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Wishing Tree

Private Label  MULL001CD

Hailing from Co. Donegal, 25-year-old Shauna already has an impressive CV; in 1999 she won an All-Ireland title in English language song, and in 2005 attained finalist status in Music Network’s Young Musicwide Award, since which time she’s been featured on many festival stages. In 2007 she performed at the Royal Opera House with Luke Daniels and gained her MA in Irish Traditional Music Performance. Having been thus far widely acclaimed for her live performances both solo and with the David Munnelly Band (with whom she fulfils the role of lead singer), The Wishing Tree, her debut solo album, has been eagerly awaited.
There will be readers for whom the very notion of a 25-year-old female singer conjures up a delicate, wispy, pretty, pastel-shaded voice; this impression is dispelled right away on first encounter with Shauna. She possesses a splendid maturity, in phrasing as much as in basic tonal quality, being a genuine alto with real body, a firm, open and rounded voice that’s warm and strong in all registers, vibrant and absolutely distinctive. She’s been compared, and not inaccurately, with Dolores Keane, but she also openly admits to being influenced by June Tabor and Dick Gaughan in addition to by her grand-uncle Paddy Tunney. Traces of a Taboresque timbre in Shauna’s voice are particularly noticeable – and persuasive – on the disc’s final song, Úr Chnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte, which shares with the opening track (Ned Of The Hill) a pleasingly sympathetic piano arrangement and accompaniment (Ryan Molloy) and a distinctly classical-Lied-like character.

Unfortunately, it proves nigh impossible to pick out the detail of who exactly is playing what on the CD, since all that’s given is a combined cast-list of eight musicians that includes among its ranks Seanan Brennan, Damien McGeehan and members of the Munnelly Band. The attractive digipack does, however, include some honest and informative notes on the songs and the sources from which Shauna has drawn them for performance here (although it does fall surprisingly short of the ideal in not giving non-Gaelic-speakers any inkling of meaning for at least two of the disc’s four songs sung in that language.

Coincidentally perhaps, the songs which I find the most appealing and repeatedly satisfying are the sweet lullaby Suantraí Seoithín Seothó (blessed with a lovely guitar backing), the Donegal lament Fill Fill A Ruin Ó (which Shauna learnt from the singing of her mother), and the delicious Seacht Ndólás Na Maighdine Muire (which has some beautiful, comforting male vocal harmonies in support). Shauna proves an inventive interpreter and arranger of songs. For instance, her unaccompanied version of The Wee Weaver (with double-tracked vocal and set in the form of a canon) is good fun; although on the other hand Karine Polwart’s sublime Follow The Heron seems to lose some of its special beauty and delicacy in the slightly distracting, florid accordion and piano backing. And it’s no fault of Shauna’s that the impact of Out Of The Window, a gem of a comparatively unknown but quite charming traditional song with an intriguingly reflective and melancholy melody, is surely lessened due to the specific associations evoked in the listener’s mind by the uncanny obvious similarity of its text to She Moved Through The Fair.

But on balance the disc’s gains more than outweigh any of those minor losses; and after any initial shock has worn off I’m sure you’ll find that Shauna’s voice, with its boldly refined enunciation, is certainly captivating, for it moulds itself so very well to the texts and Shauna’s interpretive integrity is never in question.

David Kidman

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