Niamh Parsons

Loosen Up

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AllMusic Review by

Quite possibly Ireland's finest contemporary folk singer, widespread recognition eludes Niamh Parsons -- hopefully not because of something as inconsequential as her wonderful Irish name (which is simply pronounced "Neeve" but is frequently mispronounced or ignored altogether). Parsons' colorful alto voice shares certain qualities with Linda Thompson's and even Mary Chapin Carpenter's, but it is most often likened to legendary British folk singer Sandy Denny. Dee Moore's "Big Bad Wolf" leads this album with an American folk/Cajun-flavored arrangement, thanks to Gerry O'Connor's fiddle and banjo; Parsons' Irish and modern country proclivities yield an interesting hybrid. Moore's varied songwriting style surfaces in several other instances. "Fancy Waistcoat," for example, employs a Spanish feel propelled by guitarist Gavin Ralston and accordionist Mick McAuley's geographically correct playing. Moore wears many hats on this record. In addition to being Parsons' husband, Moore also plays bass and produced Loosen Up. His tenderer ballads like "Seeing Things" and "I Know My Faith" are superbly arranged but would not blossom fully without Parsons' heartfelt interpretations. Richie Buckley must be complimented for his tasteful and appropriate soprano and tenor sax contributions to those two selections as well. However, Niamh Parsons' deep and expressive voice is best felt when stripped of instrumental support; "The Briar and the Rose," a Tom Waits composition, is performed elegantly in duet form with vocalist Fran McPhail, accompanied only by cello. Similarily, Ron Kavana's voice on "Reconciliation" is unadulterated soul-folk guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of even those lacking one.

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