Delightful to see the music back

We’re getting close to St. Patrick’s Day and with it comes the annual flurry of releases that has been on pause the last couple of years.  But the music is back, and it’s so delightful to see – things that have been simmering in private for the last two years are here in full force, not just as studio releases but supported live performance as well.  This week’s column looks at three projects representing some great stylistic diversity that readers should be on the watch for.  

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First up, we have “Craobhacha (Branches)” the first single from the singer & guitarist Síomha’s debut album “Infinite Space,” a forthcoming collection of songs in both Irish and English.  Síomha’s music is “poppier” than what I normally write about, but there are some interesting connections with more modern sounds in traditional music that I feel makes her music noteworthy for a column like this.

 Síomha is a brilliant musician.  Both an accomplished guitar player known for gypsy jazz and a powerful singer well in both the Irish and English languages, she grew up in a musical household (her father is the brilliant button accordionist Paul Brock) and over the years has toured with folks like Paul Brady, Moxie, Notify and others.  More recently, she’s worked with the outstanding band the ollam.

It’s only fitting then that the ollam (www.theolllam.com) provides musical support for this first track (they are but a handful of the musicians who appear on the album; others include Martin Atkinson Borrull [keyboards], Jeremy Kittel [strings], Joe Dart [bass], and others) and are a perfect partner here.  Singing in Irish, Síomha sings and plays guitar over their jazzy blend of low whistle, electric piano, and drums, creating a vibe that lives up to the press blurb describes her music as “danc[ing] the line between folk, jazz and neo-soul.”

 Don’t look for a lot of “traditional” sound in Síomha’s music.  However, if you like traditional music and have broad musical horizons you’ll really find yourself attracted to what’s happening here – it’s brilliant stuff.  “Infinite Space” is due for release on April 22.  Learn more at siomhamusic.com.

In other news: due out this week is “Róisín Reimagined,” the new album from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh. From West Kerry, Nic Amhlaoibh is one of today’s great singers and is perhaps best known for her work singing and playing flute with the supergroup Danú (www.danu.net).  She’s a multi-award winning traditional singer and musician who singing in the sean nós style has made her the stuff of legend.

“Róisín Reimagined” is a collection of sean nós songs arranged by six Irish composers, including Cormac McCarthy, Paul Campbell, Linda Buckley, Sam Perkin, Niamh Varian-Barry, and Michael Keeney, for the Irish Chamber Orchestra.  In selecting the songs for this orchestral treatment, Nic Amhlaoibh favored one considered “examples of the native Irish Classical style” and that “bear the hallmarks of high art and learning in Gaelic culture.”

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh.

What resulted is groundbreaking stuff.  While Nic Amhlaoibh’s singing is as brilliant as one would expect, what I really like most about this album is its stylistic heterogeneity.  Rather than simply wash every song in a sea of glassy, saccharine strings – which can touch audiences, but be boring from a musical perspective – we are treated to a set of fairly free creative hands.  In this collaboration, each composer/arranger’s voice is allowed to come to the fore, which gives each track a distinctive and compelling character.  This approach lifts Nic Amhlaoibh’s already gorgeous singing and takes it to new creative shores.  This album is as interesting as it is beautiful.

 She performed “Róisín Dubh” on TG4 in December in a performance that featured Dónal O'Connor, Mick O'Brien, Aisling Ennis, Cormac McCarthy and Caitríona Frost. It is an excellent representative example of what the music has in store.

 “Róisín Reimagined” is absolutely gorgeous.  Noble and solemn, this is an album from a singer with great creative vision that lovers of Irish music – and Ireland, really – will want to hear.   The album releases on March 10, to learn more and purchase, visit www.muireann.ie. 

 Finally, we have “Colours On Canvas” from Barry Tierney, a singer-songwriter who originally hails from Kinsale, in County Cork. Tierney has used his rootedness in traditional music to inform his songwriting and with this approach has found some great success.  To wit, his debut album “Hotel Alamar,” released by Universal Music Group in 2015, was a big hit and led to tours, performances, and a measure of fame all over Europe. “Colours On Canvas” is the lead single from his as-yet-untitled forthcoming second album.

Barry Tierney.

 I dig this song quite a bit. Tierney’s voice has strong character and he sings with great conviction and lovely phrasing, and while Christy Moore is surely an inspiration, Tierney’s got his own approach and voice that is distinctive.  The song itself is a melancholic reflection on the present moment.  Done in waltz time, it features the music of Conor O’Sullivan (guitar/backing vocals/bouzouki/bass), Jason Turk (piano accordion), and Isaac Alderson (flute), all of whom contribute to a great track.

Check this one out – it should fit nicely on your seasonal playlist!  It’s available to listen to on YouTube and on streaming services like Spotify.  And to learn more and keep up with Tierney’s future release, visit www.barrytierney.com.