How it’s Irish: Kirrane is from Clare, and the CD includes songs from all over the island.
Singer Ann Kirrane has a clear soprano voice that is full of warmth and expression. In her second album, “Behind Yon Mountain,” the Tuam singer uses it jauntily, sorrowfully, joyfully, and always beautifully. It’s trad, yes, but gentle, chamber trad, Sunday morning with coffee and a croissant, sunlight filtering in.
The title is fitting: it’s a CD that promises a flash of light, a rainbow, around the next hill.
In fact, there’s a beautiful picture of a rainbow in the CD sleeve in this cleverly designed jacket. Each song has nice notes (and thanks to whomever decided not to go with reverse type, so that they’re readable).
The 15-song CD includes songs in Irish, traditional songs, and songs by contemporary songwriters Mick Curry, John Doyle, Brendan Graham, among others- including Leonard Cohen.
Originally from Bellharbour, Co. Clare, Kirrane has music in her blood: her father Chris Droney and grandfather Jim both played concertina, and so did she, winning the Growing up, she played with her father, with Tommy Peoples, Kitty Linnane and Paddy Mullins of the Kilfenora Céili Band.
The album journeys around Ireland, including songs from different regions, and also around many different Irish moods. If you like the singing of Heidi Talbot, Mary Black, Dolores Keane, Ann Kirrane’s CD will fit nicely in your collection.
One of the standouts is “Bheir Mí Ó,” a song originally in Scots Gaelic, and which is often referred to as “The Eriskay Love Lilt,” alluding to the island of eriskay in the Hebrides. The slow song has simplicity and grandeur.
“Óró Johnny,” which opens the album, is a quick-paced traditional song where a woman wishing her man to come home soon. The instrumentation is clear but never overwhelms her voice. Kirrane herself plays concertina– she’s a three-time winner of the All-Ireland Fleadh Ceóil, and the daughter of acclaimed concertina player Chris Droney. Other musicians include Garry O’Briain, who arranged and wrote with her, on piano, guitars, and mandocello; Ronan Greene on fiddle; Seamie O’Dowd on mandolin, harmonica and guitars; Dermot Byrne on accordion; Padraig Stevens on percussion; Seamus McGuire on fiddle and viola; and Éamonn Cotter on flute.
A more melancholy traditional love song follows, with Kirrane and O’Briain’s version of “The Blackest Crow.” O’Dowd’s harmonica adds a haunting wistfulness as counterpoint to the simple melody.
The other traditional songs are “Jimmy mo Mhíle Stór,” with fiddler Seamus McGguire; the murder ballad “Two Sisters,” here using the same melody that Clannad uses on Dulaman;” “Maid Who Sold Her Barley,” which as Kirrane notes probably has a double entendre (seriously, did “barley” ever just mean barley?) and the new-to-me song “Edward on Loch Erne Shore,” a swingy, walking-pace love song set in Co. Fermanagh that Kirrane got from fiddle player Áine McGrath. “Edward” features Éamonn Cotter’s flute ornamenting the melody.
Contemporary songwriters take on the past in Mick Curry’s “2000 Years After Jesus” and R.Laird/S. Starret/T. McRory’s “John Condon,” both protest songs. The former, which Kirrane notes she heard from New York-based Cork man Donie Carroll, looks skeptically at the greed and bigotry exposed by the Celtic Tiger, while “John Condon” is an elegy for a young soldier who died in World War I.
Kirrane’s voice truly shines in this simple arrangement, supported only by guitar through the first verse, with harmony and more instruments joining in for the chorus.
Two songs deal directly with the famine: novelst Brendan Graham’s song “Crucán na bPáiste” (Children’s Burial Ground) is a mother mourning her 7-year-old red-haired daughter. You don’t have to speak rish to hear the sorrow in Kirrane’s voice. John Doyle’s “Bitter the Parting” is also a contemporary song that she notes is a song of exile, alluding to the famine era. Kirrane takes the song a bit more slowly than Doyle does, and her quiet version puts the song’s yearning in relief, and a modulation into a major chord gives the word “entwined” at the end of the chorus a punch.
“Belfast Love,” by songwriter Finbar Magee, is an upbeat love song. “Headin’ Back to Doolin” by percussion player Padraig Stevens and Kirrane, beautifully captures the sense of freedom in an excursion to Doolin in the summer. Kirrane wrote the tune while Stevens added lyrics. The swing of the song and Byrne’s spirited accordion brings out the lovely spot, as do the lyrics.
The boat to the island, the sea and the sky,
The cliffs and the Burren, the in-flowing tide,
Don’t be talking of Doolin; it has us in ruins,
Since we met Micho Russell and had a few tunes…
The tune ends with a bit of a reel.
Full disclosure: My first night in Doolin I had driven west from Dublin, with the sun in my eyes, and after hanging out with piper Blackie O’Connell at a session I was too drunk to get my key in the door of my B&B.
After a full Irish breakfast the next morning, I was cured, and drove all over West Clare. This song brings those happy days right back. “Headin’ Back to Doolin” perfectly captures. the sun, sea, and dangerously wonderful music of Doolin.
“Liffeyside,” by singer Delia Murphy, who was popular in the 30s and 40s, is another song about a place, but its sweet style recalls an earlier time.
“Song of Bernadette” by Leonard Cohen, Bill Elliott, and Jennifer Warnes, accompanied primarily by O’Briain on piano, is a love song and a religious song at once.
But the album overall has much in common with “Song of Bernadette”: it has a hymn-like quality, a reverence, for all of its material. Kirrane’s expressive soprano soars and then lingers, filling each song with its own color.