The Immortal Jukebox’s Greatest Hit : Mary Gauthier (I Drink), Iris Dement (Easy Getting Harder) Ordinary/Extraordinary Stories

I was downing a couple of bottles of Mr Whitehead’s excellent cider at the, ‘Pub With No Name’ the other evening and fell into conversation with one of the hostelry’s regulars who commented (approvingly) on my most recent post on, ‘The Third Man’.

He told me that he’d been following The Jukebox since 2017 and must have by now read more than a hundred posts.

I asked him did he have any favourites and he replied :

‘Well, I’m a major Van Morrison fan and can see he is your specialist subject so I always look out for those. And, I always think there’s never enough written about The Blues so I especially enjoyed your Post on Little Walter.

Still, I would also have to say some of the Posts I’ve found most intriguing have been about artists I had never heard of previously like Arthur Alexander, Toussaint McCall and Paul Brady’.

He added, ‘How many Posts have you written since you started?’

I quickly looked up my Stats and said to my own astonishment, ‘I can hardly believe it but it seems I’ve published more than 320 Posts since March 2014’.

As he ordered up another round of drinks Declan mused, ‘I suppose your most popular Post must be one about one of the classic Baby Boomer artists like Van or Dylan or Carole King?’

‘Actually, you’d be surprised’ I said.

‘The most popular Post ever, by a significant margin, is the Post I wrote on Mary Gauthier and Iris Dement – who are not exactly household names!’

‘And, its a Post that every week, in countries all over the globe is being discovered by new readers’.

He immediately looked it up on his iPad (other tablets are available) and when he had finished reading said:

‘Well, those are two great songs and I like the way you’ve introduced the theme of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of all our lives. How many followers did you have when you wrote this?’

‘ A couple of hundred then and more than 10,000 now’ I replied.

‘That’s a lot of people who probably haven’t read your most popular post – you ought to ReBlog it!’.

So for Declan and all of you who haven’t yet read it here’s my Greatest Hit!

‘It’s just an ordinary story about the way things go … Round and round nobody knows but the highway goes on forever’ (Rodney Crowell)

‘It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine.’ (Raymond Carver)

I live an ordinary life.

So do you.

Yet, I guarantee that if we sat down and talked honestly about the lives we have led, the people we have met, the narrative arc of our lives; including the successes, the mis-steps, the fulfilled and broken dreams, the regrets and the wonders, that we would each think the other has led a truly extraordinary life.

All our lives contain experiences we struggle to understand and come to terms with: unresolved longings, fault lines, tender wounds, hidden scars. In a very real sense we will always remain mysteries to ourselves.

I believe that our attraction to art – to stories and songs – is because the best of them resonate with and go some way to help explain the eternal mystery of why we exist and why we have turned out the way we have.

A great song can be our pilgrim’s companion and staff as we navigate through life’s slalom ride of fate and happenstance while attempting to fashion a connected, meaningful life.

The singer-songwriters featured on the Jukebox today; Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier, share the ability to look compassionately, honestly and unflinchingly at ‘everyday lives’ illuminating them with sharp eyed, flinty, observations and heart rending detail.

These are songs about the dignity and indignities of real lives not adverts for ‘lifestyles’. Popular culture, as these artists demonstrate, can offer far more than mere consumer branding: it can offer us the insights and balm of art we yearn for as we struggle to make it through, or knock off, another ordinary day.

Iris Dement’s early childhood was spent, as the youngest of fourteen children on a tiny island in rural north eastern Arkansas before her father moved the family to California, as millions had done before, in search of work and a better future.

Crucially, she was also raised in the bosom of the Pentecostal Church with a mother who daily sang its sweet consoling hymns as she went about her domestic tasks – a process Iris recreates with tender love in her song, ‘Mama’s Opry’.

The influence of those hymns pervades all of Iris’ songs though her own relationship with faith has been troubled.

Her songs seem to me always to be charged with a sense of the sublime, a conviction that every life, however small, burdened and disregarded, carries a light that shines through the darkest hours.

Above all, the gospel influence is felt by the listener through her voice: a gloriously cracked country voice that throbs with yearning passion. It’s a voice made to embody intense emotions, a voice that cannot and will not be denied.

At the end of an Iris Dement song I always feel both uplifted and exhausted no matter what the subject of the song because her vocals are freighted with a humanity of heart, flesh, blood, bone and spirit that hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.

A punch that takes away the breath while reawakening you to the miracle of every breath you take.

‘Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day’ is Iris Dement’s finest song and one of the best songs ever written about the passions, dreads and torments involved in living a seemingly ‘everyday’ life’.

