David Granville reviews Independent Soul, Kate Purcell, Dream Records DRCD 007
KATE PURCELL's third solo album, is an eclectic and thoroughly charming mix of original material and a selection of some of her own favourite songs, spanning a variety of popular music genres.
I must admit to approaching the album with a degree of unease - largely down to the inclusion of Ewan McColl's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Although there are a number of fine versions in existence, McColl's love song has been done to near death on more than one occasion - the Celine Dion and Englbert Humperdink MoR monstrosities springing most readily to mind.
Unfortunately, my apprehension diminished not a jot when I saw that other of her personal favourites included Hans Leip's Lilli Marlene, popular with both Axis and Allied forces during the second world war.
By the time I'd learned from the accompanying blurb that Die Hard actor Bruce Willis counts himself as one of her biggest fans, I was ready for the worst. I needn't have worried.
The album kicks off with one of five fine original songs penned with best friend of twenty years Mary Fitzgerald. A slightly edgy love song, it provides an ideal curtain-opener to a collection of songs which showcase the songwriting and musical talents of both women.
The two friends are assisted throughout by a clutch of top-drawer Irish musicians: iSteve Cooney (guitars), Martin Hayes and Winnie Horan (fiddle), Breandan Begley and Tim Eady (accordion), Mark Kinsella (harmonica), Jim Hornsby (dobro) Gavin Murphy (piano and keyboards) and Tommy Hayes (percussion).
The arrangements are uncluttered, understated and tight. Always subtle, they allow prominence to to be given to Kate's distinctively rich but mellow voice. They also succeed in creating a warm and intimate feel. It's a combination which, I am happy to report, lifts her interpretation of McColl's love song well beyond the clutches of MoR mediocrity.
There's only one traditional song on the album, The Green Hills of Clare. This is given a contemporary make-over, with some fine guitar and fiddle playing complementing the sweet and sonorous tones of Purcell's voice. The singer-songwriter's love of country music is apparent on the album's self-penned title track and on her rendition of Suspicious Minds, the latter featuring the excellent harmonica playing of Mick Kinsella.
However, the album's biggest, and for me, most pleasant, surprise is Purcell's version of the U2 song Bad. Stripped of any pomp-rock pretensions, it emerges powerfully reborn, filled with passion and the tension of a troubled love.
Overall, the cover versions turned out to be far better than I'd at first anticipated, though I'm still not partial to Lilli Marlene. However, there's no doubt that the album's real strength lies with the original Purcell-Fitzgerald compositions, their subtle arrangements and the excellent musicians who lent a hand in the production of a fine album. Let's hope that it's a partnership that continues to thrive in the years ahead.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2009 David Granville