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MAURA O'CONNELL "Wandering Home" Rykodisc HNCD1410
MADDY PRIOR "Flesh & Blood" Park Records PRKCD38

Maddy Prior's new offering is a most authoritive album; not least because she brings to it her outstanding and well-earned reputation within the tradition. Here she colours a brave and compelling selection of songs with that peaty, mellow, resonant voice of hers. The first track brazenly addresses incest, the second song is a GK Chesterton poem which touches on a rapidly changing England and the third tracks is (surprisingly) a Todd Rundgren song "Honest Work" which speaks movingly of unemployment. So by halfway through this substantial collection we are challenged by the performer's intimate rendering of some demanding topics (even Sibelius makes a guest appearance in a pipe version of a melody taken from "Finlandia"). Later songs include a selection under the umbrella title of "Dramatis Personae" - a loosely themed selection of songs about "personality". This somewhat confusing, yet fascinating second half includes the Prior/Kemp composition "The Cruel Mother" (not to be confused with Shirley Collins' cautionary ballad of the same name) and the mesmeric, heroic song "Boy on a Horse" resplendent with sexual imagery and the great depth of power peculiar to all great folk song: this too a Prior/Kemp song. To sum up, an important addition to Prior's oeuvre and a remarkable work that confirms Maddy Prior's standing within the English song tradition.

If Maddy Prior has been concerning herself with a journey to the darker recesses of the human psyche, Maura O'Connell's journey is altogether a slighter, more delicate affair. It's also much less enlightening. On this album "The Voice of A Woman's Heart" rediscovers the by now familiar territory of Irish childhood through a legacy of song and music. It's a journey we have all been on, and though a delightful one to make, the scenery doesn't change much on this collection. So when Maura revisits "Do You Love An Apple?" (even in a jazzy format); "Terry O'Neill" and "Down By the Salley Gardens", the mystery tour quickly degenerates to a misery tour. However, there are a few pleasant surprises such as the inclusion of "Down Where the Drunkards Roll" written by Richard Thompson and an enthusiastic rendition of Seamus Heaney's poem "The Singer's House" spoken against a slow, melancholic fiddle. As an entity "Wandering Home" is something of a disappointment, given Maura's bright voice and a host of fine musicians (and Executive Production by Joe Boyd). In this case it has something to do with the disparate nature of the choice of song and the overall lack of direction and objective.

John Rice

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