The song steadily, plainly and without hysteria or pity presents us with a portrait of a mature, self aware woman struggling to come to terms with the sense of strangled entrapment she feels in her marriage, her job and her community.

The beauty and art of the song lies in the dry eyed simplicity with which the weight of accumulating straws on the back of the protagonist are evoked: the rain, the buzzing alarm clock, the marital conversations and lovemaking reduced to mechanical routine.

The radio mast lights blink on simultaneously highlighting and mocking her dreams of another life with a different name in another town. She knows she will never make it to Couer d’Alene. And yet, though Easy’s getting harder every day she carries on.

She carries on.

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Mary Gauthier writes songs of bright boned shocking intensity.

Before she took up songwriting in her thirties she had lived a life filled with more drama and incident than Dickens himself would have dared invented in a multi volume novel.

She has been; an orphaned foundling, a teenage runaway and a street and college student of philosophy. She has known the degredation of addiction and the unremitting daily struggles of recovery. She has been arrested and jailed and also triumphed as a highly successful Cajun Cook and Restaurateur.

All the while with her keen intelligence and moral rigour she was storing away these experiences so that when she came to write her own songs she could have no truck with dishonesty or glib sentimentality.

There is an almost brutal matter-of-factness in many of her songs.

She is able to honestly describe desperate lives lived the gutter because she has been there. There is respect but no romance in her descriptions of such lives.

It is the test of a true artist to be able to present recognisable living characters but not to idly judge them.

The reader or listener can do that if they feel comfortable casting a stone.

‘I Drink’ was played by Bob Dylan on one of his Theme Time Radio Hour radio programmes – an accolade given to very few contemporary songwriters.

Bob, the Keeper of American Song, would have recognised the spare elegance of the song and the craft involved in creating a wholly believable genealogy of alcoholism.

This is not the testament of someone who has won through.

It is the confession of someone anchored in addiction unblinkingly reporting on the history and daily realities of that condition.

The slowly dropping hours and self absorption of the habitual drinker are superbly evoked as the narrator relates the banal details of how he cooks his TV dinner and the flatly acknowledged realisation that the face in the mirror is the same as that of the father silhouetted in the lighter flame a generation earlier.

Mary Gauthier’s words, sung carefully with a court reporters calm and measured clarity, move beyond prose into the realm of folk poetry especially in the nursery rhyme chorus which hits home with the keening knell of pure truth.

As the silence descends at the end of the song you are left bereft and sadly aware of the terrible imprisoning and yet alluring power, for the prisoner, of such cycles of defeat and pain.

Iris Dement and Mary Gauthier with immense skill show us lives that but for fortune any one of us might have led or might be on the way to leading.

Their visions are not comfortable to confront but to avoid such visions is to impoverish our humanity and our moral imaginations.

So Pilgrim, as you listen remember that everyone you meet today and tomorrow is almost certainly in the middle of a much harder battle than you can see.

I don’t know about you but I’m sure that, wherever it comes from, I need a little mercy now.

Further Listening:

You can’t go wrong with these artists. All their CDs will repay your time with compound interest.

With Iris Dement I would start with, ‘My Life’ before moving on to, ‘Infamous Angel’, ‘Lifeline’ (a deeply moving gospel set), ‘The Way I Should’ and her comeback classic, ‘Sings The Delta’.

I was both impressed and moved by her CD, ‘The Trackless Woods’ from 2015 which Takes the Poems of the great Anna Akhamatova as the foundation for a  series of engrossing Songs.

With Mary Gauthier I would start with, ‘Drag Queens in Limousines’ and then move on to, ‘Mercy Now’, ‘The Foundling’, ‘Filth and Fire’ and ‘Trouble and Love’.

Mary’s latest project from 2018 is the very powerful, ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’ which she wrote in collaboration with US Veterans and their families.

They are both well represented on YouTube and other sharing sites.

 

The Band, Martin Carthy, Anton Karas : The Third Man Theme

You listen to a piece of music; a song or a symphony and by some miracle of neuro-chemistry it is encoded into your memory.

It may lie dormant there forever more.

Or, it may be a recurring theme in your mind – a faithful companion as you navigate life’s crooked highway.

There is no predicting when a certain piece of music will leave the draughty halls of memory and voila! suddenly be right there playing at the forefront of your mind.

Sometimes the trigger is a person you suddenly think of decades after you last met.

Sometimes the trigger is a return to a place you once lived in when you were young and carefree or young and anguished.

Sometimes you have to accept that the recurrence of this piece of music in your life is like so much else – a mystery.

