Walls & Windows

Maura O'Connell

Sugar Hill Records, 2001


REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


It's rare I get sent a CD for review that literally doesn't leave my CD player for weeks. When it happens, I know it's something special, and the latest CD from Irish-born song stylist Maura O'Connell.

O'Connell's genre is almost impossible to pin down -- at times she ranges from folk to country to traditional to pop -- but her voice is powerful, expressive, and an absolute joy to listen to. Walls And Windows (I will resist the temptation to make a Dan Fogleberg double-shot reference) is one of the single best CDs I have ever heard for pure singing power, intensity, and delicacy of interpretation. This is great stuff.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

O'Connell, the former lead singer of Irish pop band De Danaan (who had considerable chart success in Europe in the mid-eighties with their CD Star-Spangled Molly), walked away from that success in 1987, emigrated to Nashville, and immersed herself in the American traditional and acoustic music scene, eventually recording with such luminaries as Mark O'Connor, Bela Fleck, and other members of the 'new acoustic' scene -- bluegrass and country accented with jazz, rock, and ethnic notes.

Her 'second' recording career took off in 1988 with the release of her debut album Just In Time, and she's been recording ever since in an eclectic, unique style. The influences of Celtic, pop, and American acoustic result, not in a raucous blend like Canada's Great Big Sea or America's Tempest, but in a more expressive, passionate vocal style that at various times reminds me of Bonnie Raitt, Patsy Cline, and K.T. Oslin (remember her?). Yet none of these are really fair comparisons, because Maura O'Connell has her own voice.

Most amazing for me, it took me three weeks of listening to this CD before I realized it's about half covers. (Whoops.) O'Connell is that good at taking a song and making it hers, regardless of whose name might be on the copyright. Her version of Eric Clapton's "I Get Lost" and Van Morrison's "Crazy Love" give me chills, they're so good.

Other tracks worth note: "Long Ride Home" with its twists of phrase and odd subject matter; "The Blessing", a jazz-tinged version of the traditional Irish blessing; the sheer power of "Walls"; and the funny, thought-provoking "Don't Ask Why". There isn't a bad track on the CD, and as a bonus the musicianship and production are impeccable. (Sugar Hill Records continues to impress me by turning out the best sounding recordings out there.)

Walls And Windows will definitely be on this year's Top Ten list. Don't waste time; grab it today.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sugar Hill Records, and is used for informational purposes only.