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SHARON SHANNON "Out the Gap" Solid Records ROCDG14

This is Sharon's second CD, and like her first it is destined to appeal to a wide audience. It represents a step further away from unadorned traditional music, and correspondingly a step towards the Afro-American sound which has been popular recently. The first track sets the tone, with a funky treatment of a couple of contemporary reels, preceded by a lengthy introduction. The next three tracks are all very nice, with a good jaunty beat and a bit of jazz in places, but they're all much the same. I've heard several people comment on the lack of variation in Sharon's music, and this seems to be a case in point. All in the best possible taste, but a bit dull in places.

We get more variety in tracks five to seven, with an unusual Finnish waltz which will probably be picked up by lots of people, then a couple of tunes featuring Sharon's twin fiddling, and finally the much-aired "Bungee Jumpers" with two great tunes given a humorous, Vaudeville twist. This was the best chunk of the album for me. There are several nice waltzes on the CD, which are all enhanced by Sharon's unhurried style, but "Butterflies" and "Maguire & Paterson" stand out.

Track eight takes us to Notting Hill, with impromptu trumpeters and a very large helping of Anglo-Caribbean rhythms. This is great dance music, and will sell lots of albums, but it's drifting into the World Music market again.

"Maguire & Paterson" and a moody rendition of "Reel Beatrice" illustrate a more thoughtful aspect of Sharon's music, and track 11 bears this out with an elegant arrangement of an old English tune: the string section and contrapuntal harmonies would grace a Georgian drawing room, and there isn't a percussionist to be heard. The contrast of blaring brass and pounding percussion introducing the last track is all the more striking, therefore, as we finish with a set taken from an "Edward II" album, which I hope is not an indication of the direction Sharon's music is going to take.

Compared with her first album, Sharon's own playing here is more refined and relaxed. Technically, Sharon is always spot on, and the quality of the accompanying musicians is excellent, particularly the banjo work of Mary Shannon. I found the choice of material and the arrangements much less innovative on this album, with little variation in tempo and a very "straight" rendition of most of the melodies. There also wasn't the same sense of fun as on the first album: maybe she's trying too hard. Finally, although the sleeve notes are extensive they don't put names to many of the tunes, which is a pity.

I can see the attraction of this album for many people, especially young people. However, for my money the percussion is overdone and the general Hi-Life effect is not as successful as on other recent albums such as "The Blue Fiddle" or "Lead the Knave". I enjoyed Sharon's first album more, and I don't feel this one has the same originality and imagination. It certainly didn't hold my attention as well, despite being much short. There is no denying that this is a very good album, even by Irish standards, but I can't help feeling that it should have been better.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 9 of The Living Tradition magazine.