…Turning the spotlight on lasairfhíona ní chonaola
From the first moment CeltCast started broadcasting, we have been aiming to bring you the very best of the European Folk Scene. Not only focussing on the new albums coming out on a regular basis, but no also diving into the history of our favourite music, putting the spotlight on some famous albums, or -as in this case- introducing an album that has been somewhat forgotten in the midst of time.
An Raicin Alainnis (2002) is the beautiful debut album of the Irish Singer Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola. An album that is still easily available secondhand through eBay. It is an album I found on Spotify while working on my Fiona Fyfe review and one I fell in love with head over heels. A lovely album to end my time with CeltCast.
I loved writing about the music so dear to all our hearts. I loved working with all the musicians and want to thank every single one of them very much for their time and support. I also want to thank my fellow CeltCast’ers for the laughs, fun, and good times we had. Last but not least I want to thank my team. Diane, Gwen, Iris and Sara for their support, ideas, and editing skills. It was an honour to work with you.
Enough about me. As always it is all about the music. Please follow me in my discovery of this forgotten gem with a click on this link.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola – An Raicín Álainn (2002) review A CeltCast Classic
We have been writing reviews for you since 2014 starting with
Earth Warrior album. Since that first review many bands have passed our ears and we have happily told you about a lot of them. But it also means that there is a huge void of music that we have never written about. The pagan folk scene, the music that forms the roots of this station, is about 20 years old (If you take
2002 Zauberspruch album as a starting point.) The ‘modern’ Celtic folk scene goes back decades earlier even, with bands like
popularizing the style in the late 60’s. And I don’t even want to mention the traditional folk scene, with a history that goes back for centuries.
The CeltCast Classic series is meant to look back at the rich history of folk music and wants to highlight the beautiful albums that were made before there was CeltCast. The time we all at the station were ‘just’ fans. Now I could focus on the big names, the albums that everyone knows, the classics so to say…. But is is much nicer to dig up those smaller, less known gemstones that were made. The albums that some may have forgot about. An Raicín Álainn by the Irish Singer Lasairfhíona
is such an album. But it is so worth listening to that I’ll gladly pull it out of the shadows and into the spotlights one more time. I hope I can convince you all to give it a listen, I promise you, you won’t be sorry.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola or in short Lasairfhíona is a folk singer that comes from Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland. As she herself says in the booklet coming with the album, Lasairfhíona learnt how to sing even before she could talk. With her style of singing deeply rooted in Inisheer’s sean-nós singing tradition, it was not a surprise her interest went further than ‘just’ Celtic singing and she became a graduate in Celtic studies from Trinity College Dublin.
It was in 1998 when she was ‘discovered’ by
and was featured as one of the lead vocalists on his Irish sacred songs compilation Lights In The Dark. In 2002 she released the subject of this review, her first solo album An Raicín Álainn at the
Lorient Festival Interceltique,
an album that got here a lot of positive feedback. Hot Press Music Magazine called it one of the best folk albums of 2002 and fRoots Magazine said it was: ‘one of the most sumptuous traditional albums to have emerged for some time.‘
It got Lasairfhíona a lot of attention including a special documentary on the RTÉ Léargas television series (directed by Moira Sweeney) in 2002; concerts as prestigious as the Montreux Jazz festival; television exposure; and even a guest appearance on
Goodnight DVD, on the track Thank You, You’ve Been A Lovely Audience. She worked with Hector Zazou again on her song Dragonfly, a song that was used in the presentation of the 2004/2005 fall/winter collection of the fashion designers Prada, Issey Miyake, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Chou. Her success continued into 2006 as her second album Flame Of Wine came out gaining the young singer even more praise, including a nomination for a
Meteor Irish Music Award
…. And then the internet goes all quiet. The silence was broken in 2016 when her third album One Penny Portion was released, but other than a few appearances on several compilation albums there isn’t much more I could find. Not including the fact that she clearly isn’t forgotten by the Irish folk stations, who regularly feature her music in their programs. And that is exactly what I’m going to do right now, right here, so cue spotlight: ‘…Spotlight on!!!!‘
An Raicín Álainn
Opening song An Raicín Álainn gives you a perfect feel for what to expect of the whole album. minimalistic beauty. In this case a single guitar, a lone violin and a beautiful voice. That is it. Nothing more is needed anyway. Lasairfhíona’s voice is the main feature of this whole album. It is warm, delicate, tender and emotional all at the same time. She sings in the lower female regions and she has a lovely almost whispered, ever so slight hoarseness to it that makes it extremely beautiful. I can listen to her sing all week long. (Actually I did during the writing of this review.)
