Reviews of VT156CD 'With Thanks'


 

Veteran is, without doubt, one of the UK's benchmark labels for traditional music, with exemplary sleeve notes supporting some of the most direct, unaffected music of the past half-century. Amongst a recent crop of fine reissues on the label, this new recording by Armagh-based retired teacher Roisin White has no trouble holding its own.

 

Almost twenty years on from her debut release, which led to invitations to perform everywhere from Tocane to Tanzania, this is an album brimming with the love of songs and the love of singing. White is blessed with a clear, generous voice, which she employs in a largely unornamented fashion on standards such as 'Bold Jack Donohue' and 'Dobbin's Flowery Vale', as well as less familiar songs such as the touching tale of abandonment, 'The Bleacher'.

 

Perhaps the highlights are the lighter offerings, from the jig of 'Tandragee' to the veritable twinkle in the tone of  'Lass Among The Heather', though with such an engaging singer, the whole set is an absolute pleasure. (**** review)

R2 (Rock & Reel)

 

This is her second recording for John Howson’s label and remedies a long gap since Roisin’s debut, The First Of My Rambles.  It was originally on cassette and was released on CD in 2000. This fine singer from Co. Down came to prominence in the 1990s in a pairing with another Northern Irish singer, Rosie Stewart and whilst learning much of her repertory either directly, or from recordings of such acknowledged source singers as Paddy Tunney, Len Graham, and her friend Sarah Anne O’Neill, it could be argued that she’s now to be regarded as such herself? Academics could and do debate “where do we draw the line?” constantly but assuredly she is what this magazine would term a Tradition Bearer. Certainly there was music and song in her family and Roisin refers to her Mother’s hand-written songbook in the extensive notes forming part of the attractively presented CD booklet. 

 

Her style is a straight-ahead, no frills conveyance of lyric with a clarity of diction and a confident, sauntering approach which is quite engaging. Jaunty is the word I’m seeking! There’s no what I would call ‘stunt singing’ here – her Bold Jack Donohue tells the story purely and simply in a direct ‘the-song-speaks-for-itself’ manner that is echoed throughout. McGuinness is an excellent version of (Roving Around) The County Tyrone from Sam Henry’s collection, whilst Tandragee is appropriately rollicking!  Ornamentation? – spare. Vocal swoops and slides? – look elsewhere; - here there is nothing to distract from narrative and melodic thrust.

 

Following an illness some four years back, and her retirement from teaching, she now spends much of her time in West Clare and doesn’t travel as extensively as previously. It’s been some years since I saw her sing in person but thanks (Buiochas) Roisin, for this welcome and rewarding reminder of your significance in the scheme of things.                      

The Living Tradition

 

Roisin White sings in a Jaunty, direct, engaging style rooted firmly in the Northern Irish tradition. Her long-awaited second CD (entitled With Thanks to express her respect for the singers who influenced her) is a faultless collection of unaccompanied songs learned from her family, and other singers in the living tradition which still flourishes in Ireland, where local style is paramount rather than fancy arrangements.
It's a delight to hear the precision of her singing as well as the relish with which she puts her well-loved songs across, tossing in little stops
and emphases with the confidence of one totally in command of her material, ornamenting the vocal line by rhythmic variation rather than by the melodic devices of sean-nos.

In the opening track, the young man in 'The Bleacher' has a prosperous local business bleaching linen cloth in the sun - putting us firmly in the North, home of the Irish linen industry. There follows a series of Irish heroes and rebels, beloved places celebrated in praise songs, and a couple of unusual songs of emigration: 'Cloughwater' and 'The Lakes of Pontchartrain' to an unfamiliar tune from Paddy McCluskey, Co. Antrim, Favourite tracks are 'McGuinness', a song of love and elopement set against the 1745 construction of the Newry Canal (rarely heard in its entirety as here but better known in Lal Smith's version 'Roving Round the County Tyrone'), the light hearted, boastful 'Tandragee' and the heart-breaking 'Erin the Green' where a young woman's modesty makes her deny her beloved childhood sweetheart, little thinking he'd accept her refusal. 'Lass among the Heather' is another little-heard version well suited to Roisin's bouncy style.

