Allison Barber


Travelling Home


Own label, cat. #2007; 43 minutes; 2007


Allison Barber is a young singer, born in Boston, MA, but now resident in New York, whose debut album has more than enough to satisfy the most jaded tastes.


On the evidence of Travelling Home Allison is well rooted in the song traditions of Scotland and Ireland, is a creative songwriter herself and has surrounded herself with some of the best of North America’s traditional musicians, including fiddler Tony DeMarco, piper Isaac Alderson, flute player Dan Lowery and accordionist Brian Boyle. Current Irish émigrés such as guitarist Alan Murray, banjo maestro Damien Maloney and piper Martin McCormack also appear.


Sound-wise, it’s easy, but somewhat facile to draw comparisons. Sure, there are echoes of Susan McKeown here and Dolores Keane there,  and perhaps a touch of Cara Dillon too on The Parting Glass, while ‘S Chunna Mise Mo Leannan is certainly redolent of Capercaillie. However, there’s a distinct sense of purpose flowing through this album which owes much to the strength of Allison’s singing and the sheer warmth of the production by Ben Yonas (though, following the current fashion, there’s an over-emphasis of reverb as an atmospheric device in solo songs such as Lough Erne’s Shore, a version by the way as about as far removed from Cathal McConnell’s as it’s possible to imagine, though still imbued with graceful resonance).


The musicianship throughout the album is simply top-notch (highlights include Alderson’s seemingly telepathic accompaniment on Calder’s Clear Stream and DeMarco’s glorious fiddling on The Galway Shore) and, best of all, serves to highlight Allison’s scintillating vocals. Her own composition The Shore (delivered to the background drone of an accordion) demonstrates both her range and ability to ornament songs without contrivance, including those in Irish or Scots Gaelic.


If the album does have a weakness it lies in the familiarity of some of the songs. Siúil A Rúin, Paddy’s Lament and The Parting Glass have all been recorded numerous times over the last decade, yet Allison does manage to stamp her own imprimatur upon them. Certainly whoever decided to run Paddy’s Lament (or Paddy’s Lamentation as it’s more commonly known) into the reel Sporting Paddy knows how to arouse an audience. And it’s to be hoped that Allison will soon be rousing audiences in Europe too because her singing truly deserves international attention.


Geoff Wallis


3rd March, 2008



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