Tuesday, August 21, 2012

traditional & contemporary: Nuala Kennedy


Nuala Kennedy hails from County Louth, in Ireland, an area that is known as a land of myth and legend. She moved to Edinburgh for art college, and with her whistles and flute in hand, became immersed in that city’s vibrant music community. Though still based in Scotland, Kennedy has recently spent time in New York, as well. Each of these experiences weave through the songs and tunes on her album Noble Stranger.

The collection begins with a song of Kennedy’s own devising called Gabriel Sings. The lyrics and ideas are a vivd mix of image that could be at home in pop and traditional styles, while the arrangement was in part inspired by a vintage but not so traditional instrument: Kennedy was given a small Casio keyboard by by Norman Blake of the Glasgow based band Teenage Fan Club, a group with who she has worked in the past. “ I was immediately drawn to the simplicity and transportability of the instrument,” Kennedy says.

irish musician nuala kennedy noble strangerHer own primary instruments, flutes and whistles, are transportable themselves, and Kennedy takes their sound through music of Ireland and Scotland as well as to Spain and adds in the energy of time she’s spent in New York. Lord Duneagle is a songs from the Scottish tradition, a tale of a man leaving his love in order to go off across the seas, on his return finding things not as he had anticipated. This story line shows up in other Celtic traditions, as well, and it is often sung as a slow ballad. Kennedy creates a fast paced, percussive treatment, a take which adds urgency to the story and serves it well. She has always been a fine singer, with a light, expressive soprano which is framed well by the textures of guitar, mandolin, drums, flutes and other instruments here. Her work on this and other songs on the recording show that she is really coming into her own with her singing as well.

Flute takes the lead for sets that, in different ways, reference area in the north of Spain called Asturias. It is a Celtic location too, with its own accent for music. The first Asturias set comprises two tunes which their origins in sixteenth century Scotland, while Asturias Part Two is made up of pipe tines from Llena in central Asturias.

Through all the dozen tracks, Kennedy and her tight knit band show a gift for weaving tradition and present day in melody, lyric, arrangement, and choice of material. “Spending time in America has given me a renewed appreciation of my own traditional musical heritage, and this renewed appreciation is reflected in the choices of some of the older material on the album, “ Kennedy says. “Classic traditional songs such as My Bonny Labouring Boy and the bonus track Matt Hyland are songs I have known for a long time and they seemed to re-emerge as a natural part of this record.” These traditional songs are, indeed a natural part of Nuala Kennedy’s musical journey on Noble Stranger, a journey which weaves together sounds and ideas of past and present -- a journey well worth the taking.

you may also wish to see

Dual: Julie Fowlis & Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
Music road trip New York City: Irish Musicians
music and journey

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posted by Kerry Dexter at

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