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Maggie Boyle "Gweebarra" Pure Records PRCD05

Maggie Boyle has long been one of my very favourite singers and has always done superb work, but here on "Gweebarra" her exquisite singing shows maturity and sophistication, giving what is, without doubt, her best recording ever, and sounding like one that she has been waiting to make for some time.

The material has obviously been chosen with great care, with an eye to both its individual value and also a place within the overall structure of the album. Maggie has an ear for collecting songs, with a fine version of "Dearthairin O mo Chroi" from the singing of Alan Burke from Afterhours; Bernadette McKenna's "Lord Gregory"; and the Flynn Brothers' "Blackbird". She also has a liking for songs with a strong narrative; "Harry Eddom" telling of a loss to the Hull trawler fleet; "Lady Margaret borrowed from Mike Hockenhull; and the very-much-not-cheerful but absolutely superb "The Bloody Gardener", given to her by a college friend and allowing full rein for her range. She has also included the very personal "Gweebarra Shore", written by her brother Kevin about their father's townland; "Paddy's Rambles Through the Park", a tune from her aunt Margaret; and a song which was sung by her father, "The Little Thatched Cottage" - but they are strong and stand on their own merits, without self-indulgence.

The album's final track, "If You Walk Away", is something of a departure from the rest of the album. It was recorded at RBM studio, Soho, and is commercial in a big way! This spectacular (and I use the word advisedly) production was for a VW Sharan car advert, and it is magical, with Maggie's voice soaring over an amazing soundtrack. A real belter!

The arrangements on "Gweebarra" work well without ever coming close to overshadowing the vocals, with Maggie singing in her beautiful breathy style with a range which at once surprises and delights, and she shows an elaborate decoration which avoids excess. Maggie's skills are enhanced by wholly sympathetic accompaniments from Frank Kilkelly on guitar, Steve Anstee on cello, Mike Hockenhull on banjo, and Andy Seward on bass. Plus, of course, Maggie's own bodhran and flute. Excellent musicianship throughout.

It is difficult to pick highlights from a CD of such a consistently high standard, playing and singing is, throughout, a sheer joy. I know that sounds a bit over the top, but believe me, it really isn't. "Gweebarra" is a super album!

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 31 of The Living Tradition magazine.