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Same Cloth or Not
Lisa O'Neill Same Cloth Or Not
Released October 2013
Producer David Kitt
Label Song Seeds Records
Length 39:55
Genre Singer/Songwriter
Website lisaoneill.ie

There was a lot of love in the air at Lisa O’Neill’s mid-February gig in Whelan’s. Maybe because it was "the boxing day of valentine’s day", as O’Neill labelled it herself. But that only partly explains the rapturous reception for the petite singer-songwriter from Cavan.

No, this love-in was more due to a discerning audience appreciating a proper talent when they saw one. Mostly showcasing the Choice Music Prize-nominated Same Cloth or Not, O’Neill also demonstrated the storytelling skills that make many of those songs so intimate and affecting.

Then there’s that voice. The Dublin music scene has been bursting at the seams with singer-songwriters for some time now; one of whom, David Kitt, is on production duties here. So it takes something a bit special to stand out. Her voice can be an acquired taste at first - as if she’s singing through pinched nostrils - but given a chance, it’ll insinuate itself steadily into your affections. A few listens to the swoonsome closing songs to the album, 'Darkest Winter' and 'Dreaming', and you’ll know what’s meant. Her small frame and big vocal personality immediately make you think of an Irish Edith Piaf too. Though the strong Irish brogue means a female Luke Kelly is closer to the mark.

The Irish element also comes through in the lyrics with local home-grown themes dominant, as well as the well-observed affairs of the heart. There is the ever-present shadow of emigration on the forlorn opener, 'England has my Man'; the Irish sessúin tradition is dealt with in the rousing 'Come Sit Sing'; while cross-border smuggling and transportation issues feature on 'No Train to Cavan'.

The whimsical folk of her 2009 debut, Has an Album, barely caused a ripple but the intervening years has seen O’Neill’s songcraft improve exponentially. While her way with a story plays a huge part in this, the use of some startling imagery is crucial too. 'Nellie’s Song', a memorial to an uncle who died from cancer, has the lines "and as for you and the fireflies….they’re different colours at the end of life you know". 'Apiana', a tale of an old anthropomorphised piano abandoned in a Dublin flood, also intrigues with lines like "many secrets tumbled down with me/to count as pieces on the bed of the sea".

This heart-warming and highly accomplished collection of songs might not have won the Choice Music Prize this year. The slightly maudlin nature of some songs may have been a factor in this (a common enough complaint with the singer-songwriter genre). But if her improvement continues apace, it’ll only be a matter of time before it - and maybe more - is hers to keep.

- Cian Doherty