MOSCODISC [Release date o4.08.17]
First the history lesson – Thomas Moore was an 18/19th century Irish poet, singer, songwriter, and entertainer. Once celebrated, but largely overlooked today, Eleanor McEvoy looks to put that right by taking some of his best remembered, and some less well known, lyrics and setting them in a contemporary context.
At first blush, that appears a fairly high risk strategy. For those familiar with ‘classics’ such as ‘The Minstrel Boy’ and ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, it would probably be considered heretical; and for those more attuned to Eleanor’s own singer songwriter style, maybe a step too far. Certainly on her recent Naked Music tour she wasn’t overselling the project, describing it as one everyone had advised against.
I once said I’d happily listen to Eleanor McEvoy singing the telephone directory. That looks increasingly unlikely with that venerable publication all but condemned to obscurity thanks to the world wide web, but as for a Georgian-era ‘Top Of The Pops’ …
Performing vocals, guitars, strings and keyboards, Eleanor recruited 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 Riverdance on bass, and Guy Rickerby from Riverdance, Duke Special and The RTE Concert Orchestra on drums and percussion for what turns out to be an album closest in musical style, in terms of previous releases, to 2008′s Love Must be Tough.
That, perhaps, is because of the prominence of Nolan’s captivating flugelhorn which, combined with Butcher’s Hammond, lend a Sixties, Herb Alpert vibe to numbers like highly accessible ‘Though Humble The Banquet’, and the mournful ‘The Song Of Fionnula (Silent Oh Moyle)’ with its mellow trip hop beat on which Nolan’s playing is, frankly, inspired.
In a similar vein, ‘Come Send Round The Wine’ (subject matter well aligned with some of Eleanor’s more recent writing) has an almost South American ‘feel’, ‘Believe Me’, ‘If All Those Endearing Young Charms’ features some ethereal Peter Green-style guitar, and ‘Oh! Breathe Not His Name’ picks up where her percussive live rendition of’ If You Want Me To Stay’ leaves off.
And while Love Must Be Tough closed with the ‘full on’ ‘I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock ‘n’ Roll)’, The Thomas More Project ends on a similarly raucous note – the Pogues infused ‘The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls’ – a traditional Irish ‘hooley’ of which Moore would surely have approved.
Elsewhere, ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’ has been previewed on Naked Music and the accompanying tour and differs here only in a little more ‘fill’ by way of progressive percussion, organ and backing vocals. Personally, while it’s ‘early days’ I think I prefer the more stripped back Naked version.
There’s a clear ‘line of sight’ from ‘Look Like M’ and ‘Non Smoking Single Female’ to the quirky ukulele driven ‘Last Rose Of Summer’, this time, a glockenspiel being used to carry the jaunty melody; ‘Erin, The Tear And The Smile In Thine Eyes’ harks back in mood to ‘The DJ’ (from 2004′s Early Hours), again with Nolan’s flugelhorn the crowning glory; and numbers like ‘At The Mid Hour Of Night’ and ‘The Minstrel Boy’ have an almost choral/ hymnal/spiritual quality. The latter, with a Coldplay, non-word, style chorus line, perfect for audience participation.
As ever with Eleanor’s work, the construction and delivery simply cannot be faulted. In that sense The Thomas Moore Project is the aural equivalent of Michelin Star ‘fine dining’. But Moore’s period lyrics don’t trip easily off the tongue, making impromptu bathtub recital opportunities somewhat limited. None would be out of place within a live set, but taken together it’s difficult to envisage these songs being other than for ‘serious’ listening. That’s no bad thing in this disposable age.
So, not an album for instant gratification, but The Thomas Moore Project rewards repeated plays, and may well prove to be one of Eleanor McEvoy’s most enduring works. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
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The album is featured in the Singer Songwriter sequence (w/c 17 July, Mon-Fri, 14:00-16:00 GMT)
Gig review (Penylan Hall, May 2017)
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