Penguin Eggs Magazine
This is the second album from the beautifully voiced
Irish singer, Lasairfhíona (pronounced Lah-sah-reena).
While the album title and appearance scream Celtic Moods,
Volume VII the title is actually a literal translation of her
name and the music puts lie to any suggestion of the new
age. This is a resolutely traditional album, featuring songs
from the singer’s grandparents, Ní Chonaola herself, as well
as others from Galway and the Aran Islands. Some are
performed a capella while others feature an all star cast of
instrumentalists, including Máire Breatnach (fiddle, viola,
piano), Mary Bergin (whistles), Bill Shanley (guitar), MacDara
Ó Conaola (bodhrán) and Johnny McDonagh (bodhrán).
Hugely enjoyable, with its mix of Gaelic and English songs,
Flame of Wine confirms Lasairfhíona's place in the pantheon
of Irish music.
– By Richard Thornley
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola’s debut album An Raicín Álainn
ushered in a new wave of interest in sean-nos singing.
What made it so vital was principally her voice, its wispy
etherealism unheard of in the world of sturdy rock hard
female sean-nos voices. By putting her wispy,
chanteuse-like strains with appropriate arrangements,
Lasairfhíona achieved something that was at once
traditional and uniquely cosmopolitan. Here was sean-nos
song personalised for the universe; like an Irish Kate Rusby.
Now comes her second album Flame of Wine and
some subtle changes are afoot, firstly the shortening of
her name to just Lasairfhíona and the English translation
of her name as the album title. She also sings in English
and writes her own material as well this time and keeps
the musical map in the same restrained mode as her debut.
Tasteful arrangements and some quality material allied to her
chanson-like vocals, make for good listening and enough
difference within the approach to keep the initial fascination,
yet develop it further and avoid formula.
Lasairfhíona has found her niche and sounds comfortable
in her creative skin. Yet there is visible evidence that she
hankers after further diversification and artistic challenges.
Flame of Wine is a mature and balanced collection that further
outlines Lasairfhíona’s particular wayward giftedness.
Irish Music Review
2002’s release of her debut album, An Raicín Álainn,
marked out the young singer Lasairfhíona Ni Chonaola
(pronounced ‘Lah-sah-reena Nee Hon-ola’) as one of the
most remarkable singing talents to emerge in Ireland for
many a year. An Raicin Álainn married Lasairfhíona’s ethereal
voice and Máire Breatnach’s sensitive production to a
wide-ranging selection of songs, drawn partly from the
sean-nós tradition of the singer’s native Inishere, the
smallest of the Aran Islands, often producing
soundscapes of sometimes chilling beauty.
Laudably, in making Flame of Wine (the literal meaning of
her name in Irish), Lasairfhíona has resisted the temptation
to make An Raicín Álainn 2, opting with Máire for a more
relaxed feel, albeit one still emotionally invigorating. Sure,
the ‘big’ songs from the Irish unaccompanied singing
tradition are present, such as the gorgeously dark An Raibh
Tú ar an gCarraig and An Draighneán Donn, but there are
plenty of lesser-known delights.
The opening An tAmhrán Bréagach, with tremendous guitar
accompaniment from guitarist Bill Shanley and spine-tingling
viola from Máire, encapsulates the singer’s imaginative
approach to her traditional material. In utter contrast, Sí
Do Mhamó Í, sung to her brother MacDara’s backing bodhrán,
is a vivacious rendition of a popular Connemara comic song,
while her own ‘Galleon’ indicates advancing skills as a
composer. The sumptuous, part-spoken Aoibneas An Ghrá
recalls her earlier work with Hector Zazou on the
spiritual-songs album Light in the Dark while Damhsa
na Coiníní offers a light-hearted distraction.
Dazzling singing, consummate accompaniment and
production, could anyone want more?
Rambles Cultural Arts Magazine
I first listened to this album on New Years Eve 2005. In fact,
I listened to it about five times in a row and as I sit to write this
review on Jan. 1, I believe I have found one of my favourite albums
of 2006 already. Apart from the excellent content of the CD, the voice
is difficult to categorize but it is captivating, innocent, warm, sensual
and more.Growing up in Ireland, one has the Irish language drummed
-- not beaten, as some commentators may like to write -- into us from
our earliest schooldays. This can give us a love of the language -- or not.
Sadly, for the majority it can alienate us from our heritage and cause us
to hate all things Gaelic. If we were to learn the "Gaelige" from albums
like this one, a bit later in life, we might retain our love of it.
