Stories From the Steeple (Blix St. Records)
All the Way Home (Blix St. Records)
By Brian Arsenault
There are Irish Angels in the Air(waves) or at least there should be on any radio stations left with heart and soul. Blix Street Records is softening deep winter with the back to back releases of Stories from the Steeples by Mary Black and All The Way Home by Cathy Jordan.
On a sunny winter’s day on Maine’s Casco Bay, for those fortunate enough to be on the bay (or unfortunate if a squall comes up), the air is so clear you can see the whole 80 miles or so to the snow capped peak of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. That’s how clear these two magnificent voices are, yet each is equally distinctive and won’t be mistaken for the other.
They are, of course, both distinctively Irish, and where Jordan’s singing is mostly devoted to traditional songs, Black’s is attuned to more contemporary compositions springing from the same musical and poetic heritage. As an American (Irish American only by marriage but good luck is not to be discounted, as the Irish well know.) accustomed to repetitive chorus lines and just a couple of verses in pop tunes, the poetry of these songs (tales put to music, as it were) touches me deeply.
Each of the song’s verses could be published as poems without the music, and some have, they are that good. But why would you want to? The music is so fine, the musicians so talented.
The interplay of joy and sadness, of love and violence, of pathos and humor heightens the tension and the tenderness of both albums. Where Stories from the Steeple begins with a tale of two lovers destroyed by a father’s anger, “Marguerite and the Gambler”, All The Way Home begins with the revolutionary saga of “The Brave Fenian Men” who led the rising of 1916, a critical moment in Irish nationalist history. The intermingling of personal and political passion is essentially Irish.
Then again, so is singing. The remarkable Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses is about to embark on a singing tour. Joyce himself was a singer of significant renown, that talent carried no doubt into the poetry of so much of his writing. It’s said that Ulysses should be read aloud to fully hear that poetry, that music, and I think it’s true.
The music on these two albums is as much a trip to Ireland as Ulysses is a walk through Dublin even if you’ve never been there.
There’s heartbreak for anyone and everyone whose ever had a “break” with a lover and hoped that “Faith in Fate” might heal matters. Ritchie Buckley’s saxophone playing is nearly as pure as Mary’s singing.
Cathy’s rendition of “Banks of the Foyle” reminds us that all can be cast out and grieve for home no matter where we’re from.
Speaking of home, both albums end with a reuniting, in the title song in Cathy’s case and in the “One True Place” beyond in Mary’s.
Yet for all the fine songs on both albums, it’s not the individual tunes I will most cherish. What’s dearest is the journey to places in the land, in the heart, in the mind, in the soul that are essentially Irish and therefore universal. It’s been said, after all, that there’s no place you can go on the planet that you won’t find the Irish.
To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault click HERE.