The Jeremiahs – The Femme Fatale of Maine
Self-Released – 2017
I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on The Jeremiahs since reviewing their debut album in 2015. That album revealed them as a force to be reckoned with on the ever-vibrant Dublin music scene and was heavy with the promise of future delights. Since then there have been a couple of personnel changes. When I saw them at the 2016 Gate to Southwell festival, whistles and flutes had been taken over by Calum Stewart who also added his trademark Uillean pipes. For this second album, though, the line-up has been reduced to a core trio plus guests. The trio is Joe Gibney on vocals and stomp box, James Ryan, guitar, bouzouki, harmonica, backing vocals, and Jean-Christophe Morel on fiddle, bouzouki and shakers. And as for those promised delights, The Femme Fatale of Maine delivers them in abundance.
In 2015 Joe Gibney’s voice was already one that could raise the hairs on the back of your neck and over the last two years, his vocals have grown in stature and confidence. Reflecting that, the ten tracks of the new album include seven songs as opposed to the five song-five instrumental split of the first. An even more welcome shift is that five of the seven songs are band compositions, songs with lyrics and arrangements that show a creative maturing of both the band and its individual members. Given that the only original song on the first album had been chosen by Christie Moore as the winner at the 2015 TradConnect Songwriter Showcase, an enhanced focus on the band’s song writing was surely inevitable. Less of a certainty was that the new songs would equal it in quality, at the same time exploring a range of styles and subject matter.
The album opens with The Wild Barrow Road, a song about a tune, or rather, the writing of a tune. A tune the lads were composing as they travelled through the English Lake District to a gig in Barrow and which they ended up performing on that night. They start their introductory notes with a quote from that great font of dry, Irish, wit, Dave Allen, “Ireland is the only nation in the world where procrastination takes on a sense of urgency”. Put the song and the quote together and you have a near perfect insight into The Jeremiahs’ worldview. Whilst The Wild Barrow Road has light-hearted lyrics and a jaunty pace, the song that follows, title track, The Femme Fatale of Maine, has more sombre tones. Joe’s voice is given plenty of space, in a relatively sparse arrangement, to bring out the message, a cautionary tale of ladies who love money more than their suitors.
Both these opening tracks highlight The Jeremiahs outstanding talent for giving their songs melodies and arrangements that feel resoundingly traditional whilst delivering lyrics of 21st Century relevance. Whilst well aware that this is an effective combination, they don’t treat it as a straightjacket. Their liner notes for Baby Don’t Go make it clear the use of a chorus couplet, Baby don’t go… I love you so… was a very deliberate decision to mix up verse lyrics that evoke a timeless narrative of love lost with a chorus that takes its style from the pop songs of recent decades. On this track, especially, the band is well served by having The Henry Girls guesting on backing vocals, their American influenced close harmonies, firmly rooted in Donegal, making them an ideal choice.
Whilst the songs inevitably focus attention on Joe, the instrumental skills of James and J-C ensure the arrangements are equally notable, both in their support of the vocals and with instrumental breaks that cement the traditional feel but at times also reveal a strong jazz influence. An influence that’s never allowed to overwhelm the band’s Celtic roots. All of these elements come to the fore in the instrumental tracks, especially when, for Spring Fling and A Summer Night, the line-up expands to include Julien Bruneteau guesting on flutes and whistles. Julien, French, as the name would suggest, is a player equally fluent in Celtic idioms and jazz improvs. His whistles also figure prominently on Derry Gaol, a song that, with lyrics telling of harsh sentences for minor crimes and even harsher conditions in the gaol, could so easily be traditional. In fact, it comes from the writing of Alan Burke and Tim Potts. When The Jeremiahs look beyond the band for material they pick some of the best. The other ‘borrowed’ song is a haunting tale of love and hardship, Passage West, written by Co. Cork singer songwriter John Spillane, the band’s arrangement making glorious use of both Julien’s flute and The Henry Girls’ voices.
An experienced sound engineer, James Ryan took care of the recording and mixing of the first album but for The Femme Fatale of Maine he’s passed responsibility over to Lúnasa’s Trevor Hutchinson. Trevor was thus on hand to also add the final ingredient to the arrangements, his superb double bass playing. This album is the complete package, whether your tastes lean more towards the songs or the tunes, you will find it brings a smile to your lips and gets your feet tapping in equal measure. Some outstanding young musicians have emerged from the Dublin folk scene over the last couple of years and this second album from The Jeremiahs shows they’ve earned their place alongside the likes of Lankum and Daoiri Farrell.