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NIAMH PARSONS "Blackbirds & Thrushes" Gleen Linnet GLCD1197

At last, an entirely traditional acoustic album. Dubliner Niamh Parsons may be well known for her work with Arcady and with her own band, The Loose Connections, but she is also an outstanding solo artiste. In this, her third solo album, she has put together an impressive collection of songs, all painstakingly researched and immaculately presented, a true labour of love.

Niamh is joined by Gavin Ralston on guitar, John McSherry on pipes and low whistle, Dee Moore on bass, Paul Kelly on fiddle and viola, Steve Dunford on bodhran, Seamus Brett and Dave Munnelly on piano (good to hear this instrument regaining its popularity), and Jospehine Marsh on button accordion. If this sounds like a crowd I can only say that they are skilfully and sparingly used. Never does the accompaniment overshadow the vocal and it is often pleasingly minimal. Four tracks are unaccompanied. This is a long album, the twelve tracks last around fifty-five minutes, providing good value as an added bonus.

The collection includes many interesting songs. It begins lightheartedly with the title track, and this is followed by the almost unbearably beautiful "Flower of Finae", a Thomas Davis song from the 1840s. "Sally Sits Weeping" is a lively duet with sister Anne, and "Kilnamartyra Exile" a tale of lost homeland by Johnny Brown with an air from the Cork sean nos song "Cath Cheim an Fhia".

Two familiar tracks are "The Banks of the Nile", a song from the Napoleonic Wars, and "The Water is Wide", sounding well in this delicate arrangement. Possibly the most ambitious track combines two songs under the title "Droimeann Donn Dilis". Niamh is joined by Ciaran O Gealbhain from the band Danu who sings the title song in Irish while Niamh intersperses three verses in English of a John Walsh song. This may sound unusual, even chancy, but it works extremely well, and their two voices provide a fine contrast.

There are almost too many good songs to mention them all, but it would be unfair to miss out the dramatic "The Wounded Hussar", in a fine arrangement with a lone button accordion accompaniment, and the exquisite "Fear A Bhata", here in the Rathlin Island version, which shows off Niamh's range to advantage. The album rounds off well with the lovely Ulster song "The Flower of Magherally O".

Niamh has been quoted as saying of her father, Jack Parsons, "Daddy has a beautiful voice and a great ear for a good song". This collection is proof that she is truly her father's daughter. Don't miss it - it's the real stuff.

Carole Baker

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This album was reviewed in Issue 33 of The Living Tradition magazine.