Various Artists - I Am Of Ireland: Yeats in Song

2021 studio album

I Am Of Ireland: Yeats in Song - Various Artists

the bright young folk review

A few weeks ago, John Hinshelwood released Called Back, an album on which he set fourteen poems by Emily Dickinson to music. Now, Raymond Driver, a retired illustrator based in Washington DC does the same for William Butler Yeats, arguably Ireland’s greatest poet.

It’s not the first time Driver has composed and arranged music for Yeats’ poems. Three years ago he set 25 of the poet’s love songs to music for Never Give All The Heart, an album by American soprano Laura Whittenberger accompanied on piano by Peyson Moss.

Several of then are revisited here, as a digital-only release, along with new additions from the original 100 that he devised. While a remake of sorts in parts, the duplicated poems have new arrangements and, instead of a solo voice and piano, the choices feature more than 30 Celtic and folk-music artists.

Yeats has been set to music before by other artists, but the interpretations by Driver and his collaborators, among them West County Cork traditional singer Bríd O’Riordan, Lunasa’s Dave Curley and instrumentalists Cormac De Barra on harp, cellist Natalie Haas and The Bothy Band fiddler Kevin Burke, are arguably the definitive settings of these works.

It opens with Dervish’s Cathy Jordan on vocals and Seamie O’Dowd, both from Yeats’ ancestral home of Sligo, adding guitar, fiddle and piano with the traditional sounding title track. The pair also join forces for the waltzing Faery Song (from Land Of The Heart’s Desire) alongside Burke with Jordan playing bones.

Subsequently, O’Dowd’s brogue takes the solo spotlight on both the reflective fingerpicked bouzouki and Irish whistle coloured The Song Of Wandering Aengus and jaunty album closer The Fiddler Of Dooney.

He also teams with Fergal McAloon from Co.Tyrone’s The Whistlin’ Donkeys on the nimbly picked The Ballad Of The Foxhunter and the more wistful emerald-hued and fiddle swaying balladry of He Tells Of A Valley Of Lovers which features son Stephen on pipes. Meanwhile, McAloon also sings lead, sparsely accompanied by Niall Hanna’s guitar, on The Wild Swans Of Coole, Yeats’ poem about lost love, and teams with piper Mick O’Brien for When You Are Old.

Moving back up the running order, the second track, the dreamily slow He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven, is the first of three featuring the voice of John Doyle from Solas, alongside the jazzy guitar inflections and low whistle of the politically potent September 1913 and a melancholic medieval troubadouresque arrangement with Uillean pipes informing An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.

With Oregon harpist Laura Zaerr aboard, another medieval-style treatment comes with Eleanor Shanley’s vocals and Burke’s melancholic fiddle and harp for poem of passing time The Falling Of The Leaves. More shimmering harp, this time from Cormac De Barra, can also be heard on The Pity Of Love accompanying Ashley Davis, who, while a native of Kansas, is steeped in Celtic folk music and has sung with Lunasa, whose Colin Farrell, here on whistles, is also part of her regular band.

While the bulk of the musicians have an Irish background, there’s also two prominent English voices to be heard. The first is deep-voiced Isle of Man native Christine Collister, who features on three numbers, first up being the lovely The Lake Isle of Innisfree, Yeats’s yearning for rural Sligo, accompanied by Canadian fiddler Joel Zifkin and American guitarist Gabriel Rhodes. She’s then joined by Burke on fiddle for the lullaby The Two Trees and, again by Rhodes, on The Mask with haunting strings by Danny Levin.

The other anglo presence belongs to Jackie Oates who is also showcased on three numbers, the buoyant walking beat strum of Brown Penny with Rhodes on accordion and guitar, the airy waltz The White Birds with Natalie Haas on cello and John Spiers on melodeon, and, finally, accompanying herself on violin, the lullaby The Cradle Song.

Returning to Gaelic roots, Galway’s Dave Curley teams with Lunasa’s Cillian Vallely (Uilleann pipes), Trevor Hutchinson (bass) and Farrell (fiddle) for a gently circling fingerpicked arrangement of He Tells of the Perfect Beauty before taking a solo spot with Never Give All Your Heart.

