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Doc profiles petite hipster with bullhorn

POSTED ON October 17th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Not even the last of the good weather could deter New York’s Irish film fans from heading indoors at NYU Cantor Center last Friday night to watch the opening feature of the IFNY 2012 festival. Stoked by the kickoff party held earlier at Glucksman Ireland House, the filmgoers settled in at the Cantor to watch the American premiere of Kieron J. Walsh’s frenetic feature “Jump.”

Adapted from Lisa McGee’s stage play, the film is set in Derry on New Year’s Eve, a night that natives of the City famously turn into a Halloween and champagne mashup, with all the revelers decked out in elaborate costumes in the buildup to the midnight celebrations. Walsh’s briskly-paced dramedy pitches a battered and bruised young man (Martin McCann) up against a suicidal young woman in angel wings (Nichola Burley) who is about to jump off the Derry Peace Bridge to end her life. Romance naturally ensues, and the pair share a hectic evening of angst, guilt and organized crime, while dodging homicidal henchmen of a local gangster (Lalor Roddy) – who just happens to be the girl’s father.

Unlikely coincidences abound, as the film unfolds in a setting refreshingly free of the troubles that have dominated so much of the city’s recent history. Saturday night’s feature was Kirsten Sheridan’s “Dollhouse”, the third full-length film from the Dublin director. Shot in an ultra-modern house located right on the water at Colliemore Harbour, in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, Sheridan’s films opens with a home invasion by a group inner-city teenagers who gain entry to the glass and chrome palace with the help of a girl who has been casing the place, and knows where the spare key is hidden.

They quickly raid the booze and medicine cabinets for whiskey and pills and start a party. The festivities get out of hand and the teens start to trash the place, but are soon halted in their tracks when one of their group is revealed to be the daughter of the owners of the house they are destroying.

Further shocks soon follow, as the narrative balances on a serrated edge of barely-restrained violence.

Working with a cast of unknowns, and from an improvised script, with no flashbacks and no backstory, Sheridan keeps the audience, and at times, clearly, the cast, guessing right until the end as to what is really going on.

The closing night film took the audience back to Derry, but in darker times. Lelia Doolin’s fascinating documentary “Bernadette: Notes on A Political Journey” examines the life and work of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, the republican socialist politician who emerged from the turmoil of the Civil Rights marches of the late ‘60s to become Mid-Ulster MP at the British Parliament at the age of 21.

A veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bogside, Bloody Sunday, and Burntollet Bridge, Bernadette was a pivotal figure in the burgeoning republican movement in the early- to mid-1970s. Doolin’s doc explores the forces that shaped her, growing up in a uniquely matriarchal family in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone.

With a houseful of sisters, and a mother and two grandmothers who were widowed young, Bernadette was given to believe that to be an opinionated contrarian was a badge of honor for a young woman.

Bernadette took this ethos with her to college, and studied languages and psychology at Queens University in Belfast, where she would join the Civil Rights movement and enter history. When she was elected MP, she rejected the standard abstentionist position taken by some elected nationalists, believing that she could do more good for her constituents by showing up in Parliament to represent them, than refusing to attend.

Bernadette’s striking appearance as a petite hipster with a bullhorn made a strong impression amid the grey-suited ranks of middle-aged men in the UK Parliament, and she quickly became a media star. Dubbed “Castro in a miniskirt” (a misnomer – it was actually a micro-mini) by Alliance Party politician Stratton Mills during a U.S. fundraising tour in 1969, Bernadette made an indelible impression on both sides the Atlantic before retreating from the public gaze in the late seventies. Re-entering the political fray during the H-Block protests, she would survive an attempt on her life that left her with seven bullet wounds in 1981.

Undeterred by the assassination attempt, she continues to fight for justice at a grassroots level in her native Tyrone. Doolin’s unprecedented access to a politician who has become notoriously camera-shy in recent years gives us a rare insight into the mind of one of Ireland’s true radicals, an eloquent and blunt thinker who refused to conform, play the game or sell out.

