Cherish the Ladies, the all-female Irish-American folk band, has produced such major Celtic folk stars as fiddler Eileen Ivers, singer Cathie Ryan and fiddler Winifred Horan. But the unchanging core of the group, from its 1987 inception till today, has been the trio of flutist Joanie Madden, fiddler Siobhan Egan and guitarist Mary Coogan. They were a bit tentative when they started out a dozen years ago, but Cherish the Ladies has matured into one of the world's finest Celtic folk bands, as evidenced by its new album, "At Home."
The sextet's newer members are singer Aoife Clancy, accordionist Mary Rafferty and Baltimore pianist Donna Long. Aoife, the daughter of one of the Clancy Brothers, is not the only band member with strong family ties to Irish music, and the new album celebrates those links through collaborations with parents, uncles, siblings and children. These family reunions never become an excuse for sloppiness or sentimentality, however, for the high standards and rigorous give-and-take are maintained in both songs and instrumental medleys, in both sextet and expanded arrangements.
A bit of sentimentality creeps into Madden's latest solo album, "Song of the Irish Whistle 2." The press release promises "lavishly orchestrated tracks with the sound that drove the `Titanic' score to mega-hit status," and new-age producer-arranger Brian Keane is only too happy to oblige with slow-moving, melodramatic string charts. Madden does get a thrilling tone from the tin whistle and does grab hold of some stirring melodies. But the album's two best tracks by far are the two non-orchestrated collaborations with Cherish the Ladies, and that should tell you something.
Appearing Friday at the Birchmere, Saturday at the Ram's Head Tavern and Sept. 4-5 at the Washington Irish Folk Festival at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. To hear a free Sound Bite from Cherish the Ladies, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8105. For a Sound Bite from Joanie Madden, press 8106. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)