Iarla Ó Lionáird

The Seven Steps to Mercy

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For his day job, Iarla Ó Lionáird is a vocalist for the Afro Celt Sound System, a band that fuses Celtic melodies with African rhythms and modern electronic textures. On his solo debut, the material is more strictly traditional, although the droning, rumbling accompaniments are as likely to be guitar loops (courtesy of producer Michael Brook) and heavily tweaked drum samples (courtesy of Jason Lewis) as anything else. Ó Lionáird's voice is a thing of sweet, soaring beauty, and on just about every track, he achieves an almost cathartic level of emotional intensity without overwhelming the listener with histrionics. On "Aoibhinn Cronan," the melodic tension builds slowly over a thick, dark bed of treated guitar and drums; on "Loch Lein," Ó Lionáird sings unaccompanied, his voice recorded at a high level to give you the illusion that he's singing right into your ear. In both contexts -- the one very modern, the other as old as humanity -- as well as on the other tracks, most of which fall somewhere in between those two treatments, he makes you feel as if you're peering over the edge of a deep well into the bottomless history of Irish music. Highly recommended.

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