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CHRISTY O'LEARY - "The Northern Bridge" - Old Bridge Music OBMCD09

A clear intention of this album is to unite the musics of Ireland and Scandinavia, which Christy achieves seamlessly. Some credit must be due for this to Chris Newman, whose touch at the control desk is as sure as it is on whichever instrument he chooses to pick up. So the playing is clean, the arrangements uncluttered and the overall feel of the album one of respect to the words and music rather than glorification of the players. The flash stuff is put away and the story told with assurance and authority in song after song.

But if you are after the craic, it only makes occasional fleeting appearances, usually when Christy's brother Tim makes an appearance on fiddle, such as on "O'Keefe's" or "Pegeen Of Lettermore". Yet the slow air "Rocking The Cradle" gives us the chance to enjoy the lyrical capabilities of the uillean pipes. Chris brings in some atmospheric chords on synthesiser before the transition to "The Chestnut Tree", whose composer Maire Ni Chathasaigh also features on harp. The closing fade perhaps emphasises what some will criticise as a lack of spontaneity in the album. There are few rough edges here - but it is a recording after all, not a session.

And with treasures such as the unaccompanied "Moorlough Mary" and the beautiful "Jimmy Mo Mhile Stor", who needs spontaneity? The latter is undoubtedly enhanced by Maire's piano - formal but rich in harmony - which almost gives a flavour of the Victorian parlour, contrasting with Christy's thoroughly traditional ornamented singing style. This'll keep me going for now, but can we have an album of songs, please?

Graham Gurrin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 20 of The Living Tradition magazine.