DON'T I KNOW (SUGAR HILL RECORDS)
Looking at the booklet photography depicting Maura O'Connell against a background of Celtic crosses and dry stone walls, you could be forgiven for thinking she'd decided to return to her Irish roots, as she did on her 1997 Rykodisc album WANDERING HOME. But no -- it's Nashville aces like Tim O'Brien, Hillary Lindsey, Jim Lauderdale and Kim Richey, as well as rising country star Mindy Smith, who provide the material here. If there's an Irish influence, it's perhaps in the sean-nós tradition's concept of the singer as "sayer of the song"-- a vehicle rather than a performer.
O'Connell has a beautifully full-bodied, rich voice, but she puts it very much at the service of the song she's interpreting. Death and loss are constant themes in this sombre collection, but O'Connell's soaring renditions provide all the uplift that's needed.
Eight Point Five / Ten.
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