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“Bravo for an artist who has taken contemporary Irish music to parts it far too seldom reaches” – Hot Press
“SJ’s deep, sonorous voice brings authority to the songs. If Whipping Boy were raised in Nashville they might sound like this” – Mail On Sunday
“Spare couplets conjuring entire vistas with the focus of David Lynch” – The Irish Times
Contemporary Irish folk artist Stephen Joseph McArdle is a songwriter, musician and curator, critically-acclaimed at home and abroad.
He is known for his PORT project (a live show and album song-cycle featuring Carol Keogh) and its accompanying album, Old Ghosts In The Water as well as his previous work in award-winning Irish folk band Kern from 2013 to 2020 and his career as a singer-songwriter in Nashville and Germany, which produced 2014’s critically-acclaimed Blood and Bones album. SJ is also one third of Long Woman’s Grave, featuring Nuala Kennedy and Trevor Hutchinson.
SJ’s songs and performances have been featured in radio, film and television and he has toured and recorded extensively in Ireland, Europe and North America, gathering a loyal following and critical accolades along the way.
PORT, produced by Droichead Arts Centre, is a new song cycle, full of timeless, indelible folk songs – work songs, story songs, love songs to the sea. Songs written in anger and written in sorrow. Songs about injustice and change. Songs about people.
The songs were born of a year-long research and writing project around the history and stories of Drogheda’s ancient Port, conducted during SJ’s tenure as Artist in Association at Droichead Arts Centre in 2019.
“An ambitious project undertaken without the benefit of a safety net, Port sees Droichead Arts Centre artist-in-association SJ McArdle compose a song cycle about the vibrant history of (and “imagined stories” connected to) Drogheda Port. For the performance, McArdle will be joined by – for this writer’s pitiful pile of money – one of the best female voices out there, Carol Keogh.” – Tony Clayton-Lea, The Irish Times
The accompanying album Old Ghosts In The Water features performances by critically-acclaimed Dublin vocalist Carol Keogh (Plague Monkeys, Automata, The Wicc), producer and bassist Trevor Hutchinson (Lúnasa, The Waterboys), keyboard player and arranger Graham Henderson (Moving Hearts, Atlantic Arc Orchestra, Sinéad O’Connor), accordion legend Dermot Byrne (Altan, Declan O’Rourke) and Dundalk flute player Nuala Kennedy (The Alt).
While with Kern, SJ released two critically-acclaimed albums, both produced by Trevor Hutchinson (Lúnasa, The Waterboys). The albums are a mix of songs and tunes from the band’s home County of Louth along with SJ’s songs and the band garnered plenty of national airplay in Ireland (including RTE Lyric FM and Radio 1), including live appearances on RTÉ Radio 1, Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show and Raidio na Gaeltachta. The albums have also received some impressive reviews. A playlist of some of the songs written by SJ and performed with Kern is here.
As a solo singer-songwriter, SJ has also released three albums, most recently Blood and Bones in 2014. The songs feature contributions from some of SJ’s heroes like Rodney Crowell, guitarist Richard Bennett (Steve Earle’s Guitar Town) and the Love Sponge Strings (Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising).
The album’s lead-off song, “Two Steps From Heaven” was the main song in the Cecelia Ahern-written movie Between Heaven and Here. Accompanying the album release was some significant media attention and reviews and very successful German and Irish tours.
Another of SJ’s songs, “Till The Docklands Drown”, is performed during Element Pictures’ A Date For Mad Mary (2016) and several of his readings of traditional Irish songs are featured in the 2019 movie End of Sentence, starring Sarah Bolger, Logan Lerman and John Hawkes.
He performed songs from Blood and Bones live on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM and on Ireland AM on TV3.
In 2009 he completed a European arena tour as special guest to Reamonn, playing to 70,000 people over three weeks.
SJ has also been in occasional demand as a session musician, playing mandolin for Ricky Warwick as they opened shows for Bob Dylan (Odyssey, Belfast) and Sheryl Crow (Point, Dublin). He has also shared a stage or studio with Neil Hannon, Stewart Agnew, Joe Elliott and Miss Paula Flynn.
“SJ McArdle, who has had a successful solo career cultivating a rootsy folk-rock sound, can’t fail to capture your attention, with a sonorous voice – not unlike Garnet Rogers’s – that can be gritty and gruff yet also unexpectedly tender, even vulnerable. His writing exhibits a similar versatility.” – Sean Smith, Boston Irish
“A singer-songwriter with gravelly vocals and some gut-wrenching original songs about emigration and the hometown blues.” – Tom Keller, Folkworld.eu
“Quite lovely … McArdle’s voice has a breathy gruffness to it that is commanding without being loud, and it sets a strong tone. ‘The Hard Wind’, a McArdle original, is a lively, cutting song about Irish soldiers who returned to Ireland after World War I to acrimony and indifference.” – Daniel Neely, The Irish Echo
“(In ‘The Hard Wind’) SJ McArdle has written a really fine and brave song … really interesting, powerful and complex”– Mike Harding
“His smoky voice seems to have the very patina of life itself ingrained within his vocal cords and this gives his recordings real identity.” – TradConnect