Touchstone is the debut album from Downpatrick singer-songwriter Brigid O’Neill. Five years ago she attended a songwriting workshop on Rathlin Island and discovered a heretofore hidden talent. She has since played with Duke Special, Frances Black, Luka Bloom, Eddi Reader, Mary Coughlan, and Sharon Shannon.
On her recent EP Arrivals And Departures, she delivered a set of tunes that accentuated her ability to carry a traditional air. Her rich lilt on those songs was similar in style to Mary Black and had a real A Woman’s Heart vibe. She mixes touches of blues, jazz, and country with her traditional folk tones. The proceeds of an Artist Development Grant took her to Nashville where her writing and recording has flourished, with the end result being Touchstone. Written between Belfast and America’s heartland, Touchstone was produced by local songwriter Gareth Dunlop.
‘Little Bird’ is as delicate as a birds wing and eases the listener in. The influence of Nashville is understated, expressing itself in the fuller sound and the unerring confidence of O’Neill’s delivery. The country vibes bubble to the surface of the Neil Young-esque ‘Iron In Your Fire’, and continues through the country rock of ‘Rumour’. ‘Running Back To You’ has the feel of an instant classic. It’s the type of song that has been performed the length and breadth of Ireland for centuries and is the cornerstone of O’Neill’s place in the traditional music firmament. ‘Misunderstanding’ is the type of tune Leonard Cohen would have sung if too many Strepsils had turned his gravelly voice into a smooth lilt.
The title track that closes the album arrives too soon but the assurance and otherworldly voice of Brigid O’Neill on Touchstone is remarkable. You get the feeling that this striking debut has only scratched the surface of a songwriting talent that will echo for years to come.
Touchstone is available via iTunes.