Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola,
An Raicin Alainn
(self-produced, 2002)

Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola has a soft, dusky voice, low and gentle, and she artfully wields it in the pursuit of Gaelic excellence on An Raicin Alainn. There is a deep richness to this recording, and the production is polished to a fine sheen.

The Gaelic songs here never let you forget that Ni Chonaola's voice -- and the beautiful Irish language itself -- are the centerpieces of the recording. There is minimal instrumental accompaniment, used to enhance the songs but never to overburden or dominate them. The title track, which translates to "The Beautiful Comb," was learned from her grandmother on Inishmaan, one of the Aran Islands off the coast of County Clair, and the delicate fiddle and guitar support Ni Chonaola's voice with a light touch.

The bilingual liner notes tell us that Ni Chonaola could sing before she could speak, and certainly she demonstrates admirable vocal control as she makes Ireland's ancient sean nos style her own. Take for an example "Bean Phaidin (Padin's Wife)," a traditional song from rugged Connemara. The track pairs her voice with a hand drum and maintains a lightly cantering tempo throughout. She then leads straight into the a cappella song "Caislean Gearr (Castlegar)," which proves that she needs no extra help to hold your attention from first to last faintly echoing note.

"Oilean na Teiscinne (Island of the Teiscinn)" is a haunting poem inspired by the Aran Islands, set over a subtle guitar and gently recited with true wonder and love for the land. Next, "Banrion Loch na Naomh (The Queen of Loch na Naomh)" draws on Ireland's ancient bardic tradition, where the song is laid over the bell-like tones of the clairsach, or Irish harp.

When instruments weren't available, the dance-loving Irish used their voices in a distinctive vocal style sometimes called lilting; Ni Chonaola is joined by singer Mac Dara O'Conaola for the spritely "Bimse Fein ag Iascaireacht (I Myself Go Fishing)," which employs nothing more than an upbeat bodhran to keep them going. The lightly mocking tone of "Amhran an Phuca (Song of the Pooka)" comes through clearly in this a cappella song that is less about fairy creatures, more about poking fun at an annoying neighbor. Ni Chonaola diddles emotively with a drum on "De Thaisme (Coincidence)."

The final track, "Ceol na Gaoithe (Song of the Gale)," gets a little more ambitious with its vocal layers and accompaniments but, while it initially seemed out of place on this recording, it quickly became one of my favorite tracks with its delicate embellishments.

Gaelic is a beautiful language, and its presentation here is delightfully melodic and clearly enunciated. On 14 wonderful tracks, Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola runs through many styles of Irish singing and proves herself mistress of them all.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 13 March 2004

[ visit the artist's website ]



Buy it from Amazon.com.