I was lucky to be in the audience at the North River Performing Arts Center late last summer when some of the tracks were recorded. The old wood walls of the former United Church on Murray Hill Road made a perfect setting for Mary Jane Lamond’s achingly pure voice. And the majority of the audience either spoke Gaelic or were familiar enough with the songs to be able to properly sing along with them, and their love of the music along with that of Mary Jane’s is very audible on this album.
There is a paradox here because, like her earlier studio albums, the majority of Lamond’s listeners have no knowledge of the language she performs in. It is the beauty of the music itself and Lamond’s soulful vocal interpretation of these traditional songs that soar over the language barrier. Each song on this album has its own personality and together they make for compelling listening.
Most of the tracks on this album feature Lamond’s solo voice, sometimes with other unaccompanied voices or backed up with one or two instruments. On A Mhnathan A’Ghlinne Seo, Lamond’s vocal echoes the drone of Paul MacNeil’s bagpipes. Later, her voice becomes as supple as Gordie Sampson’s guitar accompaniment on the lament, A Fhleasgaich Uasail. Other top musicians contributing on other tracks include pianists Tracey Dares-MacNeil and Marianne Jewell, fiddler Wendy MacIsaac, and fiddler Joe Peter MacLean contributes a lively set of fiddle tunes. The album concludes with a spritely milling frolic song with the audience at the live performance not only singing along but providing great whoops of joy.
Dave Hillier and Paul MacDonald did an exceptional job of capturing the warmth of an off the floor recording that still sounds clean and crisp. At the actual show, the use of microphones and a P.A. system created an odd distancing effect that countered the intimacy of the old church. But the quality of the recording combined with Lamond’s exquisite voice makes this album maybe even better than being there.