Alison O'Donnell &
Isabel Ni Chuireain,
Mise agus Ise
(Osmosys, 2006)

Last year, while reviewing an excellent book on Irish folk and blues, I was reminded of a great group that I'd heard many years ago at a local festival in Wexford. As often happens when you are reminded of a sound from your youth, you want to recapture it. Unfortunately, CDs by Mellow Candle are probably as rare as hen's teeth, so I gave up.

But the world is an amazing place, and this week I found Mise agus Ise ("Myself & Herself"), featuring the beautiful voice of Alison O'Donnell, along with Isabel Ni Chuireain. Alison was the 15-year-old sweet voice of the aforementioned Mellow Candle, and she has lost none of the magic -- in fact, I think she probably sounds even better.

Opening with "The Blackcap," a wonderful song from the viewpoint of the bird of the title, the CD moves effortlessly into my favourite track on the album. It is mesmerizing, almost a nonsense song about love and music, but "A Skip & I Do" has that life and bounce so often neglected in modern music.

If you enjoy great instrumental sounds, head for track three, "By the Weir." Here we have Alison as the multi-instrumentalist, ably assisted on low whistle by Martin Crossan. They sound almost orchestral in this rendition.

The joy of this album is the fact that you get expert playing and performing combined with well-thought-out lyrics, but they never lose sight of the humour in even the most poignant situation. "Hangover from Hell" is a song that reflects Ireland in the 21st century with a sharp turn of phrase, not a little humour and a knowing clarity.

In many ways this is a very personal album. Most of the songs come from Alison's pen and reflect on modern life, families and even past wars, as on "Armistice Day," inspired by the memories of survivors of the Great War 80 years after the ceasefire. She also takes other composers' lyrics and weaves a new cloth, as with Thom Moore's "Turn the Corner."

Although she is no longer a teenager, there is a strange youthful quality to her voice and renditions. These make the message all the clearer and more striking, especially on songs like "In the Web," looking at the abuse of power.

The lush and powerful playing of Isabel complements Alison's vocals. It is only when we listen to an album like this that we realize the essential ingredients of a magic performance. We need the lyrics and voice, but it is the arrangement and accompaniment that adds that indefinable spark to turn good into great.

by Nicky Rossiter
1 July 2006

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