The notes are exemplary: Roisin pays tribute to singers such as Sarah Anne O'Neill, Robert Cinnamond and Gerry Hicks (from whom she learned several Irish-language songs, also a strong part of Northern tradition), showing her personal relationship with both singer and song, Her own comments are juxtaposed against historical notes from broadside ballad to 21st century (with Roud numbers of course) by John Moulden and John Howson. All credit to John Howson of Veteran, known for its championing of traditional English music, for this fine addition to his growing Irish roster.

English Dance & Song

 

Roisin White's first album on veteran 'The first of my Rambles' still makes regular trips to my CD player, and, after getting over the shock of discovering that nearly twenty years have passed since that recording, I'm pleased to be able to give a hearty welcome to its successor. Roisin has a very vigorous rhythmical style, melodic and pleasing, and a style which is able to encompass both the performance of slower more thoughtful material (such as 'Urncoh Chein Mhic Cainte') and give an effervescence to the lighter material (such as 'Bold Jack Donahue' and 'Tandagree'). On this recording, she has foregone her habit of speaking the title of song at the end of the song - fine in live performance, but not so much so on a repeated performance. So not much to say really. If you like really fine traditional unaccompanied singing and a varied and entertaining mixture of excellent material, you won't hear much better than this. Thoroughly recommended.

Shreds and Patches

 

In the years since releasing her firsts album (The first of my Rambles,- released on tape in 1992 and reissued on CD in 2000), Roisin's been kept busy with teaching and organisational commitments until her retirement from teaching finally allowed her time for singing out. She's still in fine voice, as this latest recorded tour through her repertoire demonstrates. And she's got plenty to be thankful for (hence the title of the disc), including survival from a bout of breast cancer around three years ago, and meeting and sharing songs with, many great source and revival singers while in Armagh. Roisin is a warm, welcoming and natural singer, and this new disc compiles recent recordings made in Manchester and Co.Clare which well capture the essence of her affable, sharing performance style. The main interest for many listeners will be the less-often-heard ballads, and McGuinness, Pat O'Donnell, The Bleacher and Cloughwater all turn out to be of some interest. On the ballad of Johnnie And Molly, Rosin adopts a kind of staccato lilt which in its more forthright character forms a good contrast from her more flowing treatment of the other ballads on the disc. Many of the other items are quite well-known, but Roisin's renditions can hold their own with the best. These include Mountain Streams, and the two songs sung in Irish: An Bonnan Bui (The Yellow Bittern) and Urehnoc Chin Mhic Cainte, both fairly widely-recorded elsewhere. We also encounter a rather refreshing version of The Lakes Of Pontchartrain, learnt from a Paddy McCluskey recording, which has an almost music-hall-style tune, while Erin The Green (learnt from Cathal O'Connell), with its superb melody, was a. discovery for me. Roisin also turns in sprightly renditions of Lass Among The Heather and the deliciously lively Tandragee (learnt from Paddy Tunney and more recently done by Fermanagh's Rosie Stewart) Throughout Roisin's easy, unassuming lilt invariably furnishes the listener with an reliable gateway into the heart of the song, and this marks a welcome and attractive return to recording.

Folk Roundabout

 

This is pure delight for the lover of unaccompanied traditional Irish singing, all presented with Roisin's beautifully clear diction and "feel" for her songs. There are some well-known Irish songs here, some in lesser-known versions, and songs not often heard elsewhere. The booklet gives a wealth of background information, and acknowledges the singers from whom Roisin learned each song.