Lasairfhiona -- both her name and the Irish for the title of the CD --
hails from the Aran Islands and on this, her second album, she presents us
with a combination of old and new music in a mixture of Irish and English. Be
cause, like me, Irish is probably not the first language of the readers, I
will refer in the main to the English titles of the songs on offer. She opens with
a beautiful song called "The Song of Lies." This version that gives free rein to
the singer's wonderful voice stems from a fragment of an Aran Island version of
the song. Apparently a singer was required to compose a song that contained no
truth whatsoever. Spin-doctors do the same today but without the music.
As well as singing like an angel, this young lady also works to preserve the
traditional songs of Ireland and does it beautifully on "Dark Haired Woman of
the Glen."I remember reviewing a great album by Joe Heaney some years back.
One of his songs was "Johnny is the Fairest One," but I am sure that most will
agree that Lasairfhiona does a marvelous version on this CD. She does more
than justice to the traditional music, but this girl has another string to her bow.
She is an excellent writer. Drawing on the tradition in story and style she brings
the past to beautiful life on"Galleon," recalling the connections of Galway and Spain.
Taking a song that her grandmother sang, adding some new lyrics and singing it in
Gaelic, we get a beautiful soft song to the same tune as "Carrigfergus" called "The
Lonely Valley." This is my favourite of favourites on a wonderful album. From a tune
that is so well known she moves to one of the best known of the sean-nos songs,
"An Raibh Tu ar an gCarraig?" and gives a moving rendition. From the solemn she
takes us on a fantasy "The Rabbit's Dance" using a lively children's song.
Over 14 tracks this album will do a lot to bring you back to the beauty of the Irish
language as a medium for song every bit as beautiful as French or other romance
languages. In addition to the wonderful performances you get an insert booklet with
bilingual lyrics and some background to the songs.
This lady will go well beyond her native island with well-deserved airplay, but in the
meantime you true music lovers may need to make that little extra effort to
experience the sublime.
Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola has a soft, dusky voice, low and gentle, and she
artfully wields it in the pursuit of Gaelic excellence on An Raicin Alainn.
There is a deep richness to this recording, and the production is polished to
a fine sheen.
The Gaelic songs here never let you forget that Ni Chonaola's voice -- and
the beautiful Irish language itself -- are the centerpieces of the recording.
There is minimal instrumental accompaniment, used to enhance the songs
but never to overburden or dominate them. The title track, which translates
to "The Beautiful Comb," was learned from her grandmother on Inishmaan,
one of the Aran Islands off the coast of County Clair, and the delicate fiddle
and guitar support Ni Chonaola's voice with a light touch.
The bilingual liner notes tell us that Ni Chonaola could sing before she
could speak, and certainly she demonstrates admirable vocal control as she
makes Ireland's ancient sean nos style her own. Take for an example
"Bean Phaidin (Padin's Wife)," a traditional song from rugged Connemara.
The track pairs her voice with a hand drum and maintains a lightly cantering
tempo throughout. She then leads straight into the a cappella song
"Caislean Gearr (Castlegar)," which proves that she needs no extra help to
hold your attention from first to last faintly echoing note.
"Oilean na Teiscinne (Island of the Teiscinn)" is a haunting poem inspired by
the Aran Islands, set over a subtle guitar and gently recited with true wonder
and love for the land. Next, "Banrion Loch na Naomh (The Queen of Loch na
Naomh)" draws on Ireland's ancient bardic tradition, where the song is laid
over the bell-like tones of the clairsach, or Irish harp.
When instruments weren't available, the dance-loving Irish used their voices
in a distinctive vocal style sometimes called lilting; Ni Chonaola is joined by singer
Mac Dara O'Conaola for the spritely "Bimse Fein ag Iascaireacht (I Myself Go Fishing),"
which employs nothing more than an upbeat bodhran to keep them going. The
lightly mocking tone of "Amhran an Phuca (Song of the Pooka)" comes through clearly
in this a cappella song that is less about fairy creatures, more about poking fun at an
annoying neighbor. Ni Chonaola diddles emotively with a drum on "De Thaisme (Coincidence)."
The final track, "Ceol na Gaoithe (Song of the Gale)," gets a little more ambitious with its
vocal layers and accompaniments but, while it initially seemed out of place on this
recording, it quickly became one of my favorite tracks with its delicate embellishments.
Gaelic is a beautiful language, and its presentation here is delightfully melodic and clearly
enunciated. On 14 wonderful tracks, Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola runs through many styles
of Irish singing and proves herself mistress of them all.
- Tom Knapp
HOTPRESS Music Magazine
Inishere-born singer Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola’s debut album An Raicín Álainn
was the surprise gem of 2002, her cool, airy voice, and effortless style drawing
raves from critics (including this one.) Following it up was never going to be
an easy task, but Ní Chonaola rises to the challenge on this beautifully paced
album which is varied enough to keep the most jaded listener hooked,
from obscure local finds like ‘An tAmhrán Bréagach’ to the classic ‘big song’
‘An Raibh Tú ar an gCarraig’ to two superb originals: the gentle ballad
‘Galleon’ (one of two songs in English) and the title track, a wordless piece of
freewheeling mouth music that Ní Chonaola describes as her ‘signature tune’.
