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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

'The Boatman' is Across the Water's tribute to fishermen

Posted October 25, 2015

My new musical album Across the Water is about anticipation - waiting for a fog to lift or a thunderstorm to pass so that one will discover something incredibly beautiful in the distance. This CD is my story of Ireland.

I took a trip there in 2014 and wandered across the green spaces and watery places looking for inspiration and found it in abundance. But I had waited and dreamed about going to Ireland for 20 years before I actually did it. Somehow, those preconceived images are still a part of my story. And I am OK with that. Millions of words and hundreds of songs have already been written about the beauty of the Emerald Isle. So what can I add to the collection? Well, Across the Water came to me as a mysterious gift, and I hope you will accept it as one for yourself.

I never know where a melody will take me. Good tunes always write themselves, and usually pretty quickly. I look back on the music of this 12-track instrumental compilation and I hear the music of wind and wave. I hear the private thoughts of a lonely boatman working the waters of Donegal Bay. I smell the salty sea at Connemara known for the savage beauty of its rugged mountains. I tap into my Irish heritage and celebrate the blood of my siblings passed down by Margaret O'Neil, who ran away from ancient Irish royalty in love with a common Scotsman bound for America.

In the song Gaelic Ghost I pay tribute to Irishman Micheal (pronounced MEE-haul) O'Domhnaill, who grew up speaking Gaelic - whose music set my heart on fire and whose life was snuffed out way too early. Across the Water is a celebration of quiet and holy places bursting forth with flames of rhododendron just like in my native North Carolina. This album is a melody of meadows – blooming with both flowers and stone in an amazing place called The Burren.

This album is a cloud - a cloud of witnesses - raining down on me with blessings from my Scots-Irish ancestors. Call me a hopeless romantic. but I do believe as I once wrote in a song 14 years ago that “the spirits of my ancient kin continue to rise up and greet me on the wind.” The music is tinged with happiness and sadness and feelings in between.

Over the next few Sundays I will feature video essays from the album. Today’s piece is one I learned from my musical mentor Micheal O’Domhnaill. The Boatman is a haunting melody enhanced by a poignant piano arrangement from Joseph Akins of Tennessee. Juilliard-trained violinist Jennifer Curtis, who has played on all eight of my albums, delivers an achingly beautiful melody line after my Celtic whistle on the first verse. Cellist Nancy Green brought tears to my eyes with her harmony and transitional phrases. Accordionist Brandon Bush offers tender textures to give the song its unique sense of longing and theme of unrequited love.

The video is graced by the gorgeous photography of Eileen Donnell of Ireland. Eileen comes from a long line of fishermen. Several of the boats you see in the video are from her family. I can’t thank Eileen enough for allowing me to use these marvelous and deeply personal images.

Next week, I will offer up another video featuring my own photographs on the title track Across The Water.

If you are interested in purchasing the album locally it can be found at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh and will soon be available at Barnes & Noble locations. You can also find the album online at CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon.

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  • Renee Crawford Oct 25, 2015
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    This is so beautiful. The music and the photography are stunning. I am so moved by what you have captured here.

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