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Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne @ Satalla 5/11/04
by Alice Farrell afarrell@jigtime.com

Niamh Parsons (C) Alice Farrell 2004Yes they have banned smoking in the pubs and clubs of New York , but someone has forgotten to tell that to the vocal chords of one of Ireland 's finest singers, Niamh Parsons , who lit up Satalla this week with her smokey vocals. Long one of my favorite singers, to hear her in the intimate setting of Satalla , with the deft and totally complimentary guitar artistry of Graham Dunne was a true treat.

They began the show with The Boys of Bar na Sraide which dates from Niamh's days with Arcady and features on their Happy Returns album from 1995. It is a lovely song to which she adds vibrant ornamentation. A memory tale of a group of pals who would go out on St. Stephen's Day to hunt the wren, but are now spread to the four corners of the world.

Niamh's voice, like a fine wine, has mellowed and improved with age, and that was beautifully apparent on the Andy M. Stewart song The Orphan's Wedding which she recounted is known as the “incest song” at the weekly singers' session that she attends in Dublin . There is no one who can compare to the lightening fast trills of her ornamentation, or the great clarion call of her sustained notes which have the power and color of a bold saxophone.

There was a good dose of the nimble fingered solo playing of Graham Dunne as well, on the reels, Jenny Picking Cockles and Colliers, both of which showed the incredible breadth of his traditional playing, especially his deft talents at the flat picking of the tunes mingled with jazzy twists and turns. He brought one of the highpoints of the evening, playing a piece from the Belgian gypsy guitar player Django Reinhardt , called simply Tears with all the panache and humour he could muster, in this mesmerizingly beautiful tune. I'm a big fan of the combination of Jazz and Irish music, finding that their sensitivity and willingness to allow the performer to explore around the melody make for extremely interesting results.

Other songs from Niamh's numerous recordings included Sweet Inniscarra , learned from the singing of Jackie Callan, The Rigs of Rye , and the hauntingly beautiful Done with Bonaparte written by Mark Knopfler, adapted from the old traditional air Valencia Island , a personal favorite of mine. She finished off the night with an almost bossa nova flavored version of Black is the Colour .

They have been touring the U.S. with Andy Irvine, and finish up in Chicago this weekend, but you can check out their upcoming dates at www.Niamhparsons.com and order her CDs through Amazon.com And here's hoping that a new recording from them isn't too far off. This is one voice that needs to be heard often to remind us of exactly how beautiful and rich a singing culture still exists in Ireland .

If you're in the New York area, be sure to check out Maura O'Connell at Satalla on Friday and Saturday May 21 st and 22 nd ( www.satalla.com ) And look for my review next week.



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