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NUALA KENNEDY - Behave The Bravest

NUALA KENNEDY - Behave The Bravest
Under the Arch Records UTACD003

Nuala Kennedy has become something of a genre bender in the Celtic field of late. Since beginning her solo career in the early 2000s, she had mixed musical styles within a traditional base and produced music that challenges and compels as much as it delights. This latest collection follows the adage of what Nuala did next, after the progressive traditional styles explored on her last collection. That album was a road album, using her current band recorded on the road and on the fly as much as possible to capture the adrenalin associated with her sense of adventure and musical high wire walking. Thus the expectations were high and wondrous when Behave The Bravest landed in the review box.

First thing is this album is a mostly acoustic affair, very much influenced by her time in The Alt - an interesting trio she formed with Eamon O’Leary and John Doyle. Indeed, Eamon adds his bouzouki to Lovely Armoy, Mo Bhuachaill Dubh Dhonn and Fair Annie Of The Loch Royanne. These three tracks pinpoint the musical moves highlighted in Behave The Bravest. One is simple flute and guitar backed ballads where her voice shines in a narrative frame, and Lovely Armoy typifies that aspect. Tunes and songs are mixed together in Mo Bhuachaill Dubh Dhonn and The Lion’s Den/The Burning House, where her singing and fluting works in conjunction with varied vocal and instrumental hues that complement one another well. The final strain developed is the epic ballad, which is highly ornate in arrangement and suitably dramatic in delivery. The eight-minute Fair Annie Of The Loch Royanne and Death And The Lady are both subject to subtle string quartet undertones that emphasis the inherent dramatic dynamics. The result is a model in restraint in handling traditional songs as narratives while creating highly atmospheric soundscapes that, while lushly cinematic, avoid indulgence. Her instrumental virtuosity shows in Glen Where The Deer Is, Le Funambule and The Broken Lantern - swiftly moving between Irish, Breton and Galician stylings. Behave The Bravest has epic performance delivered with a sweetly winning eloquence and dignity - lend it your ears.

John O'Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 114 of The Living Tradition magazine.