The Browne Sisters
& George Cavanaugh,
Bringing Down the House
(self-produced, 2000)

The Browne Sisters and George Cavanaugh bring exquisite harmonies and sparkling energy to Bringing Down the House, recorded live in December 1999 for what is described as the "Bob Burns' crowd."

The band is a trio of sisters -- Diane Browne (vocals), Pamela Browne (vocals) and Laura Browne (vocals and bodhran) -- and their cousin George Cavanaugh (vocals and acoustic guitar). On this CD, they are supported by John Allan (acoustic and electric guitars), Mark Romano (mandolin and acoustic guitar) and Dave Chamberlin (bass).

The tracks are a mixture of traditional songs and covers, and the sisters provide remarkable harmonies either as the main vocals or providing backup harmony. Cavanaugh's voice is deep and vibrant and rich, with a thrilling timbre that provides a balancing contrast to the women's voices.

They launch into the CD with "Alisdair Mhic Colla," a traditional "waulking" song which they sing with crisp verve, each sister taking a turn as the leader. Cavanaugh takes over for Ralph McTell's "From Clare to Here," a poignant song about living far from home.

"Four Green Fields" by Tommy Makem is the first time the sisters really show off their shimmering harmonies, weaving their varied voices into a tapestry of sound. Other songs they sing by themselves include "Old Woman (Weave and Mend)," a haunting song based on a poem by Anne Cameron, "The Four Mairis," "Loving Hannah" and "Misty Moisty Morning." They also provide a sample of Hebridean mouth music in "Siuthad A'Bhalachibh/Hi Ho Somhairle" and rescue "Danny Boy" from its traditionally sentimental swamp. (Any band who can move me to listen to "Danny Boy" without my fingers in my ears is all right with me.)

Cavanaugh's versatile and powerful voice takes on an edge for "The Black and Tan" and "Back Home in Derry" but mellows out for "Wild Mountain Thyme." There is exuberance in both "Drunken Sailor" and Barry Moore's (a.k.a. Luka Bloom's) "You Couldn't have Come at a Better Time," and the latter is laced throughout with the "Kesh Jig." The bright, clean-sounding accompaniment supports the vocals perfectly.

The between-song chat is limited to a pleased and sometimes surprised-sounding "Thank you!" from one of the sisters in response to the enthusiastic crowd. Once in a while, you hear a delighted giggle, and it's obvious that everyone is having a wonderful time.

From the start to the finish -- a cover of Clannad's eerie "The Poison Glen" -- it is clear that everyone performing here loves what s/he's doing and does it well. Their enthusiasm and energy are infectious, and it won't be long before you're singing along and Bringing Down the House yourself.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 10 November 2001