David Granville reviews At Last, Maranna McCloskey, MCM CD 002
THERE'S NO doubt that Ireland is blessed with a deep and rich well of musical tradition, one which continues to nurture a seemingly endless reservoir of young creative talent.
Derry-based vocalist and songwriter Maranna McCloskey , whose debut solo album At Last was released in February, is an example of such talent.
The album features a mixture of traditional and original self-penned ballads, the latter given a more contemporary treatment by McCloskey and producer Brian Baynes. It also includes a single instrumental tune, Cashel Air, composed in honour of her home townland.
Her sweet, crystal-clear vocals befit one whose 'apprenticeship' led her to capture three Derry Fleadh singing championships and a couple Ulster titles for good measure.
Whilst still a student, she replaced her school friend and neighbour Cara Dillon in the popular Irish traditional group Oige, with whom she won many admirers.
In 2001, she left her Dungiven home to spend a year in Australia - a trip which inspired her award-winning song Fraser Island, based on the isle's aboriginal history. The song is one of three well-crafted McCloskey ballads on the album, the others being the parting song Our Last Embrace and the title song At Last, which quietly reveals McCloskey's religious belief.
On her return to Ireland, McCloskey bought a house in Dungiven and got a job as a clinical trials technician at the University of Ulster. She looked set for a spell of steady domesticity. However, an invitation to sing at a St Patrick's Day concert in San Diego with The Brian Baynes Band, Eric Rigler and the San Diego Symphony Orchestra put paid to that plan.
In the end, the house was sold to finance the album. A bit of a gamble, but given At Last's critical reception, it looks like one that she's unlikely regret.
The traditional ballads featured include the delightful Cá Raibh Tú Ar Fleadh An Lae Uaim?, sung in Irish, To Mass Last Sunday, Lonely Irish Maid, The Home I Left Behind and Magherafelt May Fair.
But, whether performing traditional or contemporary material, her voice is never anything less than honey-sweet and resonant.
For this reviewer, the juxtaposition of traditional with contemporary material gives the album a distinctly refreshing air, although I accept that the addition of saxophoneit and cello on some numbers may not be to everyone's taste.
Whatever the style, praise is due for Brian Baynes subtle and masterful production, which provides the perfect setting for McCloskey's beautiful vocal sound. Baynes also contributes guitar, piano, bass, keyboard, mandolin and percussion.
Other fine musicians featured on the album include Eric Rigler (Uilleann pipes and flute), Jon Szanto (drums), Mary Szanto (cello) and Gerard Nolan (saxophone). Some will recognise Rigler for his piping on the film Titanic.
After several plays I'm confident that we're going to hear a lot more of Maranna McCloskey in the future. In fact, if I were a gambling man, I'd put my house on it. After all, she did.
At Last is available in the UK from Copperplate Distribution
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2009 David GRanville