Sean-Nos Nua review by The Times (London)

October 4, 2002, Friday

HEADLINE: Nothing compares 2 this

BYLINE: Lisa Verrico SINEAD O'CONNOR. Sean-Nos Nua

**** KIM RICHEY. Rise *** NANCI GRIFFITH. Winter Marquee *** Lisa Verrico hears a happy Sinead O'Connor, sees Kim Richey leave the country for pop and takes Nanci Griffith home There are few things Sinead O'Connor hasn't been since Nothing Compares 2 U made her a star back in 1990. First, she was the sad Irish girl who shed a tear in that year's most striking video; then the tabloids dubbed her a bald headed banshee. She was an enemy of the Catholic Church, Bob Dylan and most of middle America when she tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live; she was a priest (now an archdeacon, apparently), a lesbian (or bisexual) and is a double divorcee with two children, although that's pretty normal by comparison. What O'Connor has never been before, however, is happy. But that's definitely her smiling on the cover of her latest album. Smiling, wearing a fuchsia outfit and bending down in bushes in an unfortunate pose. You suspect a catch, but is seems not. The sleeve notes are full of her cheery anecdotes. Sean-Nos Nua, she says, is the album she's always wanted to make, traditional Irish songs she learnt as a child, from her father and wandering around the world. And while it's probably not pop enough to dent many mainstream charts, Sean-Nos Nua suggests that O'Connor's career could be back on track. Produced with the Irish legend Donal Lunny and dub master Adrian Sherwood, the album -the title means old style, new way -dusts off 13 Irish standards, fiddles with their arrangements and slides some subtle programming under acoustic instruments. The feel is still very much olde-worlde Ireland -Sharon Shannon plays accordion, the former Waterboy Steve Wickham mandolin, Lunny bodhran and bouzouki and a dozen other guests everything from violin and viola to flute, whistle and banjo -but there are also programmed drums, a Hammond organ and ambient and dub sounds. What you really hear, however, is O'Connor's voice, as pure and hypnotic as on Nothing Compares 2 U. Stripped of loaded lyrics and with no new controversy stealing the limelight, O'Connor reminds you why she became famous in the first place. The centrepiece is Lord Baker, a melancholy duet with Christy Moore based on the John Reilly song, but with amended words and music. Elsewhere, O'Connor covers Peggy Gordon, Her Mantle So Green and The Moorlough Shore, all storytelling songs steeped in Irish history. It's on Molly Malone and Paddy's Lament, though, that she really shines. Perhaps because they are so familiar, her serene reworkings have added impact. Not everyone will want old Irish songs, of course, and after 2000's Faith and Courage -recorded with the likes of Wyclef Jean -O'Connor's pop fans may be disappointed. But Sean-Nos Nua is a new start. O'Connor's recent duet with Moby on 18 and her contributions to the new Massive Attack album should put her back on pop's radar.

(c) 2002 Times Newspapers Limited The Times (London)