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Niamh Dunne pays tribute to Limerick with “Portraits”

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Niamh Dunne.
Niamh Dunne.

The snail mailbag brings many treats to me in the form of new (or sometimes old) music contained in those disappearing artifacts known as CDs.

I still like holding the covers or booklets describing the musical contents that artists or agents send my way for a listen.  Some are greatly detailed revealing extensive research along with the necessary production elements and others simply give you the basic facts. And I’ll share three wonderful CDs with you that came my way this summer.

The Limerick Lass, Niamh Dunne, first came to my awareness as part of the Northern-Ireland based band Beoga (“Lively”) shortly after she joined the four original gentlemen who founded the already interesting  and cutting edge double-accordion trad band (Damien McKee, Sean Og Graham, Eamon Murray and Liam Bradley) eight years ago.

Beoga was performing at the late-lamented ICONS festival at the Canton New England Irish Cultural Center outside of Boston.  Dunne was diminutive in stature but not in voice on the occasion, and along with her fiddling she instantly made an impression as a stylish and sophisticated singer whose fiddle licks added great dimension to the band.  Since 2005 she has been featured on three of their four CDs.

I had a chance to observe her further on her own around her familiar Limerick haunts near the University of Limerick singing songs in sessions, and it was clear that she was going to be a rising star inside and outside the Beoga firmament.

Classically trained as a violinist, she also has drawn into the Dunne family history as “traveler musicians” (most notably Pecker Dunne who passed away last year), and her fiddling/piping father Mickey Dunne with whom she recorded Legacy in 2004 with another fiddling sister, Brid.

That grounding along with a confident flair for tackling “good songs” in and outside the tradition has made her a singer to be reckoned with.  So with great anticipation she finally released a solo CD called Portraits in Ireland to display her wares as a vocalist.

While living up north and touring around Europe with Beoga and around Ireland, Dunne keeps up the family tradition of traveling a good deal, so the notion came to her to emphasize her native Limerick in the song selections on the new recording.

Four of the 11 tracks are Limerick-inspired (“Ballyneety’s Walls,” “Beauty of Limerick,” “Cailin Rua” and the oft-covered “Shanagolden” from songwriter Sean McCarthy).

Add to those beautiful trad songs like “Bonny Woodhall” and” Jimmy mo Mhile Stor” delivered in her lush voice with just enough musical accompaniment to appreciate the tender care that she and her producer and fellow Beoga bandmate Sean Og Graham apply to their craft.

What makes Dunne so appealing as a contemporary singer in the traditional idiom is her moxy and sensitivity while interpreting modern songs in the folk or popular vein also.

On the CD we have Richard Thompson’s “Strange Affair,” Barry Kerr’s “When Autumn Comes,” Joe Dolan’s “Foxy Devil,” and from the brilliant Irish language combo of John Spillane and Louis de Paor known as the Gaelic Hit Factory “Eist do Bhéal,” voiced with a knowing sensibility.

As a further example Dunne, inspired by Tyrone fiddler Cathal Hayden, resurrects the old Rock and Roll gem “Games People Play” penned by Joe South, whose message of intolerance still resonates today.

As you might expect, Dunne and Graham were able to recruit an outstanding array of musicians to tastefully accompany her solo singing CD that include Damien O’Kane, Eamon Murray, Trevor Hutchinson, Kate Ellis, Barry Kerr, Mickey Dunne, Noell McDonnell, Nicola Joyce,  Cathal Hayden, Caitriona McKay and Richard Nelson.

Dunne adds her fiddle and multi-instrumentalist Graham contributes his talents on guitar, bouzouki, accordion, keys and banjo which you think would be enough, but according to the liner notes he has a walk-on part in “Beauty of Limerick” as well.

Regrettably, Beoga forays over to America are too infrequent to expose both their many talents and those of Ms. Dunne, but do yourself a favor and reach out for their CDs at www.beogamusic.com andwww.niamhdunne.com.

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