New York-based Irish singer Susan McKeown employs both an English and a Gaelic title for this album, which is known both as Blackthorn: Irish Love Songs and An Draighneán Donn: Amhráin Grá. That is appropriate, since she also sings most of the songs in Gaelic. McKeown has become something of a musicologist, and here she has done extensive research into traditional material; the songs are extensively annotated in the CD booklet, both by her and by Tom Munnelly, to trace the origins of the tunes back centuries. But McKeown is not simply an aural historian, as she does not hesitate to manipulate the music to her own ends. For example, although the original lyrics to "I Am a Girl from the Suir-Side," a song dating back to the 16th century, are lost, she substitutes an English poem of similar vintage that fits the music for "Caleno Custure Me." And the spare instrumentation, usually consisting of only one or two instruments, sometimes plays arrangements that range far from traditional Celtic sounds. "'S Ambó Éara (The Man for Me)," which also features singer Róisín Chambers as well as Edmar Castenada on harp and Robbie Harris on percussion, sounds less like a Scottish folk song than an African one. Blackthorn: Irish Love Songs is both an inventive work of scholarship and a musical treat.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann