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ELEANOR MCEVOY "Early Hours" Market Square MSM51SACD128

This is another superbly produced and crafted album from one of Ireland's most accomplished female singer-songwriters - it's a very fine collection crossing over into many musical styles - Celtic, country, folk, jazz and blues - and makes for intensely rewarding listening. Eleanor McEvoy's voice has you enthralled from the first moment - from the mellow piano and trumpet of the opening track You'll Hear Better Songs (Than This) to the album's haunting closing song Anach Cuain. McEvoy's voice has a raw, bluesy, pure edge that completely hooks you from the start. The title song is pretty apt - you may well hear 'better' songs than these, but few will be so superbly crafted and exquisitely produced.

The album's production and recording qualities are outstanding - it's recorded in multi-channel stereo surround and offers much to the audiophile. McEvoy's strong, often raw, Irish-accented vocal comes through with remarkable clarity and grabs your attention throughout - I was somehow reminded of a whole host of female singers as I listened. Musicianship is excellent - McEvoy's guitar playing (both acoustic and electric) forms the backbone to these songs (she plays fiddle on one track only, the raw-edged, traditional, but very lyrical Driving Home From Butler's). Album co-producer Brian Connor accompanies her on piano, Hammond, and all manner of keyboards - his contribution is exceptional throughout. Drummer/percussionist is Liam Bradley, Calum McColl also plays guitars, bassist is Nicky Scott, and Lindley Hamilton plays trumpet - superb on the opening track.

Classically trained McEvoy is probably best known for her 1992 album Only A Woman's Heart, which broke a good few album sales records in Ireland. Her song writing continues to be classy, mature, and crafted, and makes for immeasurably satisfying listening - McEvoy has written 10 of the 13 songs on Early Hours. Hard to pick out a favourite amidst such quality. There are superb covers of Chuck Berry's Memphis Tennessee and Bert Jansch's Where Did My Life Go? but it's McEvoy's compositions that stand tall. Slower numbers such as The DJ, Make Mine A Small One and the very beautiful Ave Maria reveal great restraint - and thereby have all the more impact on the listener. Edgier numbers include the superb I'll Be Willing, Slipping Away, and Days Roll By - these are great songs, dominated by rhythmic guitar and piano.

What with albums like Early Hours and Karine Polwart's Faultlines to contend with, it looks like 2004 is turning into a vintage year for female vocalist releases - I honestly can't fault this beautifully crafted album.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.