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And now the twain shall meet

Celtic Soul
Celtic Soul
By Nóirín Ní Riain

Living Music: 1996

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This review first appeared in the 1996 Contest issue of THE BRIDGE Illustrated.

The Celtic meets the Hindu? That's the premise behind Irish singer Nóirín Ní Riain's new release, and it is a strange by likeable hybrid of traditional Irish folk songs and Eastern chants.

It is, as the singer herself admits, not typical, but she argues – and her singing is the best evidence to back her argument – that "no tradition with any present-day life of its own stands still."

And so we have Celtic-Hindu music, with songs drawn from both India and Eire, and the instruments, too, ranging from Irish bagpipes to tabla, tin whistle to supeti (an Indian harmonium). It's a little new-agey at times, a little too safe. Both Hindu and Gaelic traditional music have a blues-like edge to them, a world-wise quality that lends them wisdom and charm – the sugar-sweet arrangements here tend to polish that edge away. Too often on this recording the music is to folk what Kenny G is to jazz.

But if the arrangements are light, they are also seamless in melding the two traditions. And Riain's voice is so angelic, and the songs strong enough to overcome the tame arrangements, that the music ultimately is charming.