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The Friel Sisters The Friel Sisters
Album: Before The Sun
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 13

There are three Friel Sisters - Clare, Anna and Sheila - and though their family roots are in Co. Donegal they were born and raised in Glasgow. Since their eponymous debut album came out around three years ago, they've honed their craft, playing at numerous festivals and supporting some of the biggest names in Irish traditional music along the way. Fiddler Clare received this year's TG4 Young Traditional Musician Of The Year award too, just after the girls premièred their second album (Before The Sun) at this year's Celtic Connections.

The Friel Sisters have been widely praised for "the strength, beauty and variety of their approach to traditional Irish music", and certainly on the evidence presented on the album it's hard to disagree with Tommy Peoples' assessment. Theirs is a typically sibling blend of instrumental and vocal togetherness, and their choice of accompanying musicians (Hajime Takahashi on guitar and Cathal Ó Curráin on bouzouki) is an inspired one. Anna and Sheila both play flute and tin whistle, although Sheila is most often heard on the uilleann pipes, while Clare concentrates on the fiddle.

All three sisters sing, with both Anna and Sheila taking a turn on lead vocal (on Kelvin's Purling Stream and Easter Snow respectively, the latter particularly well sung IMHO), while the three combine forces persuasively on the sprightly, jig-rhythmed A Stór A Stór A Ghra and in a cappella mode on Free And Easy, a song of special family significance to the sisters that's ostensibly a version of Jog Along (from the singing of Paddy Tunney).

The instrumental tracks (six out of the eleven) are characterised by a sense of inexhaustible energy, which certainly carries the listener aloft. On occasions, however, as on the disc's opening set and closing reel, this may seem a touch relentless perhaps, even rushed, as if the girls have something of a hell-bent desire to dispatch the tune in record time (or before closing time!). Sometimes this is done for a clear reason, as on the air An Coolin which is transformed into a fast march as a kind of homage to fiddler John Doherty (the story is given in the chummy liner notes). There's no disputing the sisters' instrumental skills; Clare impresses especially on her reel-set (McCahill's/The Pigeon On The Gate - track 9), Sheila on the hop-jig The Dusty Miller that introduces the disc's closing set.

All told, this is a most likeable and well-balanced album, and I admire the sisters' musicianship and sense of proportion within an overall surfeit of driven energy. The package is also well presented, with suitably informative annotation regarding the sources used.

David Kidman