The film would undoubtedly have benefited from some additional interviews with Devlin’s opponents, detractors, and the inevitable enemies she made along the way, but, when questioned on this matter in the Q & A afterwards, director Doolin was having none of it. Hardly in the ha’penny place herself when it comes to contrarian opinionation, the redoubtable Lelia advised that anyone who wants that sort of thing should go off and make their own film.

Wee Craic: funny weird and funny ha-ha

POSTED ON October 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

By Orla O’Sullivan

The Wee Craic festival wasn’t short on craic, just a smaller showcase for short films out of Ireland than the main Craic fest, held around St. Patrick’s Day.

The last one was held at a real cinema—the Film Forum—whereas last Friday’s screening gathered 50 viewers or more into a downstairs room of the Lower East Side Bar, Arlene’s Grocery.

Once again, organizer Terence Mulligan produced a double-bill: movies followed by a free bar of whiskey and beer. The crowd reconvened in RBar on the Bowery, where the Mighty Stef played.

There was the same high quality, good dose of animation, and some overlap in the films shown at both Craic events.

However, the Wee Craic emphasized shorts from the past year, including: “The Hatch”; “Pet Hate”; “Bird Food”; “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Thin Ice”.

Some were back by popular demand, such as Oscar-nominated “Pentecost” and “Give Up Yer Aul Sins” — an animation set to an actual 1960s recording of a Dublin schoolgirl giving an unwittingly hilarious account of John the Baptist’s demise, which can be found on YouTube.

Another funny requested was “Granny O’Grimm,” an animated tale of a granny whose bedtime story is dark enough to ensure that the child hearing it may never sleep again.  (This is available online at www.vimeo.com/7937986.)

“The Hatch” is a modern-day tale, with some baffling mythic and science-fiction dimensions, set in a trawler off of Cork. The fishermen spear something ambiguous from the deep, which leads to tragedy and to the birth of a seemingly 30-pound baby. Despite its weirdness, and its sometimes clichéd dialogue (fisherman to his bookish son: “It’s no life for you”), it keeps the viewer engaged with strong acting and its cinematography; the latter won James Maher an award at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Next up was “Useless Dog,” as simple as “The Hatch” is convoluted. What do you do if you have a sheepdog that the sheep chase? “Sure, you have to just live with it,” says the owner in Ken Wardrop’s award-winning film (which is also available on YouTube). And sure, isn’t said dog a delight to watch? The opening scene is Chaplinesque in the way it so perfectly pairs to music the dog’s wagging wiggle.

Irish Film NY is back for 2nd year

POSTED ON October 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Silver Screen / By Michael Gray

Irish Film New York, in its second year on the NY cultural calendar, presents a diverse selection of new movies from Ireland at the NYU Cantor Center, from Oct. 5 – 7.

Niall McKay, curator/director of IFNY, follows the success of the recent Lincoln Center screening of Oscar-nominated Irish short films with a range of full-length features that represent the best of current Irish filmmaking.

The series opens with Kieron J Walsh’s “Jump”, shot on location in Derry, Northern Ireland. Walsh’s drama features four young adults as they gear up for the excitement of New Year’s Eve in their native city. The atmosphere is festive in the post-Troubles era, but the shadow of the city’s violent past darkens their mood as the evening gathers momentum. Walsh’s film stars up-and-coming actors Nichola Burley and Martin McCann (who played U2 singer Bono in last year’s IFNY hit, “Killing Bono”).

Kirsten Sheridan, daughter of the illustrious filmmaker Jim, presents her third feature film “Dollhouse,” a tense psychological thriller about a group of nervy teens who break into a stunning ultra-modern mansion in an up-market South County Dublin neighborhood. The forced entry starts out as a prank, but as the night wears on, shocking revelations are made, and the drink-fuelled youngsters decide to trash the place. The haphazardly-choreographed chaos of the evening takes a strange turn when the homeowner shows up, and gleefully joins in the mayhem. Sheridan directs with a loose style that gives her cast of relative unknowns free rein to improvise. Her provocative film was well received at the SXSW festival earlier this year.

