With all 13 tracks on Sean-Nós Nua
drawn from traditional Irish repertoire, Sinéad O'Connor
reclaims that combination of fragility and strength that distinguishes her from virtually every other singer of her age and background. Supported by an assembly of brilliant musicians, O'Connor
follows the two paths most traveled by modern interpreters of these songs. One, represented on tracks like "Peggy Gordon," evokes misty pictures of mystic Eire by drenching strings, acoustic guitars, and her own voice in the kind of echo normally associated with whale songs; by reading the lyric with minimal and only idiomatic adornment, O'Connor
turns these clichéd arrangements into compelling narratives. The other approach is drier, with the instruments more clearly articulated, yet here she excels as well; a hard edge cuts through tunes like "Her Mantle So Green" and even on the whispered "Lord Franklin" and "Lord Baker" to emphasize the tragic flavors that sweeter singers often miss. Throughout Sean-Nós Nua
the production treats O'Connor
's voice like a canvas on which to paint vivid images. At times the result is distracting, with far too much slap-back, but it also scores on songs like "Molly Malone," where vocal and instrumental textures together trace the tale through poignant light and ominous shadow. It is likely no coincidence that the album ends with "I'll Tell Me Ma," which closes with the teasing line, "Please won't you tell me, who is she?" The answer is clear: it is Sinéad O'Connor
, ascendant again.