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Mary McPartlan The Holland Handkerchief Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

This tasteful and varied selection of largely traditional Irish songs puts her in the...

Jon Lusk 2004

With this debut album arriving in her 50th year, you could say Mary McPartlan has been a little backward in coming forward as a singer. A busy career in theatre and TV production is one of the reasons that her remarkable lived-in voice has so far only been heard in a few back-street clubs of Galway and the surrounding area, but The Holland Handkerchief is likely to change that.

Her tendency to bend notes betrays a fondness for both the blues and sean-nós, and this tasteful and varied selection of largely traditional Irish songs puts her in the same league as Dolores Keane and Niamh Parsons.

An obvious highlight is the charged, spooky title track which kicks off the disc, establishing her as a compelling story teller. The version of Shane McGowan's wonderful "Rainy Night In Soho" is effectively understated, and it's interesting to compare her take on "Aura Lee" -­ full of sentiment, though never sentimental -­ with that of fellow Galway singer Sean Keane. On the more upbeat side, "As I Roved Out/Joe ODowd's Barndance" strays into the kind of territory frequented by The Dubliners, and "Saw You Running" could almost be Kirsty MacColl. "Slieve Gallion Braes"is the oldest song in her repertoire; performed with just two backing singers, it harks back to her early days in the mid 70's, when she was part of a duo called Calypso.

The other arrangements include everything from the stark unaccompanied take on"Lord Gregory" to the driving electric folk rock of "The Holland Handkerchief", and come courtesy of Dervish's excellent fiddler/guitarist Shamie ODowd. Having initiated Ireland's TG4 National Music Awards in the mid 1990's, Mary had the luxury of being able to call on a who's who of Ireland's traditional music scene to play for her. So the starry cast of session musicians includes the likes of Uilleann piper Paddy Keenan and accordionist Mairtín OConnor, who help to make this one of the year's finest traditional albums.

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