Why I should have woken up last night with, ‘The Third Man Theme’ dancing through my consciousness is beyond my understanding.

But, there indubitably, it was.

So, nothing for it but to patrol the shelves in my music library (adorned with a framed photograph of Bernard Herrmann) labelled, ‘Movie Soundtracks’ and seek out The Third Man and match my drowsy remembrance with the real thing.

The valves warm up, the stylus caresses the vinyl and …

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I think the dance listening to this tune inspired me to perform must have a long Germanic tongue twisting name but whatever it’s called it sure sets the limbs a twirl and gets the blood singing at 6 o’clock in the morning!

The Homeric Anton Karas and his magic Zither.

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Now, obviously having played the record four or five times without in anyway exhausting it’s charm and effervescent brilliance there was nothing to do but to ascend the spiral staircase to the Film Library and make my way to the, ‘Film Noir’ shelves (adorned with a framed photograph of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer) and pull out my Blu Ray copy of Carol Reed’s 1949 masterpiece and settle down to breakfast in war torn Vienna with Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli and Trevor Howard.

Of course, scanning the credits (and I’m the kind of person who always scans the credits) I was reminded that a very important contribution to the film’s moral complexity and fluidity of tone and character was supplied by novelist and screenwriter Graham Greene.

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Graham Greene had a cinematic imagination and a compulsion to test how real men and women wrestled agonisingly with the moral and philosophical dilemmas of living through the personal, social and cultural catastrophe of War.

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What made some people behave heroically while others plumbed depths of depravity?

Was survival the supreme value in such times?

What hope is there for love and loyalty and friendship amid the falling bombs, the machine gun fire and the starvation?

Greene had been a film critic and knew that there was only one British Film Director with the eye and the empathy to bring such a story to haunting life on the screen – Carol Reed.

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Reed had been a Film Maker since the mid 1930s and he had diligently learned his trade.

The two films preceding, ‘The Third Man’ –  ‘Odd Man Out’ and, ‘The Fallen Idol’ were both highly atmospheric and technically impeccable productions.

Reed knew how to make the camera tell the story, how to frame actors and action, how to plant suggestion in the mind of the audience, how to build and release tension, how to reveal and obscure character and how to thread humour and surprise through a narrative.

He knew that music, underscoring or prefiguring image, made a film burn itself into the imagination of an audience.

Reed knew that you had to conjure up some scenes which would stay forever in the dreams of the audience and that the key to those scenes was rarely plot but lighting, dialogue, scenery and atmosphere.

Some people, and I’m in that company, will tell you that 90% of ensuring success for a film is casting.

So, your film is set in Post War Vienna where the buildings lie in ruins and where every shade of human virtue and vice is present in public or in the shadows.

You need a, larger than life ‘Villain’ who has enigmatic charm as well as a sulphurous lack of scruples.

Someone who knows exactly what he’s doing and who is always able to convince himself (and most of the audience) that whatever he chooses to do is entirely reasonable in all the circumstances.

These are not normal times – you cant expect me to be bound by those rules we followed before (if we ever did) can you?

You need an actor who has presence, who fills the screen, seducing your attention.

You need an actor who can be a Con Man who believes his own Con.

You need an actor who can deliver oracular dialogue while expertly balancing deadly seriousness with black humour.

You need Orson Welles.

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Now, your, ‘Hero’ is not going to be a charismatic match for Orson Welles (who could be!).

No, you’re going to need an actor who in perilous times is more than tempted by the charms of an old friend.

An actor who struggles to know what’s the right thing to do in all the circumstances.

An actor who is weary and reluctant to act until he’s forced by events to act.

An event like falling in love.

An event like seeing, being unable not to see once seen, how terrible the results of a sulphurous lack of scruples can be for the innocent who didn’t know enough to get out of the way.

You need a Hero who is troubled and who will remain troubled whatever course of action he chooses in the end.

The sound of the bullet dies in the air but it will echo in your soul forever more.

The woman walks past you and keeps on walking and all you can do is draw on your cigarette and start your own lonely walk into the future,

You need Joseph Cotton.

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Every Film Noir has to have a role for an actress who can believably drive or accompany a seemingly rational man as he commits terrible acts which will lead almost inevitably to self destruction.

The camera has to love her.

The ghost of electricity has to howl in the bones of her face.

You’d do anything for her.

Anything.

You’ll never really know her and though that drives you mad it spurs you on too.

She can lead you to the gallows or walk away from you without a backward glance but you know, you know, she’ll never leave your dreams.

Never.

This film is set in Austria after a World War so you’re going to need an enigmatic European beauty.

