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EMMA CHRISTINA, MOIRA CRAIG, MICHAEL HENRY, JULIE MURPHY "Celtic Songs of Love" Beautiful Jo Records BEJOCD16

Desire, passion, loss - the trinity of emotions most often associated with that timeless human foible, love, are expertly and eloquently articulated in this unassuming, sensitively made collection. A well-researched selection of love songs from the Celtic dreamlands includes "The Moorlough Shore" from Co. Antrim; "Fear a Bhata" (The Boatman) the Western Isles "anthem" in its less frequently heard English version (tut tut); "Ffarwel i Aberystwyth" from Wales; "Deus Ganin Me D'am Bro" (Brittany and "Iree Seose" from the Isle of Man - as well as seventeen further lyrical, pastoral pieces couched in an almost classical setting - this being something of a Beautiful Jo hallmark. It is, perhaps, this understated, at times prissy, production that gives the whole collection a distinct lack of contrast; the texture of each song seldom varying from that of several others. This does, however, compel each song to rely forcefully on a strong melody line and ear-catching lyric - and since the entire selection has been so painstakingly chosen, the songs match up to the task. So minimal arrangements are the order of the day and even these are used sparingly and sparsely; think of it more as concise, honed poetry than rambling prose.

Four highly respected singers share the honours for vocals: Moira Craig (Scotland); Michael Henry (Ireland); Julie Murphy (Wales) and Emma Christian (Isle of Man). Here and there the light-handedness of the production rather lets down the warmer colours of, say, Emma's vin rouge voice, but then again Moira's glancing Scots lilt is captured perfectly. Julie Murphy has certainly caught my ear of late (thanks mainly to her outstanding work on the Fernhill CD "Ca Nos") and isn't it good to see her leading a (somewhat better-late-than-never) Welsh charge.

So don't rush out to the High Street record stores for this one - it's not likely to be stocked in the same way other "Celtic Connections" are. Anyway, who'd go to Woolworths to buy a diamond?

John Rice

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This album was reviewed in Issue 22 of The Living Tradition magazine.