Emma Sweeney ‘Pangea’ (Sweeney Records) 4/5

Mancunian Irish fiddler Emma Sweeney arrives on the folk scene with a fine debut album that hints at a variety of new approaches while being firmly rooted in the Irish tradition. Indeed Sweeney already has a wealth of experience, performing with the likes of Dick Gaughan, Donal Lunny and that contemporary maestro of the Mancunian roots scene, Mike McGoldrick. It is in fact in the very capable hands of the latter that this debut recording has been produced and the quality of sound is truly commendable. A fascinating combination of reels and jigs combined with some pioneering world roots fusions makes Emma Sweeney a new artist to watch out for in the next few years. She shines on the composition ‘The rose in the heather’ that builds in intensity and is part of a medley with Sweeney’s own ‘Something in a Sunday’, and on the catchiest of melodic riffs on ‘The reed that bends with the storm’. On the melancholic lament ‘The flying statue’ there is a fine fiddle and guitar duet while the uptempo ‘The mountain top’ is a medley of a Sweeney original, ‘Mucky fingers’ with two traditional pieces. There is a tribute to singer Nick Drake on an interpretation of his ‘A place to be’ on which Sweeney contributes her own vocals while on ‘Golden fiddle waltz’ due homage is paid to the late bluegrass fiddler Randy Howard and this is undoubtedly an avenue that Emma Sweeney should explore future on subsequent releases. An interest in the music of India is first indicated by a medley of Sweeney originals, ”Endless thoughts’ and ‘The last straw’, both inspired by meeting a young boy while travelling in India. However, arguably the biggest suprise is reserved for the final piece, the title track, which has a distinctive Indian classical flavour, and sounds all the better for it. An Indo-Irish folk fusion might well provide an ideal opportunity to explore the commonality of roots over an entire album at some stage and in the opposite direction this has been successfully attempted by jazz pianist Zoe Rahman (with Bengali roots and Irish roots). Anoushka Shankar thrilled listeners with her Indo-Iberian connections album of a couple of years ago. Why not a similar exploration from an Irish folk perspective? If there would be one slight change to make on future albums, then it would probably be the inclusion of a guest singer to help showcase her craft to a wider audience. Otherwise, this is an accomplished debut recording from a musician who has clearly indicated an interest in combining music from her own tradition with that of other genres. Emma Sweeney will be performing at Band on the Wall in Manchester on 9 January as part of her UK tour and at Celtic Connections in a double bill with the Tine Book Trio in Glasgow on 19 January. Watch out for an online interview with Emma to follow shortly. Tim Stenhouse

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