Róisín Elsafty - Má Bhíonn Tú Liom Bí Liom
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Róisín Elsafty
Má Bhíonn Tú Liom Bí Liom
Vertical Records (verticalrecords.co.uk)

A decade ago, Róisín Elsafty appeared with her mother, Treasa Ní Cheannabáin, on Irlande: L'Art du Sean-Nós (Buda, France). Elsafty has appeared too rarely on records since then; this marks her first full-length solo album. Sustaining the tradition of family support, her brother plays tabla and her sisters sing backup. Easily among the best sean-nós recordings in recent Irish music, Má Bhíonn features her "old style" singing rooted in the Connemara custom. This style, argues Bob Quinn in his book and documentary on the Atlantean Irish, may be traced to the Moors and North Africa. The ancient origins of this melismatic, traditionally unaccompanied singing style return in Elsafty's debut. Daughter of an Egyptian doctor who moved to the Cois Fharraige Gaeltacht in Ireland's west, Elsafty is backed by accordion, harmonium, guitar, bodhrán, whistle and harp. Yet she enriches her style with backing by Ronan Browne on Indian bansuri, Shytte flute, and Bull flute. These varied accompaniments do not overwhelm her voice. It recalls the delicacy of Máire Ní Bhraonáin on Clannad's earliest, pre-synthesized, recordings. Pastoral settings dominate the arrangements. A capella songs intersperse with instrumental support. The album successfully updates traditional Irish singing with diverse musical playing.

All but one of these fourteen tracks are sung in Irish. Brief notes in English convey the gist of each tune, but only the lyrics and Elsafty's own acknowledgments (both in Irish) capture the essence of her spirited, yet controlled verbal delivery. Sean-nós defies translation. Connemara performers combine vocal embellishment with emotional restraint. Elsafty favors less ornament. She prefers direct expression and austere presentation. That Dónal Lunny produces this album shows both the esteem with which Elsafty is regarded by her peers and the welcome absence of a misty, effects-laded, lush overproduction which has marred many of Lunny's productions after his pioneering years with Planxty. From his bandmate Christy Moore's repertoire, the sprightly "Cúnla" turns less insistent but more seductive. This typifies her softer reading of these predominantly traditional songs. Elsafty respects the self-imposed limits of the Connemara style, yet she invigorates old songs with fresh arrangements and nuanced manners. Her interpretations under Lunny's direction reveal the appeal of a measured, understated ambiance. She will not totally surrender the hushed, reticent confidence within her voice. This strengthens her album.

One new anti-war song tells of a boy left a double amputee and an "orphaned victim of the U.S. invasion of Iraq." Presenting Ali's predicament as another rebel song, Elsafty represents with such choices her contemporary awareness of how themes of Irish rebellion and demands for peace can incorporate her complex Middle Eastern and Irish-speaking heritage. She chooses songs beyond the typical "old style." She includes amidst venerable tales of unrequited love and lost innocence relevant narratives for our decade. An exception to these sparer songs proves equally innovative. On the expansive final selection, "Coinleach Glas an Fhómhair," Elsafty widens her vocal range. The music gains depth. She gives an epic rendition of this song that Clannad popularized on their second LP. Backed by noted whistle player John Mc Sherry and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, it ebbs and surges like the Atlantic waves near Elsafty's family home. - John Murphy

The artist's web site: www.roisinelsafty.com
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