Review by Pay The Reckoning

Sinead O'Connor - Sean Nos Nua (Hummingbird Records)

The album, says Sinead, that she always wanted to make. Folk and traditional songs that she's had from childhood, or picked up along the way, that she's always wanted to present in her own way. Some traditionalists will shudder at the very thought and possibly with good reason. Sinead's world-view is a very personal and it doesn't always (or possibly ever!) accord with that which we who sit in smoky back-rooms, or pore through old tunebooks, or sift through esoteric recordings of this or that long-gone singer or musician have in common. But the traditionalist needn't fear. Sinead treats her material with a degree of reverence and respect. And yet, like all great singers in the hall of fame, she individualises and personalises the songs. Let's get to the nub. The woman has a great voice. A unique, natural, organic delivery that is as intrinsically interesting as the voice of , say, Frank Harte or Luke Kelly or Margaret Barry or Joe Heaney or Kathy Jordan or Dolores Keane or (insert name here). At times almost brutal in its authority and at others so fragile and delicate as to remind us of her and our vulnerability. Sinead experiments with rhythms, textures and instrumentation which come from outside the Irish tradition. But it is a tribute to her musical radar and that of her co-producers Donal Lunny, Alan Branch and Adrian Sherwood, that these nuances are understated. The song, and Sinead's interpretation of the song, are the key elements of each track. The arrangements complement, rather than force, the logic throughout. The material which she covers is drawn from a variety of sources and O'Connor brings out the melancholy at each song's core. Her version of Peggy Gordon exposes the puzzlement and consternation of the spurned lover, the person with nowhere to turn. Lord Franklin has its heart the same predicament - loss and the inability to do anything to remedy the situation. Sinead's version of The Singing Bird is a revelation to those of us who have the McPeake's gruff (yet powerful and affecting) version as our source of reference. Likewise her versions of Paddy's Lament, The Moorlough Shore and The Parting Glass take cornerstones of the ballad tradition and present them in a subtly individualistic way. Many, however, will linger over Sinead's version of My Lagan Love. Of all of the tracks on the album, this is one where technology is brought to the fore and where Sinead gives free rein to her voice. The result is the most exciting reading of this song we've yet encountered. Sean Nos Nua will cause some controversy in traditional circles. And indeed those outside the trad camp will have mixed views. Our verdict? A beautifully-delivered set of songs, brimming with passion, honesty and fire. Forget labels and leave your disbelief at the door. Listen, marvel, enjoy! Due for release in the UK on 7th October.

(c) 2002 Pay The Reckoning September 2002

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