From a burst of Joy grows a thing of great beauty – The Cave
Release Date: 21st December 2020
Label: Own release
Formats: Streaming & Download
Irish multi-instrumentalist and singer Joy Shannon has indeed produced an article of great beauty. An album that contains little more than thoughtful, ponderous Celtic harp, shimmering cello, light finger percussion and, most of all, stunningly beautiful vocals, The Cave provides the surround-soundtrack to an epic movie that you picture for yourself. An exquisite collection of dreamscapes and contemplative songs that offer the ultimate in do-it-yourself imagery.
Joy Shannon may be familiar to you as the driving force behind her band, Joy Shannon And The Beauty Marks or, indeed, as the vocalist in UK-based dark ambient/industrial band The Offering. For The Cave, she discovered an inspiration so personal and spiritual that she decided could be realized only by producing the envisaged album alone. We’ll come back to the specifics of that inspiration shortly.
Joy has already released seven albums with The Beauty Marks, the most recent of which was 2017’s Aes Sidhe. She and the band have grown a substantial following in the USA, Germany and Argentina, mainly via the medium of regular radio appearances in those countries. She plays Celtic harp, cello and harmonium and sings with a voice that has to be heard to be believed.
So back to that inspiration. During a recent visit to the Greek island of Crete, Joy visited a cave, known to bear evidence of ritualistic use dating back 30,000 years. The cave’s environment made a full assault on Joy’s mind and her senses such that she felt the presence of those former cave inhabitants, together with their timeless wisdom, walking all around her. This experience did, in turn, inspire Joy to research the similar ancient use of caves in her native Ireland, all of which led her to create this album which, in her words, “explores the mythologies of the ancient peoples, as well as the stories we tell ourselves in our own personal caves.” If that was Joy’s intention, all I can say is that she achieved it. As envisaged, this album oozes its themes of meditation and solitude, provides the listener with the space and inspiration to face up to fears, and as was Joy’s sincere hope, offers solace and comfort during these challenging times of endless COVID isolation. Mission accomplished, I’d say.
As I listened to these songs, certain words came to me over and over again. Ethereal was one, peaceful, dreamlike, trancelike and evocative were others, and they’re all adjectives that apply throughout this enchanting album. From the epic story of the Irish Water Goddess, Sionnan, which opens the album, through highlights such as The Cave, Haunted Shrine, Conjuring, Open Like Legs and Rhiannon (not that one) to the similarly epic closing track The Well (which picks up the Sionnan story), these songs are full of divine instrumentation, beautiful singing, delightful harmonies, vivid imagery and lyrics that are variously enigmatic, challenging and heartfelt. This is a quiet masterpiece.
The album was recorded at Lava Studios in Copenhagen, under the watchful eye of producer Christopher Juul, best known for his work with Nordic folk band Heilung, and he’s done a great job. The balance of the instruments is excellent. The sound is full, despite the sparsity of the instrumentation and full focus is given to that wonderful voice and those stunning harmonies. It all sounds like a heavenly choir!
It has been suggested that the album will appeal particularly to fans of Nick Cave, Wardruna and King Dude. Personally, I think that assessment needlessly limits the album’s appeal. This is a piece of work that will appeal to anyone with a taste for the ethereal or whose imagination can be sent into paradise whenever the right harmonies are struck. If that’s you, then The Cave is well worth a listen.
Watch the new video of Joy Shannon performing her song Cailleach, live in Joshua Tree. It’s not on the album, but it gives a real taster for what the album’s all about…