Cherish the Ladies,
At Home
(RCA, 1999)

At Home is aptly titled. The CD evokes warm, homelike images, and the warm, golden-figured wallpaper pattern contrasting with crisp white on the liner notes reinforces those images. You can almost smell a good soup simmering on the stove. Like a good soup, Cherish the Ladies blends the talents of its members into a deliciously harmonious broth with no one flavor overpowering the rest.

Cherish the Ladies is Joanie Madden (flute, alto flute, high and low whistles, harmony vocals); Aoife Clancy (lead vocals); Mary Coogan (guitar, banjo, mandolin); Siobhan Egan (fiddle, bodhran); Donna Long (piano, synthesizer, fiddle, harmony vocals); and Mary Rafferty (accordion, whistle, concertina). Among the 22 guest musicians are family members: fathers, uncles, brothers, sons, cousins and sisters, who join the women in various combinations on the final five tracks.

The first set, a group of reels, starts with a gentle, almost casual piano introduction. Fiddle and guitar join in and they're off with "The Limerick Lasses," a traditional reel. They follow it with Madden's "The Bird Feeder," the traditional "The Bank of Ireland" and wind up with "Grampa's Ceili Band," which, according to the liner notes, is by Martin Mulhaire, a County Galway accordionist. What is remarkable in this, as well as the other instrumental sets, is the easy way in which the melodies seem to get passed from instrument to instrument. Furthermore, it's clear that these women are having a blast!

Fiddler and former band member Eileen Ivers rejoins the group for a notable set of four reels: "Harvest Moon/Eddy Moloney's Reel/Martin with the Long Ears (written by Egan for her family's pet basset hound)/The Tapas Reel." Some of the fathers -- Jim Coogan (accordion), Joe Madden (accordion) and Mike Rafferty (flute) -- join their daughters for "The Father's Day Medley," as one might expect, and the set also features traditional lilting performed by Mary Rafferty's uncle, Paddy Rafferty, and lively percussive stepdancing from Danny and Eileen Golden. Again, the harmonies are crisp and clear, and there seems to be something new to hear each time.

Madden's original ballad, "The Waves of Kilkee," co-written with producer Brian Keane and inspired by a trip through the oceanside village of Kilkee, is strikingly lovely and haunting. The melody blends gently and naturally into the sound of ocean waves at the end, and it's a piece that one could listen to repeatedly without tiring.

Aoife Clancy sings on five of the tracks, interspersed through the instrumental sets. Her voice is deep and rich and clear, lyrically telling the story of "Matt Hyland, " a traditional song about love between the classes with a surprising happy ending. Both the traditional "The Curragh of Kildare" and Dan Fogelberg's tribute to his high school music teacher/father "Leader of the Band" have potential to lapse into sentimentality, but Clancy's voice maintains control throughout. A reel, "Devaney's Goat," is incorporated seamlessly into the latter song, and it would now be difficult to imagine the song without it. Her voice captures the wild spirit of the Gaelic "Is fada liom uaimi uami (I long for her)," but I think my favorite was the gentle and moving lullaby "John of Dreams." Clancy's father, Bobby, and uncle, Liam, members of the renowned Clancy Brothers, and her brother, Finbar, join her; they sing the verses in turn, accompanied by cousin Donal Clancy on guitar. The song is striking in its simplicity.

Throughout the CD, you get the impression of friends and family playing together, having fun but working hard, making sure the tracks are polished and professional.

There's a saying that a good soup attracts chairs, and certainly, a good CD will attract ears. This one will appeal to and attract a range of listeners and make them all feel at home.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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