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NIAMH NÍ CHARRA - Donnelly’s Arm 

NIAMH NÍ CHARRA - Donnelly’s Arm 
Imeartas Records IMCD005 

Hailing from Killarney in the beautiful Co Kerry, Niamh is a concertina and fiddle player, singer, composer and archivist, strongly influenced by the music of the Sliabh Luachra area. A multiple award winner on both instruments, this is her fourth solo album, the recording of which coincided with the onset of COVID. It is a tribute to Niamh and her cohorts - who were recorded by various people in several different locations – that the end result is as flawless and enjoyable as we’ve come to expect from a Niamh recording.

Whether on the concertina or fiddle, Niamh plays with an incredibly light touch - full of a lilty swing, and airy but without any lack of substance. Pair that with a seemingly innate ability to select (or write) great trad-style tunes, and you have a winning formula. Here, Niamh has joined forces with guitarist Kevin Corbett and bodhrán player Dominic Keogh, who provide the lion’s share of the accompaniment, and makes use of the odd guest musician as well – though she remains the focus throughout.

The material is a lovely mix of traditional tunes, with several from Niamh and a couple from other composers. These fit together seamlessly. Niamh’s skill as a composer is under-rated; there are some cracking tunes from her pen here including the march, Seanchnoc, the slip-jig and reel set, Ar Scáth A Chéile, and the polka, I Will, Yeah – on first hearing them, they felt comfortable and familiar, like I’ve known them forever. Kevin Corbett’s guitar shines in all the right places, often playing things that you might not expect on a trad album (like some rocky riffs and power chords, or some jazz-tinged progressions) but they enhance rather than distract, and add to the variation displayed throughout the album. Niamh also sings three songs in her nicely decorated, slightly breathy style, two traditional and in Irish, and one from songwriter Si Kahn. Of the three, Ceol An Phíobaire, accompanied solely by piper Mikie Smyth, fares best as you can hear Niamh’s delicate ornamentation well.

This album is a pleasure from start to finish – great tunes and great playing; full of life, emotion and that extra little something that makes the music sparkle. Highly recommended.

Fiona Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 138 of The Living Tradition magazine