Reviews for Numberless Dreams
“"At times plaintive, at others spirited, this album is full of feeling throughout. It is a wonderfully chosen and crafted set, subtle yet captivating in its arrangement and performance. A beautiful collection of songs that merits listening again and again." ” - Ewan McLennan
Folk and Tumble
"This is folk gold. A deeply sensitive and talented artist... Beautiful, melodic, mesmerising interpretations of the great Irish bard."
From the outset, the deep, melancholy cello sets the scene. ‘A Poet to His Beloved’ – one of WB Yeats' best-loved poems, reflecting immeasurable respect and ‘Numberless Dreams’ for his beloved Maud Gonne, is interpreted by French artist Julie Abbé with remarkable sensitivity and reverence.
This is Abbé’s first dedicated folk album, featuring four of WB Yeats’ best loved poems set to her own music and voice. Beautiful, melodic, mesmerising interpretations of the great Irish bard.
The beautifully packaged twelve track album collates some of Abbé’s favourite Irish and English traditional folk songs, but it is the four Yeats poems that really stand out for me.
Of course, Abbé is not the first artist to set Yeats’ poems to music. The Waterboys’ Mike Scott and Donovan famously took that route before her. It was Donovan’s version of ‘The Song Of The Wandering Aengus’ that inspired her direction. This powerful poem rich in the ancient, Celtic tributes to nature, fire, water elements for which Yeats is widely known, his ventures into the magical worlds, the shamanic dreaming and journeying of poetic escapism, are enigmatically delivered in Abbé’s version.
Emotionally sincere and sensitive, Julie Abbé’s ‘Numberless Dreams’ is folk gold. She combines several popular traditional ballads such as ‘As I Roved Out’ and ‘Courting Is A Pleasure’ with one instrumental waltz, and the four poetic tributes.
Brought up in rural France, dancing and singing to the traditional Bal music of her native Poitou-Charentes region, she has spent the past twenty years immersed in the English and Irish folk traditions. The folk songs such as ‘Claudy Banks’, ‘Kellswater’ and ‘Flower Of Magherally’ reflect her lasting love affair for Ireland and its music and rhyme.
There are hints of Sandy Denny throughout and she says her version of ‘The Boatman’ was inspired by Denny.
Produced by Sid Goldsmith and featuring Dominie Hooper on cello and backing vocals, these beautifully crafted arrangements of English and Irish traditional songs are somewhat sublime, enriched with three-part harmonies and concertina.
The final two Yeats’ poems set to music are divinely interpreted.
(Come away, oh human child), hand in hand with the faeries of Yeats mind, for ‘the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand’
to the final track, Abbe’s version of Yeats’ ‘He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven’ make this an album for any fan of folk, Yeats, or both.
There is a rich, artistic tapestry of thought, reflection, and integrity to this album. At times, simple on the surface, but masquerading a deep complexity of intention and understanding, Abbe delights in the natural world, and comes across as a deeply sensitive and talented artist.
Folk Radio UK
"Exquisite craftsmanship...quietly devastating. Numberless Dreams is masterful in its delivery and intriguing in its opacity."
In 1899 the Irish poet and forerunner of literary modernism W.B. Yeats published The Wind Among The Reeds. The collection represented the climax of his early fixation with esoteric philosophy and its relationship with the natural world and with human relationships. It included a handful of poems that are among the most famous and highly-regarded in the English language.
The poems of Yeats lend themselves to musical reinterpretation perhaps more willingly than those of the other modernists. His ear has been bent by the traditional cadences of Irish folk song, and he acknowledges (albeit sometimes ironically) the mellifluous lyricism of the romantics and the storytelling capabilities of balladic forms. It is no surprise then that his poems have been adapted by musicians with a certain amount of regularity, from Donovan to Tiny Ruins by way of the Waterboys and Keane. Numberless Dreams, the new album by Bristol-based folk singer Julie Abbé, is built around four interpretations of some of Yeats’ best poems, including three from The Wind Among The Reeds. The opening track A Poet To His Beloved (whose second line lends the album its title) is a beautiful scene-setter. Abbé’s voice, trained in jazz, is perfectly suited to the intimacy of the subject, and a lacework of acoustic guitar flutters over cello and double bass.
Dreams were important to Yeats’ worldview, and they are important to this album. The final track (He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven) mirrors the opening one, and concludes with perhaps Yeats’ most famous single line of verse: ‘Tread softly […] you tread on my dreams’. Hearing this lyric delivered as the focal point for the song, indeed for the whole album, rescues it from the Valentine’s Day card sentimentality that time has bestowed on it and reclaims it as one of the poet’s most moving moments. It becomes a sincere meditation on loss and love. All of this is down to Abbé’s impressive singing and subtle arrangements: the guitar melody alone is a thing of beauty, and when that melody is taken on by the cello the whole song glows with exquisite craftsmanship.