You’re going to need Alida Valli.

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Assemble all those elements – the script, the location, the cast and the music – and all you have to do now is ensure all the elements cohere perfectly into a work which once seen can never be forgotten.

Begin at the beginning with a title sequence which introduces the mysterious theme tune and the expectant audience, breathless in the dark, is yours – Roll ‘em Carol!

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The Third Man was an enormous box office and critical success and was immediately recognised as a haunting work of art.

And, everyone recognised that Anton Karas’ music was absolutely integral to the triumph of the film as a whole.

Carol Reed had showed astonishing perception in realising that the musician he chanced upon when out for a night carousing in Vienna had a sound that would enchant tne world.

And, it was surely this enchantment that The Band saught to invoke when they recorded their own version for their homage to the music of their youth with the Album, ‘Moondog Matinee’.

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There’s something of the ‘There’s no one watching let’s play what we like’ sound of The Basement Tapes recreated here.

Kick your shoes off, set your rocker rockin’ and light up your biggest grin!

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The Third Man Theme has a hypnotic quality that calls out a cross the decades.

Certainly it called out to Folk Maestro Martin Carthy who tends to not be recognised enough for his distinctively brilliant guitar playing.

Remedied right here Martin!

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To ensure you end up with a great film you’ve got to have a great ending.

The audience leaves the cinema with the ending burned into their minds and looking at the film as a whole in the light of the ending.

Great Films have great endings.

Think of, ‘Le Quatre Cent Coups’, ‘Ikiru’ or, The Searchers’.

Think, above all of the devastating final scene of The Third Man.

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For Ramon – a true man of Film and a true Friend.

Gordon Lightfoot, Nanci Griffith, Ricky Scaggs & Tony Rice : 10 Degrees & Getting Colder

Where you headed?

East to the Sunrise or West to the setting Sun?

South to the Jungles or North to the Forests?

Where you headed?

One time I was sheltering from the wind outside of Medicine Hat and when the 18 wheeler pulled to a halt the driver asked, ‘Where you headed?’ so I said, ‘North to Alaska, through the woods and the frozen lakes. I’m trying to find the straight path again’.

‘Hop in – I hope you like Gordon Lightfoot ’cause I got nothing but Gord on these tapes and we sure got a ways to go to get you to Alaska.’

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Where you headed?

It can be read as a very specific question or as a very general question or as both – like all the really interesting questions.

We are all headed somewhere or away from somewhere endlessly redrawing the map of our lives.

We all have miles to go before we sleep – we just don’t know how many miles we still have left on the clock.

Where you headed?

Sometimes the world falls on your shoulders and wherever you’ve fetched up, for whatever reason, you find it’s time to head back to where you were raised up to lick your wounds and get ready to ramble again.

And, if you want a true voice to accompany you down the road as you try to find that straight path let me tell you that you’ll struggle to find a truer one than that of Gordon Lightfoot.

Gordon knows all about the ramblin’, about the taverns, about the gamblin’, about the lovin’ and all the extremes of temperature we encounter on the road.

You know this is a man who has been places and seen things and heard all kinds of stories from all kinds of men and women.

Stories you can’t help but recognise when they’re told in Gord’s rich baritone croon.

‘He was standin’ by the highway with a sign that just said ‘Mother’ ….’

Now I don’t usually find the citations issued by august bodies when inducting an artist to the company of the great and good worth quoting but in the case of Gordon Lightfoot’s elevation to a companion of The Order of Canada I’m gonna make an exception :

‘A singer-songwriter, musician and poet, Gordon Lightfoot has been telling our stories for over five decades. He possesses a unique ability to blend contemporary urban music with our traditional roots. Genuine and reserved, he has a down to earth style that defies categorization’.

Where you headed?

Down the road a piece?

Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?

Santiago de Compostela?

Rain fallin’ on your shoes?

Feet almost frozen?

World fallin’ on your shoulders?

Where you headed?

Keep on keepin’ on.

Someone might just pull off on the shoulder and you’ll be on your way again.

But, remember people don’t usually stop if you don’t put up a sign.

‘Won’t you listen to me brother ….’

Nanci Griffith has always had a very good ear for Songs.

She’s a troubadour like Gordon Lightfoot and knows that some songs bloom every time they’re played – season after season after season.

You just have to respect ’em, sing ’em right and let ’em fly!

Nanci sings, ’10 Degrees ..’ just right.

Where you headed?

Rome? Jerusalem? Mecca? Kedarnath?

I’d advise you to travel light – you’re carrying enough baggage in that heart of yours.

Where you headed?

Wherever it is you might never get there.

