Graded on a Curve:
Brigid Mae Power,
Brigid Mae Power

Brigid Mae Power is a Galway Ireland-based singer-songwriter skilled on guitar, baritone ukulele, piano, accordion, and harmonium; active since the early part of this decade, her new album and first for the Tompkins Square label is poised to considerably expand her profile. Combining instrumental proficiency with an attractive and sturdy voice, the self-titled platter’s strongest attribute is emotional intensity that bypasses the conventional without ever misplacing its sense of control; as the halfway point of 2016 nears, its eight songs form one of the year’s finer releases. The LP, CD, and digital editions are available now.

Brigid Mae Power is of Irish descent but was born in London and didn’t move to Galway until she was twelve years old. These facts nicely underpin the nature of her latest effort as Tompkins Square introduces Power’s work to the vinyl format; Irishness is certainly tangible but ultimately plays a nuanced role in what makes her new disc so remarkable.

Although sure to increase her listenership, this is not her debut. A handful of items, some issued under the name Brigid Power-Ryce, are currently obtainable on Bandcamp, the offerings spanning back to 2011’s “Ode to an Embryo,” a five song guitar and vocals-centered affair recorded in an underground car park in Galway; those desiring a taste of her potential as an Irish folk songstress should definitely investigate the echo-laden a cappella reading of the trad “She Moved Through the Fair” that closes the EP.

2012 brought two versions of the standard “My Lagan Love,” one matching her voice with accordion and the other with harmonium played by frequent collaborator Declan Kelly. “Eee Tuts” emerged the following year, its five songs recorded at home (with a sole exception) and centered around a fantastic version of “The Auld Tringle.”

“Eee Tuts” unwinds as an edgier proposition on the whole, and Power’s membership in the trio Gorges alongside David Colohan and the aforementioned Kelly takes the situation substantially outside; Our Throats, Like Valleys melds avant jazz toy horn splatter to surges of apocalyptic folk ambiance as a triumvirate of harmoniums provide an appealing bedrock of drone.

A different take of “Eee Tuts”’s “Tiny You and Me” is featured on 2014’s I Told You the Truth; mostly recorded in a Galway church and issued by Abandon Reason on CDR (the same imprint giving the Gorges release a cassette run), its offers a deepened survey of Power’s instrumental range and growing acumen as a songwriter and effectively functions as a solid precursor to her latest.

As stated above, the new LP really holds the goods; accepting the invitation of Peter Broderick to record at his Portland, OR studio The Sparkle, the results are immediately striking. In terms of naturistic mood, using a car park, a church, and her home as makeshift recording sites paid undeniable dividends, but “It’s Clearing Now” brings an atmosphere of gradually building passion that’s achieved through a captivating vocal performance and savvy layering of instrumentation.

Having started out with Power on guitar and Broderick on drums, the touch of piano kicking off the beginning came later, as did the significant addition of violin; rather than transforming the piece into yet another baroque-fest the strings are mixed low to ably accent the vocally-derived depth. Most importantly, it’s a beautiful tune; this writer wasn’t the first (or surely the last) to think of Tim Buckley as it plays.

The comparison shouldn’t imply for a second that Power is an appropriator of styles, but neither is she desperately attempting to stand out as an individualist; “Sometimes,” which features her alone on vocals and piano, will potentially strike a similarity to a number of musicians; Tori Amos quickly sprang to my mind, though thankfully Power is far more robust and connects to these ears as devoid of preciousness.

More positively, thoughts of Joanna Newsom crept up as the songs on this album largely eschew the harpist-vocalist’s distinctive (some would say eccentric or perhaps even affected) qualities. Disinclined to the monochrome, “Let Me Hold You Through This” blends accordion and harmonium in a manner destined receive frequent play in the assorted grottos where Brit-folk mavens and Nico fans congregate.

The cut finds Broderick’s backups lending counterpoint to Power’s voice, which upon reflection is the most impressive instrument here. As a singer intent on cultivating and maintaining mood and emotion, she’s particularly effective with wordless utterances and the stretching of syllables and stanzas far beyond typical cadence. “Is It My Low or Yours” especially reinforces this aspect of her talent as it ends side one.

“Looking at You in a Photo” returns to solo piano mode with no lessening of assurance, her skill and good judgement at the bench accompanied by spiking intensity as she lays heavy on the keys midway through. Picking up the guitar for “I Left Myself for a While,” the track’s drone underbelly slowly asserts itself and helps to deliver a highlight very likely to please psych-folk connoisseurs.

As before, the strings in “Watching the Horses” begin with subtlety, though in short order the song undergoes a rise in advanced compositional and vocal fervor reminiscent of Newsom’s Ys. After a steel drum-guided crescendo, it redirects into an unexpected rhythmic passage and then reverts to the piano-driven structure of the outset; of all the selections here this one bodes best for Power’s musical future.

The gentle fingerpicking and sweetly sung harmony of “How You Feel” scales things back for a highly satisfactory finale. Brigid Mae Power is a major step forward for this multifaceted and remarkably mature artist.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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