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Private Label FRL001

Anna, Sheila and Clare Friel are, without doubt, among the brightest musical prospects on the horizon of traditional music and their debut album clearly and unequivocally demonstrates their very considerable talents.

These girls, born and raised in Glasgow, have retraced their steps to their family roots in one of the Donegal Gaeltachts and, through the medium of fiddle, flute and uilleann pipes, have blended their ancestral culture with a veritable galaxy of musical influences that they’ve absorbed from across Ireland. The result is an album that gives an intimation of the musical treats that await us the next time they record – and the times after that.

So what does this album offer? Well, if you’re anticipating a CD of Donegal music, you’ll find some, but the highlands and reels rub shoulders with jigs from Co Clare and waltzes from Michael Coleman. Jigs and reels predominate, but the mixture is leavened with five songs among the 15 tracks. These are all sung in unison and are so well polished that it’s difficult at times to tell whether you’re listening to three voices or one that’s been multi-tracked. The songs themselves are less familiar than the music, coming as they do from the family or from close friends in Donegal, while much of the music is to be heard at sessions all round the country and beyond. Both the playing and the singing are polished and faultless.

Bearing in mind that this is the girls’ first foray into the recording studio, it seems churlish to mention any shortcomings, but these are not so much criticisms as suggestions of things that I would like to hear on future offerings.

In terms of musical contrast, it would be good to have the odd slow air – I’m certain they’d do airs really well, judging by the song intros and accompaniments. It would also be interesting if they ‘let themselves go’ a bit more – everything here is played strictly to time, which doesn’t always let the music speak properly. And I’d love to hear more of the Donegal repertoire played on pipes – the bit of it here shows how well this music can be adapted to bellows and chanter.

But these are merely small omissions. Go and buy this CD, you most definitely won’t regret it. Me? I’ll be looking out for the next one!

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 101 of The Living Tradition magazine.