This wide ranging collection of songs and tunes celebrates Nuala Kennedy’s decade-long career as a solo artist. Recorded in the studio as live in Sydney, Los Angeles and Edinburgh (with two different backing bands), Behave the Bravest goes back to the artist’s roots as a player and singer of traditional music in Ireland.
Indeed one can’t get more traditional than the opening track, Lovely Armoy. Beautifully phrased by Kennedy, her light, sweet but not cloying voice perfectly fits this song of emigration. The subtle accompaniment of guitar, button accordion and drums never threatens to overwhelm the vocal. Kennedy’s flute interludes are the icing on the cake.
Although the music is all traditional, Kennedy’s interpretations are anything but staid. A Scottish song of unrequited love, His Bonnet so Blue, has a lively jazzy flute solo whilst Mo Bhuachaill Dubh Dhonn (one of a brace of songs sung in Irish Gaelic) fairly bounces along.
The centrepiece of the album is the epic ballad Fair Annie of the Loch Royanne. This song, a version of Lord Gregory (Child 76), is stunning in its simplicity. Performed at a medium tempo, Kennedy’s clear vocals ensure that the listener’s attention is kept for the 8 minutes it takes to tell the sad tale of Annie.
Death and the Maiden is, perhaps, a surprising choice for inclusion on an album of Celtic music. Kennedy chooses the version by Shirley Collins as her starting point and reinvents the song as a lighter take on the subject. In the liner notes, Kennedy says she was influenced by the character of Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. It’s a pity that the lyrics are not printed inside the album as it would be amusing to see Death’s lines written IN CAPITAL LETTERS as in the novels.
There are three tunesets on the album. Le Funambule and the reel set are great fun but both pale beside the album’s closer, The Broken Lantern. This set of three tunes displays Kennedy’s Irish flute playing to the fullest. Even at speed her playing is precise, clear and well-articulated. It’s a delight to listen to.
Played and sung with verve and panache by a woman at the top of her game, Behave the Bravest is a fitting album to celebrate a decade of music making.Stephen Witkowski
Released the 29th January 2016 on Under the Arch Records
1. Lovely Armoy
2. His Bonnet so Blue
3. My Brown Haired Boy/Young Tom Ennis
4. Le Funambule
5. Fair Annie of the Loch Royanne
6. Úrchnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte
7. Glen Where the Deer Is / The Ivy Leaf / The Dublin Lasses
8. The Lion’s Den/The Burning House
9. Death and the Lady
10. Muñeira de Paula / The Broken Lantern / Barralín