In a world where authenticity is de rigueur, Lisa O’Neill’s unfashioned vocals hit all the right notes on her most recent album ‘Heard A Long Song Gone’. The trad infused folk songwriter jostles the traditional genre with much needed aplomb with this collection of songs that are unflinchingly emotive and beguiling.
O’Neill is a true original as an artist and it’s clear to see why she has migrated from self-releases to a working record label when some of her contemporaries have not. The trad-folk genre can sometimes be littered with self-posturing acts feigning sincerity with more twee & beggorah than relevance. It is O’Neill’s unaffected demeanour and unmistakable jagged and jarring voice that sets her firmly upfront and right in your face. O’Neill is a disruptive and exciting force.
‘Heard A Long Gone Song’ is a medley of traditional folk songs and original compositions that bleed into each other like ink on paper. Whilst her raw voice is undoubtedly the most important instrument on the album, what’s truly enchanting is the rich lyricism that’s akin to the storytelling of a Seanchaí.
The album opens with an excellent rendition of The Galway Shawl with no effects or affectations. A tacit respect is afforded the traditional folk songs on the album as they are delivered with minimal accompaniment and sung with passion and mastery.
Along the North Strand is a menacing and murderous tale nearly eight minutes in length that is permeated by a brooding guitar and sinister fiddle. The chirpy yet slightly creepy concertina closes out the track, played by Cormac Begley. Blackbird is the first self-penned track on the album, a beautiful lament of loneliness and longing; “The morning is new but the feeling is old, intervene Blackbird and shorten the road”.
O’Neill has a penchant for scribing songs based on a lived experience of another being from another time, such as the brilliantly composed Violet Gibson. Irish woman Violet Gibson shot Moussilini in Rome in 1926 wounding him only slightly on the nose before her gun misfired on a second attempt. She was deported to Britain whereby she spent the rest of her days in a mental asylum in Northampton.
O’Neill bestows a voice to the unheard Violet Gibson on this wonderful song – “I didn’t shoot to skim the skin of his snout, Or his teeth or the lips on his mouth, I simply saw a bad egg and I thought I’d take the bad egg out”.
O’Neill’s unadorned voice duets with Lankum’s Radie Peat on The Factory Girl, sure to bring any room to a standstill. Often considered a song that celebrates the independent spirit of working-class women it could equally be considered a poignant and heart-breaking tale of class-division. Whatever your interpretation may be, it is no doubt performed exquisitely.
The powerful Rock The Machine is a song that recounts the plight of Dublin dockers who lost their jobs, identity and memories as a result of the modernisation from the 60’s onwards. O’Neill’s banjo opens the track with the lyrics “I’m losing will love, My hands are soft as cotton gloves, Machine has eaten up my job, My meaning, my cause”.
A Year Shy Of Three is a sorrowful song with a bleak narrative inspired by the painting The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child by Frederic William Burton. The album concludes with a cover of Shane MacGowan’s Lullaby of London wherein lives the title of the album. It is an apt closing to a stunning album that firmly appoints O’Neill as a worthy custodian of tradition expressed with renewed vigour and relevance.