365 Days of Album Recommendations – July 26

Seán Tyrrell – The Orchard


Our international travels continue tonight as we go from Cape Verde to Mali, and now, to the beautiful wild west of Ireland.

Here, in the mysterious lunar ghostscape of The Burren, where limestone hills run down to green fields that touch a spare and growling Atlantic on their far side, you’ll find the extraordinary Irish balladeer Seán Tyrrell.

If it can be said that Dolores Keane contains within her voice the whole of Ireland—and it can indeed be said—then the weary, rough, and heartbreaking voice of Seán Tyrrell gets my vote for the male counterpart, for in his bristling narrative husk, one hears the entire tale of wild Ireland’s country heart.

My missus and I used to see Seán sing in a tiny pub in a little fishing village along the coast road that runs from Galway to The Cliffs of Moher. He’d sit in the corner with a couple mates and play instrumentals for the most part, and people would drink and talk as they do in a pub.

And then he’d start to sing.

He’d start to sing, and the pub would go dead silent. Dead silent, until the last drifting and dying note would fall from his tongue and disappear into the peat smoke.

The Orchard is Seán’s second album, and it’s still the one I return to most frequently. There is simply so much knowledge here. And this is for me the ultimate quality that truly magical folk music must have … there must be at its core that remarkable knowledge that only the true songwriters of the people have within them. It’s not book knowledge, it’s often not even experiential.

Woody Guthrie had it, of course, but he earned it through his travels. Mississippi John Hurt had it too, yet he never traveled outside of a very small circle of miles for virtually his entire life, save for one exception in 1928, and then the final years when he found success with a younger generation who could sense in him the knowledge he possessed. But his knowledge was innate. It simply was.

Seán Tyrrell possesses a bit of both—the earned, and the innate. His is a queerly ageless knowledge—when he sings, the earth opens and invites you into its geologic record. His songs are the sound of The Burren’s strange secrets, and they speak to me still from thousands of miles, and far too many years, away.

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