“I have found my voice,” sings Maria Doyle Kennedy on ‘The Silence’, a track from her beguiling new album, Sing. And what a voice - sometimes melancholic, other times joyful, always passionate - elemental folk shot through with a potent soulful impulse.
Yet as a singer, Maria remains one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets. Indeed the raven-haired Dubliner is probably more familiar as either Katherine of Aragon, nanny to the son of a serial killer, or the estranged wife of the lovely Mr Bates from the three award-winning television series, The Tudors, Dexter, and Downton Abbey, and recently in the Titanic.
That’s set to change with Sing, her fifth solo release proper. The 10-song collection was co-written with husband Kieran Kennedy, and features duets with Damien Rice, Paul Brady and, on the jaw-droppingly beautiful ‘Yes We Will’, the legendary John Prine.
“John’s a hero of mine,” says Maria. “After we had written ‘Yes We Will’, I heard his voice singing in my head. I know that sounds insane, but I really did! I knew I had to get the song to him, and was overjoyed when he called me to say that he loved it and would record it with us. What an amazing singer and human being he is, like a big ball of grace on legs.”
She joins an illustrious cast who have shared a mic with Prine, among them Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Irish DeMent, and Bonnie Raitt.
Damian Rice features on the title track, ‘A lullaby for grown-ups’. He was always on Maria’s radar. “I really hoped he would like it. He cares very much about what he does, in the same way as John Prine and Paul Brady, my other collaborators, do. I knew he would only agree to sing on that song with me if it moved him in some way. I was very happy that our singing together happened.”
As for Brady, she’s a long-time admirer of his work and feels fortunate that he agreed to partner her on ‘Hola Luna’. “He has quite a high voice and I have quite a deep voice. I thought the contrast would make a special sound. Again, he said he would be interested in collaborating if he could hear something that would suit him in the song. A couple of nail-biting days for me! After he had received the song he called to say he loved it and thought it would work.”
Maria has spent more than two decades performing all over the world before audiences ranging from tens of thousands at Glastonbury, Oxegen, and the Cambridge Folk Festival, to hundreds in small, intimate theatres. “Playing live gives me more pleasure than almost anything else. Something extra happens when you’re playing live. It’s the best way to share the songs, I think. The expression of them is different and affected by the people who are in the room. You’re sharing the songs with your audience.”
She will bring her intimate show to the Passionfruit Theatre, Athlone on Saturday September 8.
Tickets are priced at €15 and can be booked by calling (086 ) 333 8457 or email [email protected].