The second song; Bean Pháidín (Páidín’s Wife) immediately shows another strength of this album, it’s variety. Although the whole album is intimate and almost minimalistic in instrument choice, it still has a huge variety in feel and tune. If An Raicín Álainn werre a small watercolour painting ‘coloured’ with acoustic guitar and violin, then Bean Pháidí would be a fun pencil drawing sketched with only the aid of a lone bodhrán and a low ‘drone’ sound giving the song its body. A real powerful song in all its simplicity. I also love the combination of the Irish Gaelic language and the beat of the bodhran. I never realized that Irish Gaelic is such a rhythmical language with its strong ‘ch’, ‘th’ ‘mi’ and ‘shh’ sounds. It is as if I hear her voice ‘clapping’ along with the rhythm of the tune.
Caisleán Gearr is the first of the three acapella song, showcasing Lasairfhíona’s full talents as a singer. I imagine this to be in the sean-nón singing tradition of Inis Oírr (Inisheer). Which brings up the question what IS the sean-nós singing tradition? To quote Wikipedia for an answer: ‘Sean-nós singing (Irish for ‘old style’) is unaccompanied traditional Irish vocal music usually performed in the Gaelic language. Sean-nós singing usually involves very long melodic phrases with highly ornamented and melismatic melodic lines.’
It does describe this heartfelt ballad of a unreachable love of a man for a fair lady he met at Caisleán Gearr (Castlegar) perfectly.
I found a short article on
where we get some more information about Lasairfhíona’s musical roots. In this 2005 article it says the following:
On the Aran Islands, where Lasairfhíona Ni Chonaola grew up, there is a big singing tradition that grew into the sean-nós style. Although Lasairfhíona is regularly connected with that style, she rather not be labeled as such:
– “On the islands there were just songs,” She says in an interview with The Irish Times: “We just sang songs. We didn’t call them sean-nós. I came from a sean-nós background, but I live in the modern time, too, so there are inevitably influences there.’ In an interview with the Sunday times she underlines this will to express herself without the bounderies of musical label limiting her artistic possibillitys even more. Tradition is clearly important but artistic freedom evenso: – “There is something in the islands, a sense of mystery. It’s hard to define what’s special about them; but I was quite privileged to be raised there. The song and the singer were appreciated, there was silence for a person that sang, so it gave me the confidence to sing I expected to be listened to. “But I also live in the modern era. I wasn’t brought up with a gramophone, so there are influences from nowadays and you have to go with that. You can’t live in the past. It’s why I like living in the city and on the island. On the island I can relax with the sea around me, then go to the hustle and bustle of the city.”
reading how Lasairfhíona expresses her love for the relaxing sea in the interview fragment above, it is an easy bridge to Oileán Na Teiscinne (The Isle Of Teiscinn), the next song I want to pick up on. You can feel every ounce of that love reaching you through your speakers as this song starts. You can hear the tide gently coming in. The calmness of the waves, combined with an almost meditative guitar tune will instantly calm you down. The soft, single-voiced ‘choir’ in the background, and Lasairfhíona spoken lyrics over it are the icing on the cake. One of the best songs on this album in my opinion.
After the poetic calmness of Oileán Na Teiscinne, comes the more serene calmness of Banríon Loch Na Naomh (The Queen Of Loch Na Naomh), a duet between harp and voice, a typical folk ballad about a not-so-typical meeting between a ghostly lady and a limbless warrior in the deep of the Celtic night.
What I especially notice in this song is how Lasairfhíona just let’s her voice flow naturally while singing. She sounds as if she is at the very limit of her high voice in this song, sometimes maybe even a wee bit above it, but she just goes with it. Allowing her voice to break a bit while it reaches for that softly whispered high note, making the sound even more intense, more vulnerable and eerie, but therefore more beautiful than it would have been if she used her obvious singing technique to form the note perfectly. It makes Banríon Loch Na Naomh another of the many favourites of mine on this album.
