A Distinctive Album and a Couple of Intriguing New York Shows from Irish Songsmith Lisa O’Neill
Irish songwriter Lisa O’Neill likes waltzes. Almost everything on her latest album Same Cloth or Not – streaming at Bandcamp – is in either 3/4 or 6/8 meter.You can see O’Neill listening to Marissa Nadler – or for that matter Marissa Nadler listening to her. Where Nadler goes for the noir right off the bat, O’Neill goes for the folk, but in the end the result is much the same. She’s got a couple of New York shows coming up, at the Irish Arts Center, 553 W 51 St. in Hell’s Kitchen on Nov 1 at 8 PM for $30 and then at the third stage at the Rockwood at 8 PM on Nov 3 for about the same price, $15 plus their strictly enforced two-drink minimum.
The album features her current band, Stina Sandstrom on harmony vocals and Mossy Nolan on bouzouki, plus some lush arrangements from string duo the Geese (Emma Smith & Vincent Sipprell). The first track, England Has My Man is a bit of a red herring, a gently dancing, pretty waltz contrasting with O’Neill’s understatingly biting delivery: “England has my man/My body is cold/England’s so lucky/I’m not sure they know.”
The second track, Coward’s Corner – a big, defiantly brooding ballad with strings and a surreal tinge – is where O’Neill bares her fangs and keeps them out for much of the rest of the material here. She brings back a warmly wistful ambience for the farewell ballad Neillie’s Song, with its rich interchange of acoustic and electric guitars, then follows that with Apiania, a dreamlike piano piece that seems to be a dissociative old woman’s reminiscence.
The stately, ominous Come Sit Sing has a rich blend of guitar and bouzouki and a long, dramatic crescendo that reminds of the Waterboys at their mid-80s peak. Unlike what its title would imply, Speed Boat is a slow waltz, a requiem for an affair before its end. O’Neill brings back both the surrealism and the defiance with No Train to Cavan, the tale of someone “smuggled across the border in a wheelbarrow, and I’m doing grand.” The album’s title track, basically a one-chord jam, comes across as sort of a folk take on the Stones’ Moonlight Mile, but told from a woman’s defiant point of view. The album winds up with the slow, lingering lament Darkest Winter, followed by Dreaming, a lush, swaying art-rock anthem that recalls the Strawbs at their early 70s peak. O’Neill has a very distinctive, rustic voice that she varies from quiet and reflective to towering and intense, and the band matches the mood. She sounds like she’d be a lot of fun live.