Her take on The Song Of Wandering Aengus takes its cue from the excellent Donovan version (the song that inadvertently helped kickstart the whole freak-folk movement thirty years after it was first recorded). Abbé retains the sweetly disquieting atmosphere of that version, full of heady nature-worship and hints of the occult, and dusts it with a haze of nebulously evocative vocal harmonies. The other Yeats adaptation, and the only one not to come from The Wind Among The Reeds, is Stolen Child. It is an earlier poem, and closer to the romantic tradition, and accordingly, Abbé gives it a more traditionally folky arrangement which draws out the wonderful musicality of the poetry.
But the Yeats poems aren’t the whole story of Numberless Dreams. There are eight more songs, most of which show Abbé’s affinity with British and Irish folk songs. Abbé hails from France, where she grew up listening to the music of the bal folk tradition, and she brings to the table an outsider’s freshness and willingness to try new ideas. She is never scared to chop and change an old favourite: she rewrote and removed bits of Courting Is A Pleasure, and the result is a song that feels closer to our own times while retaining a clear love of the source material and Nic Jones’ definitive version. It becomes a song full of sadness and hope, the concertina is wistful and the harmonies mournful. It is worth noting that her method of changing songs and lyrics to fit her own concerns as a performer does not run contrary to any defining ethos of traditional music (if such a thing exists). In fact, the opposite is true: folk music is an endlessly malleable form that lives and breathes through reinterpretation and constant evolution.
Abbé is joined on the album by Dominie Hooper on cello and Sid Goldsmith (who also gets a production credit) on concertina, double bass and guitar. And the vocal harmonies they help to create are just as important as their instrumental contributions. On the bilingual chorus of The Boatman/Fir A Bhata (adapted from Sandy Denny’s singing) the combination of voices is quietly devastating, plumbing the depths of longing, while Hooper’s cello swells and ripples.
Musical counterpoints and contradictions are everywhere. Kellswater (inspired by that great Andy Irvine performance) tempers melancholy with sweetness in a way that only the best Irish folk music can. The simplicity of As I Roved Out hides a beguiling ambiguity, while the instrumental Flagstones, the album’s only self-written tune, begins with a flourish of concertina that points to Abbé’s French roots.
Abbé’s voice is perhaps what really elevates this album. On the a capella Flower Of Magherally, she is joined by Amy Cox, who provides a striking harmonic part. It is an old folk song from County Down (Abbé first heard it sung by a ten-year-old girl in Drogheda) and is reasonably well-known in the Irish tradition, but somewhat overlooked elsewhere. On Eighteen Years Old she sings entirely unaccompanied, to mesmerising effect. The inventive vocal interplay at work in the chorus of Claudy Banks, and Abbé’s consummate control and manipulation of timing in the same song, point to her history as a jazz singer, but her technical gift is easily matched by the emotional depth of her singing.
It is hard to believe that Numberless Dreams is Julie Abbé’s first album as a folk singer. Her singing is passionate but composed, her arrangements delicate but assured, and her musical palette runs from light to dark in a way that perfectly suits her material, particularly the strange and wild poems of Yeats whose words skirt the occult and brim with the deep knowledge of nature and human love. Like the sound of the wind in the reeds from which Yeats took inspiration, Abbé’s music is full of shifting natural beauty, whispers and sighs that could be sounds of sorrow or of love. Numberless Dreams is masterful in its delivery and intriguing in its opacity.
RnR Magazine ***
"A skillful and sensitive composer."
Born and raised in rural France, participating in the "Bal Folk" tradition, Julie Abbé moved to the UK twenty years ago where she developed a taste for jazz, blues and English and Irish folk music. A familiar figure on Bristol's vibrant music scene as a member of various jazz and folk outfits, Numberless Dreams is her debut folk album.
Produced by Sid Goldsmith, it's an album that's divided between heartfelt versions of British folk songs and musical settings of some of the poetry of W.B. Yeats. Two of the latter, "A Poet To His Beloved" and "The Song of Wandering Aengus" open teh album and show Abbé to be a skillful and sensitive composer and performer, her guitar and perfectly judged vocals complemented by Dominie Hooper's expressive cello.
The folk songs she's chosen to cover are familiar, "Courting Is A Pleasure", "Flower Of Magherally", and "As I Roved out" have all arguably been done to death but Abbé is a fearless interpreter and arranger, often repeating, combining and rewriting verses or leaving them out all together, to subtly change the song's perspective. With telling contributions from Goldsmith and others, Abbé has recorded an album that sees her effortlessly moving between unaccompanied song and ensemble pieces -and one original instrumental- on a beguiling collection.
Dave Haslam (March/April 2020)
Liverpool Sound and Vision ****
"A moment of rare pleasure... Absolutely stimulating... Julie Abbé has created a piece of art to which only The Waterboys had arguably successfully done before."
