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NOELEEN NÍ CHOLLA - An Mhaighdean Mhara

NOELEEN NÍ CHOLLA - An Mhaighdean Mhara
Cló Iar-Chonnacht CICD198

Noeleen is an accomplished sean-nós singer from Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore) in the Donegal Gaeltacht; she’s sung in competitions since age seven, winning numerous prestigious awards since then. If you expect her solo album to be largely traditional in terms of content, therefore, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. The chosen style of musical accompaniment is in the vein of pleasing, soft-focus contemporary-acoustic, courtesy of producer Manus Lunny with Scottish box player Calum Mac Colla and whistle/uilleann pipes player Martin Crossin – basically that means a focus on guitar and gentle, almost subliminal keyboard tones: quite unhurried, undistracting and gently enhancing, nothing challenging or boat-rocking.

Those songs with a luscious melody – like Éirigh Suas, A Stóirin – arguably come off best, while the disc’s other principal mode, represented by the lightly tripping, skipping gait of An Spealadóir and (Noeleen’s own composition) Lá Aoibhinn Cois Trá, can’t be faulted. Having said that, the closing item, the tale of Bean An Fhir Ruaidh is also most appealingly phrased. The ancillary vocal touches provided by the youth singing group An Crann Óg are also well judged, and Noeleen’s lovely duet with singer Tearlach MacCholla on the Scots Gaelic song Chì Mi Na Mòrbheanna (Mist-covered Mountains) is a disc highpoint.

Several of the songs Noeleen has chosen to sing for her debut album, however, have been sourced from her singing teacher Nellie Eoghain – for instance, Dónall Óg, which Noeleen handles with a generous degree of poise, and yet in doing so she doesn’t quite get to the emotional kernel of the song. Most of the rest of the time, too, Noeleen could be said to err on the side of the lightly bewitching rather than providing us with any fresh insights – although that’s not to criticise her most attractive singing in any way. For although there’s much to admire in Noeleen’s vocal technique, her sense of decoration is assured and her tone is quite wonderful, the intrinsic charm of her delivery should not be its only positive characteristic, and I feel that her unerring poise tends occasionally to prevent a more telling degree of expression of the song texts – an impression that’s unavoidably reinforced by the predominantly leisurely, unforced and understated nature of the instrumental backdrops, sympathetically atmospheric though they may be. Nevertheless, Noeleen’s amicably confident CD debut is a well-presented affair that will doubtless win her many admirers.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 109 of The Living Tradition magazine.