Music Reviews

Noble Stranger, by Nuala Kennedy; Caitlin, by Caitlin Nic Gabhann; Through Wind and Rain, by Cathie Ryan

By Tara Dougherty, Music Editor
October / November 2012

New releases from your favorite Irish and Irish-American artists.

Nuala Kennedy • Noble Stranger
Nuala Kennedy’s Noble Stranger, one of the newest releases from Compass Records, fluctuates between your typical trad album and a very new, innovative pop sound. Kennedy is an Irish vocalist and flute player with a voice that hits an intriguingly high pitch. This vocal peculiarity coupled with her bold and experimental arrangements make Noble Stranger a pop trad record of remark.

On the album’s opening track “Gabriel Sings,” Kennedy implements the very exploratory side to her arrangements, striking bizarre highs and lows in her voice, which is worked into a somewhat combative style of instrumentation. It is a brave opening track, which may turn some trad listeners away but has enough of a hook and toe-tapping pull to keep most interested. “Lonely City” may be the song in which Kennedy truly excels vocally. Here the rhythmic guitar holds listeners steady while she explores, through vocal harmony, a different side to her own musicality. The record is a delight and refreshing to hear. Throughout, though, Kennedy never lets listeners forget that she is first and foremost a master flutist.

The album was recorded almost entirely live, which is perhaps the best way to capture the spirit of Irish music. With a full fall tour stretching up and down the Eastern seaboard, Kennedy will likely be on the radar of Irish music fans, and Noble Stranger is certainly a record worth exploring a live show to understand.

Caitlin Nic Gabhann • Caitlín
Newcomer Caitlin Nic Gabhann has arrived with purpose. The concertina player has independently released a debut that will demand dancing. The self-titled album, Caitlín, showcases Nic Gabhann’s obvious talent along with the perfectly complementing guitar work of Caoimhín Ó Fearghail. It is a record with bounce, and a must have for dancers, who will revel in its perfected rhythm and simple performance.

Exploring some classic favorites like “The Rookery” and “The Reel of Beryl,” Nic Gabhann is a dancer herself, formerly of the Riverdance troupe, and that is more than reflected in her mastery of these numbers. She is also a three-time winner of the All Ireland competition for concertina.

Caitlín also features some of Nic Gabhann’s own compositions which have been performed in the Cork Opera House and National Concert Hall in Dublin. The young County Meath native has certainly made herself known with this debut, and readers should expect to see her name again, hopefully collaborating with more musicians and exploring more depth in her sound.

Cathie Ryan • Through Wind and Rain
Areturn to the trad stage after seven years, Cathie Ryan’s Through Wind and Rain is a folk triumph for the Michigan singer. After suffering setbacks she largely attributes to a grueling touring schedule, Ryan disappeared from the trad scene only to return, as the album says, Through Wind and Rain, with her trademark sweetness and a collection of fantastically whimsical tunes.

One departure from the album’s very sullen tone is “I’m A Beauty.” Ryan called it “a song with healing in it. I heard it and wanted to sing it for me, and for others. They say the old bards – the Druids – used to sing people back to themselves.” The arrangement and Ryan’s strengthening vocal performance are a highlight of the album. The traditional piece “Oro, ‘Sheanduine Doite” showcases Ryan’s great ability to take traditional songs and inject them with a flavor of American folk that goes down as smoothly as she sings them. Through Wind and Rain is a moving return for Ryan and certain to be a staple of her career, not only as her return piece but also as one of her best albums.

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