Katie McMahon,
After the Morning
(Paradigm, 1998)

Katie McMahon's pure, clear soprano is best known from the show Riverdance and vocal group Anuna. On her first solo release, she shows that she does not need an elaborate show or the support of a choral group to enhance her voice. Her carefully selected songs are minimally arranged, leaving it to her beautiful singing to carry the album. Combining laments and more cheerful songs with jigs and instrumental pieces, modern and ancient, McMahon has created a diverse, engaging album.

Beginning with "Caleno," McMahon sets the scene by providing a wonderfully harmonized song. The a cappella song "After the Morning" tells of a tragic hanging narrowly averted. Changing the mood considerably is a sprightly Gaelic song about drinking all night long! She then moves into familiar territory with "Heartland" from Riverdance. This version has a much more paired-down arrangement, but loses none of the beauty of the original, which McMahon also sang.

"A Stor Mo Chroi" is another lament about the leaving of the many immigrants who went to North America and who were mourned as if they were dead as they would never be seen by their families again. The mood shifts once again with a jaunty tune, then back with a lament in Gaelic, "The Land of Erin (Ardaigh Guain)." "Ecce Puer" is a song about the cycle of life and death, and has a melancholy feel to it. An upbeat instrumental, "Breda's Jigs," provides a counterpoint to the slower songs on the album and the fiddle takes the lead for the set. The following "Carolan's Farewell to Music" is a familiar harp tune, played delicately, evoking the sadness of the last bard playing his harp for the last time.

The last two tunes, "Winter, Fire & Snow" and "Adieu, Adieu," end the album on a beautiful note. The tempo of the two songs and the a cappella arrangement of the final track are perfect for McMahon's gentle, emotive voice, allowing her to wring every ounce of sorrow from the songs.

The overall sound of the album has elements of traditional Irish music, as well as a more mediaeval tone at times. The instrumentation varies considerably throughout the album, ranging from the addition of uileann pipes, piano, harp, fiddle and percussion on some tracks to voice and harp on others, while two tracks include an additional singer. McMahon also provides her own harmony on several tracks. The majority of the album is McMahon's singing and harping in different styles and tempos, with enough variety to ensure the listener remains attentive.

Katie McMahon has gathered together many unique songs to include on her album, making it a worthwhile investment simply to hear some different material. In addition to her interesting songs, she also has a lovely voice and the arrangements are carefully done to maintain her vocal talents as the focal point of the album. With her beautiful soprano and harping, the recording is a delicate and gentle collection of songs. Highly recommended.

by Jean Emma Price
3 December 2005

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