In the madness that was this past St. Patrick’s Day, I made passing mention of the fact that performance artist Julie Feeney was playing as part of Terrence Mulligan’s Craicfest.
Feeney’s team sent me a CD after the Irish Voice deadline at that time, and it’s been rattling around my desk ever since as a paperweight and drink coaster.
I’m here to officially apologize for treating the disc in such a disrespectful manner, because the songs on Pages are nothing short of a work of art.
Lush and beautifully constructed, Pages is an alluring blend of classical orchestration, confessional songwriting and confessional and introspective pop poetry about matters of the heart.
If Jackson Browne and Eleanor Rigby had a baby, she might be named Julie Feeney.
“Looking for a lover? Maybe you’ll discover a friend/a friend to play the knowing glance game/two spoons of sugar and milk,” she sings on “Love Is a Tricky Thing,” a straightforward pop song elevated by a simple string arrangements.
An impossibly beautiful harmony sits atop the strings on the Irish hit “Impossibly Beautiful.”
“You’re not an assembled cocktail of bits and not a stuck together look all made up with tricks,” she sings.
"I’ve decided that instead of having my classical hat and then my other hats, as an artist I want to embrace each of them all as a whole," she says in her biography. "I feel that I’m developing all the time. That’s what I’m here for."
Producer, composer, orchestrator, singer, conductor, performer and instrumentalist, Feeney first made her mark on the international music scene by winning the Choice Music Prize (Ireland’s equivalent of the Mercury Prize) with her debut album 13 songs. She self-produced and self-released the album, having played 11 of the instruments.
Feeney was later invited to orchestrate the album for the 65 piece Ulster Orchestra with whom she performed, and she has premiered other concert commissions as a composer and conductor in the U.K. and Ireland.
She recently played Pages for the RTE Concert Orchestra with whom she has also performed as soloist many times. She sang, composed and produced the songs in their entirety, and conducted the Irish Chamber Orchestra on all of the instrumental music.
According to her tweets, Feeney has been getting standing ovations for her performances in Los Angeles and San Diego over the last few weeks.
She sings in a haunting, lilting voice that creates a whimsical vibe when paired against an orchestra.
Sometimes that whimsy cleverly hides an acidic streak, as “Mr. Roving Eye Guy” demonstrates.
“Mr. Roving Eye Guy with high wall around his heart/he said he could never find a good enough girl for him/he found flaws with every girl he’d meet/she had big hands or funny feet,” she sings.
It’s fitting that she called this album Pages because the lyrics read like a novel. Her Beatle-esque penchant for employing pop as a vehicle for storytelling is spellbinding.
If Mr. Roving Eye Guy met Eleanor Rigby, who knew where McCartney’s career would have gone?
According to her bio, Feeney began Pages during a process of “distillation” over a five-week spell at a remote artists’ retreat in Co. Monaghan. Living and working in conditions of monastic isolation, she gathered together her "thought streams" which she turned into essays, then distilled into poems and finally song lyrics.
"I wanted to put myself to the test," she says. "I wanted to reach that stage where you actually come to the essence of what you’re feeling. And I didn’t want to have any word on the album that was superfluous."
She then returned to her apartment in Dublin and completed the instrumental music. Starting in silence with pencil and manuscript, and often working for 24-hour stretches or longer, she spent the best part of four months composing, arranging and scoring the songs for a full orchestra.
"In pop music, orchestras are generally incorporated in a certain way,” she says. "I wanted to make a particular sound using an orchestra with songs that I hadn’t heard before but one that I could hear in my head."
Feeney’s idea was to record the orchestra on its own in one day – effectively the first time she would hear her own compositions – and to let the results stand. There would be no conventional pop instruments or samples, or indeed overdubs of any kind added to the original recordings other than her voice.
"I also wanted to use the instruments as if they were voices and the voices as if they were instruments intertwining in the songs," she says.
The results jump off the page of Pages. My limited vocabulary can’t properly articulate the listening experience of Julie Feeney, so head over to juliefeeney.com and see what I mean!Under the Spell- Green Spell’s Conner.
DURING a recent book signing in Atlantic City, I was cast under the spell of Green Spell, an up and coming Celtic rock outfit from Philadelphia. Tina (bass, fiddle), Q (flute, penny whistle), Conner (guitar, vocals) and John Ragan (drums) make Green Spell, a light-hearted band that makes a furious noise altogether!
“It was more like a workout, just jamming with one another,” says Q when asked how they all got together.
“Tina came in to sit in with us and we eventually decided to take it on the road.”
“It’s so much fun to play with one another, it’s just a blast, says Tina.
“We get such great energy from the audience and that just runs through the band and makes us play that much better.”
Having seen that with my own two eyes, I am nodding in agreement!
The band is fronted by Conner, a charmingly grizzled man with a ragged, hoarse voice that adds mischief to the beloved rebel songs of our culture.
John Ragan explains the band formed from local Philadelphia trad outlets Stone Soup and Burning Wood.
“As things changed and those bands ran their course, we got together,” he says. “We have been working in tool shed for a while and we have just been so excited about playing live and getting audience responses.”
The band is road testing old traditional ditties as well as some tasty original tunes for now, with plans for a full album release in the coming months. To keep track of the band, log onto www.greenspell.com.Andrea Corr Is Back
GOOD news for Corrs fans! Andrea Corr this week announced the release of her brand new album Lifelines on Monday, May 30, with the first single, “Tinseltown in the Rain,” released on the same day.
According to her press release, the covers album is a “deeply personal, warm and intimate exploration of her inspirations as an artist.”
Produced by John Reynolds and featuring co-production on several tracks by Brian Eno (Roxy Music, U2, Coldplay), the album features tracks from a range of artists, including Velvet Underground, Kirsty McColl and Harry
Nilsson to Ron Sexsmith, Nick Drake and The Blue Nile.
Andrea has been busy getting married and doing theater over the last couple of years, including critically acclaimed performances as Jane Eyre at the Gate in Dublin and in the Old Vic’s production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa.
Keep it tuned here for Corrs news as it happens!