You might turn back.

You might find the road you set out on takes a turning you couldn’t have imagined from looking at the map.

You might find your steps matched by another’s and decide to set off together on another path altogether.

Where you headed?

Now, let’s turn to the high lonesome sound of Bluegrass aces Tony Rice and Ricky Scaggs.

When it comes to pickin’ clean and singin’ sweet you can’t, just can’t, beat Tony and Ricky.

They’ve logged up sideman credits with marquee names but I always like the taste of the pure drop myself so let’s hear their clear as a mountain stream version of, ’10 degrees …’

‘ .. he held the sign up higher where no decent soul could miss it .. It was ten degrees or colder down by Boulder Dam that day ..’

 

Where you headed?

Even if you’re following a path that’s been trod a million times before you’ll leave only your own footprints and no one can walk the way for you.

Where you headed?

Arcadia? Atlantis? Camelot? Elysian Fields?

Wherever you set out for you’ll find you’re changed by the journey even if you never reach the fabled destination.

Accept the wind – at your back or in your face.

Where you headed?

Lift your eyes to the sunny hill far ahead.

Walk on Pilgrim!

Walk on!

Where you headed?

‘Now he’s traded off his Martin but his troubles are not over ..’.

Sing it Gordon.

Where you headed?

Listen.

‘He was standin’ by the highway with a sign that just said ‘Mother’ when he heard a driver comin’ ..’

Where you headed?

Bon Voyage.

Eleanor McEvoy, Ailie, Paula Meehan, Moyra Barry : Ceiliúradh Mhna Na h-Eireann (Celebrating the Women of Ireland 5)

A little over ambitious with my scheduling!

I forgot that not only did I have a duty to celebrate the season of St Patrick here on The Jukebox I also had to celebrate in person and recover from those celebrations!

So, a little delayed, but I trust well worth the wait, the Official Immortal Jukebox St Patrick’s Day Post!

Now read on ….

All Hail St Patrick!

All Hail the Women of Ireland

Today we conclude our tribute to the intelligence, wisdom and beauty the Women of Ireland have brought to the arts of Song, Poetry and Painting.

Songs by Eleanor McEvoy (At the Mid Hour of Night & A Woman’s Heart) & AIlie (The Rocky Road to Dublin).

A Poetry Reading by Paula Meehan  – ‘The Pattern’.

A Painting by Moyra Barry (1886-1960) : ‘Cinerria’

More years ago than I care to count seeking sanctuary from the crazed cacophony of life in London I frequented an out of the way social club whose clientele was largely comprised of Irish men and women who had emigrated to England in the late 40s/early 50s.

For an hour or two I would savour a pint or two of plain and drink in the rich accents and the rich conversation.

One of the habitues of the club, a whiskery Corkman, let’s call him Seamus, always greeted me by announcing, ‘You buy me a pint of porter and I’ll sing you one of Moore’s Melodies’.

My reply was always, ‘Done – let’s start with, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ and if the thirst is on you and the humour on me we won’t stop until we’ve sung, ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’, ‘The Harp’ and, ‘The Minstrel Boy’ before we leave.

I usually emerged spiritually refreshed if somewhat intoxicated from the porter and the romanticism of the melodies.

Thomas Moore was something of a 19th Century superstar in English and Irish society.

His, ‘Melodies’ lyrics set to established Irish tunes and melodies were much admired by Lord Byron and became songs that entered deep into the consciousness of generations.

As such, in modern Ireland, they came to be regarded, in certain chilly circles, as period pieces from the parlour best left to the tourists to enjoy.

A view I never had any time for.

So, I was delighted to learn that Eleanor McEvoy had recorded an album entirely devoted to Thomas Moore Songs, ‘The Thomas Moore Project’.

The distinguishing mark of Eleanor’s career, for me, was a wholly admirable creative restlessness which led her never to attempt to simply repeat earlier successes but rather to challenge herself to open up new artistic territory with every new record.

It seemed to me that her background; incorporating a music degree, a spell in the RTE Symphony Orchestra and a string of imaginative singer/songwriter albums made her an ideal candidate to present refreshed versions of songs from Moore’s great canon illuminating them brightly for new generations to enjoy.

And, praise be!, the, ‘Thomas Moore Project’ turned out to be an absolute triumph due to the endless care and consideration with which the songs were approached.

Original, imaginative arrangements combined with superb instrumental playing and heart-piercingly intimate vocals shook the dust off and revealed the ravishing beauty and sophisticated emotional acuity of Moore’s works.

