Casey album is filled with gorgeous original songs

Safe journey to the great singer Donie Carroll, who has just gone to Bangkok, Thailand, to carry on work with the Mercy Centre.  Carroll has been an integral part of New York City’s annual Mercy Centre fundraising concert and is going over to build on the yeoman’s work the great Mick Moloney did over the years with that organization.  Best wishes, Donie!

 In the media player this week is “Nine Apples of Gold,” the forthcoming album from singer Karan Casey.  Casey is, of course, one of the great singers in Irish music and this new album is filled with utterly gorgeous original songs that show she is an artist still at the top of the game.  But what sets this album apart is its craft.  The issues she embraces in her songwriting are not ones simply close to her own heart, they’re ones that many – particularly women – will relate to.  On this record, Casey stands for something.  She reminds her listeners that they share in a struggle, and that they can be empowered to be their own best social and political champions.  Casey’s up to challenge the patriarchy; that she does it so beautifully and so eloquently makes this album one we all should listen to.

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 Distilling Casey’s numerous and multifaceted accomplishments into a short newspaper article is an exercise that will yield little fruit.  Although she’s known as one of our time’s preeminent singers of traditional song, she’s also explored all sorts of stylistic directions over the decades.  She’s been a member of one highly influential supergroup, released numerous and acclaimed solo albums (she has, in fact, appeared on over 50 albums), has earned a Ph.D., and is an outspoken activist for women’s rights, especially through FairPlé, an organization she helped found, whose work is “aimed at achieving fairness and gender balance for female performers in Irish traditional and folk music.”  In many ways, she without equal.

 This is the lived experience from which she draws for this album.  You can hear it in each and every song, all but one of which Casey wrote (some in collaboration with Seán Óg Graham).  Each track is brilliant and rewards the listener with fine storytelling.  The album’s opener “Nine Apples of Gold” is an excellent example.  Reading the lyrics, the song presents as a centuries-old ballad. The craft here is great, grounding the song in something shared across the tradition.  And yet, the message and execution/arrangement are so modern that you lose sight of how rooted the song itself feels.  It’s a most welcome contrast.

 There are three songs on the album that feature a guest singer, “Sister I Am Here For You,” with Niamh Dunne, “I Live in a Country,” with Pauline Scanlon, and “Daughter Dear,” with Rioghnach Connolly.  All three are really incredible tracks and are wonderful pieces of music that interconnect in interesting ways.  The first two are almost companion pieces, in that they tie together broadly supportive messages that reflect the times.  But Casey seems to be building community in these tracks.  In “Sister,” Casey takes the lead, with she and Dunne singing “I’m listening” in the refrain; in “Country,” Casey and Scanlon sing the verses in unison, with Casey singing “I want to be me” as Scanlon replies “I believe her” in the refrain.  These are contemporary messages, but how the different voices are mobilized in these tracks builds on a sense of belonging.  (It’s this sense that gives the line “f*** the patriarchy” in “Country” its particular force.)  “Daughter,” on the other hand, introduces a completely different tone that changes the conversation.  It still speaks to experience as effectively as the first two, but refocuses a collective feeling into something more individual and personal.  It’s great stuff.  Dunne, Scanlon, and Connolly add to each of these tracks brilliantly.

 One of the album’s special tracks for me is Casey’s take on “The Rocks of Bawn.” Dedicated to the memory of Mick Moloney, the “beloved mentor and campaigner for the underdog” mentioned at the top, it pairs Casey’s voice with beautifully rendered guitar accompaniment that enhances the track greatly.  It’s a show-stopper and gives traditional music fans something grounded in the familiar.  It’s a very rewarding track.

 “Nine Apples of Gold” is a hard hitting, take no prisoners sort of album.  The music is gorgeous and it speaks directly and supportively on a range of issues that I think will resonate very strongly with many.  The songwriting stands out in particular, as does the music, which is brilliantly rendered by a cast that includes the singers listed above as well as Seán Óg Graham (guitars & stuff), Conor McCreanor (bass), Ashley Hoyer (mandolin), Hannah Hiemstra (percussion), Kate Ellis (cello), John McCullough (keyboards), Alex Borwick (trombone), and the Portglenone Songbirds.  “Nine Apples” is made of gutsy stuff and I dig it.  You will too.  Check out this album when it released on February 22.

 Casey will follow the album’s release with a US tour, March 2nd-18th, stopping in Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, and Michigan along the way.  If you’re able to catch her in concert, make an effort to do so!  For more information on how to purchase and details about dates, visit Casey’s website.