Formerly lead singer with Cherish The Ladies, Michelle Burke’s sophomore album, six years on from her solo debut, started life as a show by herself and longtime musical partner James Ross during the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe , a performance inspired by the characters, music and family gatherings of her childhood in East Cork. The show gradually expanded, returning to the Fringe in 2014 and, this year, as part of Celtic Connections. So, it only seemed sensible to put it down on disc.
Here, in full brogue, she and Ross are joined by a core band of Anna Massie on guitar, mandolin and banjo , trombonist John Kenny, Brendan Power on harmonica, accordionist Kathleen Boyle and bodhran player Martin O’Neill alongside guest appearances by mentor Cathal McConnell on flute and vocals and Maura O’Connell, Heidi Talbot and Rhiannon Giddens, from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, on backing vocals and harmonies.
As you might assume, the songs are pretty much – though not exclusively – the sort of traditional numbers that would have formed part of the family’s parlour repertoire, kicking off with Eileen O’Grady, a jaunty singalong courting song by Will. E. Cormack popularised by Josef Locke. Another vintage number, Dan O’Hara, by traditional Irish singer Delia Murphy, recounts the true story of the titular gent and his wife and seven kids who, when the landlord increased the rent after Dan increased the size of the windows in his cottage in Connemara (giving birth to the phrase ‘daylight robbery’), upped sticks for America, his wife and three children dying en route and Dan ending up selling matches on the New York streets.
Elsewhere, trad. arr. credits include the folksy guitar strummed A Kiss In The Morning, an Irish street ballad about the romance between a cobbler and his sweetheart, and her father’s anger at such an impecunious union, a burping trombone, accordion and banjo rendition of My Boy Billy (a variant of which was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams as Billy Boy) featuring Talbot, a piano accompanied arrangement of The Gypsies and, joined by Burke’s parents, sister, cousins and friends with Ross on saloon piano and Kenny on trombone, Whooped and Died, a wheezingly jaunty music hall tune about dying from pneumonia that used to be her Aunt Peggy’s party piece.
Two numbers celebrate particular Irish joys; duetting with Giddens, Dear Old Donegal was written by Stephen Graham and popularised by Bing Crosby while Dublin Diner, despite sounding like an old music hall waltz, was in fact penned by contemporary Edinburgh songwriter Sandy Wright. Another Scottish contribution comes from veteran folkie Alan Bell in the form of the poignant So Here’s to You, a song previously covered by Niahm Parsons and Mary Black, Burke here joined by Maura O’Connell and Cathal McConnell.
The remaining tune actually comes from a different tradition, but the arrangement by Burke and James Ross makes The Platters classic, Twilight Time, feel perfectly at home among the soda bread, Guinness and whiskey that would have been the staple of any self-respecting and sentimental parlour gathering. It’ll all mean a lot more if you have Irish roots and a vein of nostalgia, but even if not it’s still rather lovely listening.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Kilcronat Records KLC002CD