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And the winner is ... The 2011 Tammie Awards

We end 2011 with our annual Tammie Awards, in which The Times Argus and Rutland Herald rewards Vermont musicians for the work they have done in the field of recording. This year we received 26 albums to review.

Best Traditional Album

“Comfort for the Comfortless” is Jennifer Culley Curtin’s first album, a 12-track compendium of British Isles songs leaning heavily on Irish material. Curtin avoids the pitfalls of trying to sound Celtic when she is not. Originally from the south, she keeps the vocals purely American while the backing instrumentation, produced by Colin McCaffrey, enlists Benedict Koehler on Irish pipes and whistle, Hilari Farrington on harp, Tim Cummings on Scottish border pipes and whistles, Sarah Blair on fiddle and Marty Morrissey on bodhran, with McCaffrey on guitar and other fretted instruments. Curtin has a lovely voice and “Comfort for the Comfortless” is an apt title, as this album never jars the senses nor makes promises it can’t keep. Instead we have a fine singer at home in a genre of music that emanates from lands far across the sea.


SEven Days – Vermont’s independent voice

Jennifer Culley Curtin, Comfort for the Comfortless

By Dan Bolles [08.31.11]

(Self-released, CD)

Comfort for the Comfortless is not really Jennifer Culley Curtin’s debut record. The central-Vermont-based vocalist has been playing music in various Celtic-inspired ensembles since the mid-1980s and has lent her voice to several recordings over the years. But as she notes in the sweet, wholesome bio on her website, her new album represents a new phase. So, in a way, this recording of 12 Celtic and British folk traditional and covers is something of a debut. And Curtin is off to a striking start.

The album opens on the traditional “The False Lover Won Back.” It’s often said that the landscape of Vermont closely resembles that of the Emerald Isle. If this song is any indication, our green hills and frequent cloudiness aren’t the only similarities. Backed by a crack ensemble featuring multi-instrumentalist Colin McCaffrey on mandolin, citern, guitar and bass, Benedict Koehler on pipes and whistle, Hilari Farrington on harp, and Sarah Blair on fiddle, Curtin sounds as though her voice is emanating from some foggy loam across the Atlantic.

The singing is similarly evocative elsewhere on the disc. On the “Waters of Tyne” Curtin is sweetly mournful, delivering the sorrowful traditional with elegiac grace. She soothes on Kate Rusby’s “Sleepless Sailor,” and breathes salty vitality into the traditional shanty “One Penny Portion” — a duet with McCaffrey, who also engineered the album. Curtin’s solo performance on the a cappella traditional “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” is chilling and anguished. She lightens the mood on the following cut, “The Lady LeRoy,” which sways with an easy Celtic breeze. After a heartfelt take on Danny Carnahan’s “The Rose You Wore for Me,” the record closes on another solo a cappella traditional, “Airdi Cuan.” The lilting lament is a fitting end to a stirring debut, which is in turn a fine start to a new beginning.

Comfort for the Comfortless by Jennifer Culley Curtin is available at jenniferculleycurtin.com.

 

CD Review: Jennifer Culley Curtin has her own authenticity

It is difficult for a performer to capture the essence of a musical genre not their own without sounding somewhat false or “affected” in their presentation. Irish music can be one of the idioms that is difficult for an American singer to accurately portray as too often they want to insert an accent or inflection that isn’t theirs. Think of the many English rockers who have tried to sing American blues only to wind up with a Saville Row imitation of African-American dialect and you get the picture.

Jennifer Culley Curtin, on her first solo album “Comfort for the Comfortless,” does not try to imitate the Irish and Scottish brogue natural to the lands from where her material emanates. That is a major reason why this is a very successful freshman effort. Instead, she lets her warm vocal abilities and the interpretation she gives to the dozen songs on this CD speak for themselves. The result is an album of song that does not sound like an American singing Celtic music. Rather, we hear a fine vocalist who has studied the music she performs and made it her own.

Curtin, a Southerner by birth who moved to Vermont a while back, is a relaxed singer. One doesn’t get the sense that the material is difficult for her, or that she is groping for the correct interpretation. Instead, the songs here sound as if she’s been singing them for decades.

And what a recording it is. Under the steady hand of uber-producer Colin McCaffrey of East Montpelier we get a recording that could have come from a Dublin or Edinburgh studio.

McCaffrey and Curtin enlist the A-team of Vermont Celtic musicians for this project. They include Benedict Koehler on Irish pipes and whistle, Hilari Farrington on harp, Tim Cummings on Scottish border pipes and whistles, Sarah Blair on fiddle and Marty Morrissey on bodhran. Husband Jim Curtin makes a cameo appearance on flute and all give real authenticity to the sound. For his part, McCaffrey’s chameleon abilities to play almost any style of music on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, cittern, harp, bass and viola bring to this recording a full Celtic string ensemble.

Curtin has chosen her material well. In the dozen tracks we have songs that have been recorded before but none are so over-recorded as to make them clichéd. She mixes songs by English folk singer Kate Rusby in “Sleepless Sailor” (track five) with Robert Burns’ “Aye Waulkin’O” (track eight) — but these are tunes you infrequently hear even if you’re a Celtophile. Tony Cuffe’s lovely “The Road to Drumleman” (track two) gets a nice reworking here.

Where Curtin really shines is on the four “se nos” tracks (unaccompanied songs) — “Waters of Tyne” (track three), “Pease Brose” (track six), “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” (track nine) and “Airdi Cuan” (track 12). The singer who can look into a microphone, sing unaccompanied and achieve hypnotic tension is rare. Curtin did it four times. She could have done a full “se nos” album and it would have been a success.

“Comfort for the Comfortless” is an apt title for an album that never jars the senses nor makes promises it can’t keep. Instead we have a fine singer at home in a genre of music that emanates from lands far across the sea.

 

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