I remember being in a record store (remember those?) that had a bunch of sale bins. A girl was looking through the CDs of the unknown artists on sale, hoping to score something interesting for a few dollars. I was with my lady, who, irony enough, had introduced me to McEvoy this very way. She said, "This looks interesting..." and I bought it. As we checked the boxes, I noticed a copy of "Snapshots." Eleanor's albums were often in the sale bin, to my chagrin. Eleanor's not very well known in America and CDs and promo copies were often available for a few dollars. I flashed the album to my lady. The girl next to me said, "She's good?" I said, "She's great." "Oh? What's she like?" Thinking of a reference she might understand, I said, "Imagine a totally depressed Sinead O'Connor."
At the time, 1999, McEvoy was known for heartbreakingly intimate angst, if she was known for anything. "Only A Woman's Heart" was (and remains) her biggest hit. "My heart is low…my heart is so low…" Like Paul Simon, the best songs on the early albums tended to be somber, if not grim: "Go Now." "Please, Heart, You're Killing Me." "Whisper a Prayer to the Moon." Her love songs were in a minor key, including the haunting and humble, "You'll Hear Better Songs Than This." She wrote questioning, ironic pieces on religion ("Ave Maria") and she bettered Paul's "Slip Sliding Away" with the faster-paced "Days Roll By." And yes, she had several songs about people dying.
Fast forward 5 years. With great anticipation, I went to see her perform live. Would she be darkly morbid? Harrowing? Would she be some kind of wreck barely able to get through a set without throwing a bitter tantrum or breaking down in tears? To my surprise, Eleanor presented a very balanced show of the dark tunes and the gradually increasing lighter ones. She had an easy rapport with the audience, and without flashy looks or costume, won over the room with her personality. She could play guitar, piano and violin, too. It was then that I realized Eleanor McEvoy is quite simply, the best. Who else could I see for well-written and performed songs, in no genre more specific than "rock?" Joni Mitchell would be a competing name but even in 2004 Joni was a recluse.
That night, October 9th, she performed a stark number she only sings if she happens to be doing a gig on that date. "Anyone know what day it is?" she asked. She was expecting a cue for the song. But I was the first to speak up, and I said, "Yes…it's John Lennon's birthday." "Oh? Really? I didn't know that." Then she launched into a song that is both rich and spare, beautiful in its simplicity, deep in the chord changes, profoundly simple in sketching in the sparse details of a girl gone missing, with hopeful, hopeless signs placed around the neighborhood by her family. I often play it for people as their introduction to this artist.
More recently, she played a gig within 200 miles of me (it happens so rarely, since she mostly performs in Ireland). I made sure to go. I literally fight a torrential downpour to see her. More than ever, Eleanor McEvoy was the complete, consummate artist, with a wonderfully varied show that she performed for a very diverse audience of young and old, eccentric individuals and complete families, sober and darkly intense loners and some burly guys who'd visited the lobby bar before the show to down a few beers. They all loved her show, and I was in love with her, in an admiring way, as you just had to be in the presence of such a virtuoso. She not only performed on an array of instruments but even sang a number in French. She also offered a few covers…for which she brought enhancement and new insight in her choice of tempo and inflection.
As I did previously, I was so happy to have a few moments with her after the show to chat with her. Some artists hide after a show, exhausted. Some are shy by nature. Some have a genius that can also be difficult. She signed CDs in the lobby, had an easy smile, was gracious, had a charming humility…again…what else can I say…she's the best.
And so, on John Lennon's birthday, here's the October 9th song. The music didn't die when John did. There are some out there who are continuing his legacy of highly personal, extremely artistic songs. I'm glad to say that this still young, but so mature artist has carved her own unique identity while maintaining an enviable touring schedule in both her native Ireland and in England, Australia and throughout Europe, and does it her way…with releases on her own label…produced with all the time and sonic care she knows her music is worth. I'm glad to say that previous posts of "October 9th" on this blog have introduced a lot of people to Eleanor's work, and I've heard from quite a few people who said, "I never heard her before…I listened to the song over and over…she's wonderful…I want to get her albums. I'd love to see her in person."
It's a simple and yet dramatic song. I'm glad to say that she's blossomed into an artist with a full range of material. Like even our own master of gloom, Leonard Cohen does these days, she offers a show that, even with some dark songs, leaves everyone satisfied, gratified, uplifted, and...smiling.
OCTOBER 9th Listen on line, no pop-ups, porn ads or wait time.