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Jane Cassidy Jane Cassidy
Album: Silverbridge
Label: ASH
Tracks: 12
Website: http://www.ulsterfolksong.com

Jane Cassidy, a singer from Co. Down, may not be all that familiar a name except to those with long memories of the Ulster folk scene, who will recall her pairing with brother Frank back in the 70s. Following which, she released two solo albums in the 80s but then took a lengthy break to concentrate on broadcasting and her family, which was only interrupted once, by a project with her husband Maurice Leyden in the late 90s.

Silverbridge can thus be regarded as Jane's overdue return to music. Like its predecessors, it's a gently compelling mixture of traditional songs and original compositions of her own - the ratio this time being nine to three. The latter are very much traditional in feel - the disc's title song is an enchanting ballad written in memory of Jane's paternal grandmother, who grew up in a townland in Co. Armagh, whereas Naoise O'Haughan tells the story of a Robin Hood-style highwayman, the Rapparee of the Belfast Mountains and Last Man Standing tells of the heroic exploits of Captain Francis crozier, successor to Lord Franklin. Fine though these are, Jane is a thoroughly skilled and brilliantly captivating interpreter of purely traditional song. She's blessed with a hauntingly pure voice and impeccable intonation, which really comes into her own on the two a cappella tracks - wonderful renditions of The Cuckoo (using the Irish version sung by Anne Briggs) and Apron Of Flowers. And her takes on the poignant Bird In A Cage and the epic ballad Fair Annie can both be judged outstanding in their field, while Gathering Rushes is also most persuasively done.

But that's not to denigrate Jane's performance on the rest of the songs in any way. Here the easy, understated power of her singing is set into sensitive relief by musical backdrops variously involving five supporting musicians (Frank Cassidy, Barry Carroll, Nollaig Casey, Joe McHugh, Rod McVey) with Jane's daughter Anna Leyden contributing occasional piano and some absolutely gorgeous backing vocals. This particular combination of instrumental colours gives rise to a quite particular ambience, richly toned yet sparsely scored, with - miraculously - little invariably yielding more. Joe's phrasing of uilleann pipes and whistle lines is exemplary, while Barry's hammer dulcimer imparts an unusual and almost ethereal demeanour to the arrangements; Nollaig's silky fiddle playing is both imaginative and highly sensuous, and Rod's synthesiser both unobtrusively and softly yet firmly underpins the musical argument. But the glory is that the ingenious deployment of texture enables Jane's ever-thoughtful interpretations to breathe and find a life of their own. Just occasionally, I might prefer less piano in the frame, but by and large it's not a problem since the listener will very soon warm to the intimacy of Jane's special relationship with both her chosen material and her fellow-musicians. Silverbridge is, fittingly, well packaged too.

David Kidman