Ambient Celtic Music Echoes July CD of the Month.

Secret Garden’s Fionnuala Sherry Takes Tradition Ambient on Songs From Before

On her solo debut album, Fionnuala Sherry tackles the old chestnut melodies of her Irish home, but Songs from Before is far from a traditional album.  Instead, Sherry has reimagined these songs, pulling them out of an Irish mist, coaxing them slowly from the low-lying fog of a distant past.  “An Cuilfhíonn,” often know as “The Coolin’” sets the tone with a dark, brooding texture of storm clouds on the horizon. Ghost strings trail Sherry’s violin over a groove that’s part bodhran drum and part electronica loop.

“An Cuilfhíonn” signals that Songs from Before isn’t an album by Secret Garden, the Irish-Norwegian duo that Sherry also  plays in.  With Secret Garden, Sherry plays sweet solos over partner Rolf Lovland’s flocked velvet arrangements, but Songs from Before is something darker and more introspective.

Sherry left Lovland home for this project, but took up with another Norwegian, Kjetil Bjerkestrand.  He adds surreal and shadowed textures to these timeworn melodies.  On songs like “Our Wedding Day” (“She Moved Through the Faire.”) and “My Lagan Love” the familiar tunes sneak up on you, forming like imagined shapes in electronic clouds.

For the most part, Bjerkestrand avoids the clichés you might expect in this kind of cross-over.  He eschews hip-hop grooves and electronica glitch strategies in favor of subtly mutated sounds and hazy textures. When he isn’t conjuring atmospherics, he’ll be laying down “Riders on the Storm” piano and tremolo guitar, like on “The Norwegian Minstrel Boy.”  Only his own song, “The Crossing,” crosses fully over into lounge territory.

Another original composition on the album is Sherry’s “Song from Before.” It taps Balinese gamelan and Japanese koto sounds for its lilting pentatonic backing while Sherry plays a romantic melody across the top, alternating with Espen Leite’s nostalgic accordion.

Nostalgia tints much of the music on Songs from Before which isn’t surprising given the traditional source material. You don’t need the scratchy record sound effects on “The Last Rose” to tell you these are old tunes, but it creates a poignant  contrast with Bjerkestrand’s modern arrangements. “The Last Rose” combines minimalist percussion in a looped groove with pipa plucks for a sound that’s far from the Emerald Isles, yet Sherry’s violin playing never leaves tradition too far behind.

Sherry’s Songs from Before is a haunting album in every sense of that word.  It summons up spirits from a distant past, childhood memories of hearing these songs on her father’s knee, and yearning for a lost time, while also placing those sounds in the modern sonic landscapes of the 21st century.

Fionnuala Sherry’s Songs from Before is the Echoes CD of the Month for July.

You can hear it in a special Echoes show on Monday, July 11th.

 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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