Cathie Ryan Makes Her Way Subtly Through Wind and Rain
Irish-American singer Cathie Ryan’s first studio album in seven years, Through Wind and Rain, walks the line between restraint and plaintiveness. By any standard, Ryan has a beautiful voice: like her songs, her vocals bridge the gap between Irish and American folk music, with an elegance and nuanced poignancy not unlike Hungrytown’s Rebecca Hall. Ryan carries the songs with the grace of a survivor who’s come to grips with difficult circumstances and has decided to ride out the storm, which makes sense considering the personal troubles she’s dealt with in the recent past: she lost her home in a hurricane, her marriage broke up, then she broke up her band and moved to Ireland. That land being her spiritual home, she was able to muster the personal resources and the songs to put her career back together again. Although Ryan has a cast of virtuoso Celtic musicians behind her, this is a relatively quiet album: when it hits a high point, it’s more insistent than exuberant. It’s also a purist record: there’s no autotune, no computer gimmicks, or for that matter hardly anything here that’s electrified at all.
Ryan’s own lilting take on the traditional Irish ballad In the Wishing Well opens the album, with casually expert,lush acoustic backing from ex-Solas guitarist John Doyle, his old bandmate Seamus Egan on bouzouki, Niall Vallely on concertina, Scott Petito on upright bass, and Matt Mancuso from Ryan’s touring band on fiddle. Canadian songwriter Laura Smith’s I’m a Beauty, a pretty waltz, is a showcase for Ryan to channel a quiet indomitability, echoed by the guitars of Patsy O’Brien and Donogh Hennessy, and Michael McGoldrick’s lively yet understated uilleann pipes. Ryan sings a couple of tracks, one a traditional tune and the other by Altan’s Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, in Gaelic. Another traditional ballad, Go From My Window is rich with bittersweetness: the wariness in how Ryan delivers the line “the wind and the rain have brought you back again, but you haven’t got a home here” underscores its loaded meaning.
The traditional tune Fare Thee Well makes a nice contrast, rising on the wings of Mike Brenner’s lapsteel, followed on a similarly upbeat note by Kate Rusby’s Walk the Road. Liberty’s Sweet Shore, by Doyle, makes a vivid reminder of how so many Irish-Americans in decades past came across the ocean to escape the tyrrany of British rule. Daddy, a country song by Ryan, is a gentle plea from child to parent to lay off the boozing (something that doesn’t get addressed all that much in Irish music), while Rock Me to Sleep, Mother is a gentle lullaby lowlit by Brenner’s dobro.
Hennessy’s guitar, Michelle Mulcahy’s harp and the rich harmonies of Ryan and Ollabelle’s Fiona McBain deliver a Roger McGuinn rarity, May the Road Rise with You – which sounds like a great lost Byrds track from 1965 or so – with greater optimism than pretty much anything else here. They end the album with a medley of two reels and a jig, Ryan pounding on a boomy bodhran drum for good measure. There’s neither crazed intensity nor stunned horror here: Ryan knows she makes her biggest impact working the corners of these songs. Fans of the deeper, subtle side of Irish music or for that matter any kind of folk music have a lot to enjoy here. Ryan plays the album release show at Clark Theatre at Lincoln Center with her band on October 13 at 8 PM; tix are just $18.