Eleanor McEvoy’s take on, ‘At the Mid Hour of Night’ reanimates those, ‘past scenes of delight’ and is indeed rapture to hear.

‘At the mid hour of night when stars are weeping, I fly
To the lonely vale we lov’d when life shone warm in thine eye;
And I think that if spirits can steal from the region of air,
To revisit past scenes of delight; thou wilt come to me there,
And tell me our love is remember’d even in the sky.
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Then I’ll sing the wild song, which once ’twas rapture to hear,
When our voices, both mingling, breathed like one on the ear,
And, as Echo far off thro’ the vale my sad orison rolls,
I think, oh my love! ’tis thy voice from the kingdom of souls
Faintly answering still the notes which once were so dear!’
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Our Poetry Reading today comes from a former Ireland Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan.

She has a plenitude of poetic powers at her command.

Reading through her works it seems that no aspect of the struggle to live a human life in our times has escaped her poetic eye and ear.

There is tenderness and rage, grief and joy and empathy embedded in her poetry.

She is a Poet who believes in the enduring power of Poetry to affect the human heart.

Her Poems exemplify the truth that there is a never to be sounded mysterious energy and power in Poetry.

She has said that, ‘ …Poems tell stories but there are also poems that just give you a moment of vision or transcendence .. two lines, two lines can save a life, I believe it.’

In, ‘The Pattern’ Paula Meehan captures with truth and tenderness the gravitational power of the Mother/Daughter relationship.

Today’s painting is by Moyra Barry.

Her special gift was for flower paintings.

These works have a quality of engaged observation and radiance which forces the viewer to take a breath and really Look!

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Now to a new star from Ireland.

Ailie (Blunnie) from County Leitrim.

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Her debut album. ‘West to the Evening Sun’ was a confident and mature work showcasing a talent that was wholly of the Now while being in no way cut off from the rich and diverse heritage of Irish music.

Highly atmospheric production added to the poetic imagination of her songs ensured the album packed a real punch.

Here she gifts us an unforgettable and invigorating version of the Rocky Road to Dublin.

Ailie plays Piano, Bass and Electric Guitar as well as all the singing here.

Daragh Dukes’ production  makes the whole thing gleam.

My, ‘Brand new pair of brogues’ did some high stepping to this one I can tell you!

I am going to conclude this tribute to Irish Women with a song by Eleanor McEvoy which has rightly become a modern standard, ‘A Woman’s Heart’.

I hope this series has made plain that there are some things only a Woman’s heart can know and that we should be grateful for that knowledge being passed on to us in Songs, Poems and Paintings.

There will never come a time when Eleanor will not be asked to sing this song and there will never come a time when it fails to move all the hearts of those who hear it.

All hail the Women of Ireland!

For Peg, Marguerite, Ann, Roisin, Hannah and Martha Brosnan, Irene, Geraldine and Nina Fitzpatrick, Maura Dee, Deirdre and Sinead Trant, Niamh & Aisling Blackburn and Patricia & Grace O’Sullivan.

 

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Sinead Lohan, Catherine Ann Cullen, Letitia Hamilton, Ceiliúradh Mhna Na h-Eireann (celebrating the Women of Ireland 4)

The Jukebox continues the celebration of the glories of Irish Women with :

Songs from Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (An Mhaigdean Mhara) & Sinead Lohan (Sailing By).

A Painting by Letitia Hamilton (1878-1964)  – ‘A Rest from Hunting’.

A Poetry Reading by Catherine Ann Cullen (Meeting at the Chester Beatty).

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, a Donegal native, is a wonderful fiddler and a spellbinding singer.
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With the traditional music group Altan she has honoured that tradition and shown that there is a considerable global audience for the music when it is performed with heart and drive.
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And, when Mairéad sings the song below there is something more than heart and drive; there is the shiver of an encounter with the numinous.
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Her singing here dives to the deep core of the song and to hidden truths swaying in the subconscious.
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This is a lament and all of our lives will have cause at some point to call out for a lament.
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No life escapes loss and exile. All time is borrowed.
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Is cosúil gur mheath tú nó gur thréig tú an greann

Tá an sneachta go freasach fá bhéal na mbeann’

Do chúl buí daite is do bhéilín sámh
Siúd chugaibh Mary Chinidh ‘s í ‘ndiaidh an Éirne ‘shnámh
A mháithrín mhilis duirt Máire Bhán
Fá bhruach an chladaigh ‘s fá bhéal na trá
Maighdean mhara mo mhaithrín ard
Siúd chugaibh Mary Chinidh ‘s í ‘ndiaidh an Éirne ‘shnámh
Tá mise tuirseach agus beidh go lá
Mo Mháire bhroinngheal ‘s mo Phádraig bán
Ar bharr na dtonna ‘s fá bhéal na trá
Siúd chugaibh Mary Chinidh ‘s í ‘ndiaidh an Éirne ‘shnámh

