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CD review: Maura O'Connell's 'Naked With Friends'

(Courtesy Of Maura Oconnell - Courtesy Of Maura O'connell)
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Friday, February 26, 2010

MAURA O'CONNELL

"Naked With Friends"

Kindred spirits: De Dannan, Mary Black, Alison Krauss

Show: Saturday at the Birchmere. Show starts at 7:30 pm. 703-549-7500. http://www.birchmere.com.

Performing a cappella requires a leap of faith for most vocalists, but for Irish-born Maura O'Connell, it's as natural as breathing. She sounds right at home on her new CD, the Grammy-nominated "Naked With Friends," performing traditional ballads and contemporary songs, mostly in English and Gaelic. Of course, even in an unadorned setting, a stellar guest list doesn't hurt. Dolly Parton, Mary Black, Alison Krauss, Paul Brady and Tim O'Brien are among the singers who lend their voices to this soulful collection.

Well-known for her wise choice of material and gift for storytelling, O'Connell takes full advantage of her remarkably resonant alto here. Elvis Costello's antiwar theme "Shipbuilding" triggers one of her most emotionally compelling interpretations, with help from the Settles Connection choir, and her take on Joan Armatrading's "Weakness in Me" is similarly moving. Looking to her Celtic roots for inspiration, O'Connell also turns in a breathtakingly lovely rendition of "Maidín I M'Béarra." Parton's unmistakable voice adds silver harmonies to the opening cut, "The Bright Blue Rose," but the standout tracks include a duet with O'Brien ("The Blacksmith") and the performances enhanced by Krauss ("Some People's Lives") and O'Connell's sister Áine Derrane (Holly Near's "Hay Una Mujer Desapercida").

As bold as it is, "Naked With Friends" isn't really a departure for O'Connell; it's an intimate homecoming.

-- Mike Joyce


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