As on her previous release, she’s included one spoken work number –
‘Aoibhneas An Ghrá’, incanted over a spine-tingling combination of keening
vocals and rumbling bodhrán.
The Irish Times
Inis Oírr singer, Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola struck oil with her 2003 debut,
An Raicín Álainn. Her straight-up, six-shooter style was a lightning rod for
sean nós songs, all but lost to her own generation. Flame of Wine (a translation
of her first name) is a further feisty chapter in her musical expedition. Ricocheting
from her no-nonsense treatment of Bean Dubh An Ghleanna to the decidedly
avant-garde interpretation of the bardic poem, Aoibhneas An Ghrá, and detouring
en route to put her own inimitable stamp on the classic An Raibh Tú Ag An
gCarraig?, Lasairfhíona (now surname-less) forges new ground with her own
composition, Galleon, while ploughing old turf with an enviable vigour. Máire
Breatnach's fiddle and viola underscore the elegaic mood, and Mary Bergin's tin
and low whistles shade and colour serenely.
Siobhán Long (The Ticket)
‘Sé seo m’Oileán is a treat for your eyes and your ears.
Songs from a small island
Deireann siad i gcónaí gurb é an dara ceirnín an ceann is deacra ar fad.
Scriosadh mná, fir agus grúpaí de mhná agus fir i ngeall nach rabhadar
in ann an t-aicsean a dhéanamh tar éis albam mór amháin a chur amach.
Smaoinigh ar Edie Brickell, nó Tracy Chapman.
Ach ná smaoinigh ar Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola. Tá an dara albam ó bhean
Inis Oírr, Flame of Wine, chuile phioc chomh maith leis an gcead album a
chuir sí amach roinnt blianta ó shin, An Raicín Álainn. Tá glór Lasairfhíona
iontach séimh ach fós tá carachtair ann atá in ann scéal garbh a chur trasna
más gá. Tá a stíl mhealltach ag tarraingt éistóirí chuig na seanamhráin Ghaeilge ó
áiteanna atá i bhfad ó chultúr na tíre seo (bíodh sin i Timbuktu nó Termenfeckin).
Tá amhráin nuachumtha chomh maith le seanamhráin ar an dlúthdhiosca seo.
Scríobh Lasairfhíona í féin an tracic bhreá ‘Galleon’ agus is saghas poirt nó
torann béil atá i gceist leis an gcéad amhrán ar an dlúthdhiosca, Flame of Wine.
Seasann an t-amhrán, ‘An Raibh Tú Ar An gCarraig’ amach mar bhuaicphointe
an dlúthdhiosca. Seo go direach an cineál amhráin go bhfuil máistreacht iomlán
ag Lasairfhíona air. Tá uaigneas agus crá an amhráin le cloisteáil go soiléar ina
glór tríd síos.
Le Flame of Wine is léir go bhfuil an bhean seo ag fás agus ag forbairt ó thaobh an
cheoil. Ní raibh an dara halbam pioc deacair di, agus ní móide go mbeidh aon
cheann eile ach oiread!
-Breandán Ó hEaghra
BBC Folk & Acoustic Review
To get the pronunciation out of the way, 'An rack-keen ah-lin' is the debut album
of 'Lah-sah-reena Nee Huneeluh'. Practice it a few times as it's a name you'll
be hearing more of. An Irish Times plaudit for her contribution to Lights In
The Dark, a collection of Irish sacred songs released in 1998, brought Lasairfhíona
to the public eye. Irish TV and radio exposure followed, complemented by Italian and
American awards for this album, released last summer.
Steeped in the tradition of sean nós (old style) singing from her birthplace of Inishere
in the Aran Isles, her style nevertheless brings a fresh edge of modernity to a broad
range of songs from the title track, learnt from her grandmother, to her own
atmospheric spoken-word piece Oileán na Teiscinne. Unsophisticated in the best
sense of natural, without self-conscious effort or superfluous ornamentation,
Lasairfhíona's voice translates the Gaelic into a universal language that transcends
the need for lyrical understanding.
A role call of some of Ireland's finest musicians including Máire Breatnach (fiddle,
viola, piano), Mary Bergin (whistles), Pat Hargan (guitar) and Johnny McDonagh
(bodhrán) provides the perfect vehicle for her emotional, ethereal voice. Listen to
this album and you hear a pure breath of everything that is beautiful about Ireland.
