Celtic Lady, Volume 1
59:49 min • EmuBands • July 15, 2011
Fittingly, ‘Song For Ireland’ is the first of a collection of twelve old (and some not as old) predominantly Irish folk songs. It’s a sparse and gentle track that sets the album on a reflective and meandering journey through some of Ireland’s most loved folk songs. And when I say gentle, I really mean gentle, it’s a little like pushing a row boat into a still and silent lake without any oars, setting the pace and tone for the rest of the album to follow. The opening bars conjure that sense of Celtic nostalgia that is so beautifully woven through the Lord of the Rings‘ soundtracks. The bare bones approach to the production here at times gives the illusion of an a cappella track, which cleverly highlights Donna’s clean vocal and lends a sense of importance to the evocative lyrics.
As we segue into the second track, ‘On Raglan Road’, an Irish folk standard that anyone versed in the Celtic songs of yore will know well, we begin to see a pattern evolve that the album follows to it’s conclusion. The traditional songs here are seamlessly woven with the contemporary forming a coherent and satisfyingly cohesive album and yet, therein lies a flaw. It’s too seamless. It follows such a strong and fluent journey that there are no leftfield moments to keep the listener on their toes – instead, the wonderfully mellow melodies lull you deeper and deeper into its spell. This is hardly harsh criticism, that it’s a consistent album, but I would have welcomed greater variety in the song selection and in the production of those songs particularly Donna’s voice which is treated similarly throughout. I longed to hear it stripped back especially on tracks such as ‘Danny Boy’ where I was hoping to hear a more emotional raw vocal.
Highlights come from ‘Carrickfergus’ which benefits greatly from the clarity of Donna’s voice. On ‘No Frontiers’, originally written for Mary Black’s album of the same title, we hear a different, more throaty side to Donna’s voice that wavers with a warble that is reminiscent of Shawn Colvin’s distinctive delivery. And we’re also treated to a Dolly-like lilt on the beautiful ‘Bright Blue Rose’ which is a stand-out track and single. ‘Bright Blue Rose’ was also recorded by Mary Black, and in fact many of the song choices on the album have been recorded elsewhere by many artists. Some have even been done to death, ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and ‘Danny Boy’ being the two obvious songs. But I suppose how could you omit them on an album such as this. ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ is practically a rites of passage song for any folk artist. I remember as a student spending my Tuesday nights in the Royal Oak pub in York to hear the local folk singers & musicians and you could guarantee that each week that song would get an outing … at least once.
For the folk virgins, the roster serves as a great introduction, but for those that know their folk, there are very few surprises here, even the contemporary numbers will be well known.
This is however an engaging album which only suffers in part from some predictable song choices and an overly consistent style of production. The electronic string sections betray the album’s budget, this is after all an independent release, and yet despite its faults, it is a commendable and enjoyable debut. With Celtic Lady, Donna added the subtitle Volume 1, which for her growing listenership is a good thing as it implies she wants to record more. Hopefully on Volume 2 she’ll mix it up a bit and throw a couple of curve balls. In the meantime, Celtic Lady, Volume 1 is a record she can be proud of and one hopes that it finds its way into the hands of a great producer who will do wonderful things with that wonderful voice.