(Hearts of Space, 1998;
EMI, 2006)

Méav has the sort of voice you'd want singing lullabies to your children.

Her voice is soft and gentle. Strong and undeniably sensual. Peaceful and oh-so melodic.

Méav could have settled for her 15 minutes of fame when the singing group Anúna became one of the spotlight attractions of the wildly popular Riverdance tour. But no, Méav kept going, performing with Anúna in various venues and garnering the solo spotlight on tour with the Irish National Concert Orchestra and at the inauguration of Irish President Mary McAleese.

And then there's Méav, her self-titled release from Hearts of Space. Granted, I question the wisdom of anyone who feels the need to follow in the footsteps of Cher, Enya, Bono, Madonna and any number of other stars with just one name -- but anyone who sings like Méav earns a few quick and easy points of forgiveness.

The album begins with "Ailein Duinn," a poignant Gaelic air, laden with atmosphere, perhaps best known to many people as the fireside song from the movie Rob Roy. Then there's "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls," a delicate song written by Michael Balfe in 1843 and performed not too long ago by the afore-mentioned Enya (who did, for the record, have a last name back when she still played with Clannad). Both of these tunes are excellently arranged and performed, and yet Méav begins at a disadvantage when she competes with heavy Irish hitters like Enya and Capercaillie's Karen Matheson, who sang in Rob Roy.

So why do Méav's versions keep running through my head? Perhaps it's because I've played her CD so often in recent days, but I suspect the young Irish singer will continue to linger in my head for a long time to come.

Someone -- Méav herself, or perhaps arrangers David Agnew and David Downes -- earns bonus points for the notion of blending Méav's dainty vocals with African rhythms and chants in the otherwise traditional "She Moved Through the Fair" and "Im A Doun." Another strong point here is the orchestral approach to this album; the unexpected presence of David Agnew's oboe on several tracks is a particularly successful tactic.

"The Death of Queen Jane" achieves a stately air of a Renaissance court with the addition of harpsichord (David Adams), lute (Richard Sweeney) and viola de gamba (Andrew Robinson), mixed nicely with Agnew's recorders and Méav's own harping. Oh yes, did I mention she's a harper, too? She plays harp on several tracks, keyboards on several more. Other instrumentalists include Frank Gallagher on fiddle, viola and whistles, Mark Armstrong on keyboards and Ivan Gilliland on guitars, among others.

Another pleasant surprise is "Solveig's Song," an 1876 composition by Edvard Grieg. The Norwegian piece fits neatly into the Irish theme of the album and, as always, Méav's vocals are enchanting. "Close Your Eyes" is an Irish lullaby which is deliciously soothing. You might think "One I Love" would be out of place -- it was written by Appalachian folksinger Jean Ritchie -- but Méav's sparse, nearly a capella arrangement is gorgeous, making this one of my favorite tracks on the album.

The only unsettling moment on the album came during the final track, "Celtic Prayer." I have no quarrel with the song, written by Agnew, and the lively dance tune is fine on its own account. But it would have fit better somewhere earlier on the album; by this point I'd been so relaxed by Méav's hush-a-bye tones, I found the sudden dance riffs on fiddle and oboe somewhat jarring.

Fortunately, I have the CD on automatic repeat, so I can begin the relaxation process all over again. This is definitely an album worth hearing over and over again.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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