by Kerry Dexter

This time of year, best of lists pop up all over. The people over at Popmatters have been busy with all genres: Steve Horowitz even brushes up against the dangerous realm of defining folk as he prefaces his list of choices.

Defining what’s best is for me a case of what resonates, what matters, and what is timeless. Those are some of the things I consider, as I often get asked to vote in or write up such lists too. Then every now and then, there comes music that stays, those records which continue to teach me things about life, about faith, about love, about connection, long after their first season of notice is done. I was at first going to make this a comment about records I think are best of this year’s crop. I’ve touched on that before , and will say more on the subject, which is indeed an interesting one. But it is one of those timeless albums which is compelling me right now, Cathie Ryan’s The Farthest Wave.

Ryan says that hearing John Spillane sing The Wildflowers, at the Spirit Store in Dundalk , was the catalyst for her knowing she was ready to begin working on a new recording. Her lyrical and fiery take on the song’s idea of flourishing after ‘being driven from the garden,’ and finding out what to do with that and how to do it, guided her to such choices as Karine Polwart’s celebration of the return of hope, Follow the Heron, and her own quiet meditation on the courage it take to reach for healing, Be Like the Sea. It is not a quiet record, though, — it opens with a passionate invitation to love and risk in What’s Closest to the Heart and follows on through slip jigs in Irish with which to dance the baby, a hymn to that other Irish saint, Bridgid, also in Irish, and the title track. Ryan wrote that song too, again turning to images of nature and the sea to give insight into the journey from grief to hope. Each song, from the traditional What Would You Do Love,? a duet with Sean Keane, to the Flatt and Scruggs Appalachian song of leaving love, Rough and Rocky, to the drawing stands together conclusion of Home Sweet Home, works in the big picture of the arc of the recording and stands on its own as well. It is a record full of power. All that’s talking just of ideas, too: Ryan and her fellow musicians including John Doyle, John McCusker, Greg Anderson, and Hanneke Cassel, are people who could make music from the phone book sound great. Fortunately, Ryan’s chosen other things for them to work on.

So what’s next? As a music writer, I often get asked that question when I find a recording that really resonates with me. Will the artist top this? The only thing any artist has to do is to continue the conversation in what ever way seems best to them, there’s no concern about topping anything. It is a conversation, with all the twist and turns, silences and connections that go along with such exchanges. But that’s another post.

Kerry Dexter writes about music, the arts, and creative practice at Music Road

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