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ARCADY "Many Happy Returns" Dara DARA CD 080

Hard to believe this is only the second recording from such a great band. Between albums there have been some changes, most notably in personnel. Frances Black is forging ahead with her solo career, while Jackie Daly has stepped some way along similar roads with the release of his own album earlier this year. New man on the button box is Conor Keane and the songster's vacancy has been taken by Niamh Parsons. The line-up remains otherwise unchanged with Johnny McDonagh, Nicholas Quemener, Patsy Broderick and Brendan Larrissey.

Reading the track listings may not fire-up your enthusiasm with, "The Rambling Irishman", "The Kilfenora Jigs", "Pigeon on the Gate", "Boys of Bluehill", "John o' Dreams", "Miss McLeod's" - seven songs and nine sets of, mostly, reels. All good solid, dependable stuff. The arrangements and settings are not quite as predetermined and are stretched, teased and jostled along with the help of guest artistes including Brendan Power, The Voice Squad, Liam O'Maonlai and flute man of the moment Micheal McGoldrick. The tune sets are well paced and have a bright, airy buoyancy driven on by a mix of fiddle, accordion, bodhran and the piano, which is never over shy and often at the head of the pack.

Cutting the pace to a veritable standstill, is a poisoned chalice for many of an instrumental calling, but is often the sought after grail for a singer. A singer such as Niamh Parsons. Niamh has a big voice, stylised, dark and mysterious. Often there is a battle for balance between control and power but the commitment is always toward telling the story in the song. Niamh Parsons gets things her own way on all the song tracks and her way is fine by me.

Peter Fairbairn

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This album was reviewed in Issue 18 of The Living Tradition magazine.