This is an extremely engaging and perhaps important album from a young Aran Islands
vocalist who is steeped in the sean-nós tradition, but is definitely into trying new
approaches. The unaccompanied sean-nós numbers certainly communicate deeply, even
to those of us who don’t understand Gaelic. Ní Chonaola’s voice is markedly light and
wispy for a traditional singer, but she utilizes her beautiful vocal quality and very true
sense of pitch to excellent effect. She also uses ornamentation sparingly, so that when
she does, it is that much more effective. Most of the tracks feature a variety of backing
musicians, whose work is understated and strictly supportive despite the face that a cuple
of strong names are present. The language barrier will limit appreciation of the recitation and
one or two other numbers, but her bold use of wordless vocalese and tasteful, occasional
adaptation of other non-traditional elements can only delight listeners who value honest
experimentation in any language or musical idiom. Best of all, even when she’s stretching the
limits, she’s extremely effective on an emotional level. One’s first impression may be of a young
voice still finding her way, but repeated listens make you aware that, to a great extent, she
has already found it. For a debut outing, this is a rare accompaniment.
-on "An Raicín Álainn"
Green Man Review
Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola's debut An Raicin Alainn (The Beautiful Comb) is picking up serious
attention in Ireland where Hot Press magazine voted it best traditional album of 2002. With its
relaxed arrangements and Lasirfhiona's exquisite vocals, it comes as no surprise.Lasairfhiona
herself has appeared in a TV documentary with Sinead O'Connor and recorded with Hector Zazou
on his Lights in the Dark production alongside Katie McMahon and Breda Mayock. The material
includes everything from light-hearted songs like 'Bean Pháidín" to heavier staples of the sean nos
repertoire. Of the latter "Casadh an tSugain" is given a delightful baroque arrangement while the
accapella "Úna Bhán" resembles Scots Island Gaelic in approach rather than a more homely brewed
Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola is quite unlike any sean nos singer before her. While she takes her material
from the local traditions, her vocal style comes from a much wider hymn sheet. Valid comparisons
would be with both Norah Jones and Astrid Gilberto as Lasairfhiona's wispy ethereal voice floats over
the supple backing arrangements to create an atmospheric ambient mood. She ventures into wordless
vocalese on "De Thaisme", while "Ceol Na Gaoithe" conjures up images of Lori Anderson and Jane
Siberry stranded in Connemara. Another surprising departure is the spoken "Oileán na Teiscinne" with
breathy, childlike inflections. This is definitely no run of the mill sean nos affair and An Raicin Alainn
(The Beautiful Comb) hits its emotional targets head on while also striking new ground admirably. This
could be the voice to turn heads unaccustomed to the beauties of the sean nos tradition. Gorgeous.
A native of Inis Oirr, the smaller of the Aran Islands situated off Ireland's west coast, Lasairfhiona Ni
Chonaola is a young sean nos singer destined to do for the genre what several other young singers have
attempted recently but have not quite achieved. In possession of a voice that has the necessary clarity
and dexterity to cope with the demands of the form, Lasairfhiona also has a depth and warmth unusual
for someone so young. "An Raicin Alainn" is her debut solo album, and is full of interesting renditions
of some of the loveliest, and some of the most challenging, sean nos songs, all sung as Gaeilge,
Lasarfhiona's native tongue.
To choose a favourite is an impossibility. Each track contains something captivating. The minimal harp
accompaniment of "Banrion Loch na Naomh" makes for a haunting, medieval-like rendition. The vocals
on "Ceol na Gaoithe" are mesmerising, drawing the listener in like the song of a siren. "Bimse Fein ag
Iascaireacht" is an example of the kind of music used in the past for dancing if there were no
instrumentalists around. There is some great lilting on this track by big brother MacDara O Conaola.
"Una Bhan", however, stands out for me. One of the greatest and most demanding songs from the
tradition, with its earliest written incarnation dating to 1775, most people automatically link "Una Bhan"
with the late Seosamh O hEanaigh. Lasairfhiona delivers a gentle yet direct version here, warm yet
confident, utterly convincing, capable of sending chills down the spine.
What I like most about this album is the clean approach. Lasairfhiona captures a contemporary magic;
worlds apart from the commercialism of new-age acts such as Enya, all purporting to portray an image
of Ireland that is, as anyone who has ever visited will appreciate, completely nonexistant. Lasarfhiona's
music exudes, without resorting to sentimentality, the mystique of her home place on Inis Oirr, a place
that nobody can leave without being touched in a very personal and fundamental way. If you want a
recording of sean nos singing with a contemporary slant, this is the one to go for. An Raicin Alainn has
it all; quality material, a voice of substance and irresistible lilt, thoughtful interpretation, and an obvious
love of and respect for tradition. Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola is the kind of singer I've been waiting to hear
for a long time.
- Jennifer Byrne