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LISA O’NEILL - Heard A Long Gone Song 

LISA O’NEILL - Heard A Long Gone Song 
River Lea Recordings RLR001CD 

This is, beyond doubt, the most outstanding recording I’ve heard this year, and should be compulsory listening for all aspiring singers of traditional song; Lisa has a remarkable, if not conventional, voice reminiscent of the traveller style, and knows exactly how best to use it to put a convincing new interpretation on old material. She’s also a talented composer of songs, most with a wistful pathos and a rare insight into the human condition. The CD’s divided roughly 50/50 between the two genres.

Her ability to get inside a song to bring out its story seems boundless, and it’s aided by her own and her collaborators’ accompaniments – again, not always conventional, but very effective. Take, for example, the slow burn and looming menace achieved on Along The North Strand (a traveller version of The Outlandish Knight). The old familiar tale darkens afresh, and even the parrot’s genuinely scared. Wonderful. As a contrast, the pathos of Violet Gibson lies in her long, straightforwardly described incarceration in an English asylum following her attempt to murder Mussolini in 1926 – she outlived him by more than a decade – and one’s left wishing she’d succeeded. And then there’s the superb version of The Factory Girl, with Lankum’s Radie Peat sharing the vocals. For me, all these were highlights, but so were most of the other tracks.

I accept that this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d recommend at least giving it a listen; to some extent it’s outside Lisa’s normal orbit, but I’m hoping that in the future she’ll again turn the spotlight on the older songs – interpretations as good as these are too rare.

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 127 of The Living Tradition magazine.