Album review – The Plum Tree And The Rose. “Her rich alto voice is like honey poured into wine – intoxicating but not overly sweet.”
The Plum Tree and the Rose
Waterbug Records 2012
Her rich alto voice is like honey poured into wine – intoxicating but not overly sweet. She sounds like a Celtic singer more than anything else although she mixes it up with many folk styles including an Elizabethan ballad (”Can She Excuse My Wrongs”) and a thirteenth century song written by Ellian du Cadenet. Most songs feature her lovely finger picked guitar but on the latter, “S’Anc Fuy Belha Ni Prezada,” she plays an Indian shruti box. It offers a haunting drone while a South American tiple (a stringed instrument with a high pitch) played by Gerry O’Beirne offers color. They certainly aren’t traditional for this type of song but the soundscape they create is perfect. Most of her guitar work feels open and crisp; I suspect that a lot of it is in an alternative tuning since she wrote a highly regarded book about Irish music and the DADGAD tuning. “Lift You Up and Let You Fly” is an original about letting a daughter spread her wings. “Hardwick’s Lofty Towers” tells the interesting story of Bess of Hardwick, an astute woman from the 1500’s who was wealthy not because she married four times but because of her sharp financial skills, a rare thing in those times when most marriages were arranged. There are layers of beautiful vocals and acoustic instruments in “Kenilworth,” a song about poor Robert Dudley who tried to woo Queen Elizabeth I with a beautiful garden but was unsuccessful. John Martyn wrote “Solid Air” as a tribute to Nick Drake and here she gives it a bluesy feel with just her vocal, guitar and some very cool trumpet from Bill Blackmore. Although “The Sun Goes on Rising” is about hard financial times, it contains a lot of hope: “Morning comes and amber turns to grey / The sun goes on rising every day.” She co-wrote “What Are We Going to Do” with Gerry O’Beirne and unlike most of this album, it has a contemporary feel with its modern lyrics and arrangement that includes congas. “New Oysters New” is a unique a cappella piece with three contrasting but complimentary voices. The parts weave in and out as do the vocals in the closing cut “In Gratitude I Sing,” a six part round sung with Niamh Parsons and others. Gorgeous. The liner notes are extensive and give background for each cut. Refreshing in a time when many artists are forgoing the printing of lyrics or song background in CD booklets.