Sacred Earth is Irish accordian master and music producer Sharon Shannon’s first new studio album in three years, and her 10th studio album to date.
Shannon is a musician who likes to surprise. While best known for her arrangements of traditional Irish tunes and Irish-influenced compositions, she’s always been eager to explore new styles. There are Irish influences of course, but these are cheerfully mixed in with often unexpected styles from around the world, including for the first time Africa. Shannon has perfectly mastered an African/Irish crossover.
But Sacred Earth is more than this: it contains multiple musical elements from the around the world along with the Shetland fiddle tradition, hip hop, country and blues that all combine to make this album a ground-breaker in many ways.
The album was co-produced by Justin Adams, a musician who is passionately involved in producing African music. The guitarist in Robert Plant’s band, the Sensational Space Shifters. Adams has long been an expert in African and Middle Eastern styles and produced the great Malian band Tinariwen. He played on Shannon’s 2007 album Renegade and she wanted to work with him again because “he’s such a versatile musician. I love his fearless approach to trying many different ideas,” she says.
There is indeed a sense of celebration in this recording as Irish dance tunes interact with music from around the world. A key player in uniting the sound of the tracks is Rushad Eggleston on cello. A virtuoso musician, Eggleston can tackle any genre with equal mastery. He switches seamlessly from world rhythms on the track “Rusheen Bay” to classical sounds on the track “The Merry Widow,” which is a re-working of the waltz from the operetta by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, fi rst performed at the start of the last century.
The origin of the track “Frenchie’s Reel” comes from the New England border style of fiddle playing, a unique blend of French Canadian and Celtic influences made most famous by musician Rodney Miller. However, the addition of six Shetland Island fiddlers and recorded on Shetland off the coast of Scotland gives this track a unique twist, a classical orchestral feel.
“Sea Shepherd” features the incredible playing of Senegalese musician Seckou Keita, on the kora, an Africa harp. Alongside the instrumentals there are three very different vocal tunes. There is the Jim Reeves and Elvis hit “He’ll Have to Go,” featuring the deep, heartfelt vocals of the legendary Irish folk hero Finbar Furey.
Then there’s the stomping rockabilly/ bluesy “Let’s Go,” which started out as an instrumental but then acquired lyrics thanks to an Australian-based duo called Hat Fitz and Cara. Real blues royalty was added to this song in Chicago with the addition of Greg Guy, son of the legendary Buddy Guy, on guitar. Harmonica was supplied by Majiec Zawarone. This track has the distinction of having been recorded and mixed in five different countries -- Ireland, England, Australia, U.S. and Poland.
The third song comes out of Shannon’s touring experience in New Mexico, where she met singer Alyra Rose. “The Machine” is a song political in nature and a musical hybrid of hip hop and a traditional Irish style reel. Journalist Robin Denselow of The Guardian says, “It’s this free-wheeling approach that makes Sharon Shannon so exciting...Sacred Earth is a rousing reminder of why she is so unique.”
The album is now available for purchase in all formats.