May the Wave Rise Up to Carry You
Listening Post 156. Like a gentle wave, her voice rolls in, sometimes buoyantly high, sometimes achingly low. Her name may be challenging but her warm sound flows through the auditory channels and touches all the senses. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh (pronounced Murr-en Nick OWL-eve) embodies the Irish music renaissance, as a singer of the ornamental sean nós and more contemporary folk styles, flutist, university and online teacher, TV presenter and longtime lead vocalist of the traditional band Danú. Foxglove & Fuschia, her fourth solo album, is an elegant anthology, with voice-rich tales, in Irish and English, of love thwarted and fulfilled, of fishing and famine, of nature and war, all streaming between effervescent reels, polkas and slides. In Bríd Óg Ní Mháille (Young Brigid O’Malley), she sings, to simple guitar and fiddle accompaniment, of a heartbroken suitor waiting in vain for the girl who promised to elope with him (video 1). Romance is sunny side up in Muirisín Deas Agus Nóra, based on a poem about a long married couple whose passion has never waned (video 2). With the mournful Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier Nic Amhlaoibh repatriates Pete Seeger’s banjo-plucked version of a song that traveled from the Emerald Isle (with some Irish lyrics intact) to America before the Revolution (video 3). Earthly cares vanish in Where Foxglove, the timeless and impressionistic composition by Gerry O’Beirne that gives the collection its florid name (video 4). Other album crests include An Sciobairín (Skibbereen), a song of immigrants remembering their beloved town and the famine that drove them across the sea and The Final Trawl, the story of a fishing boat’s last run. The waves off the rugged shores of West Kerry, where she lives, can be fierce, but Nic Amhlaoibh’s sound lifts Irish lore and language and brings them into a welcoming harbor. (Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh)
Bríd Óg Ní Mháille/Young Brigid O’Malley: “Oh Brigid O’Malley/You have left my heart broken
You’ve sent death pangs of sorrow/To pierce my heart sore
A hundred men crave/For your breathtaking beauty
You’re the fairest of maidens/In Oriel for sure…
I’m a handsome young fellow/Who is thinking of wedlock
But my life will be shortened/If I don’t get my dear
My love and my darling/Prepare now to meet me
On next Sunday evening/On the road to Drum Slieve
‘Tis sadly and lonely/I pass the time on Sunday
My head bowed In sorrow/My sighs heavy with woe
As I gaze upon byways/That my true love walks over
Now she’s wed to another/And left me forlorn”
Muirisín Deas agus Nóra: An English translation is elusive, but this is an old song from the Blasket Islands, with lyrics by the nineteenth century poet Sean Ó Duinnshléibhe and new music by Gerry O’Beirne, about a couple married a long time who are still very much in love. An odd fact is that this love story outlived human habitation on the islands, which were evacuated in 1953 due to chronically harsh weather and declining population. Most of the residents moved to the nearby Dingle Peninsula (in County Kerry) and to Springfield, Massachusetts.
Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier: “Here I sit on Buttermilk Hill/Who can blame me, cryin’ my fill
And ev’ry tear would turn a mill/ Johnny has gone for a soldier.
Siúl, siúl, siúl, a ghrá [Farewell, farewell, farewell, my love]/Me, oh my, I loved him so
And only time will heal my woe/ Johnny has gone for a soldier.
I sold my rod, I sold my reel/
To be buy for him a sword and shield
But now he lies murdered in the field/Johnny has gone for a soldier.
I’ll dye my dress, I’ll dye it red/And through the streets I’ll beg for bread
Oh how I wish that I was dead since/Johnny has gone for a soldier.”
Where Foxglove: “Where foxglove and the fuchsia grow/And tumble down to the sea
We looked into a midnight well/Reflected there imperfectly
The rhapsody of traffic swells, traffic swells/The northside echoes with history
The rush hour crowds and old church bells/The flickering of a cinema screen
And what did you see in the midnight well, midnight well/Were you only in a garden in the rain
What symphonies in Dublin town/In the rackety swaying of an evening train
And who will you love even so, even so/When the crowds have faded by and by
Will all the birds be singing out/When morning calls upon our eyes”