…A masterful piece of storytelling.

Trail Belle Records TBR05

Christine Tobin (voice); Cora Venus Lunny (violin & viola); David  Power (uilleann pipes & whistles); Phil Robson (guitars & electronics); Steve Hamilton (piano)

Recorded 22 August 2022

Tobin’s departure for the USA in 2015 left a massive hole in the UK jazz scene, and one which it was seemingly impossible for anyone else to fill. After five years living in New York City, Christine and Phil Robson returned, and choosing to settle in her native Ireland has had a profound effect both on the vocalist’s outlook on life and her musical output.

If upon news of her return we waited in eager anticipation for a new album from Christine, she demanded that we be patient. With the release earlier this month of Returning Weather, the wait was well worth it with an album of sublime beauty and tranquillity that is heart-warming in its message of comfort in returning home and a sense of belonging.

A song cycle in nine parts, the music moves effortlessly with each song inextricably linked to the preceding and leading logically into the next the words and music are harmonious in their telling of homecoming and the feeling of being swept along to a place where one belongs.

Key to the success of the album is the arrangements for this rather unusual instrumentation. Tobin, in her compositions brings out the beauty inherent in the uilleann pipes and when partnered with Lunny’s violin and viola the resulting blending of voices is quite delicious.

Opening with ‘Loch Glinnie (part 1)’ we hear the hustle and bustle of New York City, complete with street sounds to be followed by the sharply contrasting tranquillity of rural Ireland.

Keen not to paint a rose-tinted view of the area she now calls home; Tobin indeed draws inspiration from the lake and woods that lie just outside the village, but also recalls the darker side of the history of the area where in 1921 two young men of the Irish Republican Army were shot and beaten by the Black and Tans, and sixty years later, following a bank robbery, two young Gardaí were also killed.

The overall mood of the album however features on the more uplifting side of a return home, with ‘Gennie’s Welcome’ a fond remembrance of her nearest neighbour and the welcome extended to her.

While both ‘Callow’ and ‘Mullach na Si’ depict in words and music the differing yet beautiful landscapes around the townlands found in Co. Roscommon.

The uilleann pipes on ‘ Mullach na Si’ are magisterial in their sound and presence, and act as a perfect accompaniment with the strings and Steve Hamilton’s piano to frame Tobin’s sublime wordless vocals.

Centrepiece of the album must surely be Tobin’s magnificent achievement in setting to music the words of Brooklyn poet Eva Salzman.

From the sung prose, with Christine switching to spoken word and the contributions from Robson’s guitars and clever deployment of electronics to David Power’s whistles and Steve Hamilton’s touch at the piano this is a masterful piece of storytelling.

The album closes with ‘July’ a delicate and optimistic song that again features some superb writing for uillean pipes, whistles and strings, and one can almost smell the flowers in bloom and feel the warmth of the summer sun on one’s skin.

Returning Weather marks a not just a welcome home for Christine Tobin but also a triumphant one.

Reviewed by Nick Lea