Julie Feeney: Clocks

Superb third album from Ireland's national treasure.

Even measured against the broad stylistic sweep and celebrated eclecticism of contemporary Irish music, Julie Feeney is a thoroughly unique and individual artist. With a background in the classical realm and a go-it-alone/DIY ethic, her 2005 debut, 13 Songs, was a breath of fresh air: hugely original and inventive, it went on to scoop the inaugural Choice Music prize, beating off hot favourites Bell X1.

Despite receiving wide international critical acclaim, in commercial terms her progress since has been steady rather than spectacular. Her second album Pages is best known for the sublime radio hit, ‘Impossibly Beautiful’, but the pop genius of that track (among others) and a Late Late Show appearance notwithstanding, she remains one of the better kept secrets of Irish music.

Hopefully not for too much longer. More a one-woman orchestra than a singer-songwriter, Feeney is in full control on Clocks: as on her previous two albums, she composes, arranges, conducts and, of course, sings virtually everything here. Recorded at Kylemore Abbey, the songs are loosely and thematically based on her extended family, past and present and on her strong Galway roots. Together they amount to a remarkable document, which explores the human condition and the ties that bind us against a backdrop of intricate yet powerful music.

While Clocks isn’t a Christmas album per se, there is a definite seasonal, mid-winter feel and atmosphere to it – all the better to accompany those dark evenings by a crackling fire! Boasting a harp and string arrangement, opening track ‘Dear John’ is lush and atmospheric, replete with a truly gorgeous melody (and with just a hint of Laurie Anderson’s vocal trademark on ‘Oh Superman’). A similar instrumental backdrop is utilised on the slower-paced single ‘Cold Water’, which contains an equally memorable melody, while a fuller, almost cinematic orchestral accompaniment informs the poignantly beautiful ‘Julie’ (a song about her grandmother).

The plucked staccato strings and jerky vocals on ‘Galway Boy’ might well invite comparisons with Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ – there is a subtle similarity. Elsewhere, Feeney isn’t afraid to enter the more familiar classic-pop arena – parts of ‘Just A Few Hours’ recall an Abba melody and ‘If I Lose You Tonight’ is similarly catchy. Other highlights include the fragile ‘Moment’ while stabs of brass and an intricately gorgeous vocal arrangement make ‘Worry’ another standout. Clock is a superb album. Julie Feeney’s best yet, it is rich in ideas and musical inventiveness. Her time has come...

COLM O’HARE

 

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