If you happen to land on Edelle McMahon’s website, you might be forgiven for thinking she’s just a singer-for-hire; weddings, funerals, perhaps the odd bar mitzvah. I’m going to let you into a secret – she’s a hell of a lot more than that.
Singing since her childhood and hailing from Monaghan (although now a citizen of East Belfast), Edelle’s voice is steeped in church music and Irish traditional but this is overlaid with top class singer-songwriter sensibilities. Alt-folk, alt-trad, alt-country or alt-gospel – take your pick. Not only is Edelle’s voice is captivating and wonderful to listen to, but she has a very unique phrasing and a brogue that hits you gently between the eyes at the end of a line or a phrase.
Tonight, we are gathered in the relatively new venue, The Accidental Theatre, for the launch of her new album Adventures in Narcissism. An interesting night ahead and a special guest, the dangerous harpist herself, Ursula Burns.
Ursula kicks the evening off with what might be her signature tune, “I’m Your Fucking Harpist ” before treating us to her unique blend of insightful and irreverent songwriting, which veers from laugh-out-loud comedy involving the nuts and bolts of childbirth, Temazepam and parental frustration, to gentle, heart-warming love songs. Her finale (Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”) was something else – think of the chorus, and that’s exactly what Ursula did, lying on the floor and enlisting the help of an audience member to hold her microphone. It did take me a few minutes to get the joke…
Edelle McMahon takes the stage with a full band and immediately launches into two very poppy and radio-friendly numbers from the new album. She’s obviously nervous but this does not get in the way of her performance tonight. After we get to hear “The Haunting”, Edelle takes the time to explain how this album was five years in the making and she acknowledges her two co-writers on the album. Next up is “Demeanour”; Edelle informs us that she has big problems naming songs and this one got it’s title because it’s in D Minor. “Demeanour” may have been hard to name, but it really highlights the range of Edelle’s voice, soaring from low and husky to high and crystal clear.
Although many of the new songs are dark and brooding (maybe not the “misery porn” that Edelle mentions), there are also upbeat tracks such as “Funny’s Not The Word” which is a real throwback to 1960’s pop sensibilities, is full of jangling guitar and has a real Joni Mitchell feel to it.
When the band take a break, Edelle delivers her solo version of “I’ll Take Care of You” (previously covered by Mark Lanegan but written by Brook Benton). Dessie Downey joins Edelle on stage to provide fiddle on “Human Earthquake”, which she dedicates to her sister. This is a slow and delicate song, and the fiddle accompaniment is perfectly judged.
The band return and go straight into “Lullabye” which has a certain country/swing feel to it. Colly Madden on guitar, Mike Mormecha on drums(he also produced the album). The last song of the set is “Ignition” and this is something different again – a song dripping with passion and desire.
As an encore, Edelle performs a cover of the late Jason Molina’s “Hold On Magnolia” and it is an ideal fit with Edelle’s voice, starting low and slow but building gradually in intensity through to the end.
For me, tonight’s show was simply outstanding and showcased an artist who has only recently made the jump into being a full-time musician, and is going to enthral audiences wherever she plays.
The new album sounds great, is a real achievement, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it making a lot of people’s “best of” lists for 2017.