Putting on Airs – April 2015 Reviews

By Jamie O’Brien

Norah Rendell – Spinning Yarns

I started playing this album and was immediately stunned. What a voice Canadian Norah Rendell has: rich, warm, a touch of humor and lots of soul. She’s selected a dozen songs and performs them to perfection. Over the years, Rendell has worked with groups like the Outside Track, the Mairtin de Cogain Project and Paddy O’Brien’s Doon Ceili Band and is now carving out a solo career.

Unfortunately, I have no liner notes, so I can’t tell you exactly who provides the accompaniments. I know Rendell plays flute and whistle – like her vocals, her playing is excellent. And from her website, I see that Brian Miller (guitarist and bouzouki player with Bua), guitarists Randy Gosa and Daithi Sproule, Ailie Robertson (harp) and multi-instrumentalist Adam Kiesling are all involved in this recording. The sound they create perfectly matches her singing. There’s always something interesting taking place in the arrangements, but it is Rendell who is always at the forefront.

The songs she selects are also first class. Again, I don’t know much about them – many sound familiar, though in the main the titles are new to me. There seems to be a good mix of material from both sides of the Atlantic. The overall sound is distinctly Irish, though there is something about her singing and occasionally the instrumentation that introduces elements of old timey.

With a voice like hers, Rendell is certainly going to make her mark. I look forward to seeing her perform live.


Bernadette Morris – All The Ways You Wander

Bernadette Morris has a nice sweet voice – and I mean that in the best possible way ever. I’ve never heard her before, but since All The Ways You Wander arrived on my doorstep, I’ve been reveling in the beauty and gentleness of her singing. It also helps that she’s chosen some excellent songs and is accompanied by a fine bunch of musicians, making this such a good album.

There are 11 tracks in all, including an instrumental, a set of jigs featuring Morris’ violin playing. The track opens with some lovely guitar and a concertina taking the melody: Niall McCrickard provides the former and Ciaran Hanna the latter before Morris joins them. (Hanna also plays whistles on the album.)

Other musicians include Ruairi Cunnane on bouzouki and bodhran/shaker player Rohan Young. Richard Nelson (Dobro) and Morris’ sister Marie (violin) also appear on one track each. Producer Sean Og Graham’s contribution includes guitar, bouzouki and keyboard. Together, the band presents a sound ranging from quite traditional, through a contemporary approach and includes a track with a wonderful parlor sound. In spite of this variety, there is continuity and the album flows excellently from start to finish, making you wish it wouldn’t end.

But end it does … with a superb interpretation of “Sweet Forget Me Not”, a song passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. There is also a strong, desperately sad version of “Once I Loved”, adding new charm to the song. And “Captain Glenn”, a new song for me, is a somewhat gruesome recounting of events on a sea voyage. This is the quality of Morris’ songs. She mixes a couple of contemporary pieces (John Spillane, Barry Kerr) with some traditional ones, often rarely heard, or at least versions of songs that are not common. The result is a compelling album that succeeds on all levels: performance, material, arrangements – everything.


Tish Hinojosa –¬†After The Fair

It was many years ago I first came across Tish Hinojosa – more as a backup singer than anything else. I loved her voice and began to look out for her music. Over the years, I’ve built up quite a collection of her recordings and I love them all. She’s one of those artists who seem to make classic albums that are her best – and then releases something even better! In fact, in my opinion everything she’s done is the best!

The latest ‘best’ is After The Fair, an album in which she attempts to gain perspective on her almost-decade spent living in Hamburg, Germany. The result is 11 wonderful songs, full of images and emotion.

There is humor, as demonstrated in her “I Saw An Alien” (“Don’t mean a Mexican, I mean a real one” – what a wonderful line); introspection (“Cobblestones”, co-written with her son, Adam Hinojosa Barker); romance (“Infinity Times Ten”, think 1960s girl groups); the Beatles (partly in the early-Beatles influenced “Tu Cancion” and a Spanish language version of Paul McCartney’s “A Certain Softness”). The album presents many facets of Hinojosa’s outlook on life and gives a fascinating, entertaining insight.

The album comfortably moves through the various styles, keeping your attention with quality of material, musicianship and production. Mostly recorded in Berlin by Moe Jaksch, who seems play almost all the instruments, with guest spots by Hinojosa’s main accompanist Marvin Dykhuis on mandolin, and a number of other musicians providing everything from trumpet to banjo to steel guitar to violin to singing saw.

There are few singers who are able to produce an album that has no weak points whatsoever, but Tish Hinojosa for me is always on the mark. Though her albums are full of high spots, there is usually something that presents an even higher spot. This album is no exception. One of the three Spanish language songs happens to be one of my favorite Woody Guthrie songs – “Deportees”, the sad story of migrant workers who perish in a plane crash. I have rarely heard a bad version of this tragedy. Hinojosa takes it to a new level with her translation – “Los Deportados” is beautifully performed and hopefully will gain a wider audience.