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FIL CAMPBELL - Songbirds

FIL CAMPBELL - Songbirds
Glenshee Records GSR001

The Fermanagh-born singer/songwriter has changed tack for her fourth release, on which she looks back at the music of her childhood and pays tribute to the songs of the past and the women singers who performed them. Its genesis lies in Fil’s original desire to make a CD of folk songs that she had grown up and that had first been recorded in the 1930s by Delia Murphy, but the idea evolved further to embrace the lives of four other women who had also recorded this material (Ruby Murray, Bridie Gallagher, Mary O’Hara and Margaret Barry), eventually blossoming into a six-part series for Irish Television – Songbirds: The First Ladies Of Irish Song – which was first shown in autumn 2005. 

This CD contains performances by Fil herself of 15 of the songs from the series, and is intended as a companion to the (separate) DVD release (sadly, not received for review) of the actual TV programmes themselves.  It’s a lovely collection of songs, affectionately performed by Fil in her characteristically warm, sensitive yet commanding vocal style (someone once dubbed Fil “a third McGarrigle”, and not without some justification).  The songs suit her to the ground, and she luxuriates mildly in the expression of these old-fashioned sentiments.  She also benefits greatly from the gently conceived and ultra-sympathetic musical accompaniment courtesy of a worthy crew that includes her percussionist-husband Tom McFarland, James Blennerhassett (bass), Brendan Emmett (guitars, mandolin, banjo), Seamus Brett (keyboards) and Brendan Monaghan (uilleann pipes, whistles).  There are some special guests too, notably Sean Keane who sings on Love’s Old Sweet Song (Just A Song At Twilight) and Tommy Sands who sings on What Would You Do Love?, with star instrumentalists Steve Cooney, Finbar Furey and Laoise Kelly providing cameos on individual songs. 

Although all the songs are taken from the repertoires of the aforementioned singers, the booklet notes don’t always specify which singer is associated with which song.  We all know of Delia’s recordings of If I Were A Blackbird, What Would You Do, Love?, The Connemara Cradle Song and The Moonshiner; some of us will remember Mary’s recording of The Castle Of Dromore; The Spinning Wheel was recorded by both Delia and Mary; and Ruby’s Softly, Softly was a Top 20 hit in 1955.  But as for the remainder, well we’re left guessing – which is a shame, as Fil’s lovingly-turned performances are rather likely to inspire listeners to investigate the source recordings.  Either way, however, singing and musicianship are exemplary throughout, and the resulting CD proves both highly charming and most comforting: perfect fireside listening, I’d say.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.