Surrounding herself with an array of positivity, poetic beauty and a quartet of players that take to the session and the music as if granted extra passion by the Gods of music, Julie Abbé has created a piece of art to which only The Waterboys had arguably successfully done before, to feel the Muse that imbibed W.B. Yeats with all his suffering, all his angst, fears and creativity, and turn the words once more into inspiration and joy; a belief that the Muse can turn the Poet to dust and stand true in a world of realism and no-conformity.
With Sid Goldsmith and Dominie Hooper providing the sensation to Julie Abbe’s salvation plus Amy Cox and Izzy Budd providing backing vocals across two of the songs for the album; Julie Abbé successfully adapts the idea of some of the renowned Poet’s works and engages with the listener further with the constant insight into the traditional and the working mechanics of Folk music.
Across tantalising songs and reminisces such as Courting Is Pleasure, Flower of Magherally, Stolen Child, Eighteen Years Old and the album opener of A Poet To His Beloved, Julie Abbe captures the two restless hearts of introspection without harming the source, indeed in Numberless Dreams, the listener is granted a moment of rare pleasure, that of the ignited vision of the poet given an extra life by one who also saw the Muse smile.
An intelligently written, softly delivered album, Numberless Dreams is the art of wooing through one’s own voice whilst acknowledging the art of one whose expression matches the level of genius. Absolutely stimulating.
Julie Abbé releases Numberless Dreams on January 29th.
Northern Sky *****
" Julie Abbé brings to the folk table a new voice to celebrate."
Two things initially drew me into this album of songs and poems from both England and Ireland; Julie Abbé’s richly honeyed voice and the smouldering cello played just as it should be played, courtesy of Dominie Hooper, but it doesn’t stop there. The traditional songs are well chosen, especially “Courting is a Pleasure” and the gorgeous “Kellswater”, both learned and adapted from Nic Jones and Andy Irvine respectively. Raised in the Poitou-Charentes region of France and steeped in the Bal Folk music tradition, Julie Abbé looks west for the material that inspired her debut folk album Numberless Dreams, produced in collaboration with Sid Goldsmith.
Written on Brexit Day, this review is marked with a certain sadness and the songs will probably serve as a reminder of the day whenever I return to them, which could be often, especially after hearing Sid’s concertina on the “Flagstones” instrumental, which in this case could serve as a French accordion, but we won’t dwell on today’s events here. One of the other important aspects of Numberless Dreams is the fact that Julie has managed to successfully transform a handful of poems by the celebrated Irish poet W.B. Yeats into viable songs that truly work. Comfortable with both accompanied and unaccompanied a cappella singing, Julie Abbé brings to the folk table a new voice to celebrate.
Choice Track: Kellswater (NSV 494)
She doesn’t sound it but Julie Abbé is French and grew up in Poitou-Charentes, south of Roquefort and North of Bordeaux, which sounds like a good combination to me. She grew up with the Bal tradition but expanded her repertoire into swing, Latin jazz, blues and the English and Irish folk traditions. Having lived in the UK for two decades now she has recorded in all these styles but, as far as I can tell, Numberless Dreams is her first solo album.
Julie also has a thing for William Butler Yeats which is fine by me and she opens the album with her settings of two of his poems. The first is ‘A Poet To His Beloved’, which I don’t know well, and the second is ‘The Song Of Wandering Aengus’. Now, you know how it is when someone writes a new tune for a familiar song? I can honestly say that it was halfway through before I realised that this was something new, so well does Julie’s melody fit the words. It’s a simple but clever tune and I like it a lot.
The first traditional song is ‘Courting Is A Pleasure’ which Julie has extensively reworked as she has with ‘Flower Of Magherally’ here an unaccompanied duet with Amy Cox, ‘Fhir A Bhata’, ‘Kellswater’ and ‘Claudy Banks’ – very different from the familiar English song. I’d usually get a bit precious about this sort of thing but Julie does her work with such skill and sensitivity that I really don’t mind.
There is one original instrumental, ‘Flagstones’, which features co-producer Sid Goldsmith on concertina and Dominic Hooper’s cello. ‘Stolen Child’ uses music by Daniel Bloodstone for Yeats’ words and the final track is ‘He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven’, another set of words by the poet with music by Julie.
Numberless Dreams is an album of shifting moods from unaccompanied voices via solo acoustic guitar to the dark sounds of cello and double bass and I‘ve enjoyed it very much.
The Living Tradition
"Fresh and invigorating. An impressive debut."
