Celtic Cross returns with Saoirse’s Heart, a strong collection of new songs that tell the story of the Irish American experience by using textures of folk, country, Cajun, rap, and a little jazz thrown in for good measure!
Kathleen Fee (singer) and her brothers Ken (fiddle) and John (button accordion) Vesey are joined by Walter Ensor (guitar), Patrick Dineen (bass), Frankie McCormick (mandolin/banjo), and drummer Ryan Cavan to make up this band. There are some All-Ireland Champions running in this pack and they demonstrate their wickedly good chops on instrumental jams like “Monster” and “Robinhood Sessions.” These reels-gone-mad are a highlight of their ferocious live shows and these new tunes should blend well into their set list!
“All three instrumentals on the record, ‘Monster,’ ‘Robinhood,’ and ‘D Train’ are not your father’s ceili sets,” John Vesey says. “Each is driven by real R&B and even hip-hop feel.”
Celtic Cross gets right down to it by throwing fans for a curve ball on the dark title track, which was inspired by McCormick’s sudden exodus from Ireland. He went unwillingly, at the counsel of worried parents who did their best to keep their son from The Troubles that were swirling all around them in County Tyrone.
“I thought I’d never leave/I never dreamed of going/why do you make me go?/I haven’t done nothing/out in the world alone… I didn’t see it coming/time opens minds but doesn’t cancel thoughts/through Saoirse’s Heart reaps elders taught/our children’s sons will never understand/the last conversation in that Hiace Van” McCormick raps on the track as Fee sings “every day of every hour/every moon and every flower/reminds me of the pull of Saoirse’s Heart” on the chorus.
“That song just came from many late night chats over pints,” Fee says. “Frank would talk and I would be just typing these little phrases into the Blackberry. We were careful not to glorify anything around the Troubles or the environment at the time. ‘Saoirse’ means freedom and this song is about how even when you gain your freedom, it still can haunt you and come with a price!”
What makes Celtic Cross so special is their ability to siphon the Irish American experience in their lyrics with a reporter’s eye for detail in their songs. A highlight is “One Last Party,” which paints the picture of the malarkey and melancholy that ensues when faced with flying home to Ireland to close up the family homestead after the passing of a loved one. The structure is chock full of memories for Fee, “the house that stood two stories but a thousand it could tell.” “So here’s to laughter, music, and all friends/let’s raise a glass and raise the roof and capture it again,” she sings.
On “Hold On For The Ride,” an album standout that Alison Krause would have given her eye teeth to have written, describes the bonds of family and friends that exist both inside and outside the band. “Winds of change will come and they will carry you/hold on for the ride/keep that fire inside/this world can be so cold/soon you will learn, soon you will know/there is no one like your own,” she sings.
“I think ‘One Last Party,’ which is a real personal experience for our family, is a great summary of this band,” Ken says. “It’s about how we are always able to celebrate, even when there is sadness (in this case the closing of their grandfather’s home). ‘Hold On For The Ride’ is another song that means a lot to Kathleen. Its a song about letting go and encouraging your children find their own way in life. Both of these tracks are real Celtic Cross songs which will appeal to our long time fans… and we really really love them.”
The band says that while they wanted to appeal to their Celtic Cross friends, family, and fan base, they had an eye for expanding the boundaries of what the band could be on Saoirse’s Heart. “We want folks to say ‘wow, you guys are trying new stuff’ so much more than ‘you guys did the record we expected’ or worse, ‘the record everyone else is doing,’” Dineen says. “There is no shortage of the status quo… we want no part of that. Our family and fiends know us better than that.”
Dineen adds a slinky, tongue-and cheek vocal over a southern fried country riff on “Best Days” as he describes loving someone through bleary, hung-over eyes. It’s a bit of humor that provides a great foil to the heaviness of the title track, ending a brilliant album with a masterful stroke.
The songs on Saoirse’s Heart tell of the joys and struggles of an Irish American life but they could just as easily describe the recording process. Yes, there were many pints and good times in the studio, but this was an album that almost didn’t happen.
“The low point was Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of our favorite Hoboken studio,” Fee says. “We have been loyal to Hoboken Recorders and our engineer Alan Camlet for years; he has always done a great job for us. So we made the band decision to wait until he completed the renovation to finish the record. It was the right thing to do all around… but it was frustrating to wait. It turned out to be a very good thing as we wrote "Water's Edge," about Sandy and its destruction as well as several other new tracks. This album is chock-full with 14 tracks… and none are really filler. That was the Sandy-delay bonus.”
Fee is excited about the album and thinks the struggle of Hurricane Sandy made it all worthwhile. “There are a number of tracks on the album that we definitely show our growth and depth as songwriters and players,” she says. “We were not afraid to try things on Saoirse’s… and we look forward to the reaction we get.“
The reaction here at The Irish Voice is two enthusiastic thumbs-up! I’d give it four thumbs-up if I had more thumbs! To see the band in action, drop by their record release parties on Saturday at Stephen’s Talk House in Amagansett, NY or on April 5 at Ulysses Folk House in lower Manhattan. To catch them online, go to www.celticcross.com