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SEAN KEANE "Valley of the Heart" CR003CD

Up to the first few plays this made little initial impression, and I regarded it as a pleasant enough (but no more than that) set of songs, with some difficulty in differentiating between tracks. Then I happened to play it late at night, and then it all fell into place. What had seemed slightly vapid in the harsh light of day, took on a different colour, in fact a whole new palette was opened up. This is a nocturnal album, heavy on the theme of love, and I could imagine a husky late owl DJ placing it between the quieter side of Scott Walker or the more "torchy" aspect of k.d.lang. Whilst it has some kinship with these two, I found the track Zuider Zee reminded me nothing more than "The Dutchman", as song by the late lamented Steve Goodman.

Don't imagine the "lurrve" style of a Barry White, however - it is far more multi-dimensional. On One Girl Cried, for example, we encounter a Brel like character, who:

".sat behind a microphone
In a corner where it didn't matter,
For an honest pay, an honest player
He sang for tips and vacant stares"

but still manages to touch the listener of the title who'd, "been out of love for the longest time". When you take lyrics like Tim O'Brien has created here, with Sean singing at his most subtle and arrestingly beautiful, and add the emotive depth of Nollaig Casey (playing so, so sweetly on "Sea of Freedom"), Arty McGlynn and other stalwarts such as Mairtin O'Connor, you've got a recipe for something special, and so it proves.

From the sheer unabashed romanticism of the opener Million Years a tone is set, although the closing pair of tracks demonstrate - if any demonstration were necessary - that Sean can effortlessly skip from one genre to another. Good Love After Bad, is a chugging rootsy thing reminiscent of the brief partnership of Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins. On Bruach Na Carriage Baine, he duets with Maigread Ni Dhomhnaill in both English and Gaelic, virtually unaccompanied except for a low drone throughout. I doubt if anything more stunning will be heard anywhere in 2004 and this brings to a fitting end, a work which is brim full with good things, but which requires a wee bit of patience and attention before yielding up its fullest rewards.

Hector Christle

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This album was reviewed in Issue 55 of The Living Tradition magazine.