Heard a Long Gone Song Lisa O’Neill River Lea/Rough Trade Across original and traditional compositions, Lisa O’Neill’s fourth album restores folk music’s stark gravity. What’s more, the Dublin-based singer-songwriter details each song’s history in the album booklet, including changes she has made to previous versions as well as her impetus for approaching it. O’Neill takes these arrangements just as seriously, ensuring that her singing and her words are very much the focus. That’s most apparent on two tracks absent of any instrumentation: the opening The Galway Shawl, which introduces both the disciplined composure and earthy emotional resonance of her voice; and The Factory Girl, on which guest Radie Peat joins in after nearly three minutes to create a sustained droning quality to their combined voices.
The results ring pure and true, and even when instruments do surface on the rest of the songs, they always sit in the backdrop with a rare sense of restraint. On the traditional murder ballad Along the North Strand, dramatic streaks of fiddle and bouzouki rise in intensity only when her own singing grows more swaggering to match, before the accordion-esque concertina materialises to send it all home. A bass concertina proves especially mesmerising on the slow and haunting A Year Shy of Three, a traditional composition given new lyrics by O’Neill, while a lyric from the closing Pogues tune Lullaby of London lends the album its name. By turns soothing and disquieting, O’Neill’s decisive less-is-more approach dares to pin down today’s flitting attention spans.