Breda Mayock – Learning Place
Independent – Out Now
Another week, another wonderful discovery; the lot of the music reviewer is frequently a very satisfying one. This week, the joy comes courtesy of Breda Mayock; artist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, and writer of songs that radiate a soft but breathtaking beauty. Prepare to be soothed by Breda’s third full-length solo album, Learning Place. Following on from 2015’s eponymous return to solo recording after eight years (reviewed here), Learning Place sees Breda take to the studio with composer Sam Jackson as producer, and with ten of her own beautifully crafted songs to record.
Breda’s County Mayo upbringing included studies in fine art, and early musical adventures saw her explore the French world music scene with producer Hector Zazou. Her soft, alluring Gaelic vocal graced Hughes De Courson‘s fusion of Baroque and Irish music – O’Stravaganza.
All Breda’s songs for Learning Place, though, are in English, and You Will Wake Up opens the album with a sombre and sleepy double bass and piano combination. Sam’s piano and Dave Mooney’s double bass (Track Dogs) provide a gentle grounding for Breda’s soft voice. As a barely perceived electric organ winds its way into the heartbeat of the song; quilted layers of warm vocal expand. Then light fills the sound, the heartbeat quickens and intensifies towards a gently percussive conclusion.
Percussionist Robbie Harris (Jiggy, Afro Celt Sound System) reprises his extensive supporting role from 2015’s album, and Learning Place personnel is completed by Kenneth Rice (Irish Chamber Orchestra) on violin and viola.
Breda’s 2015 album was a delightful collaboration with renowned guitarist Steve Cooney. A similar, ethereal, style pervades Learning Place, but there’s an increased richness and precision, with producer Sam Jackson providing the kind of minimalist piano that speaks volumes and string arrangements that enrich the listening experience.
Out opens with that soft piano alongside Breda’s voice and the quiet pulse of Robbie’s percussion. Strings provide something just a touch more subtle than a backdrop – more of a gentle mist swirling around the roots of the song. It’s a dance, but not in the sense of a reel or a waltz. It’s a dance among ideas, ambitions, hopes…
I’ll act out
This dance with you
You moving by me
The heartbeat analogy is one that applies throughout the album – each song is a living, breathing entity that grows bolder, more persuasive, and more sure of their place in the listener’s consciousness. Most were written by Breda specifically for the album, but there are two exceptions. There are layers of vocal among piano, bass and percussion in the almost hymnal Dove, which was inspired during the sessions for her previous album. The forward-looking Little Chief, actually takes us back quite a few years – to a song Breda wrote for her brother, artist Ger Mayock, before his tragic death in 2006. Organ, voice, and the softest backing vocals take the song towards a passionate final chorus.
There are no tricks to be learned
no luck of the draw
no call to unfurl
and no white rabbit’s paw.
No lottery ticket
no sign of the cross
no wand to be waved
and no coin to be tossed.
Because it’s just you and me
from right where we are.
The album’s title track opens with soft organ and voice before piano and percussion provide the added depth. Learning Place comes across as a lullaby, but seems to chart life’s challenges; mirroring the adventure with subtle changes of pace and colour, and with a constant, reassuring whisper like a mother’s gentle encouragement. At times there are more stark messages to draw from Breda’s lyrics, such as in the protesting poetry of Celestial which, despite being simply voice and piano, seems to evoke the same rich atmosphere as the rest of the album.
was mine all along
is not yours,
or yours to prey upon.
The sombre opening of Ever After has an underlying positivity, through the soothing powers of story-telling. With the soft pulse of Robbie’s percussion and a sublime viola/violin combination from Kenneth, the song displays the same richness of sound that’s been a hallmark of Peter Gabriel’s solo work. In Little Heart, it’s an empathetic charge of emotion in Breda’s vocal that drives the pace, alongside wistful piano, violin and birdsong. Piano takes on the drums’ sombre tones in a tempestuous close.
It’s only when we reach the penultimate song on Learning Place, A Time To Dance, that the word plaintive becomes associated with Breda’s vocal. It’s possible that particular quality only emerges because this is the first truly sorrowful song on the album. Up until now, the mood has been an uplifting, although melancholy, gentleness. The regret and self-questioning of A Time To Dance brings an element of pain to the vocal, and the string-filled close to the song almost had me in tears. It’s a sign of the emotional impact music like this can have, and has as much to do with what had gone before. That pervading warmth left me unprepared for the sadness of A Time to Dance.
I am not strong
I do not have the cure
I can stand, yes, alone
But I’m not so sure
Closing the album, the layered vocal and dream-like chorus of New Eyes serves as a reminder that Breda has the same ability to wrap her vocal around her own poetry that makes listening to Joni Mitchell such a compelling experience. A quality that’s easy to miss, on the first listen, among the building intensity of strings and percussion.
Repeated listening pays rich dividends with this album. Breda’s voice can be soft as a sigh or laden with emotion, while Sam Jackson‘s warm production, restrained piano, and richly textured arrangements for Kenneth Rice‘s strings seem to nurture and nourish the vocals. All the while, Dave Mooney‘s bass and Robbie Harris‘ percussion provide the soft pulse and living heart of the album. Breda Mayock‘s Learning Place is a collection of intimate, absorbing vocal performances perfectly framed in compelling arrangements. Prepare to be soothed, prepare to be enthralled.
Learning Place is Out Now. Order it here: https://www.bredamayock.com/music