Folknews Kernow

 

Here's a gem of a CD with 15 tracks of pure unadulterated & unaccompanied ballads from traditional singer Roisin White, whose fame has spread far beyond the borders of her native Ireland. Full notes make fascinating reading to complement the pleasure of listening to her clear and tuneful voice. What more can I say?

What's Afoot

 

Some of us know Roisin White from her regular appearance each year at Whitby Folk Festival, usually alongside the formidable Rosie Stewart, and sometimes Patricia Flynn. It seems to me that Roisin's voice is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the swooning little girlie voices so in vogue today. It's a voice of maturity and authority and a joy to hear. The confidence in her own singing shines through, and there are no accompaniments to any of the 15 songs. Hearing her sing live, this - confidence is obvious - the stance a good singer adopts, the way they look at an audience and project a song is very interesting to me - but of course you don't get this with a recording. Still, her personality comes through, via the choice of material, style, tempo, and so on, and probably this is the best one can hope for from a recording. I don't know how difficult it was to record her - not very, I would imagine - "stand there Roisin and sing a song right, next?" At least it sounds natural and unadorned, which I'm sure was the intention.

 

She has a pure, lowish - range voice and an unostentatious use of vocal embellishments. They're all there, just not shouting out "look at me". Inexperienced singers of traditional songs seem to move from not putting in any decoration, perhaps because they haven't noticed it yet, to putting it in everywhere until you struggle to find the tune. It's a fine judgement getting it right -you've got to have listened to a lot of good singers first. Roisin clearly has - all the great names are here, as influences or sources - Paddy Tunney, Mary Ann Carolan, Elizabeth Cronin etc. I admire the way she never stands in the way of the song, so to speak - the song comes first. There are some classic Irish songs here too. When I looked at the track list I was thinking "Oh yes, most of these are fine, but well-known songs, there's even the Lakes Of Ponchartrain" - but listening through, most are unfamiliar versions (to me, at least). Only a couple turned out to be the versions I was expecting - the great Paddy Tunney comic song "Tandaragee" and "Erin the Green". There's a couple of songs in Irish Gaelic, and quite a few broadside ballads with historical relevance to Ulster history, but a good range of styles of song, with an emphasis perhaps on the more buoyant, rhythmical approach.

 

As with most Veteran recordings, the booklet is very informative and genuinely interesting about the songs and singers, with Roisin's comments about where or from whom she learnt a song added, as it were, in the margin. For instance, I've known the song Dobbin's Flowery Vale for at least 20 years but I thought the title was just another metaphor for the country of Ireland, whereas in fact, it is an area of Armagh town. The true story behind "Bold Jack Donohue", hero of many songs, shows how brutally bloody awful life could be in the good old days. He might have been a hero but he didn't enjoy his role for long. Surprisingly, the notes reveal, it is sometimes still possible to trace the original writers of some of these songs too. Background information can really enhance the enjoyment of listening to traditional songs. So if you want to hear an example of the very best female Irish traditional singing - here you are!

Tykes News

 

This is Roisin’s second album on Veteran and it shows off the full range of her singing talents. Lyrical songs like Dobbin’s Flowery Vale rub shoulders with powerful ballads such as Pat O’Donnell and the rhythmic Tandragee with a jig tune you could easily dance to. She hasn’t neglected the Gaelic song tradition as two of the 15 tracks come from that part of her repertoire. All the songs are executed with the considerable skill that a lifetime of singing has given her. If a fine singer with an engaging stage presence.
 

I must congratulate Veteran on the effort that has been put into the accompanying booklet. Sleeve notes on folk song albums usually come in two types, either scholarly or the singer’s own reflections on what the songs mean to them. Here you have both, side by side, plus a good biography of the artist and a list of books to follow up if you’re inspired to delve further into the tradition.
 

Having now retired from teaching, Roisin is able to take up the many invitations to perform all over the world. She’s also a breast cancer Survivor which explains the album title, We should also be thankful for the continued opportunity to hear such an accomplished and entertaining singer.

Folk Monthly


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