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Julie Feeney At The Irish Arts Center

by Geoffrey Paddy Johnson on May 15, 2012

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There’s an undeniable elegance about the Irish singer/performer (composer, orchestrator, producer) Julie Feeney who is appearing for a 10 day booking at the Irish Arts Center on 51st Street. The elegance is there in the assemblage of instruments she has corralled on stage, as well as in the controlled voice, smooth flowing toothy lyrics, and sophisticated orchestral arrangements she deploys. But the elegance really comes about when Feeney emerges into the auditorium, using the regular patrons entrance way, singing in hushed tones the introduction to her song Myth. Leaning over from the aisle, she breathily exchanges some of the words with a surprised, somewhat unnerved audience. She’s sparkling in the reflected stage lights, an ornate crystal gemmed collar on her dress and tiny rhinestones in her hairnet twinkle in the shadows. It’s nothing to get really alarmed about, but that towering beehive coiffure is teased up just that little bit high enough to signal caution; who is this? And the song she is singing keeps dropping into abrupt silences. Before picking up once more and conducting you along a melody that achieves its pop bounce from a delicate arrangement of strings, bowed and pizzicato. She attains the stage and relaxes the audience with a complicit, almost coy smile, while working a silken black balloon dress that is at once sumptuous and brief. It’s a wonderfully poised balancing act between refinement and boldness, and it proves the perfect introduction for what is to follow.

She delivers a succession of self penned lyrical gems that play with a chamber orchestral style as comfortably as they address contemporary pop sensibilities. Using a backing group of seven musicians (she makes each musician, including her backing vocalist, play at least 2 instruments) incorporating a classical strings line-up, a touch of trumpet, and a hint of woodwind, Feeney gently moves through feelings that range from delicately vulnerable to reflexively sharp, by way of fluidly philosophical. Her presence and performance hold an element of theatre which is all of a graceful piece with the imaginative vocalizing and rich musicality. As perfectly manicured as her delivery is, there is enough live nerve on show to require attentive listening and to permit the unexpected. She is that rare thing, a striking mix of eccentric genius and comfortable intimacy.

In this show she presents works from her critically lauded, self produced, first two albums – 13 Songs and pages – and what is surely an eagerly awaited third, scheduled for release this Fall. In the hotbed of young musical talent that Ireland is today she is a strong individual presence, radiating assured musical understanding and punctilious execution. She holds three degrees, at least two of which are music focused (the other is in psychology). In Dublin she has performed at the National Concert Hall to rapturous reception (she is currently working on an opera commission from that quarter) but in the comparatively cozy setting of the IAC’s Donaghy Theatre she is very naturally at ease with a smaller audience. Her wide musical reach and meticulous attention to detail – as well as her sartorial distinctiveness – have prompted comparisons with Bjork, but she is very much her own entity, extinguishing likenesses. The wile and wit woven in to her lyrics, as well as evident in her orchestrations, speak eloquently on that point. In Britain The Guardian has offered its praise in the words  ”the world will listen”, to which I can only add, and so it should! Julie noted.

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