Julie Feeney Grows on You


How It’s New York:  Julie was part of the delegation that came to NYC for the launch of Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland year-long program, and has picked up a lot of fans with her performances here.  Her blend of original, unusual songs with Irish lyricism is tailor-made for eclectic New Yorkers.  She performs at Joe’s Pub June 1.
How It’s Irish:  She’s a Galway girl, living in Dublin.  She  conducted her own music for the album with members of the Irish Chamber Orchestra.  She won the Choice Music Prize for “Irish Album of the Year.”

Ruth Medjber

I did not know what to make of Julie Feeney when I first heard her newest album, Pages.  I  met her with Mick Moloney after the Masters in Collaboration event at Irish Arts Center with Athena Tergis and Bill Whelan in November, and was charmed by her sense of humor and gentle directness (yet more evidence that Mick is the center pin to All Things Good and Irish).  When I saw her perform during APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) in January, I thought it seemed a bit like Laurie Anderson meets Dolores Riordan, with strings.  Part theatre, performance arts, melody, all avant-garde.  Was it for me?  YES!

Now I know what to make of it.  IT’S AMAZING!  Really.   Julie Feeney is amazing.  Listen to the album.  Now listen to it again.  Before long you will have it running around in your head.  It grows.  And grows and grows.  Pages officially releases May 31 on her own label mittens.  Julie composed the entire work, and conducted an orchestra including clarinets, oboes, French horns, harp and percussion.  She plays many of those intsruments herself, I discovered when chatting with her last week after “Selected Shorts” at Symphony Space (and you will hear some of that in this week’s podcast!).  Her intelligence shines through the melodic tunes (how many singer songwriters would rhyme “big dreams” with “Tolstoy’s themes?”) 

Here’s what John Jurgensen wrote about her for Speakeasy, the Wall Street Journal blog (which I write for too) in a piece called “Julie Feeney Puts Her Money ($11,000) Where Her Mouth Is:

Julie Feeney already did the precocious one-woman-band thing –the Irish singer played violin, harmonium, French horn and all the other instruments on her 2006 debut album. For her follow-up album of orchestral pop, “Pages,” due May 31, she put a different kind of pressure on herself. She composed all the music but hired a freelance team of classical musicians to record it, to the tune of about $11,000 of her own money. During a nerve wracking six-hour session in the Limerick studio of the Irish Chamber Orchestra, she conducted the players, an experience she describes as “drawing pictures of sound.”Read the Rest Here!

And Ben Ratliff of the New York Times has called her “urbane” and “dreamy.”

Take a song like “Love Is a Tricky Thing”– it’s so simple it almost seems like a child’s ditty, with cellos plucking the melody.  Then it hooks you and you find yourself humming.   “Impossibly Beautiful,” with sweeping harmonies and a truth you can’t turn away from– love makes the other too beautiful to bear.  It’s not about a supermodel, she told me.  “You’re Impossibly Beautiful– is that cause I’m looking, or is it just cuz you are.”  The pretty harmonies and the strings underneath suggest the sweet achiness of the Cocteau Twins.  The clarity of her voice on her words is unusual; you can hear each word and the words suit the music.

Some of the songs have a melancholy in them too– I like the way “Valentine’s Song” manages to suggest a French cafe:  “She walked away taking all of the embraces, never seeing him shudder in pain…”and the song segues without break into the pensive “One More Tune” about a couple growing apart… and though it’s about regret the French horn under the refrain “They still wait to hear one more tune” brings to mind the optimism of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” “Myth” is a song about truth and its fragility, interrupted by the sound of her laughter.  It’s a nice antidote to the mediation of reality on television.  And like “Love Is a Tricky Thing,” it’s deceptively simple and irressistible:  “Myth grows bigger than the truth,” she sings, whispering and laughing.  “Mr. Roving Eye Guy” sends up the man who always finds a flaw in every woman– and though it starts out almost as a joke, it too becomes a hymn to love.  “Stay,” like “Impossibly Beautiful,” has a sweet, lush directness; beautiful music without theatre.  Songs to be in love by.  “Nothing to Declare” is another sweet love song as she sings “I’ve got nothing to declare but love for you.”

Eoin Wright

The way Pages flows together makes the album its own experience.  While songs stand out on their own, it’s a good one to listen to the old fashioned way– not on shuffle.    She follows “Stay” with its harmonic vocals with “Life’s Nudge,” beginning with plucked strings, and it’s a song about getting out of your head and taking a chance; citing Tolstoy and singing “the exhausted aura wants to emulate…. Life’s unexpected nudge has come.”

That poetic intelligence shows through her work.  Feeney has master’s degrees in Psychoanalysis, Sonology, and Music and Media Technologies.  She  hosts, with Jack L (Jack Lukeman) the 26-part Irish radio series “High Fidelity: A Century of Song” on RTÉ Lyric FM which began May 16.  She’s a fascinating person– and a wonderful peformer.  When she sang a Scots Gaelic tune at The Half King on Tuesday, the whole pub shushed and then applauded.

Joe’s Pub is at 425 Lafayette St.  The show starts at 9:30.  Tickets available here.

The rest of her tour is here.
Friend Julie on Facebook , or follow her @mittenstweets or @julie_feeney

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.