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MÁIRTÍN PHEAITS "Traditional Songs From Connemara" Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD153

Recently in T.LT, I praised a Gaelic CD by young Connemara singer "Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola", calling it very 'accessible'. It was; but here's another Connemara offering which is different altogether - tremendous, but far more demanding. Máirtín Pheait¹s first-ever recording displays the sort of Connemara sean-nós singing which beguiles some, but can frighten off others. Of Connemara songs, writer Bob Quinn describes them representing "that uncomfortable thing, an intimate art akin to jazz singing which falls uneasily on suburban ears".

He's correct. Where Ulster's sean-nós sounds pleasingly straightforward, and Munster¹s famously melismatic, Connemara's can sound very odd: it's even occasionally compared to North African music. Nevertheless, some Connemara singers see their style as the acme, like Seán Jack MacDonncha who (tongue in cheek?) basically once wrote off Munster altogether with "níl ceol ag an dream sin" ("that crowd has no music"!)

Máirtín Pheaits has music all right. Aged 79, he won the men's sean-nós at Oireachtas na Gaolie 2001, having first won it 57 years before. It's obvious why, from tracks like An Casaideach Bán, long at 14 minutes, but quite magnificent. (Seven of the ten tracks exceed five minutes). The control and decoration here are stunning. The album is full of delights, like Mná Spéiriúla Ros an Mhíl (with the familiar tune to Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore) and the fine praise-song Loingseach Bhearna. Of its type, it takes some beating, almost running out of superlatives to describe the hero Lynch... Altogether simpler is the album's sole English piece, I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen, but very nice for all that.

Sleeve notes are good, although more on the songs' backgrounds would have been useful. The translations convey the spirit and meaning of the originals well, something extremely hard to achieve. Sean-nós literally rendered in English can appear flat, over-blown, or confusing: translating it is an art-form in its own right! However, translator Seán Ó Laoi strikes a skilful balance here.

If you already enjoy sean-nós, this CD needs no further recommending, but if you're still wary then take a chance!

Steve McGrail

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This album was reviewed in Issue 53 of The Living Tradition magazine.