Emer Kenny's hushed delivery and smoldering vocal intensity draw favorable comparison to The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan, a less flamboyant Bjork and, perhaps most of all, elder countrywoman Sinead O'Connor. Kenny’s third album, Parting Glass, further explores her Irish roots. Contemporary Celtic styles mingle with world music influences on self-penned songs such as the rousing instrumental "Emer's Jig".
Though the song itself may be a bit too familiar, Kenny's take on English folk with "Scarborough Fair" is anything but ordinary. Her sound alternates between the veiled, glacial mystery of the Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas and the dense atmospherics of Daniel Lanois' Shine. The Spanish guitar in the Gaelic-sung "Moll Dubh" plays like an old music box salvaged from Grandma’s attic.
She sings, she writes, she plays harp (and keyboards (but it's sexier to talk about harp) she co-produces. She's Irish. She’s the strangest kind of pop musician you could ever hope for.
It's a lovely voice she has, and that’s nothing at which to sneeze. The way she nails "Scarborough Fair" is something to behold; to a jazz waltz backup—with her own harp picking out double-triplet Steve Reich-ian lines—she nails this ancient melody like a breathy assassin. There is pathos here, and perhaps it's not the most thoughtful reading, but it's pretty as hell, especially with the weird dark floating Lanois-style synth chords floating in the distance. It's made a little more impressive when you realize she's added some extra words to the end: "Love imposes impossible tasks / Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme / Though not more than any heart asks / And I must know he’s a true love of mine."
Her ability to slay with her voice is demonstrated on track after track. She gives a lovely gauzy feel to traditional numbers like "Moll Dubh a Ghleanna" and "An Hini a Garan". My Irish, sadly, is nonexistent, so I cannot tell if she's added any additional lyrics to these tracks, but they sound great. Also lovely are the English-language trad tracks: "She Moved Through the Fair" has a yearning martial vibe, and "Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure" gets some extra banjo and ends up as an ambient campfire song, with additional lyrics about wanting to be in America. (Honey, have you read the news lately? Stay in Ireland!)
I find myself drawn more to her original songs, which share the double benefit of sounding pretty and having more of an edge to them. "Cast a Spell" is the big single, which is funny because it's in 5/4 time and marries a Romany concertina line to flamenco handclapping. Kenny pants lines like "You’ve cast a spell / Blood rush in my head / Race through my veins / Fever hot in my bed" and "Thy will be done / Open me like a flower" ... hubba hubba! I miss songs of sexual obsession, there need to be more of them.
"Rescue Me" would fit into any Norah Jones album, a sweet little piano waltz about burning desire and needing to be rescued. It's pretty and understated, and anyone who can't feel this is working a little too hard to be tough. The two original instrumentals are also good, especially "Emer's Jig", which has a great new wave shuffle beat for its two minutes of life.
Parting Glass is adorable and easy to take. If you have a problem with that, you stopped reading long ago.
Emer Kenny started playing Harp at the age of nine, studied composition and Concert Harp at the College of Music, Dublin and won an Alfred Byte scholarship to further her studies at Trinity College of Music, London.
Emer developed a unique style of music, calling on diverse musical influences and landed a record deal with a major U.S. label, Mercury, in 1997. Her first album, "Emer Kenny", which showcased her harp playing and vocal talents, was given a world-wide release by Polygram in 1997 to critical acclaim and sales reaching in excess of 50 thousands units.