Michelle Burke is an acclaimed singer from rural East Cork, Ireland. She has spent the best part of a decade living in Edinburgh where she has collaborated with many of the top artists working in the vibrant Scottish folk scene.
Having spent two years as the lead singer with Irish American super group, Cherish the Ladies, Michelle is fast gaining a reputation as a solo artist. She is an impressive interpreter of songs with a timelessly expressive, exquisitely nuanced voice.
Press & Reviews
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.
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.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (music):
Step Into My Parlour: Michelle Burke at Summerhall (Venue 26). Review by Jim Gilchrist
Edinburgh-based Cork singer Michelle Burke launched her bizarrely homely Fringe soirées a couple of years back in the tiny basement of the Royal Oak Pub. She’s now moved into the comparatively palatial precincts of Summerhall’s main auditorium – and the amount of domestic bric-a-brac bedecking all surfaces not occupied by sherry glasses and biscuits has increased exponentially.
Then there’s the knitting, with audience members and even guitarist Jenn Butterworth purling like mad while Burke’s sister Laura assists with dispensing sherries and household tips drawn from their grandparents’ scrapbook (cure for ringworm? Just ask them).
Her excellent band has expanded too, with a core of Highland pianist James Ross, guitarist Butterworth and trombonist John Kenny joined by guests such as flautist and singer Cathal McConnell of the Boys of the Lough and button box player Julian Sutton.
Inspired by the sisters’ memories of childhood gatherings, the show is daft and heart-warming, but also brings the songs – a mixture of Irish vaudeville and traditional – back into their context as domestic entertainment.
Burke is a fine singer and after her opening jaunting-car romance of Eileen O’Grady, ranges through folk songs such as The Cobbler’s Daughter and a particularly lovely version of The Dark-Eyed Gypsy, as well as Tin Pan Alley’s Twilight Time and the contemporary Dublin Diner. There was a perky whistle break from McConnell, while Kenny’s trombone, fitting deftly into the folk line-up, came out with some spectacular interjections, not least during “Aunty Peggy’s party piece”.
As a show, it’s unique. Sing along, just don’t drop any stitches.
This concert at The Tron Theatre, just off the Trongate, Glasgow, proved that I should not make claims about my gig of the festival too early. Having attended ‘Far, Far from the Ypres’ on Celtic Connections second day, I have been telling everyone that nothing else would equalise it. Boy was I wrong!
On entering the Tron Theatre, the audience were given the opportunity to study the stage which was laid out as the kind of parlour reminiscent of those of yesteryear.
A carpet, occasional tables, old paintings, table cloths, candle, and, to play on important part, glasses and sherry.
When County Cork colleen, Michelle Burke, a very talented lady with a magnificent voice, appeared on stage, she picked up her knitting and got a member of the audience to continue it during the gig.
Already she had set the mood of music and Irish blarney which would be the ongoing style of the concert.
Having poured a wee glass of sherry, she introduced James Ross on the piano, and sang a song of potential courting and a jaunting car.
The idea for concert was inspired whe her sister had moved into her grandmother’s house and, while rifling through the attic, had found old documants and newspaper clippings collected by her great grandmother.
Next on stage was our own Anna Massie on guitar and mandolin and bodrhan player Martin O’Neil. Michelle’s grandfather had been a cobbler and ‘A kiss In The Morning Early’ followed before Michelle decided to give some of the old household tips which used to appear in an Irish Times supplement. Improving busts, treating ringworm and how to use a bar of soap to cure overnight jumpy legs were humourously covered.
Michelle’s sister’ Catherine joined on the accordion and Michelle’s beautiful voice sang again of cruel wars and husbands being imprisoned. John Kenny on trombone joined for ‘Bill O’. Soon the stage became even busier with a coulple of songs from John Spillane. Michelle gave the tale of her confirmation present, a calf, from her father before he himself appeared for some Tom Paxton and Hank Williams.
The interval passed with a real buzz in the audience about how great the gig was. Cathal McConnell was introduced, and, if anyone thought that the Irish gift o’ the gab had been flowing already, he was the grand master.
A song of lovely lassies was followed by the tale of Dan O’Hare, an Irishman who fled to America to die penniless. Flute and whistle tunes followed before John Spillane returned for a couple more numbers.
Then Michelle returned with a song of two potential lovers who whooped and died, the woman going to heaven and the man, the other place. Gypsy Lady followed with Cathal McConnell before the last number and a standing ovation, so richly deserved.
Michelle Burke and John Spillane came back on stage for a great song about The Lobby Bar before the entire ensemble for ‘The Parting Glass’, a different song from the one many of us will know.
