THE IRISH TIMES ****
Now here’s a revelatory collection.
Michelle Burke takes leave of her role as lead singer with Cherish The Ladies and makes her considerable mark on a delicious selection of parlour songs, each one delivered with a curatorial ear for detail that reveals more with each return visit.
At first, it’s as though she’s channelling Blossom Dearie, but Burke takes each song by the scruff of the neck and makes it her very own.
There’s a warmth at the core of this collection that begs for translation to her live performance, which by all accounts is a mix of songs, sherry and a row or two of knitting.
Cathal McConnell’s accompaniment on Dan O’Hara elevates this time-worn tale from maudlin sentimentality to gossamer romance. Guests include Rhiannon Giddens, Heidi Talbot and Maura O’Connell.
THE SCOTSMAN ****
This album emerged from the Scottish-based Irish singer’s surreally homely Step Into My Parlour Fringe show, in which audience members are as likely to end up knitting or sipping sherry as singing along. Accordingly, this album could be sheer kitsch, but the beguiling quality of Burke’s singing and the idiosyncratic yet spot-on accompanying core band (including pianist James Ross, guitarist Anna Massie, trombonist John Kenny and Brendan Power on harmonica) make this a delight to listen to. Guests include Cathal McConnell, Maura O’Connell, Heidi Talbot and the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens. Inspired by the family knees-ups of her East Cork childhood, there are affectionately rendered versions of the jaunting car romance of Eileen O’Grady and the trombone-slide drolleries of Whooped and Died. “Folksier” repertoire is delivered with great clarity, including A Kiss in the Morning Early, a beautiful version of The Gypsies, delicately spun out over Ross’s piano, and the warm-hearted glass-raiser So Here’s to You.
Folk Radio UK
Michelle Burke – Step Into My Parlour
by MIKE DAVIES on 1 MAY, 2015
Formerly lead singer with Cherish The Ladies, Michelle Burke’s sophomore album, six years on from her solo debut, started life as a show by herself and longtime musical partner James Ross during the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe, a performance inspired by the characters, music and family gatherings of her childhood in East Cork. The show gradually expanded, returning to the Fringe in 2014 and, this year, as part of Celtic Connections. So, it only seemed sensible to put it down on disc.
Here, in full brogue, she and Ross are joined by a core band of Anna Massie on guitar, mandolin and banjo, trombonist John Kenny, Brendan Power on harmonica, accordionist Kathleen Boyle and bodhran player Martin O’Neill alongside guest appearances by mentor Cathal McConnell on flute and vocals and Maura O’Connell, Heidi Talbot and Rhiannon Giddens, from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, on backing vocals and harmonies.
As you might assume, the songs are pretty much – though not exclusively – the sort of traditional numbers that would have formed part of the family’s parlour repertoire, kicking off with Eileen O’Grady, a jaunty singalong courting song by Will. E. Cormack popularised by Josef Locke. Another vintage number, Dan O’Hara, by traditional Irish singer Delia Murphy, recounts the true story of the titular gent and his wife and seven kids who, when the landlord increased the rent after Dan increased the size of the windows in his cottage in Connemara (giving birth to the phrase ‘daylight robbery’), upped sticks for America, his wife and three children dying en route and Dan ending up selling matches on the New York streets.
Elsewhere, trad. arr. credits include the folksy guitar strummed A Kiss In The Morning, an Irish street ballad about the romance between a cobbler and his sweetheart, and her father’s anger at such an impecunious union, a burping trombone, accordion and banjo rendition of My Boy Billy (a variant of which was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams as Billy Boy) featuring Talbot, a piano accompanied arrangement of The Gypsies and, joined by Burke’s parents, sister, cousins and friends with Ross on saloon piano and Kenny on trombone, Whooped and Died, a wheezingly jaunty music hall tune about dying from pneumonia that used to be her Aunt Peggy’s party piece.
Two numbers celebrate particular Irish joys; duetting with Giddens, Dear Old Donegal was written by Stephen Graham and popularised by Bing Crosby while Dublin Diner, despite sounding like an old music hall waltz, was in fact penned by contemporary Edinburgh songwriter Sandy Wright. Another Scottish contribution comes from veteran folkie Alan Bell in the form of the poignant So Here’s to You, a song previously covered by Niahm Parsons and Mary Black, Burke here joined by Maura O’Connell and Cathal McConnell.
The remaining tune actually comes from a different tradition, but the arrangement by Burke and James Ross makes The Platters classic, Twilight Time, feel perfectly at home among the soda bread, Guinness and whiskey that would have been the staple of any self-respecting and sentimental parlour gathering. It’ll all mean a lot more if you have Irish roots and a vein of nostalgia, but even if not it’s still rather lovely listening.
Review by: Mike Davies
THE LIVING TRADITION
MICHELLE BURKE – Step Into My Parlour
Kilcronat Records KLC002CD
Although hailing originally from rural east Cork, Michelle subsequently spent only two hectic years (2008-2010) in the role of lead singer with long-established American-Irish outfit Cherish The Ladies. And that profile’s been a hard one to shift, even though she’s been based in Scotland for well over a decade and regularly surrounds herself with creative musicians from the thriving Scottish scene, many of whom had contributed to the success of her 2010 solo album Pulling Threads.
Michelle’s never lost sight of her musical roots though, and in 2012, in tandem with her long-term musical partner, pianist James Ross, she staged a quirky little programme at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that, with its apposite mix of traditional and music-hall songs, brought back the aura of the family gatherings with which she grew up. Indeed, the idea for the show had been triggered by the discovery of her great-grandmother’s dusty old scrapbook. Enticingly named Step Into My Parlour, the show has since been staged several times, most recently at this year’s Celtic Connections festival. Here, then, is what amounts to an audio equivalent – but it’s much more than that, for Michelle has managed to persuade a stunning array of guest singers and musicians to participate in the recording, including her mentor Cathal McConnell and Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens (who join their voices with Michelle on two tracks apiece), Maura O’Connell and Heidi Talbot. Keenly idiomatic instrumental support comes courtesy of James Ross, Anna Massie, Brendan Power, Martin O’Neill, John Kenny, Kathleen Boyle and Euan Burton.
But it’s Michelle’s own intensely seductive voice, with its natural, proudly genuine Irish accent, that remains the star of the show – as well it should be. She enters into the spirit of these songs readily, almost as a reincarnated soul, yet tempered with all the affection of deep hindsight. The mix of material generously reflects that which might have been performed at the family singsongs: the delightful traditional ditty A Kiss In The Morning Early, the coquettish opener Eileen O’Grady, the sad tale of Dan O’Hara (from the singing of Delia Murphy), the old Platters’ doowop standard Twilight Time and My Boy Billy (learnt from Jimmy Crowley, and here done as a family-get-together piece). Two recently-composed songs are also included: Alan Bell’s poignant anthem So Here’s To You and Sandy Wright’s Dublin Diner. Michelle’s pared-down (mainly voice and piano) account of The Gypsies is a standout amongst the altogether lighter fare of the majority of the menu, while at the other extreme an intentional highlight of the disc comes with great-aunt Peggy’s famous, silly party piece Whooped And Died, where Michelle enthusiastically gives her all, riotously supported by a host of cousins and family friends.
Altogether, Step Into My Parlour is a gently heartwarming record, which makes a virtue of sentiment rather than a vice of sentimentality, for one of its key qualities is its puckish vivacity, which serves to keep any potential mawkishness at bay. Inevitably, there will be some listeners who will consider much of the material, and to some extent its presentation, mildly “staged” and thus will remain impervious to Michelle’s charms, but for me the appeal of her vocal personality easily overrides any reservations on that count.