Headful of Echoes
Anyone looking for a review of a traditional album by the former Dervish member, Ballymote’s Séamie O’Dowd, should (in the words of those newsreaders flagging up a screen of football results just before Match of the Day) “look away now”. For though the singer and multi-instrumentalist is, to employ one of ITM’s most hackneyed phrases, steeped in the tradition, with the exception of The Downfall of Paris, consisting of slow air and set dance, Headful of Echoes firmly explores another aspect of Séamie’s multifaceted musical character.
Anyone who has seen Dervish live or investigated the Sligo music scene will be well familiar with Séamie’s reputation as a guitarist, harmonica player and interpreter of songs and his debut album resolutely concentrates upon those three talents.
In essence, Headful of Echoes could be described as ‘Séamie’s Greatest Hits’, a collection of songs drawn from his own record collection (and one that reveals a certain degree of retrogression). Much of the material dates from the 1970s and 1980s and includes two of Rory Gallagher’s most renowned tracks (Going to My Hometown and Loanshark Blues), a Thin Lizzy song (Silver Dollar), possibly the only extant cover of a Big Country number (Thirteen Valleys, albeit mercifully without bagpipes-impersonating guitar) and, very bravely, a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Visions from his Inner Visions album.
Thom Moore is well represented by three songs, including probably one of his best known, Gorgeous and Bright, as well as Man Alive which employs the melody of The Bank of Ireland reel as its basis, while the remaining song is Dominic Behan’s Crooked Jack, though many will know this via one of Dick Gaughan’s earliest recordings.
Séamie’s voice is in pretty fine fettle throughout, if occasionally veering towards hoarseness (as on Man Alive) while his guitar work is exemplary and includes fine examples of slide-work, particularly on Silver Dollar. However, in many ways it is his harmonica which steals the show. Said already mentioned traditional air (with Máirtín O’Connor on accordion) reveals remarkable agility while his work on, say, Going to My Hometown captures a thrilling empathy with the blues.
Headful of Echoes will certainly not lay out a new career path for Séamie O’Dowd (and that’s probably not its intention), but it does reinforce the view that this man is a hugely impressive musician and singer.
28th November, 2006
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