Steve Earle wailed about a raven-haired Galway heartbreaker, but what’s a fella to do when that same chick’s rocking a midi-synthesizer and Regina Spektor pipes?
Enter Julie Feeney: a one-woman Irish force who’s not spouting traditional tunes at some Guinness-fueled tourist trap. In town tonight to perform her self-styled brand of chamber-pop at Gibson Guitar Room, the singer-orchestrator-what-can’t-she-do? polymath wowed Ireland and greater Europe with her award-winning DIY bravado. Called “an innovator and original” by the Irish Times after releasing her first album “13 songs,” Feeney mixes pop strings with sunshiny ballads, swinging between Baroque pop and antifolk.
Naming Schoenberg and Beethoven as major musical influences, her second album “Pages” stretches the singer-songwriter label by both composing, then conducting her accompanying orchestra. “I’m a composer-singer, that’s the best way to label it,” says the conservatory-trained Feeney. “I write orchestral arrangements for classical ensembles, but it’s still pop. It’s still very much me.”
The “me” is constantly present. Unlike collaborative pop and rock groups, Feeney works alone from concept to completion; “It’s all I know how to do. I come from the classical world. I’ve never made music any other way.”
But those strings seem second to her pure, choral sound (which she’s showcased at Carnegie Hall.) With her, the genres merge. Celtic chant meets electro-accordion pop. A bit Sara Bareilles — sans light rock doo-wop — she sets cheeky poems to simple ditties, making songs that resonate in Texas college towns and Brooklyn lounges alike.
Hers is a distinct voice, one not heard from the West of Ireland since Dolores O’Riordan took the Cranberries global. She chokes off echo, punctuating syllables the way only a student of sonology knows to do. She’s a pro, but still wild, making her sold-out shows as eccentric as old-school Katy Perry concerts.
But what makes Feeney compelling is that the Irish label, frankly, should start falling by the wayside. She’s a member of the singer-songwriter wave rethinking that industry label— she’s got more in common with Brooklyn-based-one-man-up-and-comers than Sharon Shannon or the Irish Tenors.
“I’m really proud to be Irish and I adore traditional music, but my work isn’t really that,” she claims.
But on a tiny island where community pub sessions are a national pastime, the movement toward one-woman shows might seem too … American?
“American or Irish, pop music culture has always been very collaborative. I’m really a composer,” says Feeney. “That’s the movement I’m coming from.”
» Gibson Guitar Room, 709 G Street, NW; Tues. Nov. 9, 8 p.m., $25; 202-393-1006. (Gallery Place)
Photo by Eoin Wright