Hilary Field & Patrice O'Neill,
Siente: Night Songs from Around the World
(Yellow Tail, 2007)

It's a shame most lullaby recordings are marketed for children. After all, adults are the ones who no longer have anyone to sing them to sleep.

Classical guitarist Hilary Field and vocalist Patrice O'Neill set out to remedy this deficiency with Siente: Night Songs from Around the World, dedicated to grownups and their kids, in that order. There are 13 lullabies on this quiet, intimate CD; most hail from various parts of Europe, though a few come from more exotic locales such as Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil. With the exception of "Arrullo/Estrellita," which ends in the familiar tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," the selections eschew the popular, trite and familiar. I, for one, am delighted to find a recording of lullabies without a sugary rendition of "Rock-a-bye Baby." Sentimental but never saccharine, Siente strikes just the right balance.

Throughout the CD, Field's guitar is warm and inviting, both alone on the beautiful Irish lullaby, "Codail A Leanbh/The Gartan Mother's Lullaby," and when joined by flute, violin and piano on the subtly layered instrumental "Hajej." The Sephardic "Durme Hermosa Donzella" even includes some tasteful accordion in its slow, melancholy melody. The musicianship is consistently excellent, and despite the variety of instruments and disparate origins of the pieces, Siente has a seamless air of tranquility and grace. Though it makes picking out highlights difficult, uniformity in a lullaby CD can hardly be considered a fault.

I do think the songs left entirely in their original language work better than the ones that have been partially translated into English. Even though the translations are careful compromises between meaning and meter, hybrid lines like, "Go to sleep my glinka dear" on the Russian "Bayu, Bayu" can hardly avoid sounding a little forced.

My main caveat about wholeheartedly recommending Siente, however, concerns the vocals. O'Neill has a clear, likable voice, but her singing is often a little too dramatic and stylised to be entirely soothing. Orla Fallon's softer, breathier version of "The Gartan Mother's Lullaby" on The Water is Wide, for example, is both more faithful to the fey lyrics and more likely to lull listeners to sleep.

But as long as you're fine with not falling asleep to Siente -- and it does seem a pity to sleep through it -- this is a pleasing, gentle collection of international lullabies with no upper age limit. Liner notes embellished with O'Neill's collage work contain full lyrics and translations. They also claim the CD to be a two-year work of love on Field's part. Listen to it, and you'll find that impossible to doubt.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jennifer Mo

8 September 2007

what's new