Oh I thought I’d found a balance
Between the Skies and the Earth
“Down on the ground”
Commanding immediate attention, Galway-based visual artist and singer songwriter Brigid Mae Power is a unique voice in the current musical landscape. Ploughing her own furrow on the contemporary folk scene, the artist released her international self-titled début in 2016 to huge critical acclaim. Released on San Francisco-based indie label Tompkins Square on 9 February 2018 last, Brigid Mae Power’s third album The Two Worlds is a hypnotic collection of hymn-like songs graced with an eerie reverberation.
A previous post touched on Max Richter’s musical investigation into the Three Worlds of Virginia Woolf – each associated with a distinct literary universe. Brigid Mae Power’s Two Worlds also refer to separate surroundings or contexts that affect the singer in different ways. The title track for instance hints at the struggle between the need for peace and quiet in the country (the singer recently moved back to her County Galway roots) and the creative stimulation of urban living (London and New York).
There is also a clear before and after #MeToo movement in one of her songs. The singer opened up earlier this year about a previous abusive relationship in a lengthy blog post. The sentiment resurfaces strongly on the affirmative Don’t Shut Me Up (Politely):
Don’t you find the spirit threatening?
What you did with mine
You squashed it
But guess what I can hear?
It’s my spirit still breathing
Breathing loud and clear.
But the tension is vertical too – there is a constant contrast in the album between a longing to be grounded and poetic elevation which transpires immediately from the first notes. All the songs on the album are free flowing poems without choruses carried by Brigid Mae Power’s striking voice. “How’s Your New Home?” for instance, a truly magnificent ballad, introduces this duality with a bass ostinato on the piano anchoring the sound. But a sustained drone, a soaring voice and tremolo on the piano immediately lift up the song. And tellingly, the recently published video for Let Me Go Now on YouTube features slow motion aerial footage shot from a plane window.
Dream vs reality is another strong theme on the album, as illustrated beautifully by documentary filmmaker Myles O’Reilly on “I’m Grateful” or London-based illustrator Cian Hogan on “Is My Presence In The Room Enough For You?”
“So You’ve Seen My Limit” is a quasi-jazz ballad built around bass, drums and dissonant piano chords à la Thelonious Monk. And if Brigid Mae Power’s singing conjures up a quasi-Eastern magnetism at times, her melismatic phrasing – full of ornamentation and glissando – is reminiscent of the traditional sean-nós style still practised today by many contemporary Irish singers. Even though she never studied the style formally, Brigid Mae Power grew up in a London Irish community where many of the standard English language Irish ballads were strongly influenced by the Gaelic style and widely performed.
In a recent interview, the singer also declared an affinity with the uilleann pipes. The traditional Irish reed instrument – which really shines on sean-nós-influenced slow airs – enables players to control the flow of air and bend notes at will, like the human voice.
As well as that, in an era when most of the commercial music streaming and playing on the airwaves is recorded digitally and overproduced, The Two Worlds somewhat harks back to the golden age of analogue recordings from the 1960s and 1970s.
The sublime and ethereal sound of the album was tape recorded in Co. Down’s Analogue Catalogue outside Newry. All songs were recorded live in the vintage recording studio which precisely captured all vocals and instruments (guitar, drums, keyboards, piano, violin, accordion) performed by Brigid Mae Power and Peter Broderick who also mixed, mastered and produced the album.
Natural reverb has long encapsulated Brigid Mae Power’s signature sound – She recorded many of her early self-released songs in underground car parks, churches or bathrooms. The Two Worlds boasts a similar floating resonance throughout, dictated in no small way by the choice of instruments. On “I’m Grateful”, the vibrato of a Hammond Organ immediately elevates the sound, and seven out of the ten songs include drums. “Peace Backing Me Up” and “Let Me Go Now” both feature button accordion – also a reed instrument – which the musician played extensively during her London Irish years, thus adding further vibration to a simply gorgeous album.