Briege is a South Armagh singer-songwriter whose work has for some reason obstinately remained the province of cognoscenti, albeit sporting a steadily growing fan-base over the course of the past 16 or so years. Her debut disc, 1995’s The Longest Road, contained the haunting Cloghinne Winds, which has since been memorably covered by Niamh Parsons, and her second CD, The Sea And Other Songs, was named one of the Folk Roots albums of its year. Briege’s reputation was consolidated by subsequent albums The Elm Wood (2002) and From Now On (2004), the latter finding her revisiting her roots on a series of cover versions of songs she grew up with, combining her love of Irish traditional and American folk.
Critics have variously likened Briege to a Nanci Griffith or Mary Chapin Carpenter with an Irish outlook, and listening to songs like on her latest CD, The Best Part Of The Day, it’s easy to hear why, for she “makes and keeps good memories” for us to share, with a winning combination of gentle inspiration and heartfelt and sentiment-filled (though not over-sentimental) expression. The complicated emotional side-effects of desire are unashamedly explored in Where Did It Start? while Shannon Stopover, Shep And Philomena and The Girl From Belsele have the feel of authentic Americana songwriting. On the other hand, Briege’s undoubted affection for traditional song comes across most vividly, perhaps, in the plaintive love song The Magpie, which both musically and lyrically references many a traditional element, and the grim, if stirring narrative of Lappin, based on historical events.
Briege describes this new collection as “mainly song-stories, about people, places and situations I’ve come across here and there”. In order to bring these to life in music she’s blessed with sensitive instrumental accompaniment from Frank Gallagher (fiddle, viola and low whistle) and Johnny Scott (guitar, dobro, banjo etc.), harmony vocals from Rosemary Woods and a beautifully understated production from piano and accordion player Rod McVey – all suiting Briege’s charming and pleasing personality down to the ground. If there’s any mild downside at all it’s probably that the musical settings tend on early acquaintance to seem of a broadly similar pace and demeanour, whether the tone of the lyrics be sanguine and contented (the title track) or anguished and angry (Just Another Mornin’), or whether the subject matter be sad yet fond memories of unrequited love (How Sweet The Tune) or nostalgia for an old building (The Forester’s Hall). This inevitably means that individual songs will make more of an initial impact when listened to in isolation – even though the collection makes for a perfectly credible complete sequence, a song cycle if you like.
My own experience has found the whole CD growing in stature over several plays, for it contains some memorable and thought-provoking writing, and I’m sure we will find a number of its songs being covered by other singers with alacrity.