Talking about favourites, I feel a big smile inside every time Bímse Féin Ag Iascaireacht is playing. It is the odd one out on this CD, as the lead vocals are not by Lasairfhíona, but by her dad, MacDara Ó Chonaola, a poet who wrote several of the songs on An Raicín Álainn. The song itself is a fun singalong accompanied by bodhrán, with Lasairfhíona on backing vocals. In this song it becomes clear that the vocal talent runs in the family, as MacDara could easily be featured as one of the lead vocalists of
(In all fairness I thought he was at first)
MacDara Ó Chonaola is not the only person contributing to this lovely debut album. We hear
on tin & low whistle,
Johnny McDonagh (former De Dannan)
on Clàrsach (the Celtic harp),
on piano accordion and bells, and
on fiddle, viola and piano, who all add their delicate parts to Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola’s music. And I say that deliberately, as all musicians play purely in service of Lasairfhiona’s voice. the instruments seem to be there like illustrations in a well written book,to enhance the intensity of the story.
This feeling is even more enhanced by the beautiful production of the music by Máire Breatnach. She and Lasairfhíona carefully selected the instruments each song needed, with a clear ‘less is more’ approach, giving each song its very own colour. Be it the gentle colour of guitar and fiddle, the ancient combination of harp and vocals, the rich colour of the guitar and viola, the ‘classical’ combination of piano and tin whistle, the romantic sound of the piano accordion and a distant bell, ore no colour at all, as are the beautiful acapella songs on An Raicín Álainn or the sketched pencil stripes of the bodhrán/vocal combination.
Due to these carefully made choices this is the most intimate album I have heard in a long while. I have often described in reviews how I had the feeling the artists were sitting right there with me in my living room, but with this album it is the other way around. I have the distinct impression I was lucky enough to walk into the space Lasairfhíona was in, singing to herself. Every time I hear it the sound stops me in my tracks, leaving me with the deep urge to quietly sit down in a corner, disappear into the shadow and listen, just listen.
The first time I clearly had that urge was listening to Banríon Loch Na Naomh, but it happened a couple of times. When listening to Tonnta Chonamara (The Waves Of Connemarra) for instance, or the acapella song Amhrán An Phúc. But find the feeling especially strong listening to De Thaisme (Coincidence), a song Lasairfhíona is lilting, only accompanied by the bodhrán. Lasairfhíona’s whispered singing style feels almost introvert in this song, and the clever reverb on the bodhrán and her voice even enhance that feeling. Musical simplicity in all its beauty.
Another example of that ‘introvert’ singing style is Ar Bhruacha Na Laoi even though it is one of the more richly arranged songs on this album. The viola melody gives it a suprisingly Eastern feel, in the direction of
Nine Million Bicycles. Come to think of it, Katie Melua has that same whispered, delicate, almost introvert singing style I find so beautiful in lasairfhióna’s voice.
All in all this is just a beautiful debut album. As I said in the intro, after this Lasairfhíona went on to release Flame Of Wine in 2005 and One Penny Portion in 2016, both also well produced beautiful folk albums, well worth listening to, but it is the intimate magic that Lasairfhíona, Máire Breatnach, and all the other musicians captured on An Raicín Álainn that makes this album stand out for me.
A true folk Classic, well worth putting the spotlight on one more time.
Cover art: MacDara O’Conaola
Quotes taken from:
Sing, Ye Bastards!
Morning rituals, everybody has them. In my case I start with a shower, make myself a cup of coffee, get all comfy under a blanket on the couch, and spend a peaceful hour waking up, listening to one or another review album before the hassle of the day finally arrives and I have to go of to work.
These last weeks I could have spared myself the effort of making coffee, Sing, Ye Bastards!, the latest album of Bavarian band Tir Nan Og was quite enough to get me awake. Wide awake to be perfectly honest.
The fun fast folk-rock, full of energy, full of surprises, was quite enough to get me dancing in the living room way before it is legally allowed, making me lord of the tiptoe, just to make sure I wasn’t upsetting the neighbours at 06:00 AM. This band is something! Who needs a cup of coffee if they have this on their ears!
Getting interested? follow
and read all about this triple dose of cafeïne disguised as a folk band. You’ll be in for a good time, no matter if you listen to it in the morning, during the afternoon, or at midnight. This band rocks at any time of the day!
Born from tradition
Today’s spotlight is going to be on
Shane Ó Fearghail,
an Irish singer-songwriter who lives in Vienna.
Up till now Shane was an unknown name in the folk scene. The three alternative pop albums, although lovely to listen to, had little to do with folk music.
But luckily for us, living away from Ireland during a pandemic made Shane reminiscent of his past, reminiscent of his family, and reminiscent of his heritage. And as to be expected from an Irishman living abroad, the result is a beautiful singer-songwriter folk CD.
With his captivating voice, this talented musician takes us on a lovely journey to his hometown of Dublin, to his youth, and into his mind; his perspective on life. It’s a journey I loved from the beginning to the very last note.
