Ciara Sidine's day job is as a literary editor but, being Irish, the music has always been there on her radar as well; given the chance to develop her own creative side as a break from facilitating others' creativity, she has come up with this astonishingly assured debut album of self-penned songs. With a selection of Dublin's finest musicians to help her out, the surprising thing is how indefinably American it all sounds. I say indefinably because I can't think of any particular artist that she reminds me of but everything about the musicianship and the production has that relaxed self assurance that you get from the best American players.
Opening with a gentle little homecoming tune and closing with a lullaby, this album has a dreamy quality throughout, as Ciara's voice swoops and soars in line with the music. She sounds pretty soulful at times, too, but the thing I really like is the sense of Ciara and her band being at one with their muse. In control, never forced or hurried, they always seem to be in the right place at the right time as the song unfolds. The band produce a sound of beautifully meshed guitars, bass and drums - the interplay of equals - and where one particular instrument features strongly, as often as not it will be Justin Carroll's Hammond organ. Steve Wickham, ex-Waterboys, has a really nice fiddle part featured on The Arms Of Summer and there are other songs where the restrained power of Conor Brady's guitar playing becomes the first amongst equals. More than most albums I've come across recently, however, Shadow Road Shining is about establishing a vibe and sticking with it. The only song that breaks the spell does so by the simple expedient of introducing the voice of Jack L, otherwise known as Jack Lukeman. What a voice this guy has; here he keeps it warm and rich and very folk as he and Ciara duet on a song about separated lovers; he takes the first lines and it comes as a complete aural surprise, given that it follows hard on the heels of a particularly delicate arrangement of Ciara's high voice accompanied by acoustic guitar on the wistful Quicksand.
Lyrically, her songs have a daydream-y quality about them, full of odd juxtapositions as she contemplates life's journey and the relationships formed along the way. On the page, I can't always understand what she's driving at but as performed it all makes perfect sense - they are words that play their part in making mood music, and they play it very well. These songs have neat little hooks written into the music, pegs that mark the twists and turns in the path as you drift along, following Ciara through her daydream world.
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