Noirin Ni Riain,
Celtic Soul
(Earth Music Productions, 1996)

It doesn't really matter that most of the lyrics are in Gaelic.

What matters is the voice that soars and ripples from somewhere deep within the singer. Noirin Ni Riain's Celtic Soul is a musical spiritual journey that explores a facet of cultural history while remaining intensely personal. Everything about this album is done with impeccable style, and the purity of Ni Riain's voice is spine-tingling.

In the introduction to the thorough liner notes, Ni Riain writes "Ten songs are drawn from the deepest and purest well of the sean nos (old style) tradition...." The remaining two songs, "Baso More (Ode to Mira Bai)" and "Kay Boshilay (Ode to Rabindranath Tagore)," rise from the Eastern Indian musical traditions such as the ragas. These songs fit seamlessly into the Celtic-based songs, reflecting their mutual cultural roots.

Ni Riain is not only a remarkable vocalist, but she surrounds herself with a top-notch ensemble of musicians. Jerry O'Sullivan's uillean pipes open "Cucuin (The Cuckoo)" which is then underscored by a gentle jazz percussion beat, a perfect fusion of old and new styles. A soprano sax soars in the bridge -- yes, that's Paul Winter, who also served as director and arranger of the project. (Winter arranged all the music except for "Port Na bPucai (Song of the Pookah)," arranged by Russ Landau; "Cucuin," arranged by Landau and Paul Winter; and "Kay Boshilay," arranged by Tom Bates and Jordan Rudess.)

Paul Halley's piano rolls under the swinging carefree melody of "Thugamir Fein An Samhradh Linn (Summer, Summer)" before O'Sullivan's uillean pipes pick up the melody and carry it away, evoking sunny bucolic images. Joanie Madden's distinctive tinwhistle sound enhances "Citi Na gCumann (Kitty, My Love)" and "Donal Og (Young Daniel)."

The entire album works as a cohesive, artfully produced whole; each track resonates within the others. Ni Riain demonstrates amply that the concept "Celtic soul" is not constrained and limiting. Rather, it is wide-reaching and universal, encompassing a world of experiences and traditions. Ni Riain proves herself capable of touching the soul of every listener.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy Celtic Soul from