On the remaining three tracks, fresh-voiced newcomer Bríd O’Riordan impresses in her collaboration with O’Brien on low whistle for Ephemera, the other two both spotlighting another member of Solas, multi-instrumentalist Mick McAuley on a hushed, emotive reading of the unrequited love poem Folly of Being Comforted with yearning violin from New Yorker Dana Lyn. Finally, McAuley accompanies himself on guitar, melodeon and whistles with a definite slow waltzing Irish-Americana hue, Yeats’ poem offering two visions of Ireland, the Anglicised and the traditional, The Lover Tells Of The Rose In His Heart.

While perhaps Yeats’ best known work, The Second Coming, is conspicuous by its absence, this is a terrific collection created and performed with a real passion for the poetry and all it invokes that both reinforces Yeats’ legacy but equally stands as a work in its own right.

Mike Davies

Released digitally on 23 July 2021 on Merrow Records.

Co-produced by Raymond Driver and Paul Marsteller
Composed and arranged by Raymond Driver

1. I Am of Ireland

Cathy Jordan: vocals
Seamie O’Dowd: fiddles, guitars, backing vocals, percussion, piano

2. He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

John Doyle: vocals, guitar

3. The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Christine Collister: vocals
Gabriel Rhodes: guitar
Joel Zifkin: fiddle
David Gossage: whistles

4. He Tells of the Perfect Beauty

Dave Curley: vocals, guitar
Cillian Vallely: uilleann pipes, low whistle
Trevor Hutchinson:bass
Colin Farrell: fiddle

5. The Falling of the Leaves

Eleanor Shanley: vocals
Kevin Burke: fiddle
Laura Zaerr: harp

6. The Wild Swans at Coole

Fergal McAloon: vocals
Niall Hanna: guitar

7. Brown Penny

Jackie Oates: vocals, fiddle
Gabriel Rhodes: guitar, accordion
Rick Richards: percussion

8. The Song of Wandering Aengus

Seamie O’Dowd: vocals, bouzouki, fiddles, whistles

9. The Two Trees

Christine Collister: vocals
Kevin Burke: fiddle
Cal Scott: bass, guitar, piano

10. The Folly of Being Comforted

Mick McAuley: vocals, guitars, melodeon, bouzouki
Dana Lyn: violin

11. The Pity of Love

Ashley Davis: vocals
Colin Farrell: fiddle, whistles
Cormac De Barra: harp

12. Faery Song (from The Land of Heart’s Desire)

Cathy Jordan: vocals, bones
Kevin Burke: fiddle
Seamie O’Dowd: guitar, harmonica, mandolin, banjo

13. When You are Old

Fergal McAloon: vocals
Mick O’Brien: uilleann pipes and low whistle
Niall Hanna: guitar

14. An Irish Airman Foresees his Death

John Doyle: vocals, guitar
Cillian Vallely: uilleann pipes

15. The White Birds

Jackie Oates: vocals, fiddle
John Spiers: melodeon
Jack Rutter: bouzouki
Natalie Haas: cello

16. The Lover Tells of the Rose in his Heart

Mick McAuley: vocals, guitars, tin whistle, low whistle, melodeon

17. The Mask

Christine Collister: vocals
Gabriel Rhodes: guitar
Danny Levin: strings

18.The Ballad of the Foxhunter

Fergal McAloon: vocals
Leonard Barry: uilleann pipes, tin whistle
Seamie O’Dowd: bouzouki, guitar, banjo, backing vocals

19. September 1913

John Doyle: vocals, guitar
Cillian Vallely: low whistle

20. The Cradle Song

Jackie Oates: vocals, fiddle

21. Never Give all the Heart

Dave Curley: vocals, guitar, tenor guitar

22. Ephemera

Brid O’Riordan: vocals
Derek O’Sullivan: guitar
Mick O’Brien: low whistle

23. He Tells of a Valley Full of Lovers

Fergal McAloon: vocals
Kevin Burke: fiddle
Seamie O’Dowd: guitar, harmony fiddle, mandolin
Stephen O’Dowd: uilleann pipes

24. The Fiddler of Dooney

Seamie O’Dowd: vocals, bouzouki, fiddle

Various Artists discography