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The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

This review was first published on CLUAS in 2002
Other albums reviewed in 2002

Tessa Perry

A review of her album 'Live at De Barras'

'I steal like a magpie and I fly like a crow' - the opening lines from Tessa Perry's 'Magpie' sum up the essence of the Cork songwriter's debut release. 'Live at De Barras' captures a bare folk female sound that at the same time announces the emergence of an interesting new talent on the Irish music scene.

Tessa Perrry 'Live at De Barras'Recorded at the Clonakilty venue last year, with an element of mixing and mastering afterwards (how can live drums sound that subtle), the live EP contains five songs from Perry's live repertoire, recorded with full band backing, and the now de rigueur folk-acoustic cello.

On a basic level, Tessa Perry sounds like Beth Orton - an artist she has played support to in the recent past. Critics may make of this what they wish, but, unlike the often-indulgent meanderings of contemporary Irish songwriters - Gemma Hayes for one - Perry's own sound is distinctive enough to push her clear of comparison.

And in the field of female folksingers, where many new singers are typecast early on as mini-Jonis, -Natalies or -Alanis's, this break from comparison should be seen as the important achievement of 'Live at De Barras'.

On disc, two things set this recording apart from the usual singer-songwriter fare. Firstly, the songwriting, which is harshly subtle, appears to use minimum power to elicit strong and clear emotion resonance with the listener. Secondly, the band run through the set with wonderfully smooth feeling, working (with the exception of the odd extra guitar solo) not just to fill the gaps but to pull more from the songs that the singer alone could do.

Standing out in this regard is the Laurie Hedger's drumming, which, working quietly behind and in front of the singer, compliments the loose, even funky, feel of the songs. And, importantly, he doesn't play loud. To her credit, Tess Leak's cello playing is just subtle enough to be heard, yet not to dominate the sound (Damien Rice take note).

The result is a debut EP which sound occasionally solemn, often heartfelt, and neatly funky. It offers a couple of tracks (in particular 'Outsides In' and 'One Chord Song') that stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of Irish songwriting in the last year.

There's a long road ahead of Tessa Perry, but her promise, and the fact that she is based in Baltimore, West Cork, and is not chained to the often stifling Whelan's-centered gig circuit of Dublin and other larger towns, can only ensure that the freshness and subtlety of her first recording will be repeated in the near future.

Cormac Looney

(bullet) Visit Tessa's website