In Review--Old Tales from Ireland

Sara Banleigh
The Folk EP

Not many journalists are going to struggle about whether or not to include a review of a CD on a blog because of dark subject matter. But my blog features the healing power of music and leans towards softer material (even though Sara Banleigh introduces the song All My Trials with Bach’s Prelude #1 in C major). So I’m reviewing Banleigh’s recording The Folk EP as a culture preservation project and not as a healing music CD. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to review a CD featuring Irish songs from 500 years ago, especially arranged for piano and voice.

Banleigh mentions in the press notes that she preferred to give a grittier interpretation of these old murder and love ballads. She’s not the first to accomplish this task since Irish song interpreter Susan McKeown covered similar territory on her 2006 World Village recording Black Thorn: Irish Love Songs. Similar to McKeown, Banleigh provides gutsy vocals instead of the misty-eyed vocals featured in Celtic music. I have no problem with this approach except that it loses the irony of dark material sung in sweet voices. Banleigh’s creates an edgier sound by bringing her piano center stage and lightly framing it with violin and guitar. At times the beauty of the instrumental arrangement transcends the dark text.

When I first listened to this disk, I thought of an American folksinger from the 1950s, Barbara Dane who also sung folk ballads in a more urgent tone. In fact, I dug the archival reissue of Anthology of American Folk Songs from my collection to draw comparisons between Dane and Banleigh. My hope is that Banleigh sticks with this Irish song project and releases a full-length album because I can see a crossover appeal for alternative music fans and Celtic music aficionados. Just one listen to the song Geordie and I think Banleigh’s going to win listeners’ loyalty. I think she’s onto something and has the talent to pull it off. Hopefully, she includes some uplifting songs in her repertoire in the future. and


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