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Lake of Shadows

Phil Coulter

Windham Hill






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"Lake of 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.

This personal 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 upbeat.

The second 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.

Track four 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.

The mood 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.








Phil Coulter Lake of Shadows

Lake of Shadows

Phil Coulter









Phil Coulter







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The Star of the Sea

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