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The Graham Album Review #2150

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Karan Casey: Nine Apples of Gold

(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/29/2023)

Traditional Celtic music continues to find an audience some 30 years or so after what was then new wave of eclectic and often virtuosic players appeared. Among the most prominent is the Irish-American group Solas, founded by Seamus Egan. The original members included guitarist John Doyle and vocalist Karan Casey. Both have been maintaining their separate careers and have also recorded two albums together.

Karan Casey has just released her 11th album called Nine Apples of Gold.

Karan Casey is hardly a strict traditionalist in her music. She has recorded and/or toured with or James Taylor, bluegrass songwriter Tim O’Brien, The Boston Pops Orchestra, Peggy Seeger, as well as with the iconic Irish band the Chieftains, and occasional reunions with Solas. She also sings jazz and plays piano. Her new album is more diverse sonically with some bigger-sounding productions on some of the tracks. Ms. Casey is known for her working toward the cause of women’s equality in Irish music, and several songs on the new album take a feminist perspective in both historical and contemporary settings. Nature and the environment are also addressed on a couple of the songs.

On the album she is joined by two fellow Irish women as guest vocalists. The producer and also serving in multiple instrumental capacities is Sean Og Graham. The material is mostly original, but there is one traditional song which is nicely done. The arrangements are mostly understated, but some tracks have more instrumentation than one might expect for an Irish musician, including a couple tracks with a modest string section.

Opening the album is its title song Nine Apples of Gold a story of a legendary woman with songbirds, who could cure illnesses with their songs. With the nature of the lyrics, the arrangement of this original song evokes a more traditional sound. <<>>

The first of the songs with a feminist lyrical theme is Sister I Am Here for You expressing solidarity and a hope for an improvement in equality. Niamh Dunne makes a guest vocal appearance. <<>>

Daughter Dear imagines a conversation between a young daughter and her deceased mother. The musical setting is suitably melancholy. <<>>

Also considering death is the song By and By which, despite is subject matter, is very attractive musically. <<>>

The strongest set of lyrics comes on I Live in a Country a protest song about the still patriarchal environment in Ireland. The lyrics are practically rapped, with Pauline Scanlan serving as guest vocalist. <<>>

Set in the history of this side of the Atlantic is The Weeping Time about the enslaved Gullah Geechee people of Georgia. The musical setting takes an appropriately Americana flavor. <<>>

One of the compositions about appreciating the natural world is called Return to the Wild, also showing an attractive musical setting. <<>>

The one traditional song on the album is The Rocks of Bawn. It’s given a more intimate acoustic setting, with Ms. Casey applying the traditional Irish ornamentation to her vocals. <<>>

The album ends on a positive note with I Thank My Lucky Stars a ni cely performed song of gratitude. <<>>

Long-time Irish vocalist Karan Casey, known for her work with the Celtic band Solas, on her new album Nine Apples of Gold has created a nicely diverse recording that embodies the Celtic influence for which she is so well known, while doing original compositions some of which are lyrically incisive. The musical accompaniment is mostly acoustic and quite tasteful throughout, while Ms. Casey’s beautiful voice remains at center stage.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A” with the recording sounding warm and often intimate, with the acoustic instruments handled with care sonically.

Karan Casey is one of the bright lights to emerge with the revival of traditional Celtic music in the 1990s. She remains at the top of her game on her new release Nine Apples of Gold.

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