Aoife Ferry,
The Turning of the Tide
(Celtic Collections, 2002)

Some few years ago now, my first review for Rambles was an album by a young woman named Aoife Ni Fhearraigh. This review was a bit of a rave, as Aoife's first album impressed me quite a bit, and so when I heard that she had a new effort out, I scrambled to have the privilege to review it as well. The first clue that something new was up was that Ms. Ni Fhearraigh is now known as Ms. Ferry, and prior to listening a quick scan of the titles revealed that this offering would be substantially different from her previous work.

I have discovered that it can occasionally be difficult to review a new album by an artist by whose work you have been previously enamored, when that new effort goes in a direction away from what made you happy about her earlier endeavor. There's a strong temptation to write about what you wanted the new piece to be, rather than about what it is. This dilemna is at the heart of my task in reviewing Turning of the Tide, and I ask folks to keep that in mind as we press on.

From the outset, this album reminded me of an album done some years ago by another favorite artist of mine, Judy Collins. When she released Wildflowers in the late 1960s, she had a well-established catalogue of more traditionally mounted folk work for Elektra. Wildflowers marked a new direction for her career, as that collaboration with Joshua Rifkin launched her into the mainstream. I remember at the time being somewhat appalled at the shift, feeling much as Dylan's faithful felt at Newport a few years earlier when he plugged in, but it's worth noting that Wildflowers has become a favorite Collins album, and it's wholly possible that the same will one day be true for Turning of the Tide and Ferry. It is worth noting that Aoife's Rifkin is producer David Cooke, whose influence seems to dominate the disc.

The album opens with "Caledonia" an aural tone poem that reminds the listener of Anuna and sets the table nicely for the rest of the work. It is followed by Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" (a tune also covered on Collins' Wildflowers) and then by a strong reading of Neil Young's "After the Goldrush" that evoked my favorite version of that tune, an a cappella cover by Prelude back in 1973. Mentor Phil Coulter next guests on the standard "Danny Boy," which is given a stately, almost elegaic treatment. Next on the menu is the traditional standard "Maggie," the first of several traditional tunes arranged by producer Cooke. It is obvious in this tune and later in "Neidin" that Cooke is moving these pieces into a more mainsteam interpretation, and though the work is technically polished and Ferry's voice never less than gloriously mounted, it is in the arrangement of the traditional pieces that I discerned a leaching away of the passion that makes them standards in the first place.

The cardinal sin here is one of pacing, as even the more uptempo songs are slowed down in an attempt (I guess) to make the music more accessable to the masses. And this strategy may well work, in terms of making Ferry's talent more marketable, but I think that this strategy works best with the modern tunes, where it is not operating at cross-purposes with the listener's expectations when listening to traditional fare. I confess to bias in this area, though, as for me the cardinal sin in the interpretation of traditional music is robbing it of its passion. In this regard, I think that "Bonny Portmore" has problems, Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn" is too stately and Dougie Maclean's "Ready for the Storm" has become a hymn of quiet resolve rather than the more emphatic anthemic treatment given previously by Deanta.

On the plus side, "Never Be the Sun" has some lovely vocal work and pretty piano turns by Cooke, "Cailin Rua" and "Mo Ghra-sa Mo Dhia" benefit from Ferry's gentle vocals, and the disc closes strongly with "Fare Thee Well," in which Ferry is joined by Sean Keane in a fine uplifting of well-matched voices.

Turning of the Tide is thus Ferry's move towards a broader audience. As such, I can recommend it enthusiastically and without reservation. I can still hope, however, for an occasional return to the leaner and edgier treatment of the traditional music of the Gaeltacht that first made me such an ardent fan. Through it all, Ferry's voice should continue to delight the ear and soothe the soul.

- Rambles
written by Gilbert Head
published 10 April 2004