Back in the 90s, Irish-American Cathie served her time (seven years) as lead vocalist with Cherish The Ladies, following which she launched out on a solo career and quickly established herself as a captivating singer-songwriter in her own right while continuing to enchant listeners with her crystal-pure voice.
‘The Farthest Wave’ is Cathie’s fourth solo record, and it ploughs much the same kind of musical furrow as ‘ Somewhere Along The Road’ did. And similarly, the majority of this new offering – though predominantly gentle in demeanour and delivery – makes a deep impact on the senses, albeit in a subtle way. Much of the credit for this must go to Cathie’s gorgeous voice, which warmly and affectionately communicates simple and enduring values. Her delicate, yearning version of ‘Rough And Rocky’ illustrates this to perfection, and two of her own compositions on this disc (‘The Farthest Wave’ and ‘Be Like The Sea’) certainly run it close. Dermot Henry’s adaptation of ‘ As The Evening Declines’ is handled most persuasively, while Cathie also turns in a superbly poised version of Karine Polwart’s ‘Follow The Heron’ (Karine returns to compliment by donating backing vocals to this and a further five tracks). I also liked Cathie’s way with the ‘Dance The Baby’ slip-jig set and the reel ‘ Peata Beag Do Mháthar’ (both of which she learned from the singing of Páidraigin Ni Uallacháin. Finally, Cathie’s duet with Sean Keane (‘What Will You Do, Love?’) is an object lesson in singing romantically yet (happily) avoiding sentimentality. That can be a rather awkward line to straddle in this kind of repertoire, and the success (or otherwise) with which this is managed is as often as not more down to the musical arrangements than the vocal work.
All too often, “Celtic” record producers insist that beautiful songs get draped in sickly washes of keyboard or string tone or cloying over-instrumentation – so it’s pleasing to note that the settings Cathie employs on ‘The Farthest Wave’ are a model of taste and restraint (though perhaps even a little too coyly, sweetly understated on occasion I felt), if at all times ideally suited to Cathie’s voice. John McCusker has brought his distinctive signature to this recording, contributing not only production skills but cittern, fiddle and whistles; John Doyle, Phil Cunningham, Kris Drever and Michael McGoldrick also figure large in the accompaniments, while Ewan Vernal, James Mackintosh and Keith Angel turn up occasionally and a small host of other musicians including Johnny Dickinson make cameo appearances.
Without intending specious comparisons or wishing to damn with faint praise, it’s all very attractively managed and pleasant to listen to, but much as I appreciate Cathie’s lovely singing too I can’t help being left with the final impression (reinforced by the altogether less satisfying material comprising the final three tracks) that Cathie’s underselling her true potential and holding something back, not least by choosing to finish proceedings on such a maudlin note as ‘ Home Sweet Home’.