Lisa O’Neill grew up in Ballyhaise, County Cavan and now lives in Dublin. Heard A Long Gone Song, her first album for Rough Trade imprint River Lea is a collection of traditional material interspersed with her own. The sense of ownership Lisa imbues in these old songs, coupled with the immutability of her chosen subjects makes it hard to tell which is which.
These are folk songs in the original sense of the word. The album begins with an entirely unaccompanied rendition of The Galway Shawl, first collected in 1936 but made famous by Alan Lomax’s 1956 recording of the great Margaret Barry. Lisa’s remarkable and unconstrained delivery of this popular Irish street ballad is like hearing it for the first time. It’s followed by the slow-building menace of Along The North Strand, a version of Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight collected from a Traveller singer named Kitty Cassidy.
Accompanying herself on guitar, Lisa’s telling of this murderous tale is illustrated by the creeped-out squeals of fiddle played by Christophe Capewell, and the unearthly gasps of concertina from Cormac Begley who uses every clunk and wheeze of the instrument to conjure a Bad Seeds-like cacophony. The record returns to unadorned voices with a room-silencing duet between Lisa and Radie Peat of the band Lankum on The Factory Girl, a broadside that some believe celebrates the independent spirit of working class women.