Jennifer Byrne penned this lovely review.
Ronan O Snodaigh is probably best known as the front man with Irish band Kila. A poet, songwriter, percussionist, vocalist, and landscape gardener, it seems the ridiculous O Snodaigh talent knows no bounds. He has contributed to the evolution and revolution of bodhran playing in Ireland, and has introduced percussion instruments from all around the globe to the Kila sound, and beyond. His name conjures associations with some of the most prolific and well respected forerunners of the contemporary Irish music scene – he was, at various junctures, member of The Frames and The Mary Janes. Indeed, the hidden track on Tip Toe contains the vocals of Mic Christopher, which contains so much bittersweet resonance now since the tragic passing of Mic late last year.
Tip Toe is a joy — definitely one of my finds of the year. The very first thing that jumps out at the ear is the density of sound. There are swirling guitars, charangos and bouzoukis. There are plaintive flutes and ghostly pipes. The sound quality itself is dubious but addictive — O Snodaigh’s vocals initially sound smothered but in the end seem entirely natural. Genre definition is a challenge, and quite frankly, a waste of time. These are songs that stand for themselves, independent enough not to require great analysis. Their beauty is largely in their simplicity and quirkiness. Kila fans might actually be surprised (disappointed even?) at the relative sanity of this album in comparison to O Snodaigh in his Kila guise. But fear not, the humour streaks through. Perhaps the most well known person to be credited is, in fact, God himself. He, apparently, produced the album and provided the bird sounds on “Thank You Daylight.” It seems you can’t keep a good thing down!
Highlights abound. I could pin point something positive about each and every track. The title track immediately spoke out. Partly instructive, partly philosophical, the lyrics belie the simplicity of the melody, which is repetitive for the whole song. This is where the genius lies. The melody is of such beauty that, despite the repetition, I never wanted it to end. The point of departure is where the lyrics fade and the low whistle, flute and pipes take over, immersing themselves in moments of playing that are truly special. There is nothing showy here, just honesty and simplicity. “Sing to Me” is a little song with dense instrumentation but childlike lyrics; while “Fisherman” is an altogether more threatening piece, both in melody and lyric. The lines “Hey, beezelbub/ You won’t find me with your fools/ Cause I’m not a fool/ And my shadow belongs to me not you/ I lift my own light” paint the picture. O Snodaigh’s voice often has a yodelling aspect to it, displayed to full advantage on “My Reflection.” The resemblance to the vocals of the people of the Central African rainforests is uncanny; whether this is intentional or not is anyone’s guess. “Quieter Moments” is a song with exactly the same quality as the title would suggest — ease, intimacy and gentleness. The lyrics are quietly joyous, timidly hopeful.
Tip Toe is a lovely album from a man at the cornerstone of ceol nua duchasach (new traditional music) of Ireland. His sound has fingers in the pies of several musical styles, with leanings towards the past, towards the future and inwards, towards a personal, O Snodaigh musical design. If you have been limiting yourself in your concept of Irish music, then this is the perfect chance to give something a little bit different a whirl. You will be surprised.
(2001, Kila Records)