CD Review: Karan Casey – Ships in the Forest

CD Review: Karan Casey – Ships in the Forest

Ships in the Forest / Crow Valley Music CVCD001

Ships in the Forest
Crow Valley Music CVCD001

Since her days with the group Solas, Karan Casey has been continually building upon her reputation as a leading interpreter of traditional Irish and contemporary folk song. This, her sixth solo release, could single-handedly hold up that reputation. Once again, Karan Casey shows there is more to a great singer than their voice; there are the songs they sing, the way they sing them and the settings that they place that voice in. One of the most pleasing aspects of this album is the use of space and restraint. Through this withholding, this playing-with-silence, you cannot but be drawn into the music and the content of each song.

With ‘Erin’s Lovely Home’ and ‘Maidin Luan Chincíse’, Casey explores the more usual format presentations of guitar ballad style and unaccompanied solo singing. However, for the most part, Ships in the Forest is a collection of very different approaches to the arrangement of traditional song. Casey’s musicality has an amazing transformative effect on the usually staid classics ‘Love is Pleasing’ and ‘Black is the Colour’. This transformation is framed by Caoimhín Vallely’s exquisite tonal colourations on piano, working to create something fresh and interesting out of well-worn material.

Overall, Vallely’s piano playing has a very strong presence throughout the recording. Indeed, his skills and that of his two brothers shine out at various points on the album. Cillian’s piping forms a plaintive second voice on ‘The Fiddle and the Drum’, acting somewhat as an echo of Joni Mitchell’s anti-war sentiment. Niall’s presence is felt both in the recording and the production, with tasteful concertina work such as his concise, wonderful solo on ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’.

Each of these ten tracks are like meditative units leading in a progressive direction. When the album closes with ‘I Once Loved a Lass’ you feel that you have reached the position at the right time; the effect of which would be diminished by a different ordering of the songs. While the album does have the coherent sound of a concept album, the real concept behind it is that all of the songs are ones which Casey has waited years to record. They are songs which she feels are ‘the big songs within the traditional repertoire’ and which demanded all the confidence of maturity to approach. The result is is a terrific piece of recording. The wait has been worthwhile.

Published on 1 July 2008

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