There is the source from which all cultures rise,
And all religions,
There is the pool in which the poet dips
And the musician.
Without the peasant base civilisation must die,
Unless the clay is in the mouth the singer’s singing is useless.
Patrick Kavanagh – The Great Hunger (1942) section XIII

A striking voice on the Irish folk scene for the last 10 years, Cavan-born and Dublin-based folk singer songwriter Lisa O’Neill has released four solo records to date and has already associated her name with some of the “big” songs of the traditional repertoire such as “The Galway Shawl” and “Factory Girl”. Released on Rough Trade Records on 10 February 2023 last and superbly produced by Dave Odlum, the singer follows on her stripped-down 2018 opus Heard a Long Gone Song with All of This is Chance, a magnificent quasi-orchestral and visionary chef-d’oeuvre.

Lisa O'Neill - All of This is Chance (2023)
Lisa O’Neill – All of This is Chance (2023)

A story teller at heart, Lisa O’Neill draws her inspiration from the rich body of traditional Anglo-Irish songs and ballads. Often approaching her art as a historian, the singer likes digging into archives, researching library collections to search for rare gems and compose new material. See for instance her Drawing from the Well contribution on Arthur Griffith or “Rock the Machine”, her ode to the disappearing working class in the Dublin docklands. On the new record, “Whisht, The Wild Workings of The Mind” was inspired by a 19th century painting in Dublin’s National Gallery of Ireland while the (stunning) opening title track was written in response to Monaghan poet Patrick Kavanagh’s 1942 “The Great Hunger”.

Comprised of eight new original songs, All of This is Chance also features Lisa O’Neill singing about herself, her experiences as a child (“The Globe”), her relationship with the elements and her own mortality. As if observing from above, she is even referencing lines from her past songs.

The surreal “Old Note” was inspired by a quote from late accordion player Tony McMahon. “In Ireland, in this part of Europe” he noted “we are not governed by the laws and mechanics, but the old religions, the old feelings that rocks and rivers and mountains are inhabited by spirits. They are not just shapes, they are three-dimensional beings”.

Lisa O’Neill is often heard performing her songs accompanying herself with a banjo – or a baritone guitar to suit her pitch – which is probably the reason why her many live and studio collaborations with bass and baritone concertina player Cormac Begley have worked so well. The concertina player is still present on All of This is Chance with his instrument used as a drone on several songs.

The natural world as a poetic background to several songs sustains the record’s dreamlike mood which is also expressed through remarkable arrangements whereby harmonium (Mic Geraghty), piano and synths (Ruth O’Mahony Brady), double bass (Joseph Doyle), violin (Colm Mac Con Iomaire), cello (Kate Ellis), trombone (Colm O’Hara) and musical saw (David Coulter) achieve a splendid orchestral balance.

Already a strong running thread throughout her previous album, a rich bird imagery permeates the record with ducks, hens, sparrows, feathered friends, birdies, peacocks, cuckoos, puffins, gannets and buzzards populating her songs.

Immersed in the myths and spirituality of old Ireland through her continuous research projects, Lisa O’Neill is also a progressive folk singer in tune with a new generation of thinkers, environmentalists and forest gardeners, all advocating for a reawakening of our connection to Mother Earth. In that regard, All of This is Chance is a spirited manifesto.

If I was a painter with colours no end
I’d paint the whole thing simply again
Where everything runs into everything
Where every colour is born without sin