 

 

You seem to be pining and forsaking the fun
The snowdrifts are heavy by the fords in the burn
Your bright golden tresses and smile gentle and mild
I give you Mary Kinney who has swum the ocean wide
“Darling mother, ” cries Máire Bhán
From the banks of the ocean and down by the tide
“Mermaid, my mother, my pride”
I give you Mary Kinney who has swum the ocean wide
I’m tired and weary and will be ’til dawn
For my darling Mary and my Pádraid bán
As I ride on the billows and drift with the tide
I give you Mary Kinney who has swum the ocean wide.

 

The Poet showcase today is Catherine Ann Cullen.

She has written a wonderful lyrical and informative essay (in essence an introduction to her PhD) which references the ‘Singing Without Ceasing’ and the ‘Murmur of Voices’ which formed the musical and cultural landscape of her childhood.

This is perhaps the source of the poise and intense musicality gold-threaded through all her writing.

I highly recommend her collections, ‘A Bone in My Throat’ and, ‘Strange Familiar’.

She has also written a book, nominally for 6-8 year olds, ‘The Magical, Mystical, Marvelous Coat’ which is truly enchanting whatever age your birth certificate might say you are!

All Poetry is a kind of cartography – a description and revelation of the Poet’s territory and the developing outline of a personal, emotional, cultural and literary landscape.

The poem below shows Catherine Ann Cullen weaving a brilliantly coloured and textured tapestry of recollected feeling. .

 

The Painting today is by Letitia Marion Hamilton.

Her paintings of the Irish landscape and rural life have the quality of intoxicatingly hazy summer dreams that linger in the imagination.

Artwork by Letitia Marion Hamilton, A REST FROM HUNTING, Made of oil on board

 

It is very rare for an artist enjoying critical and commercial success and with the promise of greater success in store to decide to simply walk away to pursue another life away from the stage.

Yet, that is exactly what Sinead Lohan has done.

In the mid/late 1990s she released two highly prized records, ‘Who Do You Think I Am’ and, ‘No Mermaid’ which still get selected from the Jukebox’s extensive library on a frequent basis.

Two of her songs were covered by Folk Icon Joan Baez and all seemed set fair for a stellar career as she was capable of writing distinctive hypnotic songs and of performing them with beguiling charm.

No new material has emerged since 1998 so we will have to treasure what we have.

Thanks for the songs and the singing Sinead.

If you enjoyed this post and know anyone who is Irish or of Irish heritage (and you do!) share it with them and ask them to share it further.

Next Post tomorrow Sunday 17th March, St Patrick’s Day – don’t miss it!

Eleanor Shanley, Inni-K, Rita Ann Higgins, Estella Solomons : Ceiliúradh Mhna Na h-Eireann (Celebrating the Women of Ireland 3)

Our celebrations today continue with:

Songs by Eleanor Shanley ( Come Back Paddy Reilly) & Inni-K (Teardrop).

A Painting by Estella Solomons (1882-1968) ‘Moppie Morrow’.

A Poetry Reading by Rita Ann Higgins : ‘The Hedger’.

The Irish temperament is formed out of the knowledge that, in the end, no one survives this world without a broken heart.

Irish singers, painters and poets have for millennia embodied this truth in their works.

Tragedy abides but the true artist, not ignoring the darkness, finds within themselves sparks of joy to light up the glowering sky.

In the voice of Leitrrim’s Eleanor Shanley we find a tenderness and sustaining sweetness that glows in the heart.

The song she sings here Percy French’s, ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly’, has a special poignancy for me as it was my late mother’s favourite song and its haunting air accompanied her coffin as we carried her out of the church at her funeral.

It was also sung as a lullaby to my wife by her late father.

We think of them both with love and gratitude and with smiles and tears whenever we hear this song.

The garden of Eden has vanished they say
But I know the lie of it still
Just turn to the left at the bridge of Finea
And stop when half way to Coote Hill

Tis there I will find it I know sure enough
When fortune has come to my call
Oh, the grass it is green
Around Ballyjamesduff
And the blue sky is over it all

And tones that are tender and tones that are gruff
Are whispering over the sea
“Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home Paddy Reilly to me”

My mother once told me that when I was born
The day that I first saw the light
I looked down the street on that very first morn
And gave a great crow of delight

Now most newborn babies appear in a huff
And start with a sorrowful squall
But I knew I was born in Ballyjamesduff
And that’s why I smile on them all

The baby’s a man now, he’s toil-worn and tough
Still whispers come over the sea

“Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff
Come home Paddy Reilly to me”

The featured Painter today is Estella Solomons who was a Dubliner.

