Appalachian and Celtic: Kyle Carey: Monongah
Carey’s album Monongah makes it clear she has been thinking about people, history, landscape, and what stories they may tell through time. The title track, for example, comes from the story of the men and the women and the children affected by a 1907 West Virginia mine disaster. Carey began thinking of this upon reading Appalachian writer Louise McNeill’s poem about the events of that time, and the song shows Carey’s gift for distilling emotion into a few brief words and a melody which helps make that essence clear.
McNeill’s poetry and the landscapes of the southern mountains come up again through the album. Carey has a voice well suited to this, with a warmth that invites the listener in and a sense of phrasing that hints that there is more to these stories beyond the verses that she sings. In Orange Blossom, Carey is thinking about that train which is the subject of a well known bluegrass tune, but her protagonist sees the journey on the train as an escape, a return, perhaps, to warmer places and times. John Hardy’s wife takes a look at things from the point of view of a woman who receives just a few passing words in other songs. What was she like, and what happened to her, Carey wondered, and came up with intriguing answers.
There’s a strong connection between Appalachia and the Celtic countries in Europe. That comes up on Monongah, too. Carey is well versed in Scottish Gaelic, and teaches it in fact. She’s spent time studying in Cape Breton in Atlantic Canada, and in Scotland. So it is natural for her to include these experiences in her work, which she does with the song Gaol ise gaol i, a love song she sings in Scottish Gaelic. From Cape Breton comes The Star above Rankin’s Point, a lighthouse keeper's lullabye of sorts which captures the sea swept feeling of life along the North Atlantic.
There a Cape Breton tinge to the playing on this collection as well, coming by way of Cape Breton native Rosie Mackenzie, who sits in on fiddle for several songs. Carey has invited a number of musical friends along on this journey, a journey she took to the west of Ireland to produce the recording with Donogh Hennessy, known for his work with Lunasa. From Ireland also Pauline Scanlon added harmony, and Trevor Hutchinson played bass. Among the others supporting Carey, from Ireland and New England, Aoife Clancy sang harmony as well, and from New York state John Kirk played banjo and mandolin.
It is Kyle Carey's poetic take on story, landscape, emotion, and language which center things here, though, and her engaging storyteller’s way of singing that opens the door to her stories. Gospel twined with Celtic notes, banjo leading into Scottish Gaelic, miner’s stories traveler's tales of loss, change, and recognition, Monongah is a varied journey, one worth the taking.
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