FolkWorld article by Jennifer Byrne:

Sean Keane, www.seankeane.comSean Keane's Seansongs

Seansongs, surely the most appropriate title in a very long time for an album. These are songs that fall under the Sean Keane banner, a style of music difficult to pinpoint or generalise on, apart from the singular preference for beauty of melody and lyric. Seansongs is the latest album in a prolific line of output for, surely, one of Ireland's best-loved singers. It is actually a set of two CDs; the first concentrates on the type of material that fans know, love and connect with Sean; the second focuses on traditional music, the result of a life of playing and singing, but which a lot of people do not readily associate with Sean.

A double portion was surely a lot to dole out on one album. It is often only the most devoted fan that can appreciate such a large chunk of music under the guise of one album. How did the decision come about?
As Sean explains, "it's a concept that I enjoy, actually - I like it. The double CD means you can do different things, and I kind of stumbled on that. Because I was going to do an unaccompanied CD and some tunes, originally, and I decided then to put it out as a double CD, and it gives the two sides of what I do. There are a lot of my fans who have requested more traditional stuff, and I think it's a nice thing to do that. I love the tunes, and had never recorded just tunes before". Despite the nature and reputation of the Keane family as musicians, a lot of people are taken completely by surprise at this - it did not seem to dawn that the singer would also be a master musician. To the man himself there is little in the difference. "I enjoy them both. I don't like one without the other. It's the same in a session - I like it mixed between singing and music". As, indeed, is perfectly obvious from a Sean Keane gig, where songs and tunes mingle and flow freely.

Seansongs marks the second release on Keane's own label, Circin Rua. The Sean Keane "product" is very much a family affair, with management provided by wife Virginia. Running your own label also poses a very high risk factor. "We brought Turn of Phrase onto the market ourselves…but doing it on your own is the way to go now, information is so readily available, and you can work very easily. One time, musicians would be kept in the dark by record companies about exactly what was happening, but now it's not the case. I wouldn't say it's very easy. Its very time consuming and it's an angle that you have to think about all the time. But that makes it even more interesting and satisfactory when you eventually get the record out."

Sean Keane, photo by The MollisMick Hanly compositions feature strongly on the album. "Heard it Before Joe" is irresistibly catchy, the chorus virtually impossible to forget. "Song of the Camp" is the complete antithesis - extremely moving and coming very close to the bone in recreating the imagery of loneliness and desperation on a battlefield. For me, one of the highlights, and definitely the most upbeat track on the album is Sean's version of Johnny Clegg's "O Siyeza". There was hearty laughter when I relayed to him the image of my own family dancing around the kitchen, singing aloud in their very best Zulu. "We were driving through Germany on a tour, and we always bring a selection of CDs each, so Maurice Lennon put in Johnny Clegg, and this song came up. I had a listen and I loved the lyric of the verse, the only thing I had to fathom out was how a Galway man could sing a Zulu chorus. Originally my plan was to do it in Irish, English and Zulu." But, due to a simple turn of events, there was a change of plan, one to be lauded. "I was going through Eyre Square one day and saw a number of asylum seekers sitting on the grass, and I was thinking it was a shame to see them sitting around not being able to work or anything. It reminded me an awful lot of the situation Irish people found themselves in abroad when they weren't allowed work or couldn't work. It's a sad and strange place, very difficult. That I didn't realise too much until I set about meeting people because I thought there had to be musicians and singers among them. So, through a girl who organised a group of musicians called the Global Music Network in Galway, Ellie Cummins is her name…a couple of people from Global Music came and sang. There were around five people who had never stood in a studio before, and none of them were professional singers. Two of them were Zulu, although I had the chorus before I met them. But when it came to pronunciation, they were a great help, and I managed to get it down." And get it down he certainly did, the result being a joyous, almost spiritual rendition of an already touching, socially conscious song.

Be they seansongs, chansons, canciones, each and every track on this double CD set captures the essence of the magic of Sean Keane - the voice, the character, and the man.

Latest published CD: Seansongs
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Photo Credit: (1) From (2) Photo by The Mollis

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