Karen Corbin releases debut Celtic album

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Arts Reporter Amanda Jess offers opinion on release

As soon as I heard Karen Corbin sing of the blooming heather, I was stuck – stuck on that track on her debut Celtic album, and plopped right back to my vacation in Ireland three years ago.

While Wild Mountain Thyme plays, I can picture the heather blooming across the road from my family’s rented cottage outside Doolin, a quaint village on the West coast, which overlooked the Burren landscape and Cliffs of Moher.

Though there’s debate of whether it’s actually an Irish or Scottish tune, it’s certainly well played on the Emerald Isle.  

The addition of the piano, combined with the sweetness of Karen and guest vocalist Cheryl Corbin’s voices, makes for a nostalgic tune, setting a tone for the rest of the album, Ready For The Storm.

The record, produced by George Canyon, has been a long time coming for Corbin, a plan for the future for close to a decade.

She grew up singing in festivals in Pictou County before heading to the big city, spending several years making pop and dance music.

Corbin slowly realized that genre wasn’t what she wanted to be doing.

“This is me,” she said about her Celtic album.

While Corbin was working in the industry in Toronto during the 1990s, she was her own manager, a position she feels didn’t allow the experience to be simply about the music.

The business side, combined with gruelling hours – midnight shows at dance clubs after a day of working another job –made her start looking elsewhere for employment.

“When I realized it wasn’t fun anymore, I knew it was time to get out.”

The pressure of constantly creating ‘hits’ took away from the music, Corbin said, adding that it was never enough.

She worked in radio, television and advertising, before taking a position as Canyon’s assistant, which allowed her time to get back to her own musical roots.

The 10-track album, recorded in Calgary at C4 Recording Studios Inc., includes Corbin’s take on traditional songs such as Jimmy Mó Mhile Stór and The Parting Glass, as well as two Dougie MacLean tracks.

She heard Caledonia by MacLean, a well-known Scottish songwriter, seven years ago, and instantly took to the song, making it her signature track at performances around the county.

Though she was hesitant to put two tracks from the same artist on her album, she fell for Ready For The Storm by MacLean as well.

The title track adds a bit of edge with a moody piano melody and Corbin’s stirring delivery of MacLean’s lyrics, drawing imagery of a sailor caught in an angry sea and the loneliness that comes with a life spent off land.

It includes one original track, written by George Canyon, Karen and Isabel Corbin.

The idea for Hector and Betsey began to form in the late 1990s when Karen and her mother, Isabel, thought a dinner theatre featuring both historic ships would draw interest.

They would be written as people, and would meet, fall in love and populate the area.

Years passed without the play becoming more than an idea. Finally, Isabel put pen to paper, writing pages and pages of lyrics, too many for a three-and-a-half minute song.

Karen condensed it into a manageable ‘radio friendly’ length. It was then only missing one piece – the chorus, a melody Canyon added with a few simple sounds.

“He put the ribbon on the package,” Corbin said. “I’m really happy with how it turned out.”

Accordion, fiddle, acoustic guitar and simple percussion build the track, leaving the listener with an unsettled feeling about where the song will go.

Before the lyrics begin, the fiddle adds a mellow vibe, foreshadowing the happy ending to come.

And that’s only the first 40 seconds.

The song combines modern and traditional Celtic melodies in an understated way and keeps to Corbin’s love of storytelling by capturing Pictou County’s Scottish history with a compelling twist.

Corbin debuts the album at the Festival of Summer Sounds during her show with Carmel Mikol and Cassie and Maggie MacDonald as part of the Celtic Ladies show.

The show runs July 29, 30, and 31 at 8 p.m.

Her album will be available at the show as well as at Water Street Studio and Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice, both located in Pictou.

 

Amanda.jess@ngnews.ca

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda 

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