Eleanor McEvoy – The Thomas Moore Project
Eleanor McEvoy’s fourteenth album took courage. Not many artists would feel confident and comfortable enough in their own skin and abilities to take both the best and lesser known songs of an Irish icon and make them uniquely her own – but that’s what she’s done.
She’s a gutsy, feisty type though, determined to make it happen, and so ‘The Thomas Moore Project’ soldiered on. She was advised against it – you can almost hear naysayers exclaim “are ye mad?” But creative vision is often spurred by on by its own eccentricity.
Thomas Moore (1779-1852), poet, singer and songwriter, led a colourful and eventful life. Influenced by late 18th-century revolutionary ideals (a friend of Robert Emmet while a young man in Dublin), later becoming a darling of London society (a century before Wilde and Yeats), where he garnered a certain celebrity status for his beautiful lyrical melodies.
But he was Ireland’s own, and those songs became traditional airs, surviving generation after generation, until it seemed in recent times, their collective memory in the public consciousness was fading fast.
Step in Eleanor McEvoy to reclaim and re-imagine eleven of Thomas Moore’s most renowned airs. It was a daring idea, and artistic projects of this nature take time to manifest and mould – but sometimes such concepts just take on a life of their own, as if waiting to be born.
It helps to have an expert team in the delivery suite so to speak – so McEvoy set about hand-picking specific musicians capable of recognising her goal and vision. That’s what makes this album so special – these songs are around 200 years old; there’s archaic syntax and nineteenth century poetic language – yet each given the most unpredictable treatment with a 21st-century twist.
Working that alchemy with McEvoy are Damon Butcher from The Beautiful South on keyboards, Eamonn Nolan from the RTE Concert Orchestra on flugelhorn, Eoghan O’Neill from Moving Hearts, Chris Rea and Guy Rickerby from Riverdance on bass, Duke Special and the RTE Concert Orchestra on drums and percussion.
As you’d expect with such pedigree, the musicianship across all eleven tracks is notable, along with Eleanor McEvoy’s unmistakeable voice (plain to see why she is one of Ireland’s most successful female artists ever – with ‘Only A Woman’s Heart’ still one of Ireland’s best selling albums).
It’s 25 years since ‘Only A Woman’s Heart’ soared to the top of the charts, making Eleanor McEvoy a household name in Ireland, and beckoning global success. A quarter of a century on and she has the freedom, wisdom and artistic integrity to tackle such a unique project.
Thomas Moore’s poetry and songs are deeply evocative and emotionally powerful still. That longevity is the mark of true mastery. The album opens with her beautiful interpretation for ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’, sad nocturnal reflections and recollections of those loved and lost – made more poignant by the fact that Moore grieved all five of his children in his own lifetime.
The glockenspiel introduction to ‘The Last Rose Of Summer’ evokes an innocent childlike theme for this air that most people on the island of Ireland will recognise, sweetly lamenting the passing of time and inevitable decay of beauty.
‘Come Send ‘Round The Wine’ steps the pace up again, neatly juxtaposed with ‘Though Humble The Banquet’.
However, the inevitable melancholy is never far from the surface with Moore, and so ‘At The Turn Of The Night’ sees us back in realms of somnambulism, as he searches for his dearly departed.
‘The Minstrel Boy’ – about the harpist warrior slain in battle and the waste of young life – is a rousing rendition, notable for its flugelhorn ‘Last Post’; a skilful interpretation.
My favourite Thomas Moore song – reminds me of a childhood holiday at Avoca (The Meeting of the Waters) is ‘Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms’. McEvoy endearingly makes use of the glockenspiel to once again evoke the innocence of youth.
‘The Song Of Fionnuala’ (the well-known air ‘Silent Oh Moyle’) is based on the Irish legend of the children of Lir, turned into swans by their wicked stepmother. The story has never had this treatment before, I’m sure. Blending a famous Celtic myth with a distinctive jazz vibe works brilliantly. I love what’s been done here.
‘Erin The Tear And The Smile Of Thine Eyes’ also features the flugelhorn that makes its presence known throughout this album. It’s different but used to dramatic effect.
‘Oh! Breathe Not His Name’ – with an African style drum beat – was written about the execution at the age 25 of Robert Emmet, who led the failed 1803 rebellion in Dublin. It’s short, rhythmic and completely different to what you might expect. This is what makes this album so unusual and elusive. Expect the unexpected.
Finally, one of Moore’s best-known songs, ‘The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls’ as you’ve never heard it before. Edgy and raucously faced paced, with a strange, haunting use of Hammond organ throughout. A high spirited interpretation on this rousing classic about the Irish High Kings who once ruled the roost on the hill of Tara.
This is a completely different album from what you might initially expect. It is a robust yet sensitive interpretation of Thomas Moore’s most popular poems and melodies that over two centuries were ingrained into Irish culture, yet which were at risk is losing their place with the demise of each generation. Eleanor McEvoy has made sure that’s not going to happen while leaving her own definitive mark on each interpretation.