Sunday, September 27, 2020

Ireland's Music: Thar Toinn/ Seaborne from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh

The sea, especially the sea in the west of Ireland, has always been part of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s life. So has Gaelic. Music has, as well. It is natural, then then that she should bring these things together in her six song project Thar Toinn/Seaborne.

Nic Amhlaoibh plays flutes and whistles, and sings. Those are talents she often put to use in her thirteen years as lead singer with the top traditional band Danu, and in collaboration with other artists as well. She has traveled the world with her music. but it is to west Kerry, to the Dingle peninsula, that she returned to build her own career as a solo artist, and to raise her family.

For all that it is somewhat shorter than a full album, Nic Amhlaoibh makes the most of that concentrated form. There are stories told in Irish and in English, as well as one in Scottish Gaelic, with narratives drawn from truth, legend, and maybe a bit of both. The arrangements serve to enhance Nic Amhlaoibh’s choices in how she presents the lyrics. She has one of the best voices around, and that’s illuminated with a musical and poetic intelligence which makes her performances last well beyond first hearing. All that is present as part of what’s going on here.

One of Nic Amhloaibh’s gifts is saying much by saying little, in both story and style. That holds true whether she is telling a story of a faithless lover in Blackwaterside, venturing into Scottish Gaelic to sing a Cape Breton song of a woman whose sweetheart is lost on the sea, offering a west Kerry song wishing good luck and safe home to fisher folk, or telling a story of looking back at a well loved place in Ireland which may have been written by a man who survived the sinking of the Titanic.

Nic Amhlaoibh bookends these pieces with a song written by a friend who was both poet and boatman, and a song which may have come across the water from the singing of fairies.

The opener to Thar Toinn is Faoiseamh Faoistine, with words written by Danny Sheehy and music from Gerry O’Beirne. The song urges and encourages the listener to connect with land and sea. As Nic Amhlaoibh writes in her sleeve notes, Sheehy’s words also encourage listener to seek solace there.

Many years ago, a fisherman from the Blasket Islands heard the music of Port Na Bpucai one night while out on the sea. Perhaps it was wind, perhaps whale song, but then again, those fairies... it is after all a story fo a woman taken across the sea by fairies. It is also the song from which the title of the album comes.

For this arrangement of Port Na Bpucai Nic Amhlaoibh is joined by Billy Mag Fhlionn, who plays the Yaybahar, an acoustic instrument with which adds an otherworldly sound fitting for the song’s story. Mag Fhlionn built the Yaybahar himself after a concept by Gorkem Sen.

Others join in to support Nic Amhlaoibh through the album, too. Scottish singer Julie Fowlis adds her voice to the Cape Breton song,. Among others who sit in are Donal O’Connor, Gerry O’Beirne, Niamh Varian-Berry, and Donogh Hennessy.

It is, however, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s voice, vision, and connection with the waters which center Thar Toinn/Seaborne. It is a gathering of songs which invite repeated listening to explore the many facets of that vision and connection.

You may also wish to see
Seeing Ireland: 3 Music videos
Foxglove and Fuschia, another album from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
About the album Buan from Danu
About the album Alterum from Julie Fowlis.

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