Irish Music Magazine Bilingua review

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‘Bilingua’ reviewed in Irish Music Magazine

19/11/14

We are delighted to see Seán Laffey’s review in this month’s edition of Irish Music Magazine. Have a read below…

Back in the early 1990’s I was living in the Channel islands. What Irish music there was we made ourselves and very occasionally we’d be treated to a touring Irish band. One of the highlights of a decade or more of Music at the local folk club was an evening with Lá Lugh, which featured Gerry O’Connor and Eithne Ní Uallacháin. They were a warm, friendly and exciting band, three or four levels higher than the normal stuff we were used to. So I thought this new album from Gael Linn would help me recall that wonderful evening all those years ago. Well yes and it did a lot more.

Ethane was a vital spark on stage, a slight, petite figure, she lit up the room, but as we know she held a deeper, darker, weighty shadow. These undertones are here on the disc, and they remind us plainly that the tradition is capable of high artist expression and moreover Eithne was a master of the art.

In 1996 Eithne brought out the stunning album ‘Brighid’s Kiss’, and so impressed were we at IMM we awarded it our album of the year. To think Bilingua was being made in the studio only twelve months later is a revelation. This is not an archive recording, or a simple pull from the dusty vaults, the tracks, which date back to the last few years of her life, 1997 to 1999, have been sensitively augmented by her son Dónal and husband Gerry O’Connor, with others too, and I must mention Mudd Wallace who also has a key role in completing the work. And what a job they have done. This is one of the freshest most modern sounding albums I’ve heard this year, from the opening track, Bilingua with it’s jangly almost African percussion and kit’s core question about identity, to her personal approach to the traditional form of Caoineadh on Grief and the very contemporary sound of Lughnasa Damhsa. Seen Puer is a mix of the medieval, the modern and the would not be out of place at a European fantasy folk rock festival.

Without a doubt Eithne was one of the most original voices in Irish music, her song writing both in English and Irish will be ranked amongst the finest in the genre, although trying to tie this down to a simple label is hard as her grasp of music was such that narrow definitions do little justice to her talent or legacy.

The liner notes, with a sensitive and insightful introduction by Fintan Valley, are impressively researched, they include a number of photographs showing Eithne at her joyous best. The notes also contain accolades from fellow singers, Mary Black, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Pauline Scanlon, and Karen Matheson. The key to the liner text is an appreciation of Ethane’s life and musical work from her own family’s perspective. It is a moving, engrossing and essential guide to this album. Quirky and challenging, subtle and sublime, experimental and emotional, fragile and determined, pick any combination, you won’t hear anything remotely like this in 2015. If there ever was a work of genius this is it. On the passing of a great talent too early, we often say ‘what if?’ This album answers the question before it is asked, with ‘look what she left us, a treasure for all time…’

This album is not an empty cenotaph but a work of the deepest respect to the life of a truly remarkable singer.

Seán Laffey, Irish Music Magazine