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DONNA HARKIN - Tell It Like It Is

DONNA HARKIN - Tell It Like It Is
Private Label  DHRCD10001

An experienced button-box player from Donegal, Ms Harkin has taken her time making a first CD but after 20 years behind the bellows she's brought out an honest recording of her music. There's no fancy production, no double-takes or techno dubs. The box sits squarely in the spotlight, accompanied mainly by Jim Byrne on guitar, with occasional bodhrán or piano. Donna's repertoire is varied, jigs and reels supplemented by a hornpipe and a strathspey, plus four fine slow numbers. Her own compositions are among the best here: Baby's Waltz is instantly appealing, while the air A Gul's Ghrá Mo Chroí runs much deeper. The Nyaa Reel has a certain snap to it, and Donna seems to have a taste for jigs. Tell It Like It Is opens with the jaunty Angus an Angeal, certainly not written for my son, and later we have a pair of more esoteric melodies in Dancing With Meff and Six String Sweeney accompanied by Brian Sweeney on guitar.

Donna's style is plain and direct, plenty of triplets of course but not a lot of other ornamentation. There's also an almost rhythmic irregularity, as if she's snatching the music in handfuls, which could be studio nerves. In any case, the notes are crisp and clear, with no blurring of the tunes, and there's a pleasant swing to many of her sets. The Old Favourite is a pair of well-known jigs played with panache, and for an Irishwoman she makes a fair fist of Gordon Duncan's splendid composition The High Drive. Charlie Lennon and Larry Redican are credited with a tune apiece, and there's an unusually fresh version of Sí Beag Sí Mór gilded by Jim Byrne's guitar. Tell It Like It Is ends with a whistle solo, the air Roisín Dubh, expertly played. Apparently Donna is already working on album number two: if it's as good as this one, it'll be worth hearing. Check out her progress at which also has details of live gigs.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.