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MEADBH The Crimson Path

MEADBH The Crimson Path
Racket Records  RR009

This is a unique collaboration between poet Ann Joyce and traditional musician and composer John Carty. It relates the legend of Queen Meadbh (Maeve), fabled warrior queen of the Irish province of Connacht, by journeying in original narrative poetry, music and song through the ancient and mythical landscape of 1st century Celtic Ireland. The legend of Meadbh retold on this disc recounts how she set off with her army from her palace at Cruachan, Co. Roscommon, to capture the Brown Bull of Cooley, in doing so declaring war on Ulster; this expedition was to lead to her death.
The aural experience is a quietly compelling (though minimalist) one, but it must be said that the poetry is paramount and therefore almost entirely in the forefront (and forwardly balanced) for the vast majority of the disc’s playing-time. Ann’s own reading is vividly realised and naturally dramatic, and very well recorded too. The clear, crisp musical accompaniment (which is not continuous) is more integrated with the poetry than conventional incidental-music might be, here consisting principally of snatches of tunes (often in the style of reels or airs) that arise in the background then often develop out of a specific mood that has been conjured by the preceding narrative. The playing is both expert and well-coordinated and sensibly balanced against the recitation; musicians comprise John Carty himself (violin, flute, tenor guitar), Alec Finn (bouzouki, guitar), Frances Gaffney (guitar) and Johnny McDonagh (bodhrán), so quality is assured.
I must warn prospective purchasers that there are only three purely musical tracks during the course of the whole CD: Saddle Your Horses and Homecoming are poetical songs composed by Ann and plangently sung by Mary Staunton (whom I last encountered on her charming CD Bright Early Mornings around ten years ago), while the third and final song, The Moon Woman, finds Maggie Carty contributing backing vocals.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.