The Boston-area Irish harpist and singer Áine Minogue has a certain philosophy about brainstorms: If you have one, don’t get in the way – just let it happen and then figure it all out afterwards. So, a few years ago, Minogue found herself in what she calls “a mad writing fit,” in which hundreds of songs seem to pour out.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” recalls Minogue, a Tipperary native. “Some of the songs seemed to come from my subconscious. They were coming out, and I was just along for the ride, trying to keep up. I felt I was the messenger, and so it became a matter of figuring out what I was meant to convey.”
This surge of creativity became the basis for her latest album, “Eve,” her 15th overall – and her first consisting entirely of original songs. Minogue’s work is marked by a serene, meditative sound, with elements of new age and world music blended with those of Irish and other Celtic traditions, and an abiding interest in the spirituality and mythology found in the ancient Celtic world and its traditions and rituals – as demonstrated in albums such as the holiday-themed “To Warm the Winter’s Night” and “The Spirit of Christmas,” and “Circle of the Sun,” a collection of songs and tunes that mark the passage of seasons.
Here, however, Minogue’s focus is on the many iterations of Eve – not just as a Biblical or literary character, but as the essence and embodiment of femininity itself, throughout history and humanity.
“It’s about everything that Eve represents, and not just as it applies to being a woman,” she explains. “There is the idea, as advanced by Jung, of each person possessing both feminine and masculine traits – the feminine archetype being more intuitive and empathetic, the male more linear and structurally oriented – and that we express these in our own unique ways.
“But I also find fascinating the character of Eve, and her portrayal down through the ages. She is called ‘Mother of All Creation,’ and yet you can’t find a classic artist depicting her as a mother, only as a woman exiled. I find that ironic and mind-blowing: After all, she’s someone who lost a child, Abel, to murder at the hand of her other child, Cain. She has this huge life that seems so under-explored.”
While contemporary gender-related controversies and issues may seem to dovetail with the album’s premise, Minogue says the impetus for “Eve” is based on more universal and timeless themes.
“I can’t point to one or two specific things that inspired this whole torrent of songs; it just happened for whatever reason, and I felt compelled to bring them to life. The album is not about current controversies: It’s not about, say, male/female income disparity, or about #MeToo,” she says.
“Not that those issues aren’t important, of course, but the scope of ‘Eve’ is independent of them. It has to do with how humans treat each other, and also how our female aspect treats our male aspect, and vice-versa. There is a certain darkness to the album, because it does speak to women’s efforts to deal with negative things, of carrying shame for the other, as Eve did – dancing to tunes not of their own making.”
Minogue alludes to such struggles in “The Perfect Eve” – one of three songs on the album that includes the titular name: “A perfect mirror for the shame/A perfect Eve to your Adam/A perfect key to lock your shadow.” “All About Eve,” meanwhile, does have a specific source of inspiration: the Bette Davis movie of the same name. But in evoking what she calls the film’s reflection on “unspeakable women-on-women misogyny,” she also notes that such contempt can turn inward as well: “Beware your mother’s dreams, my dear/No apple falls far from its tree.”
The other “Eve” song, “Oh, Eve,” is about the different interpretations and impressions of Eve accumulated throughout the ages, to such an extent that her true nature has become obscured: “Eve, drawing water from the children’s well/Could you tell me the story of the time/When the Gods pledged love to you, and me, and all Mankind/Eve, come back from the water’s edge/Eve, All is Well…”
Minogue revisits the question in “Before the World Was Made”: “I am looking for the face I had/Before the world was made”; “The face I knew before the world was nigh/Who was I?/Before they cut me off and cast me aside.”
“There is so much going on with identity these days: This is how the world sees me, but is that who I really am?” Minogue says of “Before the World Was Made.” “Yeats, of course, wrote a poem with the same title, and the night before I recorded this I found out Van Morrison had made a song of that poem. I certainly admire Yeats, and Van, but I felt the Eve in me had something to say: ‘What was it like before shadow and shame were cast on women?’”
Yeats comes up again in “Warrior or Healer,” its opening line (“The center breaks/Yet on I go”) a variation on his famous line from “The Second Coming.” Minogue says she’s been offered numerous interpretations of the song (“As the messenger, who am I to disagree?” she says), but the dual-nature, dueling-impulses Jungian view of the individual is evident: “This warrior’s sword/this healer’s hand/I carve the wound/I thread the strand.”
Minogue says she has been influenced by the work of scholar-authors like Joseph Campbell and Marion Woodman, and their use of psychology and related disciplines in analyzing and interpreting folk tales and folklore.
“Marion Woodman in particular, and her book Sitting By the Well, made an impression on me. She broke down fairy tales in fascinating ways, such as explaining the imagery of castles, drawbridges, stairs and doors in Jungian terms; the song, ‘Ghostly Love,’ that’s on this album – with lines like ‘My ghostly love pulled the drawbridge tight’ – is totally a nod to her.
“On the one hand, I appreciate the pure, emotional and visceral aspect of traditional folk songs and tales, but I also like being able to step back and see them in a different context.”
From a musical standpoint, “Eve” sees Minogue take a few new pathways. Her graceful Irish harp and her stellar work on keyboards are an integral part of the mix as always; Seamus Egan (whistle), Eugene Friesen (cello) and Alasdair Halliday (Scottish pipes, harmony vocals), all of whom have appeared on previous recordings, are a key presence as well. So there are plenty of familiar Minogue trademarks, like the liturgical feel to “Echo of Love,” a round sung with multi-tracked vocals over an electronic soundscape, or the Irish/Celtic dimension underscored by Egan’s whistle and Halliday’s pipes on songs such as “The Perfect Eve” and “Warrior or Healer.”
One conspicuous addition is Billy Novick’s clarinet, which appears on seven of the 12 tracks. At times, Novick is in the background, providing a mid-range tonal complement to Egan and Friesen. On “Puppetmaster” – a commentary on the illusions that exist in performance, whether on stage or real life – he comes to the fore, the clarinet’s bluesy swoops and glides conjuring up images of greasepaint and circus tents.
But the most significant contribution to “Eve” came from Jon Evans, who has worked with popular singer-songwriters like Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos. Besides mustering acoustic and electric guitars, bass, banjo and other instruments, he served as mixer and engineer, providing important insights along with fine musicianship, according to Minogue.
“Jon is very gifted, and he’s had all these different experiences that include pop and rock, session work for commercials, and so on. So he brought a different perspective that fit in well with what I was trying to accomplish, and gave me a lot of courage to try out some new things.”
Minogue acknowledges the irony of having an all-male set of accompanists on an album dedicated to an icon of femininity. “But I think there is a strong feminine aspect to their playing – and I mean that as a great compliment,” she says, adding with a laugh. “I think it helps that they have nothing to prove, so they’re beyond ego and testosterone.”
Over the course of this month, Minogue will start to prepare for her annual slate of Christmas/New Year’s season concerts, including at Club Passim on Dec. 21. It has become a tradition in and of itself for her – this year, she notes, is the 25th anniversary of the release of “To Warm the Winter’s Night” – and thus offers a familiar sort of comfort and joy.
At the same time, Minogue has an inkling that whatever guiding spirit inspired the creation of “Eve” may not be finished with her yet.
“Something’s shifted, I think. I’ve been feeling a whole new energy,” she says. “We’ll see where it goes. I’m just along for the ride.”
For more on Aine Minogue and “Eve,” see aineminogue.com