Also shot on location in South County Dublin is Ian Fitzgibbon’s “Death of A Superhero.” Based on New Zealander Anthony McCarten’s book of the same name, this coming-of-age drama follows the fortunes of a teenage dreamer who creates his own comic novels. The dark forces of his graphic fantasies find a horrific parallel in the real world when the boy is diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness. Dubliner Fitzgibbon, who had previously directed “Perrier’s Bounty” and “A Film With Me In It,” uses a mix of live action and animation to explore the troubled mind of the lead character, Donald (Thomas Brodie Sangster, who played the young Paul McCartney in “Nowhere Boy”).

Rural Ireland provides the setting for “Pilgrim Hill,” written and directed by Gerard Barrett. The film examines the life of a bachelor farmer who dedicates himself to maintaining the dairy herd on the family holding, and taking care of his elderly father. The film will resonate with viewers from a rural background, who know all too well that lives of enforced solitude and desperate loneliness are lived out quietly amid idyllic Irish landscapes.

The series concludes on Sunday, Oct. 7, with a

feature-length documentary, “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey.” Director Leila Doolin’s film is an in-depth analysis of the life and times of radical firebrand Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a legend in Northern Ireland politics since she was elected as mid-Ulster MP, while still a 21-year-old Queens University student, to the Westminster Parliament, in the tumultuous times that followed the Battle of The Bogside. An eyewitness to the massacre of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, Devlin McAliskey survived a 1981 assassination attempt by loyalist paramilitaries, who shot her seven times in front of her children, and continues to the present day to fight for justice in Northern Ireland. Doolin’s film is the first documentary on Bernadette since John Goldschmidt’s, made for TV in 1969 as the activist launched herself into the international political arena.

The IFNY series opens Friday Oct. 5, and continues through the weekend. Tickets and details are available online at www.irishfilmnyc.com, and the Cantor Center box office, located on West 8th Street in Manhattan. The photo above is a scene from the Derry-set “Jump.”

 

Dubliner’s story told backwards

POSTED ON October 4th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

Christine Dwyer Hickey believes she reads more short stories than anybody in Ireland. It’s a quite a claim in a country that believes it has a special relationship with the form. But she is the adjudicator of the short story competition at Listowel Writers Week. She won it herself back in 1992 and again in 1993 and those wins proved to be the perfect start to a career that has garnered critical success internationally and many more prizes.

Much of her fiction is set in her native city, where she lives with her husband Denis, and her children Jessica, Desmond and Bonnie. Her first novels were the Dublin Trilogy: “The Dancer,” “The Gambler” and “The Gatemaker (1995-2000).

It was James Joyce’s “Dubliners,” she said, “12 little masterpieces and two very good stories, contained in one brilliant collection” that “showed me I could write about my own people in my own city.”

Her latest novel, “The Cold Eye of Heaven,” she added, is about the “seven ages of one ordinary man named Farley and it’s also about his city; the city of Dublin. It’s a story told backwards, staring in 2010 when he’s 75 years old and ending in 1935 when he’s born.”

 What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

Italy is where I get ideas. Dublin is where the hard graft takes place. A long table in a silent room – although if it comes to it, I can write anywhere.

I work two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. I rarely work more than four hours a day. But I work every minute of each of those hours. When the long table becomes so messy that I can barely see over it, I know it’s time to take a break and so I clear everything off and throw a dinner party. After the party I start working again.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Plenty. But the most useful of all is this: do thirty minutes a day for three months. 30 for 3. No more. No less. Do it every day without fail, until your mind becomes used to it. Then sneak in another 30 minutes. And so on. Try to stick with the same piece of work for a while. Write one day. Rewrite the next.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

“Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow — one of the best city novels ever. It pulled me in and danced me round from start to finish; “Clara” by Janice Galloway — novel based on Clara Schumann, wife of Robert, [and] a beautiful book about music, love and mental illness. “Dubliners” (see above).

