Lisa O’Neill – All Of This Is Chance: Album Review

Heavy and heady fifth helping from the Co. Cavan maverick, beguiling and bountiful both.

Release date: 10th February 2023

Label: Rough Trade

Format: CD / vinyl / digital.

How do you like my new direction?” might be part of the question offered here. Of course, this isn’t ‘new new,’ but it seems to capture O’Neill retreating ever further from any sense of the modern age, retreating much from any semblance of being able to lump her in with Irish folk music. Other than an inability to find any other convenient niche for her increasingly idiosyncratic muse. As far removed from fiddle de dee as you can find, she reeks ever more of an older and smokier Ireland, woodfire and tobacco, a literary Ireland of poets and peasants, the two interchangeable. In fitting with that, seldom is it the songs of her homeland she seeks for inspiration, more so the written word, the mythic world of Ulysses and the bars of a Dublin fast receding.

Her earlier releases maintained a foothold on the traditional canon. Few are the glimpses here of that, even if her voice, all mud and potatoes, is inescapably hers and hers alone. I wonder if her recent exposure as ‘that woman who sang that Dylan song on Peaky Blinders’ will attract a few casual buys, and wonder what quite they will make of this. Sure, the barren starkness of delivery remains, but this seems a whole lot more cerebral, inviting just this sort of wordy bollocks, that can often detract as much as invite. And for which I apologise.

The album starts with the title track, the opening lifting from the work of Patrick Kavanagh, lines from The Great Hunger, his epic poem, published in 1942. Set to a brutal drone of pipes and strings, it is an initial shock, her voice in singsong spoken word, aggressive guitar strumming to give ballast, and eerie electronica leaking in from the margins. Less sprechgesang, more sangesprech, should there be such a word. Gradually she supplies more in the way of melody, soaring and swooping over the arrangement that calms any earlier frissons of concern. At around six and a half minutes, it is a brave and ambitious song, that becomes transfixing in its own repetition and deliberation, ahead of her stopping, and walking away from the microphone, whistling. Cello, mournful fiddle and her own banjo provide a more orthodox bed for Silver Seed, earlier released as a single. “Colleen, be careful when wishing because love is not a decision” gives an idea of the direction it may go, the lyrics then awash with allegories to the birds and the bees. Occasional whoops surprise, perhaps the trigger to prompt brief instrumental flourishes from Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s fiddle. Lots of birds, lots of bees, nectar and seed all giving little doubt to the organic realities of ‘love’ and what follows. Old Note is more orchestral in the arrangement, another single, a widescreen vista over which she sings a song of wistful regret, a plea to regain that bond with nature, before it slips away entirely: “Feathered friend, dig up and resurrect me, I long to live among the song of birdies.” Yup, more birds. The orchestral drone is captivating, the build hypnotic, the whole recalling, of all people, the more introspective tone-poems of Nick Cave. More sonorous fiddle from Mac Con Iomair allows a clip of spoken word to close the song, the voice being Sadie-Mae, O’Neill’s niece.

Becoming an ornithologist’s delight, Birdy From Another Realm, is almost a nursery rhyme, a wordy one, sure, both thoughtful and beguiling. With links, lyrically and melodically, to The Cuckoo, almost as if that were a starting point for her musings on, as well as the cuckoo, peacocks, with O’Neill cooing and cawing for embellishment. And surely that is musical saw, not for the first time, I hear. David Coulter is the player. The Globe makes a for a slow and stately air, and it is, this time, Leonard Cohen who is evoked, if shot through with shamrock, a mystic, Celtic hallelujah. Once more the gravity of the backing is immense, the bass of Joseph Doyle especially grounding. Me, I could do without some of the choir, who enter midway, they having the same effect on me as when used by the said bard of Montreal, but it is a small and moot point.

If I Were A Painter had me expecting, silly me, something in the vein of Bobby Darin’s carpenter. But, if similarly soul searching, this is far more a lament, sad longing stretched out over another gaunt orchestral backing. Arguably a little too close in mood to the songs before, it is fine but all getting a tad relentless. So, oddly, as the mood is certainly unchanged for Whist, The Wild Workings Of The Mind, this song is perversely uplifting. Perhaps it is the saw, perhaps the sepia-toned imagery, smacking of a film reel from between the wars, but this long track, the longest here, grabs where the one before hadn’t. “Hurl me down to hell, Mama,” she sings, “bones and all,” making this a most uncomfortable companion piece to Christy Moore’s ‘Delirium Tremens’, if drawn on for different reasons. But, on the bright side, it does reference puffins and gannets. Again, I could lose the choir.

To close, over the sepulchral piano of Ruth O’Mahoney, comes the lullaby of Goodnight World, O’Neill’s humming at the start a mimic of the saw elsewhere. In style, this could be a Hollywood song from the 1930s, the gentle brass adding to that feeling. As she whistles the third and final stanza, it is timeless. A terrific close to the album, it allows a moment to recap some of the darker, heavier material here, it being also a helpful reminder that she is saying goodnight to the world, and not goodbye.

Not always the easiest of listens, certainly if taken all in go and in one sitting, this is undoubtedly a classy successor to her earlier albums, and will win admiration, if not, immediately, love. But, taken separately and out of order, the songs find a greater autonomy in themselves, and show their differences more freely than their similarities. I’d say that was worth it and well worthwhile.

Here is that closing track, Goodnight World, charmingly performed for RTE:

Lisa O’Neill tours over this and next month:

Fri, 10th Feb – Cavan, Town Hall Cavan, Ireland

Sat, 11th Feb – Cavan, Town Hall Cavan, Ireland

Mon, 13th Feb – Kingston Upon Thames, Banquet Records In-Store

Tue, 14th Feb – London, Rough Trade West In-Store

Wed, 22nd Feb – Dún Laoghaire, Pavilion Theatre, Ireland

Thu, 23rd Feb – Dublin, Whelan’s, Ireland

Thu, 16th March – Leeds, Howard Assembly Room

Fri, 17th March – York, The Black Swan

Sat, 18th March – Kendal, Brewery Arts Centre

Sun, 19th March – Liverpool, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (Music Room)

Tues, 21st March – Bristol, St George’s

Lisa O’Neill online: website / facebook / twitter / instagram

If you would like to keep up with At The Barrier, you can like us on Facebook here, follow us on Twitter here, and follow us on Instagram here. We really appreciate all your support.

Categories: Uncategorised

Tagged as: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.