A complex and contradictory figure, nevertheless central to the fabric of Irish cultural and political life, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) experienced a period of profound transformation. Born two years before the Fenian uprising, he witnessed the upheavals of the Land War, the rise and fall of Parnell, the 1916 uprising, the war of independence and the civil war following the birth of the Free State, of which he was senator and of which he witnessed the difficult consolidation. Yeats has published a body of poetry that boasts a long history of musical adaptations. He wrote poetry from fifteen to seventy-five years of age, wandering lyrically between classical antiquity and exoticism, abandoning himself to mysticism, drawing on his experience and aspirations, the political context of his country, Celtic folklore and mythology, local ballads and to the landscape of his land. In the past, the world of rock and the folk / traditional circuit (not only in Ireland: think of the album published by Angelo Branduardi, "Branduardi canta Yeats", from 1986) drew on the lyrics of the visionary poet and playwright, born in Dublin but grew up in County Sligo, in the northwest of the island. On the other hand, Yeats himself wrote lyrics for songs (some even for detestable patrons such as Eoin O'Duffy's infamous Blueshirts) and ardently desired his poetry to be sung. Here, we present “I am of Ireland. Yeats in Song ", an anthology of twenty-four songs, conceived starting from his poems, set to music by Raymond Driver, American designer and illustrator, who has always been a lover of the Nobel Prize for Literature poet, who for the occasion ventured into musical composition of folk & trad matrix. In fact, Driver had already worked on Yeats’s compositions for the album "Never Give All The Heart", in which the American soprano Laura Whittenberger was accompanied on the piano by Peyson Moss. Fundamental to this new project was the collaboration, as executive producer, of his friend and author Paul Marsteller, who worked hard to gather an exceptional parterre of thirty-two singers and instrumentalists from the Irish, Irish-American folk world. and British, starting with the very busy multi-instrumentalist Seamie O'Dowd (violin, guitars, percussion, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, piano and counter-songs), protagonist of six tracks in the collection. It could only be "I am of Ireland", a song with a dancing bearing, to mark the opening of the album, sung by Cathy Jordan, lead singer of Dervish.
The artist, herself a native of Sligo, is also the interpreter of "Faery Song" in which she plays Kevin Burke, great lord of the bow. Another leading name is undoubtedly the Solas John Doyle, guitar and lead voice in "He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven", while together with Lúnasa Cillian Vallely (uilleann pipes and low whistle) he is the singer of the two poems. nationalist "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" and "September 1913". Two other members of Lúnasa also joined the project, bassist Trevor Hutchinson and violinist Colin Farrell, who with Vallely surround the voice of Dave Curley (“He tells of the Perfect Beuaty”); the latter is produced in a splendid solo, accompanied by the tenor guitar in "Never Give All The Heart". Farrel's violin and whistle also team up with Cormac De Barra's harp and the singing of Kansas American Ashley Davis in "The Pity of Love". Some folk classics from Yeats's poetic repertoire could not be missing: “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, sung by Christine Collister from Mann, accompanied by Joel Zifkin's violin, Gabriel Rhodes and David Gossage's whistle. The warm and deep timbre of Collister also returns in "The Two Trees", where we find the violin of master Burke and the strings (guitar and bass) of Cal Scott, and in "The Mask", a piece in which Rhodes and Danny Levin build an intriguing arrangement of strings to underline the short Yeatsian composition.
The enduring beauty sought in a world of change is expressed in the poem “The Wild Swans at Coole”, rendered by Northern Irish folk-rocker Fergal McAloon, with fellow countryman Niall Hanna on guitar. Known to Martseller from his videos with the Whistlin 'Donkeys on YouTube. The intimate version of "The Wild Swans at Coole" is counterbalanced by the swift pace of "The Ballad of the Foxhunter", in which we find a wider staff, with the apparatus of chords brought by O'Dowd and the uilleann pipes of Leonard Barry, a fine soloist from Kerry. Vocalist McAloon also plays "When You are Old" (Mick O'Brien on pipes and Hanna on guitar), one of Yeats' first great lyrics and the melancholy "He tells of a Valley of Lovers" (with Seamie O'Dowd on guitar, violin and mandolin and his son Stephen on Irish bagpipes). Another piece of work is "The Song of Wandering Aengus", which is still entrusted to the onemanband O'Dowd, who also plays the closing piece in jig form, the famous "The Fiddler of Dooney", musical testament of a fiddler who imagines receiving recognition for his art in front of St. Peter's.
Among the non-Irish involved stands Jackie Oates, masterfully engaged in three songs. The first is the spirited song "Brown Penny," in which a young man - possibly Yeats himself - flips a coin to see if he's old enough to love. Then there is the waltz with which "The White Birds" is treated, another poem inspired by the unrequited love for the actress and patriot Maude Gonne and characterized by great musicality and rhythmic sense in the versification: here, the English musician is with three samples: John Spiers (barrel organ), Natalie Haas (cello) and Jack Rutter (bouzouki). As a soloist (voice and violin) Oates proposes, instead, the touching lullaby "The Cradle Song". Other female voices that fill the heart are Eleanor Shanley ("The Falling of the Leaves") and, above all, Bríd O'Riordan, who shows her fresh singing flair in "Ephemera", a song produced by one of the most influential personalities of the sound. Irish engineering, Philip Begley, and played in the company of Mick O'Brien on the low whistle. The contrast between an idealized Ireland and the real world shines through in the poem "The Lover Tells of the Rose in his Heart", in which another founding member of the Solas, Mick McAuley (vocals, guitars, tin and low whistle, accordion) intervenes. , also interpreter of “The Folly of Being Comforted”, performed with the New York violinist Dana Lyn. Some will say that another folk classic is missing from the list, such as "Down to the Salley Gardens" or perhaps other famous compositions by Yeats. However, it can be said that the sixty-nine minutes of "I am of Ireland" - really hard to find albums that last that long these days - show no failure and are to be listened to in its entirety. The due tribute to the poetics of the Irish man of letters has been published in digital format, however, on request, the CD is also available. On the website, you will find the lyrics and notes accompanying the tracks.
-- Ciro De Rosa