes the album title, a celebration of growing old with grace, of making it through hard times and of how "skin just covers who I am", Matheson and Maura O'Connell providing the backing vocals.

Though credited to Pat Daly (presumably the Irish country music presenter on Cork radio), the jaunty 'Doll In Cash's Window' is, strictly speaking a traditional dandling song from Cork discovered by Jimmy Crowley and previously recorded by Caladh Nua, here featuring a flute and concertina interlude. The sole acknowledged traditional number is another funky groove, an itchy percussive rhythm take on 'Sixteen Come Next Sunday' (which she actually sang as guest vocalist for the folksier version on 2016 Solas album All These Years), the traditional flavours seasoned by a jazzier tinge to the scat section and improvisational concertina from Niall Vallely.

The remaining two numbers are both covers, first up being a tender reading of Mick Flannery's 'In The Gutter', the International Songwriting Competition winner from his 2007 debut album about a man's struggle with the bottle, homelessness and life falling apart. Joined by Aoife O Donovan on harmonies, it ends with a sublimely beautiful, shimmering near six-minute take on Patty Griffin's 'Mary', the song adopting the mother of Christ as an archetype of loss poignantly expressed in the strings caressed closing lines "You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud of another man, who served the world proud/You greet another son, you lose another one."

As the title suggests, this is an album of real character.

Mike Davies