Nuala Kennedy.

Kennedy's songs are formidable

It’s always a good week when I have a new release from Nuala Kennedy to write about, and it just so happens that in the media player this week is an advance copy of “Shorelines,” her new album coming out in July.  Initially a work commissioned in 2021 by the glór theater in Ennis, “Shorelines” found its form as a thematic suite of songs “of love and loss inspired by the sea.”  The album, which Kennedy told me is “inspired by resilient women” and reflects “a journey overcoming adversity,” is a fabulous project that very much reflects her great good taste in song selection and her outstanding approach to presentation.  Kennedy’s fans will be thrilled with what she’s put together here (as am I), but the album should also serve as an attractive access point for folks not yet familiar with her work in general.

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 “Shorelines” is Kennedy’s fifth solo album, and her first since 2016’s acclaimed “Behave the Bravest.”  More recently, though, she’s spent most of her time with The Alt (Kennedy, John Doyle & Eamon O’ Leary;, whose work has been similarly praised.  (Incidentally, The Alt’s 2022 album “Day is Come,” for example, led to an RTÉ Radio One Folk Awards nomination for “Best Live Act.”)  Since things opened post-covid, she’s toured with The Alt (with fiddle legend extraordinaire Kevin Burke a notable addition on many of these dates), and earlier this year she completed a tour with fellow Alt-member Eamon O’Leary. 

 Joining Kennedy here is a murderers’ row of talent that includes Tara Breen (fiddle), Tony Byrne (guitars), Caoimhin Vallely (piano), Moira Smiley & Muireann NicAmhlaoibh (backing vocals), and Todd Sickafoose (double bass).  This crew follows Kennedy’s lead and in the process gives the album an engaging and robust spirit. 

 “Shorelines” includes nine tracks, six of which entirely consist of or include songs. The balance are tune tracks, and almost all of them are tunes Kennedy composed.  Kennedy’s a very fine composer, her tunes are interesting and well rendered.  She has an excellent and very modern sense of melody, which is showcased in “Saltwater/Flow” and “Whirlpools/Lighthouse Polka.”

 But to me, the album’s weight is in its songs, which are formidable.  “Sally Sits Weeping / Blue Devil Jig,” the track that opens the album, is simply gorgeous.  It’s about a woman whose lover has gone off to sea and her leaving to find him.  Kennedy is fabulous here and the arrangement well considered.  (I noted some “Beatlesesque” notes in the goings here.)  But it is followed by “Father Father,” which is an incredible choice.  A version of “Died for Love./Sailor Boy/Sweet William,” it’s about a woman who has come to learn her lover has been lost at sea.  Set in sparse arrangement, Kennedy’s delivery is powerful and it not only brings the song’s narrative to a very accessible fore, it really gives listeners a sense of the album’s “journey.”

 “Marguerite” is another of the album’s powerful and interesting songs.  As Kennedy explains in her liner notes, this one tells the story of “Marguerite De a Roque, a French aristocratic woman who was abandoned on the “Iles des Demons” off the coast of Quebec in 1542.”  The melody and vocal harmonies are exquisite, but Kennedy once again proves herself here a marvelous storyteller.   She reminds of this again in “Cavan Road,” which is a great song and a remarkable parting track.

 “Shorelines” is an outstanding album.  The concept is superb as is the musicianship, but what really grabs me most is the storytelling.  Kennedy’s selections weave imaginative and fairly cohesive journey that works as well as a whole as it does in its individual tracks.  The result is a top shelf work that finds progressive ways to invigorate older themes and stories. Absolutely fantastic stuff.  Keep an eye out for the album’s release in July by following Kennedy on Instagram (@nualakennedymusic) and Twitter (@NualaKennedy), or by visiting her website here.

 If you love Kennedy’s music and want an opportunity to learn from her (or better still, another one), keep in mind that she’ll be teaching at Catskills Irish Arts Week this year.  Her classes will be, in the morning, intermediate & advanced flute and in the afternoon she’ll be teaching singing for all levels.  Plan your summer accordingly!  CIAW will run July 16-22 this year: visit the website here