What book are you currently reading?

“C’e un Cadavare in Biblioteca” (“The Body in the Library”) by Agatha Christie. What better way to brush up on my Italian than with blood, guts and Signora Marple?

 Is there a book you wish you had written?

For my pocket? – “Fifty Shades of Grey.” For my pride? – “The True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Carey. A tour de force any writer would be proud to claim.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

“The Great Fire” by Shirley Hazzard. A friend insisted I read it. I thought it was going to be a swashbuckling yarn about the great fire of London. But it was something else – in every sense. I loved its strangeness. A dark and intriguing read.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

James Joyce, of course. And preferably in Italy where I believe he was at his best.

 What book changed your life?

Literally? “The Twins at St. Clare’s” by Enid Blyton. After reading it, I went off to boarding school at ten years of age, like a lamb to the slaughter.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

The Phoenix Park in Dublin. It’s where I go to walk and do my “mental writing.”

 You’re Irish if . . .

You have an opinion on everything. Even things about which you know absolutely nothing…

 

McCarthy essays published

POSTED ON September 19th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

“There is increasing interest in the achievements of constitutional nationalists who never espoused violence, and of liberals from the unionist tradition who supported reform, and, at times, varieties of home rule,” writes former Taoiseach John Bruton in his preface to John McCarthy’s “Twenty-First Century Ireland: A View from America.”

Bruton said: “I have known and admired John McCarthy for many years. He undertook the, sometimes lonely, task of explaining to Irish America that there is more complexity to the solution of Ireland’s longstanding problems than simply acceding to a demand that the British leave Ireland, and the island be united as one.

“He has shown that British sovereignty in Northern Ireland is more a consequence of divisions and differences of allegiance within Ireland itself, than it is the primary cause of those divisions and differences.”

The Irish Echo columnist and emeritus professor of history at Fordham McCarthy is praised as a “scholarly, passionate insider” by leading historian Dermot Keogh, while the Rev. Vincent Twomey, recommends the book as a “compelling read.” Twomey, professor emeritus of moral theology at Maynooth, says “critical views on contemporary history never fail to stimulate and inform. His perceptive reading of the dramatic events of the past decade invariably surprises.”

McCarthy’s last book was a biography of Kevin O’Higgins, the Irish government minister assassinated in 1927, and he’s the subject of the first the 10 essays in the “History” section (there are 43 in all in this volume). It’s followed by pieces on the First Dail Éireann, the Civil War in Kerry and Conor Cruise O’Brien, and many of the themes flow into the “Politics” section. “America”  has essays on William F. Buckley Jr., Irish-American Republicans, and the Catholic Church, while the “Religion” section deals with the church in Ireland. “Economics” looks mainly at the post-Celtic Tiger period, concluding an essay entitled “Ireland is not Greece.”

The book is published by Academica Press, LLC, Box 6072 Cambridge Station, Palo Alto, Calif. 94306, Website: www.academicapress.com. To order, call: 650-329-0685.

Dwyer Hickey for IAC, AIHS

POSTED ON September 19th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Christine Dwyer Hickey, the award-winning Irish novelist and short story writer, will discuss her new novel, “The Cold Eye of Heaven” at two upcoming events in New York City. She will read at the Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st Street in Manhattan, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25. The reading is free but attendees must register beforehand on the IAC website: www.irisharts center. org. The following evening Dwyer Hickey will read at the American Irish Historical Society at 991 Fifth Avenue at 80st Street. The 7 pm reading is free for AIHC members, but there is a $10 admission fee for non-members. Reservations are required through agavin@aihs.org or by calling 212-288-2263. A reception will follow the reading.

