Una Clarkin – Little Bird

The 'Little Bird' EP from Una Clarkin has been a long time in the making and Gerry McNally has been taking a listen for us to see whether it's been worth the wait.

Una Clarkin is no stranger to the Northern Ireland music scene. In the 1990s she joined the band The Long Stay and performed numerous stage and radio shows with them. Encouraged by the positive reception that her own fledgling material received from her band mates she then began exploring her own musings in music while at the same time indulging her interests in various musical styles. Much later Una found further encouragement alongside other musicians in the burgeoning post conflict singer/song writing scene that had developed in Belfast. A direct result of that is her debut EP ‘Little Bird’.

The EP opens with the folksy ‘Paradoxes’. We first listened to this on headphones and the warmth and beauty of the viola that leads the listener into the song was sheer joy as the stereo recording worked its way across the headphones. Una’s voice is reassuring and when producer Michael Mormecha adds his backing vocal the mix makes Una sound a lot like Clannad’s Moya Brennan. We imagine that if the mighty Clannad were to ever do a stripped back record then this is how it should sound. Clever, yet simple vocal/viola harmonies lead us back out of the song and if dreams had a soundtrack then this just might be it.

‘The River Rising’ is a gentle country rocker with a luscious sprinkling of harmonica that lends a nod the Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘Isn’t She Wonderful’ in places. The song itself deals with life’s changing situations which can sometimes seem overwhelming.

‘Little Bird’, which Una describes as her signature tune, opens with guitar harmonics that sparkle throughout the song in a similar way that dust particles do when caught in the first rays of morning sunshine peeping through closed curtains. If there was ever a song that was written for a lazy Sunday morning in bed then it is this one. Beautiful meandering violin joins in harmony with the guitar harmonics to round off one the most polished and cleverly mixed songs we’ve possibly heard all year.

It’s clear to see that Una is not only a competent songwriter, but also an accomplished guitar player and arranger.

The production is top notch as we come to expect from Michael Mormecha and his Millbank Studios. The considerable warmth of the collection can also be attributed to the fact that Una is working with her old band mates either collectively or in some cases separately, we get the feeling that the recording experience was a pleasurable one.

‘Heaven’ is ukulele filled 1920s styled rag time romp that sets up the second half of the EP nicely and leads into the beautifully delicate love song ‘I’ll Look Your Way’. Rounding off the collection is the brilliant ‘Music City’ which, with its modulated vocal effect makes it sound like a transatlantic long distance phone call tribute to some of the biggest musical cities in America. The catchy guitar riff even emulates the sound of an old telephone ringer adding to the effect.

New York City, Nashville Tennessee, New Orleans sound good to me. Radio playing on the road again, big city lights call out to me.

Una Clarkin – Music City

A demo version of ‘Little Bird’ is included as a bonus final track and this stripped back version is every bit as good as the final version, a fact that once again shows the considerable talent behind the song.

The ‘Little Bird’ EP may have had a long gestation period, but it has been well worth the wait. It showcases a strong skill set of musical ability and delivers the goods. It has a unique sound and warmth to it that surrounds the listener much like pleasantly warm bath.

With the good news that a full album is being planned for 2016 we can look forward to hearing and seeing more of Una on the Northern Ireland music scene and hearing more of her enchanting soulful music.