Please follow the
to read all about Born From Tradition and I hope you will end up loving this album just as much as I did.
Go raibh maith agat as do cheol Shane. Ba mhór an pléisiúr éisteacht leat.– Cliff
Tir Nan Og – Sing, Ye Bastards (2020)
Dear reader, get yourself a comfy seat, a nice slice of Irish barmbrack, and a good glass of fine Irish whiskey, ’cause this review may take a while. Analysing
Tir Nan Og‘s
fifth album Sing, Ye Bastards! left me with five pages of notes and an instant urge to tell you all about it. For those of you who want to have dinner early, here is the short version: if you like good old Irish party folk with a cool stadium rock production, this is your CD. Get your best boots on, finish your Irish stew, make sure you get yourself to the nearest pub, and party it down till the break of dawn. (Or all the booze is gone, whichever comes first).
So, now that the warning is out, I can go all nerdy on this CD without feeling guilty about it. After their strong 2018 album From The Gallows, Matze (violin, nyckelharpa), Sarah (flute, vocals), Joggl (four-string electric bass), Robert (guitar, vocals), Andi (whistles, pipes, vocals) and Volker (drums, bodhrán) have released yet another hit album, full of weird hooks, cool riffs, and groovy breaks bound to give you the best evening you’ve had in a long time!
Now I do realize that names like Matze, Joggl, and Volker don’t sound particularly Irish, and you would be right in that assumption. Tir Nan Og is a Bavarian band, but I didn’t really notice. “Cool Irish band,” it says in my first notes: “Is that female vocalist American?”.
No rest for the listener
Not surprising because Sing Ye Bastards! feels Irish from the very first note played. A fast, catchy violin riff starts it all, a first drum break follows within seconds, effortlessly flowing into a catchy verse with an added whistle for some bonus Irish cheer. The chorus is an instant sing-along affair that then flows into a short violin solo with groovy bass to keep your feet moving. Back is the drum break, some first epic female backing vocal, it’s all there…, and we are only 90 seconds in the song. Damn, this band is something else! They throw all their strengths at you, and almost all at once. Strong male and female vocals, more musical twists in one song than you would normally hear on a whole album, even a 10-second drum solo towards the end, and we are still only talking about the first song on the album! “God almighty, have mercy on our souls” the band sings. “God almighty, have mercy on our hearts” I say. This is something else!
The official video for Fear Gorta
For a wee moment, I think I will be able to catch my breath on the second song: Last Order. That thought only lasts for the slow acapella intro Tir Nan Og sing. After that the drums, bass, and bagpipes take control of my feet again, and of I whizzing go. Someone tell the devil and ‘mye’ wife that they’ll have to wait a while, pour me another pint, and let me dance!! This stuff is awesome! The only moments you are allowed to catch your breath are the moments of silence separating the songs from each other.
Ok! Hold on! Time to get out of the Maelstrom, to swallow a Green Pill, slow down, and get some sense out of myself.
Soooo, to say something sensible: Tir Nan Og plays a very catchy version of punky Irish folk-rock. Extremely catchy actually. The cool thing is that they do that mostly acoustically. No distorted guitars, no screaming vocals, no nothing of that. Just the power of good old acoustic instruments, strong vocals, a slick production, and some darned good songwriting. Let’s start with that last bit first as it is the stand-out thing in my opinion. Tir Nan Og have a knack for surprising you, every 20 seconds it seems. Twists, breaks, solos, harmonies, they play with it as if they were a prog band. Fear Gorta, Last Order, Maelstrom, the whole album is just full with them, making this a highly entertaining album.
Tir Nan Og, a steaming folk band
So what are we talking about style-wise? Again, Tir Nan Og go for variety. Fear Gorta and Last Order are steaming acoustic party punk-folk songs, Maelstrom reminds me of the latest
album, especially in the vocals. Highlight in this song is Matze’s furious violin solo. I’m pretty sure sparks were coming off his strings when he played that in the studio. What I also love are the harmonies. The three voices of Robert, Sarah and Andi fit nicely together giving the music even more power, but that violin solo…darn, that one is addictive!
The Wanderings Of Oisin gives a more poppy feel to Tir Nan Og’s folk-punk. The intro keeps reminding me of something, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. It doesn’t matter. Again the whole song is catchy as hell. Especially the flute melody Sarah treats us with. Another strong part of Tir Nan Og’s sound is Joggl’s bass playing, not only on this song but over the whole album. I love the groove he adds to the songs. It gives Tir Nan Og’s music even more power, and a lot more dance credibility. Getting back to The Wanderings of Oisin; the chorus at the very end of this song, featuring Sarah on vocals, is one of those many cool curveballs the band constantly throws at you, as is the surprising acapella end.
