REVIEW: Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail – Live at Smalltown America

clrvsta“I’m interested in atmospheric sounds” alt-folk singer song writer Ciaran Lavery told me in an interview a few months ago.

I was asking him about Sea Legs, the collaborative mini album he has created with electro artist Ryan Vail. “We’re getting more of it in folk and indie” he went on to tell me. “That’s why I contacted Ryan Vail, because he does it so well. It was probably a bit creepy coming to think about it, how I contacted him. It was late at night after sitting at the computer having a YouTube fest in the house. But he got back to me really quickly, thank God.”

Thank God indeed, because the resulting artistry is a triumph. It is homage to the sea and its islands and its people, painted from Donegal’s shoreline with tones and words sewn together by craftsmen. Sea Legs was released in April and a tour of special venues to support the launch ensued.  Live At Smalltown America was recorded at Smalltown America Studios in Derry, and released recently as six song EP.


“Ceol Na Mara” starts with rumbles like distant underwater movements, joined by floating, darting guitar and keys in waves. Then the round mature burrs of words spoken by Teknopeasant explain the song of the sea being water-coloured in front of us.

“In their weakness
And your strength
We quake
Fearful of the sea when she’s awake”

More spoken word from the pen of poet James Patterson from Boston on “Shipping Forecast.”  They give us an accent trawling the vast expanse of the Atlantic right back to Ireland’s shores. “The Colour Blue” on the other hand offers melody and atmospheric keys for you to lie down on, in order to hear the song. Lavery’s guitar pulls the emotion of the words. They’re words of loss and yearning. The keys stop you from sinking.

Flow” breaks that mood. It has electronic clicks and tick-tock rhythms that wake you up and strangely could put the listener under. The ticks and tocks merge until they are the creaky opening of a cabin door. Lavery’s sandy repetition of the words conjure late night thoughts, trying to stay awake against the rocking of the waves “For the sweetheart. For the carousel ride. For the sweetheart. For the doors in my mind.”

The recording has an ongoing hum in the background. It makes the album live, rusty, engine room. It does the studio recording justice. Sea Legs is a great beauty, and Live At Smalltown America is a record of something that very few of us got to see. Cara Gibney, GiggingNI.com