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GERALDINE BRADLEY From The Rising Spring (Cloch Fhuaráin)

From The Rising Spring (Cloch Fhuaráin)

For some strange reason this disc, which bears a 2007 recording and publication date, has only just arrived for review! It’s a real gem however, and richly deserves the coverage, since the music it contains is timeless and needs to pay no lip service to artificial or irrelevant marketing deadline considerations. Geraldine, a superb singer, was brought up in Bessbrook, Co. Armagh, surrounded by music; her brother played accordion, whereas her sisters were all good singers, but it was her mother Shiela, a powerful reciter of poetry, who especially influenced her approach towards song lyrics, narrative and singing. Geraldine was later to derive great inspiration from the late Seán Ó Gallcobhair of Doire (whom she’d met at the Ulster Fleadh in Co. Cavan in 1982).

Her obvious deep understanding of the songs she sings, her definitive ability to dig down and unearth their essential truths and their relationship to the human soul, is apparent from the very first line you hear her sing on this disc, the call-to-attention that begins the macaronic song relating the tale of Tom Toosick The Gentleman (an obscurity perhaps, but with a stance oddly reminiscent of The Wild Rover): Geraldine’s singing style is very persuasive: its timbre is keen, yet with tone and delivery pure and unassumingly confident; she has the courage of her convictions in taking a song unerringly where its true essence leads. Her choice of material is enterprising too, and although her selection for this disc does include some songs you might think you know, these are presented with a fresh coat of paint and really make you think again about them.

On The Green Banks Of Yarrow, for example (which is set to the familiar Hares On The Mountain melody), Geraldine creatively supplements the original, incomplete Child ballad (Banks Of Green Willow) with three self-penned verses which effectively elucidate the tale and sharpen its narrative focus. And her version of Henry Lee (aka Young Hunting, or Child 68), takes her original source (a Ralph Stanley recording) and bedecks its sublime gruesomeness in eerily gorgeous sibling-style harmonies (but oh how well it works!). Responding tellingly to the unusual emotional climate of a song is second nature to Geraldine, as she demonstrates on the strange Fill Fill O Shagairt, which deals with the taboo subject of a priest who falls in love with his own sister, and the passionate undertows of the haunting, gripping A Bhean Udai Thall. Other highlights come with the beautiful contours of Dá mBeinn im’Bhádóir (If I Were A Boatman), learnt from a singer from Aranmore Island in Donegal, and A Beggar, A Beggar (sourced from the singing of Lizzie Higgins).

Geraldine also gives us an intriguingly ornamented acappella version of the drinking song Níl Sé ’na Lá. But I must also praise the skilled, understated instrumental embellishments, which both suit Geraldine’s singing style and the songs being performed; producer (and multi-instrumentalist) Neil Martin keeps a fine-tuned ear on the simple textures (mostly guitar, fiddle, piano, cello, whistle, uilleann pipes and accordion) in their restrained and felicitous combination. Musicians involved include (as well as Neil himself) Paul Bradley (fiddle), Martin Quinn (button accordion), Donal O’Connor (guitar, bouzouki), while Noel Lenaghan contributes a delightful harmony vocal to the Donegal courting-song A Stór A Stór A Ghrá.

The accompanying booklet contains splendid notes and full texts too. A highly commendable release.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.