Aoife Ni Fhearraigh,
(Gael-Linn Records, 1996)

Ireland has gifted the world with wondrous music all out of proportion to the size of the little island whence all this glorious aural feasting comes. In Ireland, there is a section of the Gaeltacht in the general area of Donegal which has again given to Irish music all out of proportion to her size. From this region hail the Brennans and Duggans of Clannad, as well as Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, the lead voice of Altan. Out of Ranafast in the same area are the musical Ni Dhomhnaills (Micheal, Mairead and Triona) and Aoife Ni Fhearraigh.

Aoife is Ni Fhearraigh's first solo effort, and is a handsomely mounted additional proof of the untapped musical resources yet to rise from Donegal and environs. This is an unapologetic album of love songs and meditations, and is meant to provoke the same sorts of feelings that a session with Maire Brennan or Anuna or Enya might inspire. A word of warning, however: this is a singer's album, the songs are voice-driven, and every word is sung in glorious Gaelic, so those who require a more accessible (i.e. English-speaking) guide to these musical sojourns are advised to either look elsewhere or give in to the beauty of the voice doing the singing and the carefully crafted instrumentals which frame the singer's work.

The opening tune, "Ansacht na nAnsacht," has appeared on a number of Celtic anthologies in the U.S., and is distinguished by the a capella closing bars which bring this oddly cheerful song of betrayed love to a close. The next piece, "Seacht Suailci na Maighdine Muire," is a hymn in praise of Mary, and is structured to evoke a litany which reminds me quite a bit of some of the tone layerings to be found in the more contemplative works by Anuna and Enya. It is perhaps worth noting at this juncture that one of the two producers of this disc is Maire Brennan. Throughout this musical journey, there are tales of loves lost, time spent in drink and revelry, reflections on living the rogue's life, and quiet devotions to God.

This disc is at its best with the slower ballads, which are richly mounted, and give the best opportunity for Ni Fhearraigh to linger with the melody. The placing of the occasional countertempo piece like the question-and-answer work "Cailin a' tSleibhe Ruaidh" lends balance to the disc, and gives one a feel for the diversity of the vocal tradition from Ranafast which those who have labored in love on Aoife have sought successfully to preserve and share. I recommend this work to those who cannot get enough of what the Gaeltacht has to offer, and I look forward with great anticipation to future offerings from this artist.

[ by Gilbert Head ]

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