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Folk artist talks about her new album and finding her voice in Louise McNeill’s poetry

Fans of Louise McNeill’s poetry will be interested to know about a singer-songwriter based in New York City who uses McNeill’s poetry as an inspiration for her songs.

Kyle Carey’s new album, North Star, was released three months ago and has reached #7 on the folk radio charts. The album includes the song titled Nora O’Kane, also the title of a McNeill poem. Carey’s critically acclaimed first album, Monongah, also was named for one of McNeill’s poems.

Carey’s songs do not always use McNeill’s actual lines of poetry. Carey said she uses McNeill’s voice to help her write songs and is inspired by McNeill’s themes of Appalachia. In addition to being a singer-songwriter, Carey studies Scottish and Irish culture and is fluent in the Gaelic language.

McNeill was born in 1911 in Buckeye on a farm her family owned since 1769. During her lifetime, she published seven books of poetry and was named West Virginia’s poet laureate.

Carey grew up in Alaska and New Hampshire and went to school in upstate New York, studied abroad in Ireland, and received a Fulbright Scholarship to study traditional music in Nova Scotia. She then studied Gaelic for one year on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. She now teaches the Gaelic language, in addition to her music career. Her most recent album was funded after she raised almost $20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign and was recorded in Scotland.

She first read Louise McNeill on a recommendation from her father, who studied her poetry in a folklore class at Harvard University.

“So I read Hill Daughter, and I just fell in love with her writing. It was probably about a year after that that I started changing the way I was writing my songs. Before that, a lot of my songs were kind of personal. But then I started to write more Appalachian, old sounding-songs, and I really felt like Louis McNeill kind of influenced that change. I wrote the song Monongah, which is the title track off my first album, about the poem that she wrote, so that inspired the song. And then there’s kind of just little phrases and other bits of my songs, especially Nora O’Kane and Devil at Your Back, either thematically, subject-wise or language-wise, she’s really influenced my own writing. I just really felt like what she wrote resonated with me and kind of helped me capture my own somewhat authentic voice for that region of the country that she was from,” Carey said.

“That’s what I like about Louise McNeill, I just feel like she captured the essence of her community and of the Appalachians and I think that’s really, really special and rare, so I’m big fan,” Carey said.

Here is a sample of her song Nora O’Kane:

Carey has performed at The Purple Fiddle in Thomas, West Virginia and said she would look forward to returning to the state. For her 2015-2016 music tour, she will be performing in venues across Europe.

Story By

Kelly Taber

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