Irish Music Net - Feargal McKay

Sarah McQuaid
When Two Lovers Meet

I’m not exactly what you could call trad at heart. After all these years I couldn’t tell you the difference between a jig and a reel and as for differentiating between The Shannon Breeze and Roll Her On The Banks, well, I’d be as lost as a tourist in the Wicklow Hills without a map. Most of my trad intake is what we might call ambient trad, that element of trad that creeps into everyday existence. Riverdance trad. Titanic trad. Temple Bar trad. It goes in one ear and out the other. So to find myself not only liking but actually praising a trad disc, well, this comes as no little surprise to me. I guess my main reason for liking When Two Lovers Meet is twofold: the music comes from the lighter end of the trad spectrum; and McQuaid is a cosmopolitan woman and brings diverse influences to bear on the recording. The latter point. McQuaid was born in Spain but reared in Chicago. It was in France that she fell under the spell of trad and it is only in recent years that she fetched up here in Dublin. This varied upbringing has lent a slightly accented edge to McQuaid’s vocals, which are soft and almost dreamy. This cosmopolitan voice, with its associated approach to the treatment of the airs and tunes, has McQuaid walking along that border which blends the edges of trad into the edges of jazz. Here I’m particularly thinking of the tracks Johnny Lad and Charlie’s Gone Home. On these the sound comes close to that captured by trad/jazz fusionist Melanie O’Reilly on her Tír na Mára disc. Like O’Reilly, McQuaid acknowledges the assistance of the Traditional Music Archive in Merrion Square in the sourcing of the music on this disc and perhaps it is this willingness to seek out suitable and appropriate material that makes this album so pleasing.

As well as the vocals McQuaid also contributes her guitar playing talents to this disc. Some of you may know McQuaid’s name from her book, The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book. If her own playing can be taken as an advertisement for this book then I might just have to get my hands on it, buy a guitar and become a musician. That old Horslips sham rock favourite, King of the Fairies is wheeled out and given a new coat of paint, in a stripped down and – dare I say it? – almost jazzed up version. But jazz only in the fashion of old jazz, classical jazz, where the player goes off and paints curlicues and curls around a recognisable tune. This McQuaid does gently, not in a show-off look-at-me kind of fashion, more in a style that is actually sympathetic to the tune. This magic is also repeated later on the disc, on The Chicago Reel/The Green Fields of Glentown, the former previously recorded by Willie Clancy and the latter a Tommy Peoples tune.

Though self-financed and output by McQuaid herself, the disc features a host of luminous guests – Trevor Hutchinson (in whose Marguerite Studios the disc was recorded), Gerry O’Beirne (who produced, as well as contributing ukelele and accompanying guitar), John McSherry, Rod McVey and Niamh Parsons (one of the most underrated vocalists in this country today). It is to the individual credit of all involved that none steal the show and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Sean-nós star Iarla Ó Lionaird is credited profusely for his assistance, particularly on the track Táim Cortha ó Bheith im’ Aonar im’ Luí, which has verses sung both as gaeilge agus as bearla. It is from another Cuil Aodh native, Peadar Ó Riada, that this disc draws some inspiration, particularly in its spartan approach to the musical arrangements, with lots of quiet moments in which the music can live and breathe.

For my money this was a beautiful disc. I can’t look at it and tell you whether McQuaid’s reading of tunes like Sprig of Thyme or The Tempest are true or fair, but I can tell you I enjoyed them, and at the end of the day, that is all I am looking for in a recording.