Susan McKeown

Sweet Liberty

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Every song on Susan McKeown's album Sweet Liberty is credited to "Traditional" as author, which is frequently the case with her recordings. But McKeown's approach to this material, which she has gathered from friends and from old books and recordings (as recounted in her notes), is often anything but traditional. "Oró Mhíle Grá (A Thousand Times My Love)" is a collaboration with Ensemble Tartit, a singing group from Mali, and its combination of Celtic and African elements makes for a stirring hybrid. On "Eggs in Her Basket," McKeown is accompanied by the Mexican group Mariachi Real de Mexico, again adding an unusual interpretation to a traditional Irish tune. But even when she is using musicians who perform in a more familiar Celtic style, such as Flook, the Anglo-Irish quartet that backs her on the leadoff track, "The Wee Birds All Have Come and Gone/Fisherman's," McKeown makes her versions of the songs distinctive by her combinations of different compositions, her striking arrangements, and her haunting voice, which at times recalls Sandy Denny's (and therefore also that of Denny sound-alike Natalie Merchant, whom McKeown has accompanied in performance). Sweet Liberty is traditional enough to please fans of Celtic music in its oldest forms, but it also suggests new directions for the style, and it serves as a showcase for an impressive singer.

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