With a name which draws (to my mind at least) visions of a girl who lives in the next bungalow 78.692 metres down the pocked, long-acred boreen we would call a minor road in this country (Was it for this, etc…?), Ciara O’Neill surprises the sugar out of my sugar bowl. She is a tempestuous, molasses dark whip of elfin voiced song. All done under the umbrella of alternative folk.
Coming in from Northern Ireland, O’Neill brings her debut album, ‘The Ebony Trail.’ Its dark, but done with the sweetest and lightest touch. It’s like fixing a tearful gaze through pulled, uselessly thin curtains at the height of summertime during cool evening, when all your friends are still outside (they weren’t). A yearning for elsewhere; through the bright/darkening curtains.
Lead single ‘Ghosts’ sounds like an adventure, with the acoustic guitar chord fluttering between the familiar first and fourth at the beginning. “Skimming stones across your bones…” reads like a nightmarish children’s rhyme indeed, but comes across intimate upon listening. The background, whispered lyrics of the verses in the instrumental is a pleasant device for atmosphere. A highlight of the album, and easy to see why O’Neill chose it as first single.
On ‘Primroses,’ when her voice is solitary and to the forefront, it is ticklishly intimate. Your ears would redden, but then you’d actually listen to her words. It develops into a crafty and muscular, carnivalesque waltz. The production is taut and purposeful on this record; in places, her voice is altered with otherworldly-like frequencies, and it stops you in your tracks.
O’Neill has a masterful control of her voice. The vocal harmonies held on ‘Dead, Black’ are reminiscent of FKA Twigs, except O’Neills whispers her witching covenants whilst also wrapping a warm, folky blanket around you,“I need to be loved, I need to be held.The Child in me lives, In an enclosed Hell.”
‘The Ebony Trail,’ O’Neill’s debut, shows us that being warned about the monsters outside by the sweetest of voices, doesn’t pacify their danger, or make it ok to play with them. Though it loses steam a little near the end, and ‘Invent Me’s main string motif owes a lot to Kate Bush, it intrigues and charms to the point of forgetting such things overall. A seriously impressive debut, with undoubtedly more great things to come from this singer songwriter.