‘THE difficult second album’, a remark that’s often made about artists and the challenge of following up on strong first releases. The opposite is the case for the second album of Miltown Malbay musician Shona Blake who has delivered with ‘A Woman Knows’, her stunning new album. In it, she reveals huge growth as a person and as an artist and it’s no surprise that the plaudits are coming her way.
“This is everything I ever wanted in an album,” she says from her home in Miltown Malbay. “I knew I wanted to take my time and I knew how I wanted it to sound. It started in 2018 exactly one year after my mum passed and we continued to record once a year around her anniversary. She was there, her spirit a guiding light throughout”. Shona’s husband Paul McCabe is her longtime collaborator and he was very much part of the journey.
“Everything between myself and Paul was live. That was so important to me. I wanted it raw and honest, warts and all. I especially love the masterful playing of his beautiful Gibson guitar, it brings so much to the album I think”.
Weaving elements of blues, jazz and alt folk, ‘A Woman Knows’ is rich in both melody and lyricism. It covers deeply personal terrain, exploring Shona’s relationship with herself, her mother and the world of politics and more.
It opens with ‘Note to Self’, which Shona describes as “a personal reflection, a moment in time”. She describes it as being about a woman growing from daughter to mother and then finding her own identity and voice as her life moves into middle age”
In the songs ‘Gossamer Skin’ and ‘Old Fashioned Way’ she is settling into that space. She takes on Donald Trump and the politics of gun crime and greed in the world, themes which are carried into ‘Alison and Diamonds’.
However, it is her relationship with her late mother Eileen that is most present, the raw emotion evident throughout. “The deep love I will always have for her and the understanding that we all live on in each other, even in death”.
Shona’s favourite song on the album is ‘Note to Self’. “It takes my breath away when I hear the power and strength in the words. I find it incredibly grounding. It’s about the dream of simplicity and much more, including my feelings about my mother. I feel it’s important to show my daughters that it’s OK to follow your dreams. I cried on the night I wrote it, it’s personal, raw and full of emotion, everything I want in a song”.
While Shona grew up surrounded by music and song, she sees herself as a late starter compared to many of her contemporaries. And while her first album ‘Explore’ made a mark, Shona says the journey hasn’t always been easy.
“I feel I was born with words and music inside of me and it took years and years for it all to come out,” she says. “I’m not a natural performer, and I’m not naturally confident. I used to dream of performing and would spend time singing and practising in the bathroom but it was always a distant dream. It wasn’t until Paul and I moved to Miltown Malbay that things took off.
“Paul is well known for his incredible musicianship and people just assumed I was equally proficient. We started getting booked for gigs and I recall learning 24 songs in 2 weeks and things just went from there. Eventually, I had enough confidence and had written enough songs that it was time to record an album so ‘Explore’ was born.
‘Explore’ was released in 2015 and it was a wonderful experience. It was written during a difficult transition in my life and I can certainly hear that when I listen back. I threw everything in, but the learning in the doing of it was invaluable. It was received very well but I was completely overwhelmed if I’m honest and got lost for a while”.
She says the experience made her “much stronger as an artist and woman”.
“I became more confident and this allowed me to have a much stronger input into the second album. I slowed down, took my time, and thought about the whole picture. I was far more prepared. I’ve also been immensely supported, not just by Paul and my daughters, but also by the likes of my producer Martin O’Malley and champions such as Luka Bloom, Clare Sands, Carl Corcoran, Sara Ryan (SAL), Anne Rynne, and Mary Green from Greenshine. I’m forever grateful for those who believe in me as it hasn’t always been easy”.
Shona doesn’t shy away from the challenges she’s encountered along the way but she say they have been instrumental in paving the way for what she describes as a musical adventure “full of love, joy and friendship”.
“I have been bullied off stage, screamed at for not singing Irish songs, talked down to, ignored and treated really badly. I have given up music at times to save myself. But I have also been hugged, had people cry, thanked and have given and received pure joy at gigs, weddings and funerals. I have also met and played with some wonderful people along the way who have inspired me immensely. I wouldn’t change any of it”.
More information on Shona Blake, her albums and upcoming gigs at Shonablake.com.
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 065 6864146.