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Fallon provides necessary escapism

Órla Fallon became known for her Irish-language solo numbers with Celtic Woman.

Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor

Órla Fallon became known for her Irish-language solo numbers with Celtic Woman.

In releasing her latest album, singer and harpist Órla Fallon faced the immense challenge of upholding historical precedent during historically unprecedented times. “Lore” is an album of Irish traditional music’s greatest hits—songs that have been sung for decades, in some cases, centuries. The former Celtic Woman member reached into her soul to revitalize these historical songs through her own unique harmonies. Some might see the current timing of the album’s release as a travesty, but ever graceful, Fallon has reframed it as a blessing. The singer used the ballads of her ancestry to escape the crisis unfolding around her. Indeed, Fallon’s renditions of these well-known songs are like journeys away from the present moment and into the past. They offer an escapism that has become a cultural necessity in the current climate.

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Órla Fallon is most recognizable as one of the faces of the original Celtic Woman. With the group, she became known for her Irish-language solo numbers, helping to turn Irish music into large-scale, global entertainment. Her voice introduced Irish music and traditional Gaelic singing in many unfamiliar parts of the world, and it became especially popular in North America. In 2009, Fallon left Celtic Woman to concentrate on her family and work on her solo career. Since then, Fallon has released three Christmas albums and several solo records, including “My Land” (2011), a collection of lullabies, “Lullaby Time” (2012), and most recently, the Americana-inspired “Sweet By and By” (2019). She continues her productivity with the latest installment, a return to her traditional “lore.”

In “Lore,” more starkly than any of her other albums, the integrity of Fallon’s voice shines through. Unlike her days with Celtic Woman, this album de-clutters, strips away all the orchestral ornamentation, dramatic score, and costumery, so that all you can hear is Fallon’s voice, on its own, sounding all the more beautiful for the silence around it. There is something pure and inherently historical in the subtle, acoustic, and oftentimes single-instrument backing arrangement. The Irish language songs, in particular, offer a direct route to the past with this simple instrumentation: “Bean Phaidin,” one of my favorites on the album, highlights the perfect partnership of Fallon’s Irish vocals and bodhrán. And in “Báidín Fheillimí” Fallon’s voice dances with tin whistle. Fallon gives credit to her producer Dan Shea, who has also worked with the likes of Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion, for the insight and fresh take on the song’s arrangements. Shea, Fallon explained, cleverly mixes a couple traditional tunes into one track, always surprising her. “He is a great man for the tunes,” Fallon said, “and he pushes me and gets the very best out of me vocally.”

The songs on “Lore”—from “She Moved through the Fair” to “Do you Love and Apple,” “Wild Mountain Thyme,” and “The Parting Glass”—are, in Fallon’s own words, “embedded in my soul.” Each one is “deeply meaningful” for the singer, some of them tied to a loved one or distinct memory. Her grandmother, for instance, used to sing “Siúil a Rún” while baking in her kitchen. The album’s version of “Galway Bay” is an especially tender one, sung with her father in mind. Fallon sang the well-known ballad to him shortly before he passed, as it was one of his favorites. “Roseville Fair” is a new number for Fallon, and one that recently sang at her sister’s wedding. The moment she heard the Liam Clancy recording, Fallon knew “Roseville Fair” was a love song for her. Finally, the singer also showcases her harp skills with the instrumental “Citi na gCumann.”

Fallon says that she feels 2020 was the right time to record these old songs, which have “always been there for her.” Like all artists, Fallon has had to cancel her gigs this year, but editing the mixes during lockdown brought great comfort during a stressful time. “There was something very comforting and reassuring about listening to them,” she said, “like putting on a cozy old sweater.”

Having listened to “Lore,” I must echo Fallon’s experience. Her sweet vocals and easy, traditional arrangement offer a sense of comfort by reminding us of cultural endurance—that these songs were sung just like Fallon sings them hundreds of years ago in a cold, quiet hall or field, and yet they still live on in that same pure, unadulterated style today. In part because of their historical popularity and in part because of Fallon’s own warm character, these renditions are inherently uplifting and optimistic. The rhythms are peppy and the vocals sweet, which is not always the case with traditional music. “Lore” delivers an optimistic, happy memory songbook and thereby provides tranquility amidst the turmoil.

“Lore” will be available for purchase, download, and streaming from July 24, and you can find out more about Órla Fallon on her website