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MAIRE NI CHATHASAIGH & CHRIS NEWMAN "Live in the Highlands"
Old Bridge Music OBMCD 08

This is the latest in an impressive string of recordings from Maire's harp and Chris's guitar. Things have got progressively jazzier over the years, culminating in Chris being drafted into The Boys Of The Lough to curb his wilder excesses. The pairing of Celtic harp and jazz guitar might not seem an obvious one, but it works remarkably well with both instruments able to take the lead or provide a solid ground for the other. The overall sound is still quite traditional, swinging between Ireland and the Southern US, but there's enough jazz to provide some surprises.

The sound quality on this album is great: full marks to Chris for the engineering. The whole thing was recorded in relatively small venues, but the acoustics are excellent. The applause is obviously not from an enormous audience, and there is a warmth and friendliness which comes across quite clearly.

As for the music, here are some of the best tunes from the Irish and US harp and fiddle traditions, given fresh but sensitive treatments by two outstanding musicians. From the exuberant "Turkey in the Straw" to the poignant "Roisin Dubh", the straight jigs to the tongue-in-cheek "Stroll On", this is all good stuff. There's a lovely arrangement of "Eleanor Plunkett", and a cracking version of "Salt Creek". There are also a couple of Irish Gaelic songs from Maire to add variety.

The overall impression is one of warmth and good fun. Most of this music is gentle and easy on the ear, but there's also a playfulness which emerges from time to time. No foot-stamping, nothing hurried, just great music lovingly played.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 16 of The Living Tradition magazine.