She was a member of a distinguished Jewish family with both her father and brother being mentioned by he great chronicler of Dublin life – James Joyce.

Her mother was a Poet and her Sister an opera singer.

She was deeply involved in the Irish Republican movement as a member of Cumann na mBan and in the cultural life of post revolutionary Ireland through her own work and that of her Poet and publisher husband, Seamus O’Sullivan.

The humble steady gaze of her paintings and prints have a meditative stillness which can be intensely moving.

Image result for estella solomons images

Rita Ann Higgins is a Poet whose work has fierce feminine energy and lacerating emotional force.

As a Galway Woman from a large working class family she has broadened the canvas of Irish Poetry through an alert, inventive voice charged with righteous anger and absurdity.

This is a Poetry responding to and teeming with life in all its maddening plenitude.

Every now and again you hear a record that startles you by the freshness of its imagination.

‘The King has Two Horse’s Ears’ by Inni-K (Eithne Ni Chathain) from 2015 was one such record for me.

Irish Folk? Certainly.

But experimentally infused with Pop, Jazz and World Music accents.

All carried off with tremendous confidence and élan.

A record that repaid repeated listening.

Her new album, ‘The Hare & The Line’ has much to live up to!

In memory of Sheila Doyle and Joan Hickey.

Notes :

Eleanor Shanley recorded three highly recommended albums with the legendary group De Danann : ‘Jacket of Batteries’, Half Set in Harlem’ & ‘Wonderwaltz’.

I particularly prize her Solo albums – ‘Desert Heart’, and ‘A Place of My Own’ .

The two records she made with Ronnie Drew – ‘A Couple More Years’ & ‘El Amor De Mi Vida’ have a wonderful warmth.

If you enjoyed this post and know anyone who is Irish or of Irish heritage (and you do!) share it with them and ask them to share it further.

Next Post on Saturday 16th March – don’t miss it!

Maura O’Connell, SÍOMHA, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Lilian Davidson : Ceiliúradh Mhna Na h-Eireann (Celebrating the Women of Ireland 2)

We continue our celebrations today with :

Songs by Maura O’ Connell (Helpless Heart) &  SÍOMHA (July Red Sky)

A Poetry reading by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (Studying The Language).

A Painting by Lilian Lucy Davidson (1879-1954) : Wicklow Goats.

A Paul Brady song sung by Maura O’Connell – it really doesn’t get any better.

Maura inhabits a song, finds its essence and then using all the considerable craft at her command sets it free to bloom in our imaginations.

There is a repertoire of traditional songs and modern folk classics that generations of Irish Women singers have returned to over and over again seeking to release and reveal the wisdom and mystery these masterworks contain.

Time after time I find it is to the Maura O’Connell versions I turn to first and last because these songs shine brightest and settle deeper in the heart when she sings them.

There is reverie and rapture here.

Reverie and rapture.

And, the video clip is enormously nostalgic!

 

 

Our painting today comes from Lilian Davidson who was born in Bray, County Wicklow.

Her work shows she was aware of movements in European Art and had secure painterly skills.

I am struck by the vivacity of the light and colour in her paintings which seem to gleam before the viewer.

In addition to her paintings she also wrote plays, poems and short stories under the name Ulick Burke.

The National Gallery of Ireland keeps her portrait of W B Yeats.

Image result for lilian lucy davidson images

Our Poetry reading today comes from Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.

For almost half a century now she has been adding magical poems to the cairn of Irish poetry and the global word hoard.

In her poems language is thrillingly allusive and alive.

It is in the testing of thought and belief through charged engagement with language that Poetry is made.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has said that her Poems emerge out of her desire, need, to question – Is this true? Do I really believe this? Do I really feel this?

If the Poem lives the question is answered.

Often in ways that could not have been anticipated.

True Poetry is always surprising both to the Poet and the reader.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has written many true poems.

 

 

SÍOMHA (Brock) is, in her music, wholly Irish and wholly international.

She draws deeply on the traditions of traditional music, folk music, chanson and gypsy jazz to create an alluring synthesis.

On stage she has an energy, expertise and magnetism in her singing and guitar playing which wins and holds audiences.

We are all going to hear a lot more from SÍOMHA!

 

This post in memory of Mary O’Sullivan and Nora McElligott.

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Next Post on Thursday 14th March – don’t miss it!