Tuam Herald Wednesday, 21st March, 2012: Darragh O’Dea.
FONDLY described as “The Bard of Bohermore”, a name could not be more fitting for Don Stiffe, who now lives in Headford.
His writing and song choices are linked with a similar poetic nature and theme and his voice is as powerful and captivating as a 50 ft wave on a clear day. Life’s Journey is an album of great beauty and startling imagery. It rolls along in a very easy manner yet each and every song gently reels you in and demands your full attention.
We all know the story of Don reaching the All-Ireland Talent Show final last year, playing to live television audiences of up to 800,000, and wowing and capturing the nation’s heart. But, the tale started long before that, and Don has paid his dues and made sacrifices throughout his life to get to where he is today.
His repertoire, his passion, and his now effortless ability to portray the true emotion of a song, are down to his hard work and persistence over the years. “The talent show opened some doors for me and people would still notice me now and recognise me from the show,” he said about his time in the competition.
Having picked up the guitar at seven or eight years old, Don honed his craft gigging the pub scene in Ireland and spent some time in Boston in the 1990s where he became involved in the folk scene, swapping and learning new and old songs, adding to his repertoire and knowledge all the time.
Stiffe released his debut solo album, Start of a Dream, in 2006 to critical acclaim and his version of the Richard Thompson song, Dimming of the Day won vocal cut of the year in the Live Ireland Awards.
Life’s Journey is a culmination of all of the journeys and roads which music has taken Don down. It is a record of the stories, poems and melodies that he has carried with him through life.
It contains a lot of his favourite ballads and traditional reels and also four deeply personal self-penned songs dealing with love, longing, family and heartache.
The album flows quite wonderfully with help from the high calibre musicians who contributed to the recording who include Mairtín O’Connor, Seamie O’Dowd, Jim Higgins, Michael Chang and Eugene Killeen.
The album opens with a very different version of John Martyn’s May You Never. Don has sped-up the original and drives it home with great confidence and it’s a great choice for the opening track. The musicianship on the song is of the highest quality but not for one moment does the polished accompaniment ever overshadow his vocals anywhere in the album.
Roll Back The Clouds, originally by Christy Hennessy, is a song about the hardships a struggling musician can face; trying so hard and getting nowhere, a song that reflects Don’s life and career.
Speaking of the track Don said, “It’s a great song and story, which I can relate to, but also, it’s a song anyone could relate to and can put their particular situation in the same context.
Manuela tells the tragic story of the Swiss student Manuela Riedo and is a heart-breaking song, which was written and composed by Eugene Kelly, and is delivered with great dignity by Don.
He has chosen a great mix of folk and ballad songs for the album but it’s in his original songs where we see his true poetic nature and thinking. His original songs are kept very close to his heart, and, Gossip (You’ll Always be My Mother) deals with his love for his mother and his anger at seeing her upset or hurt. Don simply spells out his love for his mother and sings the song beautifully to a softly plucked guitar.
This is the brilliance of his original tracks, they are upfront and straight writings about his real feelings. The Promise of Spring deals with the pain of being away from home and missing loved ones and Summer Holiday is about looking forward to the holidays and the special bond families have when they are together.