This was a simple concept executed with sublime excellence.
Irish stew for the soul! An hour in the pub with Michelle and friends, and I leave with cheeks tender from perma-smiling, and a spring in my step so discernible, I’m practically leap-frogging over the crush of festival crowds. Michelle’s parlour is like your granny’s living room, bedecked with teapots, doilies and innumerable trinkets – I soon notice knitting needles and glasses of sherry being circulated too.
She introduces family and old chums, including her loveable mentor, to new ones, as charming childhood anecdotes are exchanged. When I fear my poor sentimental heart is about to give out, Michelle begins to sing, in gorgeously rich tones, a collection of Irish folk songs, and I melt into a reverie of fan-girl bliss.
Subtle yet savvy: thoroughly modern folk songs.
Having earned her spurs with Irish- American power-house outfit Cherish the Ladies, East Cork’s Michelle Burke ventures out on her own with an accomplished solo debut. Recorded in Scotland – her adopted home for much of the past decade – Pulling Threads showcases a singer in her early maturity, deftly dispatching ten melancholy-tinged ballads in a sublimely plangent manner.
Delicately produced by Lau fiddler Aidan O’ Rourke, the overriding tone is downbeat and confessional, Burke’s dusky, cotton-soft tones never far from faltering under the weight of one domestic tragedy after another, or flaring into forlorn rage against injustice and hopelessness. Save for the album’s opener, ‘Molly Bawn’, Burke focuses on contemporary songwriters, and even this traditional lament is leant a dislocating edge from the Tori Amos School of anguish. Standout track ‘Hey Mama’, by up-and-coming Edinburgh songwriter Sandy Wright, is a heart-stopping last letter home sent from a prisoner on Death Row. Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ is re-minted with plaintive precision, and Burke finds unexpected prettiness in Tom Wait’s “Broken Bicycles’.
Superbly subtle, beautifully proportioned and atmospheric accompaniment from the likes of Kris Drever, Karine Polwart, Martin Green and Burke’s long-time musical partner James Ross, balances intensity and intimacy to perfection, framing Burke’s adroit overlapping of traditional Irish and folk idioms to beguiling effect. Michelle Burke is clearly on the cusp of great things.
Pulling Threads is the charming début album from Irish singer, Michelle Burke, who is currently lead singer with the long established group, Cherish The Ladies. The album offers a collection of beautifully arranged material, wrapped up in an assured femininity. Produced by Lau’s Aidan O’Rourke, and featuring an array of the finest musicians from the Scottish folk scene, Pulling Threads leaves nothing to chance, with arrangements that embrace the material’s folk roots without shying away from more creative leanings. Classy piano melodies sit alongside unpretentious acoustic guitar, with occasional luscious string arrangements, all perfectly understated, and contributing perfectly to the art of both singer and writer.
The star attraction is of course Burke’s effortless and placid voice, with its distinctive Irish diction. You really get the impression that Burke is holding plenty back here, and that she could really belt out a tune should she wish. Instead we hear beautifully reserved and refined vocal performances, with Burke exploring subtle nuances in both the melodies and pronunciation of the lyrics.
Burke’s keen ear for a good song pays dividends throughout. “Hey Mama,” by Edinburgh song writer Sandy Wright, is the perfect blend of tenderness, heartache and hopelessness, with the harmonies of Karine Polwart and Kris Drever lending a rousing, spiritual chorus. Burke’s lead vocals ensure that this story of a death row inmate is treated with utmost dignity, painting a harrowing picture of despair and regret. With the right exposure, this song might well be Burke’s calling card.</p>
Songs by esteemed writers such as Bob Dylan and Tom Waits also get Burke’s sensitive treatment. Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” is successfully tamed and its full poetic beauty is realised with Burke’s evocative reading over a fluid piano. Waits’ “Broken Bicycles” is treated to a more fragmented arrangement that gives a haunting edge, befitting of the lyrics, and allowing Burke to turn in a vocal performance laced with a pensive torment.
Burke’s measured expressiveness lends itself well to traditional material, and the opening track, “Molly Bawn,” is much enlightened by her lucid interpretation, evoking the stark and brutal tragedy of the story. In contrast, while not being traditional, although dating from the late nineteenth century, “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen” finds Burke at her most tender, with a heartfelt reading over Kris Drever’s acoustic guitar that rescues the song from its habitually clichéd associations.
Pulling Threads celebrates the emergence of an impressive interpreter of songs, that will likely have song writers around the globe queueing up to get the Burke treatment. I think I want to hear her have a crack at every song in my CD collection!
‘intriguing originality…Burke’s voice shows traces of the earthiness of Dolores Keane’. Jackie Hayden.