Seán Keane,
Portrait
(Grapevine, 2001)

Portrait is Seán's fifth CD and presents an overview of his career since 1993. It includes favorite tracks from his previous CDs as well as two new songs, "Kilkelly" and "Turn of the Century." Seán has always picked his material carefully and made each song his own, be it traditional songs like "The May Morning Dew" or contemporary ones like Sting's "Fields of Gold." His distinctive voice gives every song a special unmistakable character.

This is especially apparent in "Kilkelly," a song which consists of letters written by an Irish father to his son who emigrated to America. The letters span a time frame of 30 years, telling the son of family news, births, deaths, sales of land and bad harvests, and always expressing the hope that he might return. The song was written by Peter Jones and is based on a bundle of letters sent to his great-grandfather by his father in Ireland. Seán makes this song special by reading, not singing, the letter in which the father tells his son that mother has died. This gives it an intensity that makes the hair on the back of your neck rise. The last letter is written by his brother, telling him of his father's fate.

"Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears" has quickly become a favorite with Seán's fans. Written by Brendan Graham, it tells the story of Annie Moore, a 15-year-old Irish girl who was the first person to enter Ellis Island in 1892. It is a moving story, turned into a lovely song and sung by Seán with much feeling.

"The Man from Connemara," by Robbie O'Connell, tells the story of "The Horse" Keane, so named because he was a big, strong man. He lived in Chicago for many years and died when he fell from a high-rise building where he worked. The song has a very haunting melody made even more so by and Seán's voice and the prominent use of uilleann pipes. It is one of Seán's favorite songs. So is "Home," which was originally a country song, as are "No Stranger to the Rain" and "Turn of the Century."

Among the 18 tracks on this CD is also the weirdly beautiful "Galway to Graceland" by Richard Thompson. One of my favorites, it tells of a middle-aged woman who leaves home and family to visit Elvis' grave.

"Blackbird" was written by Paul McCartney, which Seán recorded after working with George Martin in Dublin for a concert of Beatles songs. This arrangement is very different, very much Seán. In this recording Seán also demonstrates his excellent flute playing.

"The May Morning Dew" and "Once I Loved" are traditional songs which Seán learned from his aunts Rita and Sarah Keane when he was a child. He sings them almost unaccompanied in the sean nos tradition of Ireland.

Seán has recorded several songs by Tommy Sands and "There were Roses" is one of his most popular, relating of the story of two friends during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This very sad song illustrates the senselessness of hate and revenge.

"Home Away from Home," another song by Robbie O'Connell, is a song Seán sings at most of his concerts and dedicates to the friends he makes on the road. "Tunnel Tigers," by Ewan McColl, pays homage to the Irish who worked in London to build the Underground. Each verse is dedicated to the men from a different county of Ireland. It has a strong rhythm and the chorus invites listeners to sing along. "Blue Green Bangle" tells of an Irish woman who had an affair with a man from Texas.

"The Green Among the Gold" is a beautiful song about the Irish in Australia, as is the amusing "Bundlin" about the adventures of a young man with the ladies in Australia. "The Man That I Am" is taken from the CD of the same title and tells about thoughts and feelings that come up when you are all by yourself.

Seán is accompanied on this album by a range of the excellent musicians who also travel with him on tours, as well as his sister Dolores on harmony vocals and many guests, including Nancy Griffith on "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears."

[ by Maria Cherry ]
Rambles: 4 July 2001