Lisa loughrey

New solo direction is great news

Lisa Loughrey says her writing for her solo work reflects a "bit more of my own musical personality and influences” than that for the Mariannes.

By Colleen Taylor

I love reviewing Irish female singers. Call me biased, but I think they enact the best of Irish culture—folk music and a woman’s perspective combine to create culture, experience, and complex, emotional depth. Noriana Kennedy, Roisin O, Cara Dillon, Heidi Talbot, and Lisa Hannigan are some of the women I’ve thrilled at praising over the years. The latest name to add to that talented group is Lisa Loughrey. In fact, Loughrey is shooting right to the top of the list. Having recently embarked on a solo career, Lisa Loughrey is more captivating than ever before. Each time I hear her new single, “Coming Up,” I’m more and more convinced I’m listening to the next Karan Casey or Eleanor McEvoy.

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Loughrey has had careers in two of the most challenging professions around: the music business and special education. Her singing and songwriting skills suggest that bone-deep compassion from a career in special education has added to the empathetic capacity of her singing. After working in special education for a decade, Loughrey decided to begin to taper time off for her music career—for performing and writing songs. I first encountered Lisa through the Dublin alt-folk group the Mariannes, the band for which she’s been known the past few years. The moment I heard her voice on the Mariannes’ EP, I was hooked. Loughrey’s voice made the band’s music extraordinary, and now she’s decided to combine her exquisite vocal skills with the songwriting perspective she’s been developing in her free time.

Loughrey’s new ambitions in the solo arena mean great news for acoustic folk fans. As opposed to the songs she wrote with the Mariannes, her new singles, she explains, “reflect a bit more of my own musical personality and influences than previous work.” The tracks are more acoustic and “stripped back,” allowing Loughrey’s voice to shine in its natural, folksy tenor. Lyrically, the songs from her upcoming album are more ambitious than she’s attempted before. Although it’s melody first, lyrics second for the songwriter, Loughrey is serious about her lyrics. She speaks of the verbal composition process with insight and smarts: “I really love writing narrative pieces, but wanted to challenge myself a little bit too, to try to look a bit further inward,” she said. Writing lyrics for her solo album was her opportunity to work introspectively, to examine and translate the interior, emotional human experience into extant sound. She explains, “Writing something that I can connect with both lyrically and musically and that I can put my heart into when I deliver it, is the thing that matters most to me.” Loughrey is dedicated to the ethos of an emotively deep, genuine musical experience, and I think that, more than anything, explains why her music is so affecting.

It’s no question that Lisa Loughrey has one of the best voices in the Irish music scene right now, but her single “Coming Up” displays something else too: her impressive and dynamic range of musical influences. Loughrey humbly gives credit the great musicians she has met over the years, from the Mariannes to her current band, made up of Nathan Maher, Damien McMahon, Jacob Fry and Eoghan Keane. But I think it can also be traced back to her very cool combo of music interests. Loughrey grew up on Irish music, with traditional musicians on her dad’s side, and then got into 1950s and ’60s rock n’ roll and American country music—specifically, Eddie Cochran, Elvis, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. Hints these early interests in roots music can be heard in the root sounds of Lisa’s arrangements. “Coming Up” is part American country drawl, part Irish trad ballad—and her singing has that melancholic, historical sagacity shared by both genres. The idiosyncratic contrast of ghostly choruses and rhythmic bass give this track a truly unique identity. It almost resists complete description—you just need to hear how good it is for yourself.

Lisa is busy recording songs for both her upcoming solo album release and for the Mariannes as well. Her goal is to release her full studio album by the end of the year with a couple more singles in between. In addition to “Coming Up,” she also released another track of hers, “Potter’s Row,” on YouTube. Rich with bass, acoustic guitar strings, and Loughrey’s powerhouse vocals, “Potter’s Row” is another homerun for the singer/songwriter. Those diehard fans of Irish folk band “Solas,” who may still be mourning the band’s announcement of a break this past winter, need not despair any longer. Lisa Loughrey and her band have received the Solas baton, and are continuing that mission of making solid, original, acoustically rich Irish Americana music. “Potter’s Row” took me right back to when I first heard Karan Casey sing “Pastures of Plenty.” It’s got something of that same folksy magic.

I hope by the time you’ve gotten to this paragraph, you’ve already listened to “Coming Up” and are queuing up “Potter’s Row.” If not, open up your Spotify account or browser right now, and join me in adding Lisa Loughrey to your list.

Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column in the Irish Echo each week.