Various Artists

Heart of Ireland: Collection of Celtic Songs

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If the Riverdance phenomenon has made Irish culture a fashionable part of the international scene, it has also trivialized it. Many people have no clue that there is more involved than green beer, leprechauns, Arran Isle sweaters, and poker-backed dancers doing origami with their legs. Similarly, Irish music isn't just perky jigs and reels, crinkle-haired "Irish Twilight" sopranos in cloaks, drunken Kingston Trio clones, and wavering tin whistles. Following Sean Ó Riada's Gaelic revival during the '60s, local musicians began to rediscover their ancient Bardic roots, but more mundane styles did not fall out of favor. The modern Irish music scene is amazingly inclusive. In a single evening, a fortunate listener might hear an unaccompanied "seán nos" (old-style) ballad, a foot-stomping ceili band, an unexpectedly powerful clarseach (wire-or gut-stringed Irish harps), and assorted unplugged combinations. The songs on Heart of Ireland: Collection of Celtic Songs were drawn from Ireland's Gael Linn label and mirror the wealth of musical invention that characterizes this embattled but dauntless island nation. The opening track recalls the family supergroup Clannad in their early semi-acoustic splendor. Legendary female singers like Mairead Ni Dhomhnaill, Aoife Ní Fhearraigh, and Dolores Keane are as heartrending as they are skillful. Larger-scale instrumental tunes, such as Carl Hession's delightful "Morning Gallop" and Buttons & Bows' sprightly "The Danish Quadrille," invite a turn around the dancefloor. Among the stellar soloists are fiddler Johnny Doherty, Sean Ryan, and Brian Hughes on tin whistle, and Paddy Keenan, a noted master of the uilleann pipes.

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