2015 in Review : Interview with Rhoda Barfoot - Across The Sea to Ireland

Last month we reviewed the new album by Rhoda Barfoot called Across The Sea to Ireland.  We said that "each year one vocal album manages to stand out from the crowd, and set itself apart on creative and musical grounds.  Across the Sea To Ireland may just be that album. To be able to say this about a recording that includes standards like Amazing Grace, Caledonia, Galway Bay and Mo Ghile Mear is quite something. “

We spoke to Rhoda about this great collection of songs and how they were chosen.

“The songs I chose for this album, and every project, are songs that I appreciate” she said.  “They can be old or new and I take each song as its own work.  I look at the words and decide what feel I want for that track, and what do I want to say through this music?  For example, Galway Bay is a stunning song – really moving words and a beautiful melody.  So I felt it was better if there was a simple arrangement that allowed the words and melody to shine.  On this track, there are pure vocals with piano, accordion and a touch of Hammond organ.  There’s upright bass in just one verse.”

Rhoda feels that a popular song like Caledonia can be tricky because so many people have recorded it before.  “You always ask – does the world really need another recording of this song!” she said.  “You have to stop thinking about anyone else’s version and decide what you want to do with it.  In the end I just sang it how I felt it, from my heart, and we got it in the first take.  We recorded the vocals with the piano and then added the strings, which I played myself, stacking the different parts so it sounded like a small orchestra.”

Little Bell is an old Russian poem that was later set to music.  On the recording Rhoda sings an English translation. For this song, she wanted to update the setting so they wove a simple electronic track around the pure vocals.  

“I love the contrast between electronic and acoustic in that track and also in Flee as a Bird, an old American hymn” she said.  “It has an electronic base with stacked vocals and then Hammond organ, accordion and violin.  If you listen carefully you might also hear some sitar and other surprises!  These songs in turn contrast with the purely acoustic tracks like Bruremarsj (traditional tune from Norway) that is a simple violin, cello, piano arrangement, Amazing Grace which is upright bass, violin, cello and voice, and Sarah’s Song (Phil Cunningham) with just violin, cello and accordion.”

"When we started, I couldn’t have predicted how the finished album was going to sound.  I just knew I had a collection of songs and fiddle tunes that I loved and I trusted Erick to help me to bring them to life."

Recording Sarah’s Song was among her favourite parts of the session and one track she is particularly proud of.  “The tune was new to the other two musicians on that track, so we quickly mapped out the chords then went straight into the studio and gave it a go!” she said.  “I felt the result was a very musical track with real interplay between the musicians.  The form developed as we played, communicating though the music and responding to each other’s ideas.  This allowed for some lovely spontaneous moments in the song.”

On the overall experience she felt it really was “a joy to be in the studio with such wonderful musicians.  Erick Jaskowiak ( who produced ) and I did have a plan, chord structure and arrangement ideas and so on for the tracks before we started recording, but I was happy for these to evolve along with each person’s talents and individual ideas. For example, the distinctive introduction and link in Flee as a Bird came about outside the studio when John Deaderick was playing along on the Hammond organ.  We loved how it sounded so we decided to use it in the song.  We added the other instruments and that ‘doodle’ became a unique moment on the album!”

“When we started, I couldn’t have predicted how the finished album was going to sound.  I just knew I had a collection of songs and fiddle tunes that I loved and I trusted Erick to help me to bring them to life.  It was clear from the start that we shared a vision for the album though we each came from different backgrounds – me from a Celtic and classical European background and Erick, predominantly folk and country music in Nashville.  We brought our own experience to the project and I believe the album is richer for this diversity.  I think our success was in knowing when to insist on a certain detail or approach and when to trust the other’s judgement!  And also in being open to new ideas while keeping the collection coherent in terms of sound and style.”

For Rhoda the next step is adapting the album for live performance.  They are planning shows in the US and also private concerts where they bring out the same intimate feel of the album onto a concert stage.  “I’ve been planning this for a long time and working on it now is really a pleasure,” she said

You can read our album review here and the album is now available to purchase on iTunes at the following address  www.itunes.apple.com/gb/album/across-the-sea-to-ireland

You can order physical copies, find details of performances and book a concert at www.rhodabarfoot.com

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