Sinead Sings Her Roots

Sinead O'Connor will release a collection of traditional Irish songs entitled Sean Nos Nua on October 8th on Vanguard Records. She is recording the album -- her first since 2000's Faith and Courage -- in County Wicklow in her native Ireland.

Backing O'Connor are some of Ireland's best contemporary folk musicians, including the Waterboys' Steve Wickham (fiddle), Sharon Shannon (accordion), Donal Lunny (acoustic guitar, bouzouki, bodhran, keyboards), Cora Venus Lunny (classical violin) and Rob O'Gheibheannaigh (whistle and banjo). O'Connor, Donal Lunny and Adrian Sherwood (Nine Inch Nails, Dub Syndicate and the Cure) are producing, and they plan to finish recording in late July.

According to O'Connor, the songs they are interpreting have typically been recorded old style (or "Sean Nos" in Irish) by other artists. "The way we have recorded them is to 'sexy' them up with rhythms and sounds so that they can become part of what is new style," she says. "Hence the record is called Sean Nos Nua -- old style but new."

Among the selections are "Paddy's Lament," the story of a man who fled the "murderin' cannons" in Ireland only to be drafted to fight in the American Civil War; "Oro Se do Bheatha Bhaile," an Irish language song celebrating Grace O'Malley, the sixteenth century pirate who battled the Spanish and French fleet; "Molly Malone," a Dublin street ballad about the nineteenth century fishmonger of the same name; and "Peggy Gordon," a traditional song of unrequited love.

As part of O'Connor's "sexying up" plan, a group of Jamaican musicians will soon join her in the studio to add overdubs to some of the tracks. Centuries ago, Irish prisoners were exiled to Jamaica, and the music they brought with them is said to have influenced the island's native music -- incorporating Jamaican rhythms is O'Connor's way of bringing that influence full-circle.

"Normally traditional Irish music has been presented in a sexless way and in such an old fashioned way that -- with the exception of [early Eighties electric-folk supergroup] Moving Hearts -- no one has really made the songs appeal to young artists, as what is traditional in Ireland is thought of as being uncool," O'Connor says. "Myself, Adrian Sherwood and Donal Lunny are hoping to make Irish traditional music appealing to singers, bands and songwriters who are bored with the state of Irish music as it is now."

BILL CRANDALL (June 13, 2002)

© 2002