Maura O'Connell,
Don't I Know
(Sugar Hill, 2004)

Maura O'Connell's latest album features the singer's strong voice and stellar songwriting from some very talented writers. O'Connell, who has previously recorded with Irish group DeDannan, presents the songs in such a way as to pull your heart strings and her rich vocals bring a humanity to many of the pieces.

Currently residing in Nashville, Tenn., her songs have a distinct country flavour to them, with influences of folk. The album has an air of melancholy about it, with many of the songs dealing with the less savory aspects of life such as aging, dying, lost friendship and the ever-relevant broken hearts and lost loves.

Particularly stirring is "Spinning Wheel," written by Hillary Lindsey and Troy Verges. The power behind her voice and the emotions she injects into the song are enough to cause you to simply sit and listen. "Love You in the Middle," by Jenny Orenstein, is a more realistic love song than usual, describing the ups, downs, twists and turns that love involves. Mindy Smith's beautiful "Down in Flames" is given a much fuller, forceful sound here than in Smith's version. "Didn't I" is another strong song about the loss of something special. "Up & Flying" is a slower tune, again about heartbreak and moving on by Gary Burr and Patty Griffin.

Although many of the songs deal with less-than-cheery themes, the album does not come off as depressing or hopeless. In fact, it is the exact opposite. The songs are cleverly arranged and sung to make you feel that this is just a part of the story. The album is, surprisingly enough, filled with hope; a sort of "this too shall pass" attitude suffuses the entire thing.

O'Connell ably demonstrates that you can be a singer, that singing is an art form in and of itself and that you do not need to write in order to be taken seriously as a singer. Her voice is an amazing instrument and she uses it with passion and power. That she gives voice to the songs of others attests to her skill. I simply cannot emphasize enough how remarkable her voice is and how subtle her interpretive skills are. She really is a treasure as a singer.

Don't I Know is a fantastic collection of songs, each carefully chosen to highlight O'Connell's beautiful, full voice. The arrangements and musicianship on the album are all skillfully done, emphasizing the quality of the songs, the musicians and O'Connell's vocals. The mix of tempos and the full backing sound make full use of her vocal gifts. Although her voice is very strong, the arrangements ensure that O'Connell never overpowers the instruments.

A wonderful, skillfully created collection of songs on all levels. This album is a fantastic addition to any music collection.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 14 May 2005

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