Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
If you’re a fan of traditional music and engaged on social media, you’ve surely seen the video of Daoirí Farrell singing “The Creggan White Hare.” It’s brilliant: his voice is raw and direct, and the video lays bare his immense talent in a taught 5-minute shot. Or perhaps you know him from the video that went viral a couple years back of him singing “Galway Girl” in a crowded airport terminal with Geoff Kinsella and Robbie Walsh. It’s a real crowd pleaser that as a curio reached all sorts of people who might never have gotten the chance to know who Farrell is. There might even be a few out there who know him from the guest spot he had singing “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore” on Lúnasa’s most recent album “Cas.” It’s a great track that you might have heard, say, on a Sunday on WFUV.
But if that’s all you know about Farrell’s music, you’re missing out. His first two albums “The First Turn” (2008) and “True Born Irishman” (2016; it netted a pair of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards) were both incredibly good, revealing not just a talented singer but one with fabulous taste in the mold of folks like Liam Weldon and Frank Harte. Fans of Farrell’s work have reason to rejoice, as he has just released “A Lifetime of Happiness,” a third album that builds on his prodigious reputation. The songs are again well selected and delivered and the results set an exceptional standard, but there’s a big difference with this album that sets it apart: the great Dónal Lunny sits in the producer’s chair.
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Bringing perhaps Irish music’s most important bouzouki and guitar player into the mix to both play and produce is significant. Not only does his involvement recall his role in bands like Planxty, Bothy Band, Moving Hearts, and others, it also immediately brings to mind Frank Harte. Lunny played on and produced all of Harte’s recordings, beginning with “And Listen To My Song” in 1978 and the two had a special bond. Farrell’s artistic debt to Harte is clear and that Lunny appears to have modeled a similar dynamic here with Farrell speaks volumes, I think, about who Farrell is as a singer and the trust people like Lunny have in him as an artist. (It doesn’t hurt, either, that Christy Moore has complementary things to say about him, either!) The results of this collaboration are truly stunning.
The album includes ten tracks, all of which nest Farrell’s voice in complementary, plainspoken arrangements. His voice is strong and reedy, and he sings with intimacy and expression, which makes each track interesting and the album very inviting as a whole. Harte’s influence is felt in the songs “Valentine O’Hara” and “The Connerys” – lovely tracks, both – which were learned from recordings of Harte’s. “A Pint of Plain” is a jaunty paean to Guinness rooted in a Flann O’Brien poem. “The Galway Shawl,” the album’s first track, is impressive and stirring, playing to the song’s romantic elements. (Compare it to the version Lisa O’Neill recorded on her recent album “Heard a Long Gone Song,” which is similarly compelling, but darker and perhaps more cynical in its treatment.) “The Hills of Granemore” is a beautiful, evocative track with a rather doleful conclusion about hunting a hare. I am particularly fond of “Sweet Portadown,” a haunting love song with great poetry in its lyrics, but perhaps the album’s best track is “Via Extasia,” a love song Liam Weldon wrote for his wife. Complex and refined from both lyric and melodic point of view, Farrell brings the kind of space and gravity required to do it justice. Simply outstanding.
The arrangements feature the following musicians, whose contributions add to this album greatly. They include Robbie Walsh, (bodhrán), Pat Daly (fiddle), Avril Crotty (cello), Séan Garvey & Peter Browne (accordion), Máire Ní Chronain & Tara Finn (backing vocals), Séan Potts (uilleann pipes), Mark Redmond (uilleann pipes, whistles), and Geoff Kinsella (mandolin).
“A Lifetime of Happiness” is a rich album from one of the great traditional singers of our day. Farrell has a powerful voice that recalls the great singers of the past, and this album frames it exceptionally well. It’s unfortunate that while he has performed all over Europe, he hasn’t spent much time playing for audiences in the US. Hopefully, this will change. Bear in mind, though, that folks going on Joanie Madden’s Folk ’N Irish Cruise will have the special chance to get to know him, as he’ll be one of the (many) featured performers on the trip. (She’s going to Bermuda, May 12-19; visit www.joaniemaddencruise.com for more info.) If you’re going, definitely make an effort to hear Farrell and pick up his albums – they’ll be a revelation. To learn more and get ahold of “A Lifetime of Happiness,” visit www.daoiri.com.