The Winds Begin to Sing
I first heard Karan Casey in 1996, when she played the University of Chicago Folk Festival with the Irish traditional band, Solas. Then as now, her voice held me spellbound; when Casey sings, time stops for a moment, and nothing is ever quite the same afterward. Since then, I’ve heard her perform a number of times, and have never been disappointed. When she left Solas to devote more time to her family and her solo career, I feared we wouldn’t hear from her for a long time. But not only did she give us the fine children’s album Seal Maiden last year, but now, we have a new solo traditional CD, The Winds Begin to Sing.
Winds finds Casey’s voice in fine form — low, sweet, strong, and mature. As usual, her singing is lovely, with perfect emphases and pauses, and total control, moving from hushed to full-on assault in a breath. But while I enjoy the CD overall — I’d happily listen to Casey sing just about anything–it lacks some of the fire and spunk that I’ve come to expect from her. All the usual Casey ingredients are there; the liberal, social activist politics of “Strange Fruit” and “The Liberty Tree,” for instance, and the feminist manifesto of “Eppie Morrie.” Too often, though, the arrangements tend to drag a bit, as on “Where Are You Tonight I Wonder”; I’ve heard the composer, Andy M. Stewart, sing this song live, and he gives it a righteous anger and determination that are lacking from Casey’s version.
When Casey’s on, though, all is right with the world. “Eppie Morrie” is a good example, with her sassy delivery of the lyrics about a woman who’s forced into a wedding but fights her way out of it in the end, with excellent percussive guitar and backing vocals from her former Solas bandmate John Doyle. Or “Eirigh Suas A Stoirin” (“Rise Up, My Love”), with pensive, slow-strummed guitar and mournful flute (Michael McGoldrick) and concertina (Niall Vallely) backing Casey as her voice practically drips sadness, like the tears falling from the face of the song’s narrator as he complains of being kept far away from his love.