From the Rising Spring – Cloch Fhuaráin
Coolnacran Records 001
One has to admire a singer who is willing to take chances. Singers too often allow a particular tradition to contain them, making them reluctant to branch out, explore and perhap master other traditions. Geraldine Bradley has proven with this album that she is a singer who doesn’t shy away from a challenge and that she is equally comfortable singing in Irish or English. The thirteen songs on this album are an eclectic mix of eight songs in Irish, four in English and one macaronic song (a song using a mixture of Irish and English). While the majority of the songs are from the Ulster song tradition (and Rann na Feirste in Donegal in particular in relation to the songs in the Irish language) we are presented with two songs from Munster, as well as three international ballads. Along with the album’s producer, Neil Martin, Bradley has provided us with an album of rare beauty which has variety without novelty and consistency without predictability.
The collection begins light-heartedly with the macaronic song ‘Tom Toozick the Gentleman’ which the singer acquired from the singing of the legendary Elizabeth Cronin of Baile Bhuirne, Cork. This is followed by a pleasant rendition of ‘Fill, Fill a Shagairt’, a song relating to a priest with his own sister as he lay raving on his deathbed. The third song, however, ‘A Beggar, a Beggar’, is the most captivating, resonant and beautiful song on the album. Accompanied by Neil Martin on the uilleann pipes and hammond organ, the dazzling instrumental prowess is blended with Bradley’s delicate vocals to tell us of a beggar who tries to put a young girl off following him because she cannot speak the ‘cant of the beggin’ tongue’. The album also includes a powerful unaccompanied version of ‘Níl Sé ina Lá’, again from the repertoire of Elizabeth Cronin, who it would seem had a formative impact on Bradley’s repertoire. Included as well is a naked and haunting version of ‘A Bhean Údaí Thall’ which is sung with melismatic brilliance and is spine-tingling in its intensity. Included too are two Child Ballads, ‘The Green Banks of Yarrow’, a version of ‘Bonnie Annie’ (No. 24), and ‘Henry Lee’ (No. 68). The former, an incomplete version of the song, motivated Bradley to pen three verses which in her own words ‘have been seamlessly grafted in to fully elucidate the tale.’
Bradley has picked songs for this album that might be considered to be outside the common mould, but she has succeeded in subtly communicating the emotions contained in the songs’ narrative. If there is one fault with the album, it is the accompanying booklet. Although the lyrics are provided, as well as a translation of the songs in Irish, the lyrics don’t always correspond to the album itself and also include several language errors. That, however, is only a minor gripe in a splendid album.
Published on 1 July 2008
Ciarán Ó Con Cheanainn (1981–2009) was a traditional singer from Saile Thúna, An Spidéal, in the Connemara Gaeltacht. He won Corn Uí Riada, the premier prize for sean-nós singing, at the Oireachtas in November 2008, the youngest ever singer to do so. He lectured in Modern Irish in UCD.