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SINGERS & MUSICIANS OF THE COUNTY WATERFORD GAELTACHT "Cois Mara Thoir Sa Rinn" MSN 001

A gem of an album, presenting Irish music as we don't hear it too often these days, straight, unvarnished and mainly unaccompanied. It features 12 songs in Irish and 7 solo instrumentals taken from a live concert featuring singers and musicians from two villages in the small Gaeltacht (Gaelic speaking area) near Waterford. You might expect this to produce very similar styles of singing and some pretty average performances. But not a bit of it. The area seems to have an uncanny capacity for developing and attracting quality singers, and a striking feature is the variety of individual styles.

The singers range over three or four generations. The late Nioclas Toibin, (heard via an RTE recording played at the concert) is one of the unchallenged giants of sean-nos, with a clear soaring voice that can raise the hairs on the back of your neck. In contrast Ciaran O Gealbhain of Danu, widely tipped as one of the next big names in Irish singing, makes particularly good use of the richness of his voice on lower notes (he also contributes a classic slow air and jig set on the accordion). Nioclas's sister Eibhlis, now in her 70s, may have lost a little of her voice control, but none of the power to communicate the emotion of "Sliabh na mBan", while Ciaran's sister Triona, at just 16, sings with an appealing freshness, and hints of even better things to come as her voice matures.

Distinguished incomers to the area also feature strongly. Aine Ui Chellaigh, the original solo singer on Riverdance, is principal of the local school (proceeds from the CD go towards the school funds). Liam Clancy, probably the best known artist here, accompanies himself on concertina on a sensitive rendition of "For Ireland I'd Not Tell Her Name". Ann Mulqueen, a well-known ceilidh band singer about 30 years ago, is now a fine Gaelic singer. Her two daughters' duet provides a magic moment on "Bean dubh an ghleanna" with perfect unison singing which probably only sisters could achieve in this music.

Of course no live recording is without flaws, and in this case some may want to skip the announcer's introductions in Irish (which are on separate tracks). Personally I let them run as they add to the feel of a real event in a real place, which the recording recreates admirably by using the natural acoustic of the church where the concert was held. The atmospheric acoustics also seem to suit the instrumentalists, who play at the right speed to bring out the feel of their tunes and variations. My only fear is that this CD, with its tasteful but unobtrusive sleeve, and limited publicity, will not get the attention it deserves. It needs a large removable sticker trumpeting its virtues!

This is the essence of timeless Irish music. Put your Irish CDs with the elaborate studio arrangements or driving bouzouki and bodhran backings aside for an hour or so, slow down, and drink in the atmosphere of the Waterford Gaeltacht.

Richard Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 34 of The Living Tradition magazine.