Niamh Parsons,
In My Prime
(Green Linnet, 2000)

Describing Niamh Parsons' singing is like to trying to describe color to a blind person. Her voice is husky, it's warm, soulful, expressive ... but no matter how many words I use, you would really have to listen to her to understand. It's a voice that is perfectly suited to Irish folk songs, both accompanied and old style, but it's also one that could easily handle other genres.

Each of her four CDs has been a landmark release, from the contemporary, at times almost rock debut with the Loose Connections to this, a thoroughly traditional album. She thoroughly transcends styles and really defies categorization. Niamh is a rare musician; she is pure quality.

You'll not have a dry eye as you listen to the tragic (and true) tale of the orphans who marry only to discover they are in fact brother and sister. Your heart will beat a little faster as you wait for Johnny to come home. You'll glow as you recall an old friend. These songs cease to be lyrical stories set to melodies. They become familiar memories. Niamh has created a scrapbook of real life in which you can immerse yourself.

Accompanying her is a fine set of musicians ranging from Graham Dunne, whose acoustic guitar provides the basis of seven of the 12 tracks, to her sister Anne, whose slightly higher voice is the perfect foil for Niamh's alto. Josephine Marsh adds accordion, Paul Kelly plays fiddle and mandolin, Mike Kinsella provides harmonica, Seamus Brett plays piano and Siobh‡n Peoples is on fiddle.

Perhaps the most important element of Niamh's performance is the material. She always has had an ear for a good song, both new and old, from her time with Arcady in the early '90s through to her current solo performances. She resurrects chestnuts like the "Two Sisters" and "Black is the Color," beautiful if overdone songs, and now breathes new life into them. She also manages to find some seldom heard gems, such as "Bonny Woodhall" and "Annan Waters." Each song becomes her own. And each song has its own story behind the story -- where she found it, who taught her, why she sings it -- which she eloquently describes in the superb sleeve notes. She has tremendous respect for the music, she cares and it shows. For a while, they are in her charge. She looks after them, nurtures them, knowing that others will hear her and one day take over the singing.

It is our good fortune, pleasure and delight that she is the current bearer.

[ by Jamie O'Brien ]

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