"I did not understand (some of) the lyrics, but the meaning came over loud and clear"
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh grew up on the Dingle Peninsular in south west Ireland. The daughter of a well-known fiddler, she was surrounded by music, indeed she says "You couldn't throw a stone down there without hitting a musician." She started playing sessions with her Dad when she was nine years of age. In situations like that, as she says, "you don't just learn the tunes; you learn about the bigger picture, about life." Her repertoire today includes songs from a wide variety of folk and contemporary sources. She has enjoyed a successful career as a touring artist, with over thirteen years experience as lead singer and flute player with the Irish traditional supergroup Danú, as well as a performing as a solo artist. Muireann is also a popular television presenter, having hosted a range of programmes for Irish and Scottish TV over the past decade including the celebrated traditional music series “Port”. Most recently, she has also turned her attention to a collaborative Irish language electronic music project entitled Aeons.
For her new album "Foxglove and Fuschia"(sic), she wanted the atmosphere to be "like sitting at one of my gigs here at home, where a few of us gather together and share songs and tunes, pretty uncomplicated and natural." I think she has achieved this in spades. The first track "Bríd Og Mháille" sets the mood. One not versed in the language can only lie back and relax to the gentle lilt as it flows over you. The story is about the unrequited love of a young man who arranges to elope with a girl, but she doesn't turn up as she has married someone else. His disappointment can be felt through the sadness of Muireann's rendition.
Track two is a much more cheerful rendition of three traditional tunes. One of which started life as a march, but converted by Muireann and her band into a slide as are the other two. They lift the mood tremendously and become very danceable.
"Where Foxglove" is a song by Gerry O'Beirne (who plays guitar on the track) which allows the sheer appeal of Muireann's voice to emerge. It paints a picture of two lovers on a grassy bank looking into a well at midnight and seeing simpler life reflected back at them. It really is a most beautiful song.
The trials and tribulations of the fishing industry are echoed in "The Final Trawl" The sad tale of a trawler well past it's best and on it's last trip. It is reminiscent of a sea shanty, but delivered at a slow pace as befits the melancholic nature of the tale. "Haul away for the final trawl, haul away my laddy oh. It's an easy pull for the catch is small." The song suggests says she would be better beached on the Skerries Rock than to follow other boats to be torched on the Breaker's dock. Archie Fisher's lyrics are heartfelt and very affecting. All good folk songs have a story and this song is very compelling. It was featured in the Gaelic music TV show "Ports" where Muireann and Archie sang it as a duet. This track had by far the most affect on me of all on the CD.
Great Blasket Island is just 2km off Dumore Head of the Dingle peninsular . Despite its close proximity to the mainland, visitors to the Dingle coast can often not see the island through the notorious sea mist. This island is the source for "Muirisin Deas Is Nóra." The words are by Seán O'Duinnshléíbhe to which Gerry O'Beirne put a new tune. In the Irish, it tells the story of a couple who are still in love after many years of marriage, (It does happen). It is a song which probably needs an understanding of the language to get the most out of, but otherwise to the untrained ear, it is a pleasant interlude after the wretched tale of the trawler. Gerry's guitar accompanies Muireann's depiction of the story.
Two lively reels follow next played by Muireann on the whistle "Ormond Sound" and "The Torn Jacket" each written by Munster musicians, respectively, Paddy O'Brien and Connie O'Connell. The reels amply demonstrate her skill on a number of instruments.
"I Courted A Soldier" is another song laden with melancholy, witness extracts from the lyrics by Frank McGuinness: "I courted a soldier who loved another... ...love it is lonely, it looks for no shelter, content in itself." Shaun Davey provided the music for the song which was included in a play "Mary & Lizzie" written by Frank McGuinness and put on at the RSC in the Barbican in 1991. The combination of Harp and Uilleann Pipes add greatly to the atmospheric air around this sad song.
A traditional song that was sung by several generations of Muireann's family is "An Sciobairin," so she thought she had better learn it in order not to be left out! The translation into Irish by Garry McMahon is so effective that you easily be convinced that this was the original language of the song. Muireann is joined in the vocals by Séamus Begley, it is the only duet on the album and their two voices work well together.
A change of mood again, the track order on this CD is perfectly sorted, although there are some sad songs they are leavened with jolly tunes. This time it is three Polkas "Neily Cleere's, " "The Hayden Fancy" and "Walsh's." Notable in the line up of the band on this track is the fiddle playing of Muireann's father, Feargal Mac Amhlaoibh. The man who taught her so much about music.
Into more familiar territory (at least for me) is "Johnnie has gone for a Soldier." I suspect that familiarity is also true for a number reading this, if only because they have heard the version by Pete Seeger. Originally an Irish song, Muireann brings it back home and thankfully (for me) sings it (mostly) in English. It tells the tale of a woman mourning the loss if her man in a war, having sold her possessions to provide him with the weapons, shedding tears "that would turn a mill." It is a lovely version of a well-known song.
Drones introduce one of the "big" songs of Munster. "Bean Dubh An Ghleanna." a story of unrequited love, a dramatic slow ballad requiring a voice with a large range. Muireann demonstrates that she can handle it with ease. I did not understand the lyrics, but the meaning came over loud and clear. As ever the musicians behind her are magnificent and all fifteen are naturally credited on the sleeves notes as they should be. It is a fabulous album to have and illustrates that good music thrives in Ireland and long will it do so whilst musicians with the talent of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh are around.
For those with even the remotest interest in Irish Music, I would recommend this album without hesitation. As is not unusual today, this album was produced with aid from a crowdfunding project and this seems to be as good a means of getting an artist's music "out there" as any other. Those that contributed must be extremely pleased with the result.
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