Various Artists

Her Infinite Variety: Celtic Women in Music & Song

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Part of what makes this two-disc set so great is the fact that it lists for the price of a single disc (say what you like about quality trumping quantity- for fifteen bucks you ought to expect some quantity). But the other part of what makes this album a solid winner is, in fact, the consistently high quality it maintains throughout its 30 tracks. There are simply no clunkers here: it opens strongly with the sweet and melancholy "Ready for the Storm" by Deanta, followed immediately by a set of sprightly barn dances by the formidable American band Cherish the Ladies. And the album proceeds from strength to strength. There are particular high points: Niamh Parsons and Fran McPhail deliver a hair-raisingly beautiful rendition of a Tom Waits (!) composition called "The Briar and the Rose," June Tabor makes her typical gritty magic with the superb accompaniment of Martin Simpson on "Unicorns," and Capercaillie delivers "Soraidh Bhuam gu Barraidh" in a glow of ethereal wonder. If it makes you feel extra good to know that the performers here are primarily women, great, but the fact that this album has gender promotion as its partial goal, is, frankly, largely irrelevant to the musical experience. Which is spectacular.

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