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Happy Out
Private Label  IMCD 002

Niamh's excellent debut CD followed stardom with Riverdance as a fiddler and concertinist. Album number two - Súgach Sámh in Irish - has taken time out of her touring schedule with the Carlos Nuñez band. This outstanding Kerry musician's second CD is still mainly instrumental, but adds three songs in English and Irish - a new departure for her. She also presents four new compositions here, so she's been a busy bee since her previous release, and I have to say she's looking well on it. Niamh is joined by Robbie Harris on bodhrán, and by the original Lúnasa rhythm section of Donogh Hennessy and Trevor Hutchinson, as well as a handful of one-track ponies.

The ten tracks of tunes here are equally divided between fiddle and concertina, with two technomagic duet tracks. There's a Kerry influence in the inclusion of slides and polkas, but Niamh's tastes are understandably eclectic after her touring experience. She starts with The Limerick Redowa (a Czech dance similar to a mazurka), turned with the brilliant Oakum's and Niamh's own lilting Strawberry Tree Slide. The gentle old slip jig Top It Off leads into a pair of familiar fiery reels - almost an American fiddle style as the bow saws through The Glen Road To Carrick - then a more delicate approach for her catchy composition The Devil's Ladder. The Blue Horse is a clear highlight for me, a set of jigs starting with one which has many names but I know best as The Swedish Jig, followed by The Sail-Maker's Wife which Garry Walsh introduced me to, and finally a muñeira learnt at the knee of Galician gaita giant Carlos Nuñez. Lonesome Eyes is the first of three slow airs here, a beautiful melody by the late great Jerry Holland into which Niamh pours all the poignancy of her fiddle. Eithne's is another Ní Charra composition, bittersweet and haunting, followed by Niamh's light airy jig The Fairy Step. One final air comes from the heart of the Munster tradition, Bruach na Carraige Báine, wonderfully articulated on concertina. A glorious set of hornpipes, some splendid jigs and polkas, and a pair of big Scottish and Canadian tunes complete the instrumental offering.

A fluent Irish speaker, Niamh delivers two songs in Irish and one in English here. I know Niamh was reluctant to add vocals to her live performances, but the three examples on this recording are a credit to her. Paddy's Lamentation is taken slow, mournful and low: no dramatics, just a simple honest delivery, with a complimentary concertina break in the middle. Niamh tears into the comic ditty Cailleach an Airgid with gusto, and backs this up with a fine fiddle version of the well-known jig, while the lovesong Sé Fáth Mo Bhuartha is handled gently and features a sparkling accompaniment on zither by Niamh's father. This all adds up to a very impressive CD. Happy Out could well be one of the best albums of 2010, so don't miss it: will give you more information on Niamh's recordings and live gigs.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 87 of The Living Tradition magazine.