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The Irish Echo on “Spinning Yarns”


Dan Neely, music writer for the Irish Echo, the USA’s most widely read Irish American newspaper writes about Norah’s album, “Spinning Yarns”.

“In my media player this week is Norah Rendell’s newest album, “Spinning Yarns.”   Rendell is an award-winning singer, flute player and whistle player from Canada who now lives in Minnesota. In addition to being the executive director of the Center for Irish Music in St. Paul (www.centerforirishmusic.org), she has worked with groups including the Two Tap Trio and the Máirtín de Cógáin Project, she’s been a featured soloist at the Celtic Connections festival in Cape Breton, and was a longtime member of the group The Outside Track. This, her first truly solo album, is an enchanting project filled with carefully curated and sensitively delivered songs that music lovers will doubtless want to check out.

“Spinning Yarns” is a thoughtful, intimate exploration of Canada’s song tradition.

“Spinning Yarns” is dedicated to Rendell’s passion for the song tradition of Canada. Inspired by her husband Brian Miller’s research into northwoods song (www.evergreentrad.com), Rendell conducted her own intensive research and uncovered a number of pieces – 12 of which she presents here – that were collected decades ago from singers of Irish, Scottish and English heritage living in the great country to our north.

And in impressive body of songs it is. The albums starts with “Letty Lee,” a breezy love song that revels in the pursuit of a woman who, after enduring a barrage of platitudes, finally relents. Rendell sings beautifully here and sets a great tone for what’s to come.

“Lost Jimmy Whalen” is one of the album’s standouts. The interplay between the harp (Ailie Robertson), mandola (Randy Gosa), and bouzouki (Brian Miller) creates a texture that is almost like that of a music box come to life. The introduction of the harmonium adds an additional layer of interest which creates a nuanced and harmonically satisfying whole. Over this, of course, is Rendell who sings with great sensitivity.

“Forty Fisherman,” collected in Newfoundland in 1951, is another standout. A tragic tale about the loss of life in the course of maritime duty, Rendell does a truly admirable job not only with her voice but on flute. Joining her here is Dáithí Sproule, who adds lively fingerstyle guitar playing that projects a sense of poignancy that goes so nicely with Rendell’s voice.

The standout track for me is “Sir Neil and Glengyle.” This song about Scottish knights and ladies collected in Nova Scotia in 1909 puts Rendell in spectacular light. The arrangement, driven by percussive harmonics on the guitar and a seething harmonium, articulate well with the way Rendell has chosen to phrase the lyrics. As the song become more involved, the harmonium introduces a bit of dissonance that destabilizes the harmony but brings a special sort of intensity that matches well with what Rendell sings. Lovely stuff, indeed.

“…a splendid homage to the song tradition of Canada. Highly recommended!”

“Spinning Yarns” is a thoughtful, intimate exploration of Canada’s song tradition. The songs she’s uncovered are unusual and thoroughly enjoyable, and the arrangements smartly conceived and well executed. There’s a warbling pastorality in Rendell’s voice that enriches the whole and helps make this a splendid homage to the song tradition of Canada. Highly recommended!”

Read the full article online, including a review of the  Ghost Trio’s show in New York city’s Irish Arts Center.

Daniel Neely is the Irish Echo’s traditional music correspondent.