Hot Press - - Contents - / JOHN WAL­SHE

We run the rule over the lat­est of­fer­ings from Lisa O’Neill, Elvis Costello, Lil Wayne and We Cut Cor­ners.

Much of what passes for Irish tra­di­tional and folk mu­sic has been bas­tardised to a safe, ho­moge­nous did­dly­eye, come-all-ye bal­ladry that’s more about at­tract­ing fat-wal­let­ted Amer­i­can tourists to over­pay for porter than set­ting free the soul of the mu­sic. Then there’s Lisa O’Neill.

Over three al­bums, the Ca­van songstress has been de­fi­antly un­com­pro­mis­ing, re­fus­ing to tame her wild, ragged voice. It’s a pow­er­ful in­stru­ment, al­beit a po­lar­is­ing one – her some­times gruff de­liv­ery is not every­one’s mug of scald – but it’s about as far from safe as it’s pos­si­ble to get.

For this fourth al­bum, O’Neill has signed to River Lea, an im­print of Rough Trade, it­self home to the equally res­o­lute folkies Lankum. Recorded in Black­box Stu­dios in France’s Loire Val­ley, co-pro­duced with for­mer Frames gui­tarist David Od­lum, it sees O’Neill joined by Lankum’s Radie Peat, con­certina mae­stro Cor­mac Be­g­ley, bouzouki player

Libby McCro­han, and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Christophe Capewell. It all makes for a heady mix­ture of tra­di­tional tunes and orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions.

The record opens with an a capella take on ‘The Gal­way Shawl’, which man­ages to con­vey all the emo­tion of an en­tire sea­son of the lat­est HBO drama into one song, thanks to the power of O’Neill’s vo­cal. As raw and rough as the Ca­van clay from which it was formed, her de­liv­ery is so star­tling it’s like lis­ten­ing to Nina Si­mone or Bil­lie Hol­i­day, had they been born in Bal­ly­james­duff rather than North Carolina or Philly.

The epic ‘Along The North Strand’ veers from love song to mur­der bal­lad and on to skit­tery jig over the course of eight min­utes. The mag­nif­i­cent ‘Vi­o­let Gib­son’ is writ­ten from the point of view of the Irish woman who shot Mus­solini in the face in 1926. She was sub­se­quently re­leased with­out charge, be­fore be­ing de­ported to Bri­tain, where she spent the rest of her life in a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion: “I didn’t shoot to skim the skin of his snout/ Or his teeth or the lips on his mouth/ I sim­ply saw a bad egg and I thought I’d take the bad egg out.”

There’s a heart-break­ing sad­ness to fu­ne­real dirge ‘A Year Short Of Three’ and ‘The Lass Of Aughrim’, the lat­ter hav­ing fea­tured in James Joyce’s fa­mous short story, ‘The Dead’. ‘The Fac­tory Girl’ is even older, dat­ing back to the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion; there have been far more sani­tised ver­sions of the song, in­clud­ing re­cent ef­forts by The Chief­tains and even Rhi­an­non Gid­dens of blue­grass out­fit Carolina Choco­late Drops. How­ever, none have the coarse magic of this duet with Radie Peat.

The stel­lar ‘Rock The Ma­chine’ first ap­peared on the Paul Noo­nan-cu­rated Star­board Home project, where a host of singers were in­spired to cre­ate mu­sic based on the theme of Dublin’s port, river and dock­lands. A beau­ti­ful, sad tale of a dock worker faced with the knowl­edge that new ma­chin­ery is mak­ing his trade ob­so­lete, it’s im­bued with the so­cial­ist spirit of Luke Kelly, and feels like a song that will still be sung in a cen­tury’s time.

Folk is un­der­go­ing some­thing of a re­nais­sance at the minute, as the kick against ‘fake ev­ery­thing’ her­alds a yearn­ing for au­then­tic­ity from food to mu­sic. It doesn’t get more au­then­tic than Lisa O’Neill, who seems ge­net­i­cally in­ca­pable of false­hood, fic­tion or af­fec­ta­tion. A spe­cial tal­ent in­deed. OUT OC­TO­BER 19

Lisa O’Neill Heard A Long Gone Song RIVER LEA ‘Rock The Ma­chine’

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