The 2003 debut by Irish chanteuse Pauline Scanlon, Red Colour Sun, was an ambient, electronic affair that owed much of its atmosphere to studio wizardry by London-based producer John Reynolds. Three years on, Pauline and her long-time collaborator, former Lúnasa guitarist Donogh Hennessy, have travelled much further afield to Nashville, Tennessee to record with Country musicians such as drummer Kenny Malone, singer Darrell Scott and bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan, though they’re accompanied across the Atlantic by bassist Danny Thompson (of Songhai and John Martyn renown).
Matching traditional songs from these islands to a Country backing is, of course, nothing new, as numerous collaborations have proved in the past, including not least TV series such as Bringing It All Back Home and The Transatlantic Sessions (and the albums they spawned) amply proved. Indeed the oft-forgotten pioneers of said approach were the Clare pairing of singer Maura O’Connell and her producer P. J. Curtis.
The difference on this occasion is that the Scanlon/Hennessy combination seems to lack a route-map. So the eerie Child ballad The Demon Lover becomes a poor cousin to Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads album while Farewell My Love, Remember Me attempts to occupy alt.country territory with little success.
The ultimate problem is Scanlon’s voice which lacks the range, strength or subtlety to take on a powerful song like In Shame Love, In Shame and bears poor comparison to Mick McAuley’s rendition of Rain and Love. Worst of all is a murderous rendition of The Flowers of Magherally O where the backing is utterly inappropriate and the singer’s interpretation more off-beam than a wonky car headlight.
This review by Geoff Wallis was written for Songlines magazine – www.songlines.co.uk.