Shadows" is pianist Phil Coulter's solitary outing
to date on the American Windham Hill label. The CD's
title is the name given locally to what Phil regards
as one of the most enchanted stretches of water in
Ireland- Lough Swilly, in County Donegal. The
fascinating location as a basis for the music
contained within this CD has seen some significant
historical events in its time, and on a far more
personal note- has had huge significance in the life
of the composer- both happy and tragic.
touch to this CD is what makes it extra special.
Phil has sat down and written music inspired by the
local history and the key moments in his young life.
It adds a significance to the music, and one cannot
help be drawn into it. It is music from the heart.
The CD opens
with "Lake of Shadows", and a beautiful piano
introduction. After a minute or so, the voice of
Aoife Ni Fhearraigh is introduced. Phil explains in
his notes how Lough Swilly has many faces. According
to the locals, it never looks the same for two days
in a row. He goes on to say how the water has
brought a lot of "shadows" into his life, but also a
lot of joy. The music is rhythmic and generally
track is wonderful. "Sunlight on the Water" is
mainly piano, and the melody is gorgeous. It is a
very gentle piece, and the music captures the
morning sunshine on the calm sea. Following on from
this, is "Farewell to Inishowen"- a tribute to one
of Phil's heroes, Irish composer Sean O'Riada. The
title refers to the peninsula where the Swilly is
located, which is an area that the composer has been
forced to leave on many occasions, much to his
regret. At times sombre, and at other times upbeat,
it perhaps reflects the mixed emotions experienced
by Phil as he begins a new chapter in his life.
Again, this is mainly solo-piano.
opens with the voice of Liam Neeson. "Flight of the
Earls" is a reference to how the people were forced
into exile by the advancing English army. Phil
explains how he has attempted to capture the mood of
sadness that such an exile had to be made. The wave
of emotion is certainly apparent once again in the
album's fifth track, "The Star of the Sea". Again
featuring the voice of Aoife Ni Fhearraigh, this
piece is a tribute to Phil's elder brother, Brian,
who was tragically drowned in Lough Swilly in 1984.
It's a beautiful song and very heart-felt.
changes in "Lough Swilly Railway". It captures the
busyness and excitement of the local narrow gauge
railway. Very up-tempo and full of rhythm, this is
toe-tapping stuff! The album's seventh track is a
local traditional hymn, "For Those in Peril on the
Sea", wonderfully sung by the Ballyclare Male Choir.
The composer heard this arrangement for the first
time at the blessing ceremony for the lifeboat for
which the family had raised money, after the death
of his brother. Phil explains that, to this day, the
hymn still gives him goose bumps.
One of my
favourite tracks is the album's eighth: "The
Lonesome Boatman", featuring Henry McCullough on
Guitar in accompaniment to the piano. It's taken
from a song originally written by one of Ireland's
great pipers, Finbar Furey. It's a very atmospheric
piece, and at times, almost "Rock" in nature. The
melody is very catchy. Track nine, "The Year of the
French" is piano and violin, and is much more calm
and reflective. As Phil explains himself in his
notes, "During the Great Rebellion of 1798, as so
often in our history, Ireland turned to France for
help to defeat the English. Once again, it all ended
in tears, with the stamping out of the rebellion and
the arrest of Wolfe Tone, on the Swilly."
It's hard to
believe that yet more tragedy could befall the
Coulter family, but sadly some fifteen years before
Phil could eventually bring himself to write track
ten "The Shores of the Swilly", his sister was also
drowned in the same stretch of water. As he was
writing this song, Phil knew that Sinead O'Connor
was the only person to sing the lyrics, and so it is
her that makes an appearance on this track. She has
a gorgeous voice, and manages to do justice to this
very emotional piece.
"Back to the
Island" is a jolly little number, reflecting the
magical feeling inside Phil as he neared his beloved
country from his travels. It is very positive in
tone, and features a merry little melody.
Track 12, "Vive
la Hoche" is extremely rhythmic, and features a
multitude of instruments in accompaniment to the
piano. Almost music to dance to, this is great! The
final track is quite special. "Take Me Home" is
simply gorgeous from start to finish, and features
most of the musicians who were involved in the
project. The delightful melody is provided by Phil's
piano, but the addition of the choir is most
definitely the icing on the cake.
This is a
tremendous album, the end-result of years of hard
work and a life-time of both happiness and deep,
personal tragedy. I cannot recommend this CD highly
enough. It deserves to be heard.