Heart Of The Celts
by Various Artists, pop/classical (1997)
Narada, ASIN B000005P6G

This is a mixed bag compilation of Celtic-tinged love song by four of folk label Narada's most successful female vocalists: Connie Dover, Karen Matheson, Aoife Ní Fhearraigh, and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill. Be warned that while these songs are perfect for cuddling with loved ones before a fireplace you have (or imagine you have), the lyrics are actually pretty depressive in nature. Broken hearts, broken patriotism, lost love, betrayal, they're all here with some unwanted pregnancies or two, with a few happy wedding songs thrown in between so that lovers don't do stupid things together out of depression.

Oh, and I really dislike Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill's voice. In my opinion, her voice is what results when an asthmatic, nostril-clogged bullmastiff yaps while scratching her nails on blackboard. Therefore I have to skip every song of hers, so if they are good, I don't know. I can't hear more then five seconds of Ms Clogged Nostrils here before skipping onto the next track.

There are too many slow, meandering pieces here. They may be perfect for lovers sleeping off the more strenous exertions in whatever it is they do, but when I am listening to this on the couch, I come close to dozing off at times. But there are fun jaunty pieces. Karen Matheson's collaboration with Delerium produces When You Return, a fabulous uptempo song with surreal overtones. Her rapidfire rendition of the popular traditional wedding song Rithill Aill will get feet in the house tapping and the hands clapping - it'll be perfect to play when you want people to start getting rowdy in the pub.

Aoife Ní Fhearraigh's angelic voice makes lovely ballads like Ansacht na nAnsacht (My Love and My Delight, according to the translation) and uptempo jaunty jigs like Caitlín Traill (Caitlín of the Tresses) wonderful delights. The latter, by the way, has Gaelic words arranged in such a way that everything sounds divine on the ears. Never let it be said that the poet Cathal Buí - whose poetry is put to music in this song - doesn't know his rhythm. (As aside, this song still sounds good when one is slurring it through a drunken haze, as an Irish male friend once demonstrated. Don't ask, it's quite an embarrassing situation I'd like to chalk off as youthful idiocy.)

But if you plan to put this CD as the backing music for seduction, love, or whatever, be warned: Connie Dover's seven minute epic of the traditional ballad Ned Of The Hill will ruin all mood for romance. It's beautifully sung, heartbreaking even, with elegy such as these:

My love, fond and true, what else could I do?
But shield you from wind and from weather,
When the shot falls like hail, they us both shall assail,
And mayhap we will die together.

Through frost and through snow, tired and hunted I go,
In fear both of friend and of neighbor
My horses run wild, my acres untilled,
And all of it lost to my labor.

What grieves me far more than the loss of my store
Is there's no one would shield me from danger,
So my fate it must be to bid farewell to thee,
And languish amidst strangers.

My darling, my beloved,
We will go off together for a while
To forests of fragrant fruit trees,
And the blackbird in his nest,
The deer and the buck calling,
Sweet little birds singing on branches,
And the little cuckoo on top of the green yew tree,
Forever, forever, death will not come near us
In the middle of our fragrant forest.

This is 17th century Irish patriot and exile Edmund Ryan's farewell to his beloved Ireland, by the way, and Connie Dover just breaks me to pieces with her sensitive and emotional delivery. It incorporates a segment of the late J Scott Skinner's air solo, and damn if this isn't a double heartbreak.

The songs I've mentioned are the ones I find the most memorable. The others are forgettable ballads that seem like fillers. Still, despite the roughly equal filler to gem ratio, I find myself playing this CD when I'm feeling rather down and in need of some emotional catharsis. Ned Of The Hill, especially, is very effective for that purpose.

Romantic? Maybe not, but sometimes songs like this is good for the soul. If you have the taste for this sort of music, that is.

Rating: 82

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