ARTS AND FEATURES — 21 May 2014

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Shelley Marsden meets the Irish country/folk singer who might be Ireland’s answer to Allison Kraus…

FOR flame-haired singer Maria Butterly, the road to recognition all began with a blue mandolin. Well, a mandolin that became blue.

Originally from Laytown, Co Meath, Maria has achieved renown as a performer across the Atlantic, where she lived in Los Angeles and Nashville for a number of years, perfecting at iconic venues like Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, The House of Blues (LA), and New York’s Mercury Lounge, sometimes playing alongside names like Malo (The Mavericks), Hal Ketchum, Damien Rice and fellow Irish musician Mundy.

It was on a return trip to her old stomping ground of Nashville that the coloured mandolin came up. Maria was sitting in a café with a songwriter called Charles Quarto – not your typical Nashville country hit-maker, but a fantastic poet and lyricist who has written for a host of artists, namely Crosby, Stills and Nash and Garth Brooks.

“He loves my stuff and I love his lyrics”, says Maria, a multi-instrumentalist self taught on guitar, mandolin, piano & whistle, “so it was all good. We were just messing about with some tunes, and I had my trusty mandolin with me, and played him this little melody I had. He turned to me confidently and said, “I think this is going to be called Blue Mandolin….”

“My mandolin wasn’t blue by the way, but that’s another story… So we ended up writing the single Blue Mandolin and decided to call the album I was working on by the same name. It’s a very light-hearted feel-good song, about how my instrument goes everywhere with me as a writer and performer, it’s like my baby.”

Maria also co-wrote the catchy album opener, When the Light is Dancing with Charles. Blue Mandolin, a thirteen-track offering which swings from Irish-flavoured tracks to full on gospel, showcases the singer’s style, the perfect hybrid between an Irish Celtic sound and US folk and country.

A BLUE PAINT-JOB

But what about the mandolin, was it ever actually given a lick of blue paint? It was – while she was one of the contestants last year on Glor Tire in Ireland– the TV3 reality show that searches for Ireland’s next country star.

She explains: “I was one of the only contestants to offer an original song. It was only half way through recording the album and a couple of days before I was due to perform it on the show, that I realised I didn’t have a blue mandolin. It would be a bit weird to be singing about one that wasn’t blue!”

It was an expensive instrument that she’d been sponsored to play by a U.S. company, but she took the risk and whisked it off to well-respected guitar man, Derek Nelson, telling him she needed him to give it a tasteful blue paint job – in two days. The result was eye-catching (as seen on the album cover), and Maria’s song, together with her striking blue mandolin, saw her steal the show that night.

ON GLOR TIRE

Though she doesn’t classify herself as an ‘Irish country’ artist (she soon discovered on the show what an appetite for American country Ireland has though), she’s glad she did Glor Tire. It was a toss-up between that and The Voice, but producers of the latter had warned her that she couldn’t under any circumstances perform any original songs on the show, so that was the end of that.

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Blue Mandolin is the second single from the album. The first, Angel, was also aired on Glor Tire. Inspired by a gig Maria did at a theatre in Louth, where funds went to a centre for addicts in recovery, she describes it as “a song of hope, for anyone in troubled times really, struggling not with addiction but with the various problems life can throw at you.”

Other co-writes on the new album (the rest are solely penned by Maria) include Heaven, an upbeat gospel-style number, which she had written but was getting stuck in a vortex of re-writes with.

Enter another song-writing great from across the water, Kostas Lasarides (who penned ‘What a Cryin Shame’ for the Mavericks amongst other number ones). Maria knew Kostas only by reputation, but says she basically hounded him and followed him around until he agreed to do some co-writes with her. Another collaborator was Charlie McGettigan, who she wrote the track Push Me with.

A coup for Maria was getting Bill Shanley on board as producer, someone whose back catalogue boasts the likes of Paul Brady, Mary Black and The Kinks’ Ray Davies.

For the full interview, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (May 24 2014).

For more, including free downloads, see Maria’s website www.mariabutterly.com.

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