Dwyer Hickey is twice winner of the Listowel Writers Week short story competition  and also has been a prize-winner in the prestigious Observer/Penguin short story competition.  Her novels “Tatty” and “Last Train from Liguria” have been best-sellers and she is known also for the “Dublin Trilogy” – “The Dancer,” “The Gambler” and “The Gatemaker – which spans three generations of a Dublin family from 1913-1956.

 

Ex-cop Monaghan brings music to community

POSTED ON September 19th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

This year I ended my summer with sand between my toes, a starry night, a cool evening breeze and some mighty live music thanks to Irish American performer, Brian Monaghan. Monaghan treated his neighbors in my hometown, the seaside community of East Atlantic Beach, N.Y., to a night of tunes at a beach bonfire to close out the season. Taking in the sounds of Christy Moore, the Saw Doctors and the Pogues with the sights of families and friends gathered together under the stars was a bit of heaven, and with Brian’s magnanimous stage presence, awesome repertoire, and sheer musical talent, I was feeling quite grateful that my hometown has a guy like Monaghan bringing a bit of the Emerald Isle to the City by the Sea.

In his live set Brian mixes Irish music and rock classics with an acoustic/folk/rock/Celtic sound that provides exactly the kind of relaxed ambience that true music fans are thirsty for. He attributes his love for Irish music to his Brooklyn upbringing where he played Gaelic football and his Limerick-born parents filled the house with the music of Ireland.  Just like the urge to play football, the urge to play music took hold of Monaghan, and he began learning guitar at the age of 13. As an adult, Brian was no stranger to the bustling Celtic Rock scene of the 1990s and he attributes a friendship with fellow Brooklynite Chris Byrne (former member of Black 47 who currently fronts Seanchai and The Unity Squad) with some memorable NYC nights with Black 47 when he was invited on stage to play in-between sets. At the same time he was making and hearing music in NYC he was also fighting crime, serving on the New York City police force for 20 years. Though he’s retired from law enforcement he’s full steam ahead with making music, taking his tunes to crowds in Brooklyn, Long Island and the Rockaways a few nights a week.

Though Monaghan had been strumming his guitar as a hobby for years as a kid in love with music and an adult as a distraction from a high stress job, the tragedy of 9/11 took him down a new road with music.  Like many of us, people in Brian’s Brooklyn community turned to music for a bit of healing in the months that followed the attacks. Monaghan brought songs to the those in mourning at dozens of 9/11 benefits and ceremonies including a street re-naming for his childhood friend, police officer Moira Smith, a wife and mother who gave the ultimate sacrifice while bringing victims to safety. For Monaghan, Smith’s street-renaming was the light-bulb moment that he recognized his calling to bring live music to the people in his community. This time of year as we salute the heroes of 9/11 and remember the souls who left us I also think of the music makers – the singers, and songwriters, the pipers and drummers who brought people together through sad songs, happy songs, songs of Ireland and songs of America. Thank you. You gave us light.

You’ll often catch Brian Monaghan singing Irish songs at O’Carroll’s recovery room in Mineola, L.I., and he’ll be adding to the merriment of the 23rd annual Long Beach Irish Heritage Day on Oct. 6 at the Cabana with Shilelagh Law.

My picks for some of the best Irish entertainment around town this week: Mary Courtney at An Beal Bocht in the Bronx on 9/14, Half way to St. Patrick’s Day with Shilelagh Law & Jameson’s Revenge on 9/14 at Connolly’s Klub 45 in NYC, and Half way to St. Patrick’s Day Irish Music Festival featuring Black 47 at The Nutty Irishman in Bay Shore on 9/15.

Harpists are busier than ever across U.S.