Julie grew up in rural France and moved to the UK 20 years ago, becoming a convert to the world of traditional songs, which have latterly entered her repertoire alongside the fruits of various other vocal projects involving native French (Bal) folk music and Latin and swing jazz. But for her debut CD she makes a point of focusing headline attention on new settings of poems by W.B. Yeats. Of the disc’s four examples, three are her own, and these are characterised by a warm melodic sense allied to a keen sensitivity and understanding of the texts (... ) The fourth, Stolen Child (Humphrey Lloyd’s adaptation), is Daniel Bloodstone’s setting.
The remainder of the CD provides persuasive evidence of Julie’s affinity with traditional (English and Irish) song via instances of the creative folk process at work whereby Julie often removes and/or rewrites verses to make optimum sense of the stories she’s telling; these new readings prove fresh and invigorating. Also noteworthy are Julie’s a cappella account of 18 Years Old, and the rather unusual melody adopted for Claudy Banks, although there are a few quirks too, like the curious ragged-Latin rhythm given to Fhir A Bhata (ostensibly based on Sandy Denny’s 1966 live-at-the-BBC rendition).
The CD was recorded and co-produced by Sid Goldsmith, who contributes concertina, double bass and guitar, and Dominie Hooper plays cello (very sympathetically). Backing vocals are shared by Sid and Dominie, aside from thoughtful individual harmony parts on Flower Of Magherally (Amy Cox) and As I Roved Out (Izzy Budd). All told, an impressive debut from Julie.
"Plaintive, melancholic and captivating it is, as Yeats put it, crafted "with reverent hands".
Born in Poitou-Charentes, near Bordeaux in France, but now based in Bristol (and with no trace of Gallic accent), Abbé grew up amid traditional Bal folk music, French instrumental dance music, generally played on accordion, although she's since incorporated, jazz, Latin and English and Irish folk into her repertoire, indeed her label's named for the Latin-jazz quartet in which h she previously played.
This, however, would seem to be her album debut, produced by Sid Goldsmith, who contributes guitar, concertina and double bass, and featuring Dominie Hooper on cello and backing vocal appearances by Amy Cox and Izzy Budd, both of whom she's worked with on previous projects. Although there's one self-penned number, the gently undulating instrumental waltz Flagstones, the material is otherwise balanced between arrangements of traditional tunes and settings of poems by W.B.Yeats.
It's one such that, underpinned by cello, opens proceedings with 'A Poet To His Beloved', published in 1899 as part of The Wind Among The Reeds collection, it was written for Maude Gonne and its from these lines that the album title is taken. Set to a simple, courtly tune on strummed guitar and featuring Abbé crooning the wordless backing, it's followed by one of his more familiar works, 'The Song of Wandering Aengus', initially titled 'A Mad Song' on its first printing in 1987 and retitled for the 1899 anthology, based on the legend of the Irish god and probably best known for its final lines about "The silver apples of the moon,/The golden apples of the sun".
Inspired by the popular intrepretation by Nic Jones on his final album, accompanied by concertina the first of the traditional material arrives with 'Courting Is A Pleasure', sometimes known as 'Handsome Molly, in which a young lad falls for a lass with a roving eye, although she's rewritten the third verse, repeated the first and dropped the ending so as to give things a more hopeful conclusion.
Conflating verses, she joins voices with Cox for the unaccompanied 'Flower Of Magherally', a song from Ulster, Margherally being a small town near Banbridge, that has a happier resolution to the wedding dreams, before moving to two further traditional numbers. From Scotland comes the mournful, cello and double bass-coloured 'The Boatman', or 'Fhir A Bata', part sung in Scots Gaelic, based on the Sandy Denny version, but the lyrics changed from a woman awaiting and bewailing her fickle lover into the story of a man who dies at sea, then, inspired by Any Irvine's recording, and again given a rewrite, another account of blighted love, this time from Co. Antrim.
The third Yeats track is again well-known, (The) 'Stolen Child, a poem about the prediliction of faeries, or certainly Irish ones, to beguile away children, written in 1886 and published in 1889's The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems. Adapted by Humphrey Lloyd, who reorders some of the lines, it's set to a courtly-styled melody by Daniel Bloodstone.
It's back to Irish traditional folk with an a cappela rendition of 'Eighteen Years Old (more concerns about getting married) followed by 'As I Roved Out, Budd's harmonies providing the woman's voice in yet another tale of lovers wronged by false hearts, although the lyrics here are very different to any of the versions I could track down.
A much recorded number in the folk canon, another unaccompanied number that has her multi-tracking the harmonies, 'Claudy Banks' is the last of the traditional songs, the album closing with a final Yeats poem, 'He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven'. Originally titled Aedh rather than He, it's one of his shortest verses at just eight lines, set to a minstrel-like guitar and cello arrangement, Abbé set it a tune she'd written a couple of nights earlier after hearing of the passing of a family friend, removing the word 'because' from the final line to fit.
Plaintive, melancholic and captivating it is, as Yeats put it, crafted "with reverent hands".