Lucy Healy-Kelly finds that Julie Feeney’s voice takes her where troubles melt like lemondrops!

How It’s New York:  Lafayette Street’s Joe’s Pub welcomes Julie back for her third performance of the season, part of the Imagine Ireland programme. It also marks the Stateside launch of her second album Pages. A self-confessed NY fan, Julie just can’t seem to stay away for long.
How It’s Irish: There are a great many Irish singer songwriters, many of whom are very good. But Julie’s talent and originality have put her to the front of the pack and earned her a loyal following and some serious accolades across Ireland.
It is hard not to summon The Wizard of Oz when watching Julie Feeney play before a full house in Joe’s Pub last Wednesday.

In sparkling ruby slippers, with a glorious technicolour house at a precarious angle both on the screen behind her and perched atop her head, Feeney’s performance exists in a playful and imaginative world. She describes the image to the audience as her creation of a magical, fairytale place. Resplendent in a coconut macaroon of a dress which would make Bjork envious, and her house headpiece which makes Princess Beatrice’s millinery choices seem staid and practical, we know we are in for a journey beyond the ordinary.

The flamboyance of the costume never threatens to overshadow the music, however. Above all, Feeney is a consumate musician. Her website title lists her as ‘Composer + Singer + Producer’. Maybe it is modesty or maybe it would just have taken up too much room to add ‘+ Performer + Musician + Lyricist + Fashionista + Designer’. She flits with ease from percussion to accordion to recorder to piano, though her primary instrument is of course her voice which seems to effortlessly soar and plunge as though oblivious to vocal range.

That scope is obvious in the variety of her songs too, all of which she has written and composed. Her tone hops from screwball to bittersweet in a set which includes tracks such as Fictitious Richard and Wind Out of My Sails from her first album 13 Songs, and Love is a Tricky Thing and Impossibly Beautiful from her new US release Pages. (For a review of the album on this see here – and the Impossibly Beautiful video is definitely worth checking out as further illustration of Feeney’s penchant for headwear!) With strong support from an eight piece ensemble which includes rich classical soprano, and shot through with an Irish lilt lent by fiddle and Irish harp, it is clear that this is a singer with a keenly attuned ear for orchestration.

It is therefore little surprise when Feeney reveals that her upcoming work will be an opera, and it is not a hard leap to imagine. There is an innate theatricality in all of her songs, full of humour and staccatos and punctuated by wide-eyed innocence and evil laughter. She weaves through the crowd whispering in people’s ears, vocalists chatter in the background, a trumpeter appears amidst the bar. This deliciously deranged kookiness adds a zing not only to her live performance but also to the songs themselves.

LA and Ireland are the next stops on Feeney’s itinerary, but it seems likely that she’ll be back to New York again before long. Until then, pick up a copy of Pages and immerse yourself in the world of Julie Feeney. No trip to Oz necessary – this girl’s music already has brains, courage and heart aplenty.
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