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Dingle native Pauline, who will be known to many as one half of song duo, Lumiere, here brings us her fourth solo album. It’s an intensely personal affair, 10 traditional songs which touch on topics that have affected the lives of women throughout the years in Ireland; the project inspired by the life and experiences of Pauline’s late mother, Eileen.

The discussion is often had about how appropriate it is to uphold traditions and sing songs that express the more undesirable parts of our history and culture. One of the artists behind the recent Fair Plé movement, which seeks to achieve gender balance in Irish traditional music and to make the scene a more equitable and safer place for women, Pauline is no stranger to looking at these issues. Though the stories in the songs she sings here are old, and relate to people and times unknown to Pauline, the themes found within are sadly still very relevant to the experiences of many women in Ireland (and beyond) today – inequality, separation from children, sexual violence, coercion etc. As she sings, Pauline is imagining the situations in these songs as they occur in the present, and by doing so, is trying to point the way to a world that could be different.

The songs are from the traditional Irish canon (some in Irish) and from the wider tradition. The Two Magicians tells of inequalities of power between a woman and her pursuer, and of sexual violence. Felton Lonnin talks about a missing child, and Pauline sings this thinking of her mother’s experience of being an unmarried mother who gave up a child for adoption, as was encouraged in Ireland at that time. The Well Below The Valley-O is given a gentler treatment than usual, and here represents the culture of victim blaming, and The Unquiet Grave deals with overwhelming loss. When heard together in this light, it’s not always an easy listen, though it is by no means overly heavy either – Sambó Éara, for example, has a light, happy feel, and is sung to represent her mother in younger years.

As befits an album that takes old songs and reimagines them in a modern setting, the arrangements here are thoroughly contemporary, making use of electric guitars, keyboards, drums and synths in prominent ways. Pauline’s distinctive breathy voice soars ethereally through every track, quite hauntingly at times, and she is joined by several other singers to good effect.

A thoroughly modern album of traditional songs that encourages the listener to think again about the stories therein. It will resonate with many.

Fiona Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 145 of The Living Tradition magazine