Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola
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Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola
An Raicin Alainn
(2002) www.aransinger.com

cd cover A native of Inis Oirr, the smaller of the Aran Islands situated off Ireland's west coast, Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola is a young sean nos singer destined to do for the genre what several other young singers have attempted recently but have not quite achieved. In possession of a voice that has the necessary clarity and dexterity to cope with the demands of the form, Lasairfhiona also has a depth and warmth unusual for someone so young. "An Raicin Alainn" is her debut solo album, and is full of interesting renditions of some of the loveliest, and some of the most challenging, sean nos songs, all sung as Gaeilge, Lasarfhiona's native tongue.

To choose a favourite is an impossibility. Each track contains something captivating. The minimal harp accompaniment of "Banrion Loch na Naomh" makes for a haunting, medieval-like rendition. The vocals on "Ceol na Gaoithe" are mesmerising, drawing the listener in like the song of a siren. "Bimse Fein ag Iascaireacht" is an example of the kind of music used in the past for dancing if there were no instrumentalists around. There is some great lilting on this track by big brother MacDara O Conaola. "Una Bhan", however, stands out for me. One of the greatest and most demanding songs from the tradition, with its earliest written incarnation dating to 1775, most people automatically link "Una Bhan" with the late Seosamh O hEanaigh. Lasairfhiona delivers a gentle yet direct version here, warm yet confident, utterly convincing, capable of sending chills down the spine.

What I like most about this album is the clean approach. Lasairfhiona captures a contemporary magic; worlds apart from the commercialism of new-age acts such as Enya, all purporting to portray an image of Ireland that is, as anyone who has ever visited will appreciate, completely nonexistant. Lasarfhiona's music exudes, without resorting to sentimentality, the mystique of her home place on Inis Oirr, a place that nobody can leave without being touched in a very personal and fundamental way. If you want a recording of sean nos singing with a contemporary slant, this is the one to go for. An Raicin Alainn has it all; quality material, a voice of substance and irresistible lilt, thoughtful interpretation, and an obvious love of and respect for tradition. Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola is the kind of singer I've been waiting to hear for a long time. - Jennifer Byrne


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