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Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola "AN RAICÍN ÁLAINN" lnc001

To call this CD 'an easy introduction to sean-nós' is not to patronise; because being accessible to people who've perhaps avoided sean-nós is just one of its many good features. Actually, 'good' is the wrong word here: the singing on the CD is delightful. If purists jib at Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola's (pronounced Lassar reena nee huneelah) sometimes smoky/jazzy voice (as on the lilting track), they¹re basically missing the point. The voice has a very contemporary sound, nonetheless true to its roots.

Roots mean much to this young woman from Inishere, one of Galway¹s Aran Islands. Apart from the frequent references to finding songs locally, it¹s clear that her island is in her soul. Several of her tracks reflect this, like the satirical 'Amhrán an Phúca' and the beautiful 'Oileán na Teiscinne' co-written with her poet father; here, the emotion is almost palpable. It¹s the same with Tonnta Chonamara (composed by her father) and with her own adaptation of Eithne Carberry¹s poem 'On Inisheer'. In this, as elsewhere, she¹s blessed with the sumptuous backing of Mary Bergin on low whistle and Máire Breatnach on viola: if you¹ve ever heard a viola behind a voice, you may wonder why so many accompaniments still involve fiddles...

Several of the 14 tracks are about (usually frustrated) love. Some are nicely understated like Casadh an tSúgáin, or beguilingly ironic like the title track, or wistful like Bean Pháidín. Others, like Caisleán Gearr, resonate sweet regret. This big unaccompanied Connemara ballad shows what Lasairfhíona can achieve great control, great clarity, great beauty. And her Irish is just lovely!

That said, there are hiccups: accompaniments can be overstated for her quite light voice. This shows most with the bodhrán (track 2, but excellent on 10) and the guitar (track 4) . basically, the sound seems too high. Also on 'Úna Bhán' there's excessive echo and some odd background rumbling, too.

Yet such comments shouldn't detract from what is overall a wonderful CD. Included in that assessment are the sleeve notes, pleasant and informative (apart from a missing translation in Úna Bhán), with the singing of Lasairfhíona¹s brother MacDara on one track another plus.

The final verdict: if you¹ve shunned sean-nós before, you won¹t after hearing this. Mo cheol thú, a Lasairfhíona!

Steve McGrail

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This album was reviewed in Issue 51 of The Living Tradition magazine.