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SEAN KEANE "Turn A Phrase" INOCD001

"The voice of Ireland". "A hypnotic voice". "A haunting voice". These are just some of the comments apparently made by press and public alike on Sean Keane's singing over the past years. Having heard him for the first time on this album, I'd unreservedly agree - he is a truly awesome singer not in any flash, bombastic, or contrived sense, but in a subtle, uncluttered and authoritative way. I struggle for the appropriate words to convey to you if you haven't heard him precisely what the qualities in his voice are - none of the above descriptions quite make it as our vocabulary is not well adapted to describe such a phenomenon which is so much more than the usual experience encountered by listening to singing - even fine singing. The CD blurb refers to "... a unique voice ..." "... quickly stamped on the listeners memory" which "... render singer and song unforgettable". Agreed, and that'll have to do at present - to get the full effect you'll simply have to hear the CD which I can assure you will not be wasted effort.

Joined by some of Ireland's finest musical peers which as Dolores Keane, Arty McGlynn, Nollaig Casey and John Faulkner, the material is a mix of very old and the very new. Tommy Sands' "Age of Uncertainty" is the opener, it's quietly compelling introduction insinuating itself inside your head before he ever starts to sing. McColl's "Tunnel Tigers" and Rosalind and Steve Barnes' "Green Among the Gold" address the Irish diaspora in very different ways, the latter recalling that "Dusty plains and iron chains, met Erin's sons and daughters" on their arrival in Australia, and going on through verses heavy with longing for homeland, to future generations of those pioneers who became integrated in the new country, thus explaining the "green among the gold" of the songs title. "Don't sing the songs about winning and losing" exhorts the lyric in Sands' second song "Music and Healing", and that excerpt plus title should make it obvious what the song's about, i.e. it's a different kind of love song as someone else once said. Again it's uplifting but the truly blissful moments come in the more interpersonal love songs, the traditional "Once I Loved", and Mick Hanley's "Writing on the Wall". The latter song is the one on the album for me, every word and nuance carefully crafted to express the torment and regret of a man who has been abandoned by his loved one because she simply couldn't take any more. Lines like:

"We hurt the ones we love To see how they might bend Push our luck so far That we break them in the end And the day that we wake up They've gone beyond recall ..."

Convince that the writer must have lived this experience, and the treatment of the songs elevates it to four and a half minutes sheer heartbreak. "Turn A Phrase" seems an appropriate album title for a man who really can turn a phrase and make it his own. I simply cannot believe that the readership of a magazine such as this won't, to the last reader, join in the huge critical acclaim he so deservedly seems to be receiving.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 18 of The Living Tradition magazine.