A Review of the SUSAN MCKEOWN CD
"Blackthorn: Irish Love Songs"

"Blackthorn: Irish Love Songs"

Copyright Hibernian Music, 2005.
World Village 468054

www.worldvillagemusic.com and

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 10/03

This is Susan McKeown's 9th album, and several of them have received rave reviews. So clearly she is doing something right.

To my shame this is the first CD of hers (all the way through) that I have encountered. Previously I had just heard individual tracks. I hope it is not the last CD that I hear, and it has determined me to seek out some of her previous output.

This album exudes class from first moment to last. A fair amount of the content is in Gaelic, but there is always an English translation to hand in the liner notes, and indeed on occasion she sings a translation as an alternate verse. Her voice is pitch perfect throughout and pleasing on the ear. And whilst perhaps it is not one blest with one of those unique Maddy Prior/Joan Baez/Kathleen Ferrier type timbres, it still is quite beautiful.

This is not a simple “one-or-two sessions in the same recording studio” job. Far from it. She has crisscrossed the world recording in New York City, the Asturias, the Basque Country, and Ireland, and has made use of various local musicians. They all bring their own local instruments to the table. Pre-eminent amongst them is the extraordinary harper Edmar Castenada, whose uninhibited playing made one wonder if all these years we haven't all perhaps had far too limited a view of what the instrument can do.

One song here trumps all the others: “Caleno Custure Me”. It is apparently the oldest-known annotation of an Irish song, and it blows you away with its beauty (even if it does not simultaneously hit you between the eyes with its meaning!)

A handsomely produced CD, eschewing the jewel case for a custom built soft-card case. The liner notes contain erudite words by Tom Monnelly and Susan herself.

This is a CD for those of you who like your taste with a capital T. It is emphatically NOT exclusively aimed at members of the Gaeltacht.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

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