Early on in the life of A Celtic Christmas we were looking for an Irish singer who could sing in Irish and English and was up for the adventure of a tour in the US. My brother, Steve Coulter, was living in Dingle, County Kerry at this point and he knew many local musicians, so he suggested to us Éilís Kennedy. We asked and she said yes, and we had a great Celtic Christmas tour together. A fine and generous person with "a voice", as they say, "that could lure the larks from heaven", or "a voice that could rust the hinges off the gates of hell". That is the voice of Éilís. When Éilís started planning to record a solo CD she talked to Steve who had a recording studio and she invited me over to accompany her on many of the tracks. We collaborated on three recordings Time to Sail, One Sweet Kiss and her latest, Westward. We also ended up on a wild tour to Taiwan with the Coulter-Phillips Ensemble.
I have learned so much about Irish music and language and culture from Éilís and consider her and her family to be my extended family in Kerry. I have been moved deeply by her performances and accompanying her singing is nothing short of enthralling and transporting. The songs that she has shared with me have been an important part of the soundtrack of my life. Songs that are timeless, and moving, and important. Most recently Éilís figured prominently in getting Fire & Grace to Ireland for concerts and to make our movie Fire & Grace In Ireland.
Éilís and I are teaming up for some west coast concerts in March of 2024. She was in the States in October, and Fire & Grace & Kennedy had some wonderful concerts, including one at the Church in the Forest in Pebble Beach CA.
Watch the concert here.
Here’s a video of Kennedy & Coulter in St John’s Church in
Dingle in June of 2023.
Growing up on the western edge of County Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula; for singer/songwriter Éilís Kennedy the poetry, songs and music of Gaeldom were, and remain, a constant influence. Those influences extend even further for her new album, Westward, as Éilís is joined by friends from Atlantic and Pacific coastlines on an album that sees her expand her outlook and her own musical skills. In addition to her musical partnership with Pauline Scanlon, as Lumiere, Éilís has also released two very well received solo albums – Time to Sail in 2001 and One Sweet Kiss in 2005. Both albums offered an enchanting mix of traditional and contemporary Gaelic and English song, and made the most of the musical contacts Éilís and her husband John have nurtured as proprietors of John Benny’s pub in Dingle – renowned for the quality of its music sessions.
Éilís opens Westward by evoking the warm atmosphere of those sessions with the gentle familiarity of Bill Caddick‘s John o’ Dreams, a song perfectly suited to her soft, lilting voice. In both her previous albums, Éilís collaborated, very successfully, with Santa Cruz guitarist William Coulter. William’s Grammy-Award winning fingerstyle guitar provides Westward with a constant companion to Éilís’ vocal, and the equally familiar sound of cellist Barry Phillips, who also joined William on Éilís’ previous albums, adds a somnambulant richness.
Kerry-born Éilís (say Aylish) Kennedy comes of an Irish family where both music and the Gaelic language were part of everyday life, a happy fact reflected in this debut album. Time To Sail was recorded in her home town of Dingle and features, apart from her own pure, natural voice, a ton of top Irish artists including Máire Breathnach (fiddle, viola), William Coulter (guitar), Virginia McKee (clarinet), Bruce Abraham (slide guitar) and Séamus Begley (vocal).
Subtle and lush arrangements woven around traditional songs in two languages are the order of the day. Most of the ten tracks have been round the block many a time but Kennedy reworks them with a freshness that belies any qualms of pastiche. The Factory Girl, bouncing along on Gregg Sheehan’s funky percussion, dives into two slide guitar and kalimba-drenched barn dances; gorgeous layers of cello and clarinet drive away any echoes of Sandy Denny in Crazy Man Michael and Who Knows Where The Time Goes; Black is the Colour’s characterful phrasing and spooky slide guitar/woodwind soundscape prevents it neatly from stepping on Cara Dillon’s justly acclaimed version. Of the less familiar material, two Gaelic songs in particular tug the heartstrings – Amhrán na Leabhar (The Song Of Books), an 18th century poet’s lament for the loss of a boatload of beloved books to the sea and a song of loves’ tribulations, Tá Mé ‘mo Shuí.
Eilis Kennedy has one of the loveliest voices to recently emerge in Irish singing. Accompanied by a plethora of talented musicians, Kennedy’s second album is ten tracks of wonderfully sung and arranged songs.
Focusing heavily on a traditional repertoire, Kennedy sings in both English and Irish, choosing songs that highlight her pure voice.
Beginning with ‘Go From My Window’, the English songs go on to include the tragic ‘Fair Helen of Kirkconnel’ and the melancholy ‘Farewell to Tarwathie’. But lest you think this album is a depressing collection of ballads. Kennedy spices things up with some Bob Dylan in the form of ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’, and some fantastic Irish-language tracks including ‘Aillillin na Gamhna’ and the rollicking ‘An Paistin Fionn’. The latter has a great beat and Kennedy’s voice lightly trips along the jaunty tune. Ending with The Parting Song’, a gentle song of leaving, the album finishes on a beautiful note.
William & Éilís at St. James Church, Dingle. In days of yore.