Words by Rob Adams
Turns out that piper and whistle-man can sing as well
Jarlath Henderson hinted he could sing, as well as playing startlingly good uilleann pipes and whistle, on his 2013 Air-Fix album with fellow piper and co-leader Ross Ainslie. The slightly tentative, boyish voice of back then has given way to something altogether more confident and forthright, if still with a certain youthful charm and innocence at times. This is the Tyrone-born Henderson’s first release as an artist in his own right.
Hearts Broken, Heads Turned is an auspicious debut, with Henderson sounding like a young Paul Brady on ‘Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure’ and elsewhere bringing to mind Andy Irvine’s gentleness and Len Graham’s sensitive pacing. But he’s not walking in anyone’s shadows as he and his band give each of these eight traditional songs a contemporary setting of its own that retains and respects its integrity.
There’s great variety of arrangement, bringing acoustic guitar, fiddle, piano and bass together with subtle electronica, samples and beautifully judged horns. ‘Young Edmund in the Lowlands Low’ becomes an epic of atmosphere, drama and nuance, Henderson’s voice coming across boldly over drones, keys and electronic sounds before the pipes themselves make a grand and telling entrance. ‘The Slighted Lover’ dances a jazz waltz; ‘Fare Thee Well Lovely Nancy’ is reborn as a 21st-century shanty and ‘The Mountain Streams Where the Moorcocks Crow’ boasts uplifting vocals buoyed by energetically riffing bass, searching fiddle and pipes, and wafting brass.