This month witnesses the release of what has to be considered the most ambitious CD
in recent memory. The CD is called “Deep is the Well” and it comes to us from Kevin
O’Donnell, an artist we have unfortunately not heard much from in recent years. Kevin
was the lead singer of the Irish American
folk group Arranmore and it was his butter
smooth baritone that most of us remember when we remember that band. After a 15 year
hiatus from playing Irish music, Kevin has released this masterwork which plows new
ground on a number of levels. Much of Irish music deals with the upheaval of coming
to a new land but seldom is anything heard of the subsequent generations and what
happened to them on their journey toward the American dream. Kevin has dealt with this
omission by creating a fictional Irish American family and detailing the struggles of not
only the first to come over from the old country but of those generations that followed
and their adventures in America’s story. The history of the Fagan family from 1837
through today is the story of many of us whose ancestors arrived here awhile back.
Produced by Irish music legend Maurice Lennon, the CD features the musical talents of
Maurice, Jim DeWan, Finbar Furey, Larry Gray, Kathleen Keane, Bill Lamphier, John
Rice, John Williams, Jessica Willis, Haley O’Donnell and, of course, the majestic voice
of Kevin O’Donnell. Three years Kevin labored on this masterwork, writing all the songs
and crafting the story through the song. So here is the story of the Irish American family,
their adventures, their heartaches, their triumphs. I can safely say, from experience, that
the more you listen to this recording, the more you’ll be drawn into the stories Kevin tells
here. In the extensive liner notes, in addition to complete lyrics, is a Fagan family tree to
help you place the songs and stories historically. I have seldom seen a CD that was such
an artistic whole, that told such a comprehensive and complete story and that held my
interest so completely. Get yourself a copy and let master storyteller Kevin O’Donnell
weave his magic around you. It will be a trip you’ll remember.
– By Jack Baker – May, 2013
Following a number of recent concept or themed albums we have this much anticipated release from Kevin O’ Donnell called Deep is the Well. Kevin has been on a 15 year hiatus from music and has spent the intervening time acting in various stage shows as well as following his passion for writing. A chance encounter with Maurice Lennon re ignited his desire to get back into the studio. With Maurice’s promise to produce this record the opportunity could not be passed up. The resultant songs represent a fresh perspective on the American experience over a 170 year period as told by a multi-generational family of Irish descent, and is a work of historical fiction. In addition to Maurice Lennon on the album you also have Finbar Furey, John Williams and Jessica Willis. Chicago musicians Jim DeWan, Kathleen Keane, John Rice, and Larry Grey also add their weight to the project.
The album features 10 new compositions and opens with a poem set to music. It’s called A Letter Home and it draws you into the journey that is slowly revealed over the rest of the album. Within this poem is a reference to those Irish born in the US stating ” their love seems far more intense, if that is possible, than the affection of those who were born in Ireland” This resonates a bitter truth about the effect of emigration over time, with identity torn between a spiritual home and a material life on a foreign shore. Be it on the railroads of North America or the tunnels of London the fire that burns within is the same. This can result in artistic expression that manifests itself as music and song, feeding like a virus down through the generations.
Kevin assumes the position of narrator delving into these themes, finding a musical catharsis for himself and others in the process. It is stirring stuff indeed with the strength of his writing at times hitting hard. Small town confinement is explored on Factory Girl where “the bend in the river is the edge of her world” and the bells from the “old weary cathedral drift over the town” In Downtowner Motel memories of the good times for William Fagan are mixed with the harsh reality of isolation and “if next year the lakes haven’t claimed him then the whiskey most certainly will.” And on we go through love, loss and yearning as the stories unfold and reveal life won and lost. Some great songs including the closing Saint Malachy’s Waltz and a Marty Robbins inspired Girl from Durango that explores chance encounters. Lyrically strong and musically, at the level you would expect with Maurice Lennon involved, it is a record that has depth and emotion within its many hidden layers. Thoughts of the forgotten Irish in the bedsits of Kilburn and Kentish Town come to mind, the plight of which would surely reveal a narrative that is just as compelling. Deep is the Well is thought provoking for sure and is a worthy vehicle for the return of Kevin O’ Donnell.
– By Tony Lawless on May 2, 2013