With the song Green Pill, the feel of the music starts to shift from acoustic punk-folk towards folk-rock, but still with a strong Irish flavour to it. Let’s call it a nice blend of German punk-rockers
and our own
A special mention has to go to Sarah’s whistle solo halfway through the song and the violin finishing it all off weaving in another famous tune. [Editors note: That would be Cooley’s Reel]
We’ve Been Everywhere has that same rock anthem feel to it. A big part of that can be attributed to the production. Where the previous album, From The Gallows (2018), still had a rougher, more punky feel to it, the production of Sing, Ye bastard! is fuller, rounder; there are more layers in the vocals, more effects; the bass and drums have more ‘oomph’. it all adds up towards a strong stadium rock feel which I love. I also love the
“weird” Al Yankovic
rap-part Andi pulls out of the bag in this song, soon to be followed by what seems to be a guest appearance of the
Red Hot Chilli Pipers.
Go Andi, go Andi!!!
One song further and we go Greek, combined with a fun bit of German Hoompha folk for good measure. There are many bands that say they have no limits when writing music. Tir Nan Og clearly wants to take that statement one step further! So Sláinthe is a mix of Greek, Irish, and German influences. Next song I Sold My Soul starts with a bagpipe riff that could easily have been written by
Iain Alexander Marr. The song itself is a catchy Pyrolysis-type folk-rock anthem.
The second single: I sold My Soul
On Stone Cold Heart Sarah gets to show off her vocal talents. Both she and Robert have big voices that can easily hold their own against the powerhouse folk the band is playing. I’m just loving all of this, song after song. Every song has its own cool moment, its own cool twist. Listen to those driving drums in Stone Cold Heart. If you didn’t hear those folky whistles and violin tunes it could just as well be a drum fill by funk-rockers
Especially when Joggl joins in on his electric bass to “funk” everything up even more; one of the few moments the band goes into a distorted overdrive. Sarah’s strong vocals finish this power ballad perfectly.
Sea of Sorrow is the first real moment of peace on Sing, Ye bastard!. An acoustic ballad that could easily be found on a
album, with Robert taking on the role of George Kooymans. I’m loving Robert’s vocals throughout the whole album. Just like Sarah, he has the perfect voice for this band. Strong, powerful, with just the right amount of hoarseness, and capable of giving every song the colour it needs. May I also highlight the harmonies that brighten up the whole album? They pop up all over the place, but the most beautiful one has to be the ending of Sea Of Sorrow. Goosebumps.
The surpises keep on coming
Tir Nan Og are stíll not done surprising me. The Song Remains almost starts like a soundtrack, quickly flowing into something I can only describe as symphonic prog-folk with a touch of theatre in it. The call and response singing lines at 1:34 even remind me of
Are there no limits to the things this band will include in their music?!?!?! Speaking of Ayreon, I could swear the flute solo following after that could have been played by
Thijs van Leer
one of the prominent guest musicians on Ayreon’s The Electric Castle.
I think by now it’s clear Tir Nan Og are not ‘just’ a punky acoustic folk band. Nope, this is a full-grown folk-rock unit. Inventive in their songwriting, cheeky in every note they play, with a strong link to their Irish folk roots…
The final twist
Now we get to a fun moment. First I’ll let you read the original text I wrote to end this review:
‘…with a strong link to their folk roots. The
/Harmony Glen-like power ballad O’Hanlan’s Last Words for instance gives you clear proof of that. What a band…WHAT A BAND!!
And this is the final twist the band threw at me, it is Robert writing me in response of the review:
‘O’Hanlon’s Last Words was actually performed by Harmony Glen as a guest track on this CD. (A cover of a song from our last CD).
That would explain why I thought it sounded a lot like Harmony Glen yes (blushes). And with all of you laughing it is time to round up this review.
It is high time for CeltCast to host their own St. Patrick’s day folk-rock concert. I say put Tir Nan Og top of the bill, co-headlining with Harmony Glen of course, and Pyrolysis as support act. Now that would be an evening! Can I already reserve my tickets!? Pretty please!?
Tir Nan Og performing live at Folk Am Neckar (2019)
Cover art: Santana Raus: Santichan illustration
pictures: Andi Fingas
Picture editing: Andre Freitag