Niamh Parsons

In My Prime

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Maybe you thought she couldn't improve on Blackbirds and Thrushes. Apparently, she could. Hard as it is to imagine how she could have outdone the gentle but robust beauty of performances like "Fear a Bhata" and "The Flower of Magherally O," she's done so here with a stunning voice and guitar arrangement of "Green Grass It Grows Bonny" (which some listeners will know as "I Wonder What's Keeping My True Love Tonight") and a delicately ornamented a cappella rendition of the heartbreaking "Annan Waters" in which a bereft young woman curses the river in which her lover has drowned and vows to build a bridge across it "that never more true love may sever." Cheerfulness is hard to come by on this program; other highlights include the gruesome murder ballad "Two Sisters," a song about a young man who drowns despite his sister's warnings and then visits her as a ghost (sung with Parsons' sister Anne), and Andy M. Stewart's deeply creepy "Orphan's Wedding" (a reputedly true story of two war orphans who marry, only later to find out that they're brother and sister). But as is so often the case with Irish music, it's the tragedy and pathos that give the songs depth and texture in addition to their prettiness. And it's Parsons' singing that makes it easy to overlook how awful many of these stories are. Highly recommended.

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