POSTED ON September 19th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

Today I write from the air, en route to “CelticFest” in Jackson, Miss., for one of the American South’s great celebrations of traditional Irish music.  Each year, festival organizers Don Penzien and Valerie Plested put together an admirable lineup, and stacked with groups like Téada and Bua this year again sets an impressive standard.  Festivals like CelticFest are great, not just because they give folks an opportunity to see and hear top quality jigs and reels, but because they get musicians together for tunes and catching up, which is something so important in this music.  (The 17th annual CCÉ Irish Folk Festival in Fairfax, Sept. 22 – anyone in?  Donegal fiddlers Peter Campbell & Caoimhin MacAoidh will be there!  For more, visit www.ccepotomac.org.)

I’ve had a good bit of harp-related material passing through my inbox as of late, of which I will write about presently; but in the spirit of festive catching up I want to report on what some of the harpists leading the scene here in the U.S. are up to before addressing the published materials.

The great Eileen Gannon is back in St. Louis after a summer of gigging and festivals, playing around town, teaching at St. Louis Irish Arts and preparing for the Harpers Getaway Weekend in Gettysburg, Pa., in early November. (For more info, visit wafhs.org/getaway.)  Marta Cook, another wonderful harpist and teacher who teaches privately, is about to start her “Irish Music Toolbox” class (a class intended for musicians on any instrument, really) at the Irish Arts Center in New York City, and (among many other things) recently transcribed and created harp parts for Deborah Henson-Conant, a Grammy-nominated harpist, for her upcoming tour with guitar legend Steve Vai.  Maeve Gilchrist has been all over the U.S., touring in support of her 2011 album “ Song of Delight,” and with the band the Forge (maevegilchristmusic.com).  And finally, harp maven Kathy DeAngelo is finishing up preparations on the 20th Annual Harpers’ Escape Weekend, which will take place October 5-7 at Rutgers in New Brunswick NJ.   (See www.harpersescape.com for more information.)

Incidentally, DeAngelo tells me that one of the harpists performing at the Escape, Grainne Hambly, once played with Irish harp legend Michael Rooney in the Belfast Harp Orchestra.  A neat coincidence, because Rooney recently sent me two books of his own non-harp compositions, “Aifreann Gaeilge” and the “de Cuéllar Suite.”  “Aifreann Gaeilge,” a Comhaltas-sponsored publication, includes musical arrangements for ten hymns and nine instrumental pieces.  The hymns (in Irish, without translation) are provided both in piano-vocal and small-sized orchestra arrangement, while the instrumental pieces are arranged solely for small orchestra.  The hymns, in particular, are plaintive but deeply expressive.  Alternatively, the music in the “de Cuéllar Suite,” based on the story of Captain Francisco de Cuéllar, a survivor of a Spanish Armada ship that ran aground off Sligo in 1588, is very much varied and adventuresome, moving through many different textures and moods.  Both pieces are appropriate for professional level presentation, but I think that Celtophile directors of college level music programs (and perhaps those of talented high school groups) will want to take notice.  Although both books contain a few passages some will find challenging, most of the material is elegantly straightforward.  Rooney’s music provides a brilliant window into Irish music’s more composerly side and will reward thoughtful performance.  To learn more, visit draiochtmusic.com.

Finally, there’s the majestic album “Suaimhneas” from the amazing Michelle Mulcahy.  I was first acquainted with Mulcahy’s playing on the amazing albums she did with her father Mick, and sister Louise.  But “Suaimhneas” is a completely solo effort, and one that will attract much deserved attention to a familiar musician with so much to say.  Each track here is just beautiful – it’s clear that the young Mulcahy is playing with the ear and touch of someone much older.  Harp fans will revel in how well the harmonies and rhythms in her right hand complement the melodies in her left.  I’m particularly fond of the reels “Morning Star / …,” the hornpipes “Galway Bay / …” and the jigs “O’Sullivan’s March / ….”  In addition, there are several airs and each one – especially “An Bhutais” and “Amhrán Mhaínse” – is a killer.  Intimate and confident, this is a brilliant album from one of the best.  If you like the harp, it’s absolutely one to have.

