For those who enjoy the soothing tunes of the harp and melodious Celtic ballads and songs, Sheila Ryan's third recording, Down by the Glenside will not disappoint. Ryan has a powerful and emotive voice, as well as being an accomplished harpist and songwriter. This collection of songs showcases Ryan's vocal talents, and includes a host of talented musicians who accompany her.
Ryan was born in Limerick, Ireland, and played with folk groups and a country band while in her teens, as well as touring with a variety show. She now makes her home in Victoria, British Columbia, in western Canada. On this recording, Ryan provides vocals and harp. She is accompanied by a number of musicians on mandolin, banjo, violin, cello, tin whistle, accordion, keyboard, guitar, bass and dobro, as well as percussion.
Ryan's background in country music can be found lurking beneath the surface in her compositions "Morian Seheoin" and "Stormy Seas." Both of these songs have a sort of country feel to them, in both Ryan's voice and the arrangement. This style suits Ryan well, and John Ellis provides pleasing harmonies in "Stormy Seas." Ryan's other composition on the album, "The Evening Bell" reminds me a little of "Amazing Grace." It has the same sweet, flowing sound and haunting tune which leaves a lasting impression on the listener.
Ryan's sweet, lilting voice definitely takes the spotlight on this album. One of my favorites is the title track, "Down by the Glenside," which is preceded by a poem, "Requiem for the Croppies," written by Seamus Heaney and narrated by Will Millar of the Irish Rovers. The poem is powerful and well-read, and provided an excellent introduction to the song. I particularly liked the vocals on this track -- they are crisp, clear and strong. "Glencoe," "Is Ar Eireann" and "Annie Laurie" are also well done, and has pleasant instrumental accompaniment as well.
Ryan shows herself to be quite versatile, including some different styles of music on the album. "Danny Farrell" is another song with hints of country in it, strengthened by the accompaniment of the banjo. "Hear the Wind Blow" is a soothing lullaby, which I found a little too long for my liking; but then again, lullabies are designed to put you to sleep, are they not? In "Johnny Be Fair," a strong ballad-like tune with a jig beat, Ryan's vocal projection is impressive, however, I felt the bodhran accompaniment to be a little lacking in tone.
Now, although Ryan has a quite wonderful voice, full of expression and power, I don't think that this is a recording that I will listen to very often -- although that's not due to any lack of talent on Ryan's part. Ryan's vocal ornamentation, although fairly typical of Irish Celtic music (and generally fairly difficult to accomplish) is just not to my taste; I prefer a crisp sound, without the added bits, and the same goes for instrumentation. Too many trills and fluctuations annoy me. A lack of tolerance on my part, I suppose.
Another reason is the tempo of the album. I get a little restless when subjected to too many slow songs. I need energy! And although Ryan projects a great deal of feeling and power throughout the album, the energy level that I crave is just not there. However, for the listener who prefers something gentle and relaxing, with remarkable vocals and complementary arrangements, this album will certainly not disappoint.
by Cheryl Turner