Lisa loughrey

Women begin new musical chapters

With “Realign,” Slow Skies affirms her reputation as a composing powerhouse.

Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor

With Ireland—and particularly, Ireland’s women—taking center stage in global news this past week, it seemed like no better time to highlight some powerful, young, female solo acts. In a music scene dominated by electro-indie groups, these women are independently preserving the poetic, authentic and folk core to Irish music, while still being contemporary. Over the past year, I’ve been truly impressed, and deeply moved, by the music of Lisa Loughrey, Roisin O, Ailie Blunnie and most recently, Slow Skies, who released her album “Realign” this month.

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Known as lead singer for the Mariannes, Lisa Loughrey recently went solo, exploring her own individual vision, style, and lyrics. While still fronting for the Mariannes, Loughrey has been working on a solo debut, releasing several extraordinary singles along the way. Her solo music is part American country drawl, part Irish trad ballad—and her singing has that melancholic, historical sagacity shared by both genres. She strips back the extra trimmings and ornamentation characteristic of bands like the Mariannes, and simply embraces the melody, the vocals, and the pared back acoustic instrumentation. Her single “Coming Up” is a breath of fresh air and bodes well for her solo debut.

Like Lisa Loughrey, Roisin O has begun a new chapter in her music career—but in the opposite direction. Whereas Loughrey returned to a more simplistic folk sound, Roisin O has turned away from her folksy roots and embraced the drama of electro-pop. Still, the anthemic passion and lyrical poeticism behind O’s music retains that initial folksy identity, even if it doesn’t sound like folk music. Her most recent project is “Thanks Brother,” a creative duo forged with producer John Broe, and their debut release was “We Are Different”—an anthem with a message of equality for a new value system in 21st century Ireland.

Ailie Blunnie is another alt-folk solo star who released her debut album, “West to the Evening Sun” in November of last year. This album is a standout in terms of songwriting—poetic, exploratory, mystic—the lyrics are just as profound as her unique blend of sounds. This music is smart, inquisitive, and moving, with incredible tracks like “Would that You May” and “Love Song to a Bicycle.”

Last but not least, Slow Skies AKA Karen Sheridan is the latest lady in Ireland to impress. Having opened for acts like James Vincent McMorrow and St. Vincent, she was already a musician of strong reputation. But with the recent release of her first full-length studio album, “Realign,” Slow Skies affirms her reputation as a composing powerhouse. Indie-electro solo acts like Sheridan’s tend to be more of a man’s game in the music biz, but Slow Skies not only holds her own, she holds a distinctive musical foothold within that world: what some have aptly called “dreamy folk.”

Slow Skies is a hybrid of electro-synthesized sounds and an acoustic, folksy voice. Her vocals are conversational, soft, emotively authentic. “Realign” follows three EPs from the solo artist, but what makes this debut studio album special is, at the end of the day, her voice. For her studio album, Slow Skies turned back to the acoustic guitar, and this “return,” or “realignment” was the perfect new/old direction. Tracks like “Patterns” and “A Place in Time” highlight the soft, whispery, acoustic style of Sheridan’s folksy vocals to haunting and moving effects. But she has some fun on this album too—with tracks like “Dancing,” an upbeat and yes, dance-y, tune. As a whole, “Realign” has a distinct aura where a mystical, dream-like past meets a present of technology-infused music. Like Loughrey, Roisin O, and Blunnie, Slow Skies looks back to Ireland’s cultural past and accesses its folk identity, while also looking forward, to a new, imagined—perhaps, better—future.