By Colleen Taylor
Back when I hosted “Ceol na nGael” on WFUV, one of my favorite singers to spin on a Sunday was Heidi Talbot. A distinct, signature voice, Talbot added vibrancy and character to any playlist I compiled. Now, in 2017, after a career with Cherish the Ladies and several solo albums, Talbot is making something of a second coming in traditional Irish music. Her most recent release, entitled “Here We Go 1, 2, 3,” has got to be her best yet.
I once thought that Talbot peaked when she sang with Cherish the Ladies. She remains my favorite vocalist the legendary all-female trad band has brought into their circle. During the early 2000s, Talbot sang a number of gorgeous ballads for Cherish, including “Hard Times” and “Sweet Thames Flow Softly” off the album “Woman of the House” (2005). These songs captured Talbot in her element: they cover the range of her voice from whispery notes to powerful choruses. Her career singing traditional ballads for CTL perfected what I see as the Talbot tag: a style that might be called hippy-trad, historical in sound but modern and freeing in her unique inflection. Heidi Talbot’s career with CTL ranked her among the best of Ireland’s female vocalists. From those songs alone, she was grouped—in my mind—with the all stars of traditional Irish singing, including Karan Casey, Cathie Ryan, and Cara Dillon. It was a sad day when Talbot and Cherish amicably parted ways, but she went on to do some great solo work.
Heidi Talbot has released five solo studio albums to date: “Distant Future” (2004), “In Love + Light” (2008), “The Last Star” (2010), “Angels Without Wings” (2013), and last but most certainly not least “Here We Go 1, 2, 3” released last October. Across the oeuvre, Talbot has demonstrated a wide range of influences. She has recorded songs that have been pop, rock, even American country in nature. But of these five, “Here We Go, 1, 2, 3” has quickly and easily become my favorite. In this fifth album, Talbot finally returns to the style she perfected with Cherish the Ladies, what I’m calling this hippie-trad. She sounds like the Joan Baez of traditional Irish music, and it’s just what I’ve been missing of her since her days with CTL and “Woman of the House” in 2005.
Although “Here We Go 1, 2, 3” sounds more Irish than Talbot’s previous four solo albums, don’t expect the same old traditional tunes you grew up with. This is traditional style, but with new songs and lyrics. For instance, Talbot has a new song called “Chelsea Piers” on the album—her New York homage. “The Wedding Day” puts a subtle soulful spin on a traditional folk song. It’s an Irish melody with a touch more rhythm, a touch more jazzy sway. “Time to Rest” is another stand out—the kind of folk song you’d hear at a pub and get so wrapped up that you completely lose track of your surroundings. But the real treasure of this album is the title track. The melody is easy, happy, and truly gorgeous, especially when Talbot hits those high notes and the fiddle follows. If you’re a fan of traditional Irish music, of Cherish the Ladies, or of folk music generally, I guarantee “Here We Go 1, 2, 3” will be a new favorite. We Irish music fans love to hear the same songs we’ve sung all our lives, but there’s nothing like the thrill of a new song, especially when it’s a traditional one—and that’s just what Talbot has provided on this track and on the album as a whole.
I was wrong when I thought Talbot reached her peak in 2005. She’s back with a force and clearly knows her unique take on traditional singing is just what Irish music fans are looking for. I’m filled with nostalgia listening to “Here We Go 1, 2, 3” remembering when I first fell in love with traditional music and with Talbot’s voice as a teenager. Her new album has me reliving that cultural thrill all over again, with the added wisdom to know how and why the music is exceptional. This is an album you shouldn’t miss—so give it a listen, not just once, but two, three times, at least.