 

Ní Mhaonaigh’s return

POSTED ON September 10th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

A rising young Irish artist returns for her second solo exhibit in New York beginning today. “Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh: New Paintings” is showing at the Pink Room/Rose Burlingham, 2 West 123rd St., Manhattan, through Sept. 30.

The gallery is open Sunday 12-5 or by appointment: 646-229-0998. Ní Mhaonaigh’s paintings are, according to art critic Aidan Dunne, “poised between austerity and luxuriance. Structurally spare and concise, featuring simplified geometric motifs, her surfaces are luscious, consisting of thick coats of rich oil pigment, beautifully textured.”

Tyrrell’s voice reaches out beyond genres

POSTED ON September 10th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure

For many, Seán Tyrrell needs no introduction.  From his work with Davy Spillane to his one man shows, and his prodigious career as a solo recording artist, Tyrrell is known as one of the great voices in traditional Irish music.  Those unfamiliar with the man and his work, however, will want to better acquaint themselves with him by looking into his new album an excellent introduction to an artist whose ability to convey a song’s emotional depth is largely unmatched.

Taking its name from a poem by 19th century Dublin poet Charles Dawson Shanley, “The Walker of the Snow” is an album diverse in character but unified in direction.  Tyrrell’s voice, of course, takes center stage; its raw “growl” both conveys the album’s thematic cues and complements well its tendency toward sparse, atmospheric arrangements.  Tyrrell’s selections – some original, others taken from the traditional repertory, adapted from poetry or borrowed from songwriters outside the tradition – all revel in story and metaphor, often injected with a bracing (and disarming) directness that impels listeners to understand the messages in them.

The album’s musical arrangements are built on Tyrrell’s mandocello and tenor guitar, but many also include acoustic, electric & slide guitar, Hammond organ, and even synthesizer.  With this palette of instruments, all the tracks are able to retain a sense of bardic familiarity typical of Tyrrell’s style, but it allows in an occasional folk-rock sensibility that moves the album beyond the typical borders of Irish traditional song.

For example, his version of the traditional “She Moves Through The Fair,” echoes Fairport Convention’s 1968 folk-rock recording in tone.  However, Tyrrell’s unmistakable delivery and phrasing make the composition his own.  The same can be said of his take on John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” a song that few can adapt effectively, but one on which Tyrrell excels.

Other tracks are more stark, both in sound and in subject matter.  On both Tyrrell’s own “The Black Hole” and the traditional “Working Life Out” (a song sometimes associated with Martin Carthy), the singer accompanies himself on mandocello.  The result is a “lonesome” sound, but one fitting for songs as ponderous and thematically challenging as these.  Similar effect is achieved with a slightly larger arrangement in trio of songs adapted from poetic works, “Ringsend,” “Reading Gaol” and the album’s title track, each of which is a standout.

Instrumental tracks, including “Lark in the Morning” and “Raggad in Paris” add variety and are well executed, while others, like “You Are My Sunshine” and “On Top of Old Smokey” are given something of a north Clare makeover and make for a pleasant surprise.

Led by Tyrrell’s powerful voice, “The Walker of the Snow” is an excellent album that explores the corners of existential meaning.  It will surely appeal to trad fans, especially those interested in ballads and vocal music, but Tyrrell’s style is hard to pin down and can therefore reach out across genres – hopefully, people “out there” will hear him.

It should be noted that that this album was financed through the fundit.ie crowd funding platform.   Several weeks ago, I wrote about crowd funding’s value to independent artists, and I’m very pleased to see Tyrrell’s success with this model.  This album (an idea which laid fallow for five years) is evidence of faith rewarded and should inspire others interested in exploring the new business of music.

Tyrrell is embarking on a fall tour of the United States starting September 7 and will visit Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York City, New Mexico and California.  Visit www.seantyrrell.com for more information.

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