Nuala Kennedy,
The New Shoes
(Compass, 2007)

Nuala Kennedy is a rare treat.

Face it, we know most musicians solely through the music they produce. (Unless, of course, the tabloids and paparazzi take notice, but that's more of a factor in the pop-tart genre than Irish folk music.) But in Nuala's case, I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with her at three successive Celtic Colours festivals in Cape Breton, and I was impressed with this young woman's dedication to her craft. There's no question here, Nuala loves music, and that love infuses every note she plays and sings.

This is all a longwinded way of mentioning how delighted I was to receive The New Shoes, Nuala's first solo recording.

Her refreshing nature aside, The New Shoes is a marvel. It doesn't take long to listen and realize that Nuala doesn't have the potential to be one of the great masters of Irish flute playing -- she already is. Her music is graceful, sweetly nuanced and intricately arranged. It sounds organic and at ease, not at all glossy or overproduced.

Nuala doesn't strive, as so many young musicians do, to impress listeners with splash, volume and an overblown sense of her own cleverness; the music here is straighforward and relaxed and ineffably lovely.

That she's also blessed with a beautiful, delicate voice is almost unfair. Nuala sings on several tracks, in both English and Gaelic, and it's a delight every time.

Her name has always sounded elfin to me (forgive me, Nuala, blame Neil Gaiman for that) and that is perfectly suited to this recording. The music lights on your shoulder and sings in your ear and, damn it, I was actually a little sad when duty called to put another CD in the stereo and give this one a rest.

A native of Dundalk, Co. Louth, this Irish beauty has spent a significant amount of time in Scotland (where she currently resides) and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and she has achieved name recognition working with Harem Scarem, Fine Friday, Anam and the Unusual Suspects.

Besides Nuala's flute and vocals, the recording features Marc Clement (guitar/vocals), Julian Sutton (melodeons) and Claire Mann (fiddle/flute/whistle/vocals), along with Mhairi Hall (piano), Donald Hay (percussion), Mario Caribe (bass), Cathal McConnell (vocals) and Daniel Lapp (trumpet). Nuala and the band also did some composition here, which complements the traditional Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton influences dominating these tracks.

People sometimes ask how I can listen to so much Irish music without ever growing tired of it. The New Shoes is a perfect reply.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

2 June 2007

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