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CRAN - "Black Black Black" RATING:  ***
Claddagh records  CC63CD Reviewer: Brendan Carson

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This line up of Ronan Browne on Pipes, Flute, Whistles and Vocals and bansari [a sort of flute], Sean Corcoran on Bouzouki and Vocals, and Desi Wilkinson on Flute, vocals and Whistle is joined by guests Kevin Glackin on fiddle, Triona Ni Dhomhnaill on clavinet and harmonium, Anuna, Shel Talmy and Michael Holohan. With names like this and a range of instruments that could fill an orchestra it promises much.

The first track launches off with some tasty fiddle playing from Kevin Glackin and rolling accompaniment from Triona. As the Abbey Reel finishes the rest of the team join in with the West Clare Reel. While it's nice and pacey with Desi lilting way off in the background it really is too busy for me. It's more like a session than a recording and while that would normally be no bad thing, I feel that a bit of closer attention to production could have improved the first taste of the band for the listener.

Staimpi is a great song with both Desi and Sean featuring here. The song is interspersed with some Breton music played on a variety of instruments with bamboo flutes and bansari being the lead instruments. 

The slow air Farewell to Nigg has the flute and pipes blending with some great strings playing from Holohan.

Flute players delight next! The Dunmore Lasses and the Dublin Reel, two old standards are given a very non standard treatment with the playing of the tunes on Bansari and bamboo flute. Desi is one of my favourite players. Despite, or perhaps because of, his asthma he gets great huff and lift into his playing.

Coleraine Town sees the first proper showpiece from Sean. Well known as a prolific collector and singer of obscure songs from all over the country, he sings this number beautifully. He has a certain indefinable quality in his voice that has a truth and certainty about it. The instrumental accompaniment is impeccable with the deep cello hum and the interludes with pipes and flute are nice. One minor fault is that the levels are a bit off.

Another couple of standard session tunes follow with Brendan Tonra's and the Banks of Lough Gowna. Ronan demonstrates his mastery of the instrument with full use of the drones and regulators. Desi's flute playing is outstanding.

The title track Black Black Black is the Colour of My True Love's Hair, is a haunting air on the pipes and flute with Anuna being employed as vocal backings! This sounds like it should be the backing music for some sort of Gothic film and I'm not all that fussed about it.

Shades of the Voice Squad with an unaccompanied, three part vocal, version of Willie Taylor. I quite enjoyed it but I have to say that the harmonies were a wee bit off at times and I really would prefer McPhail and company.

I'm not really into slow airs [as you might have already gathered] so the start to the next set, Return from Fingal, didn't do a lot for me. As it moves into McConnell's Slip Jig and followed by Tom Busby's Jig there is some fine playing from Desi but far too much bloody accompaniment. Just bouzouki, which is well played by Sean, would have been excellent but Triona's playing on clavinet is too loud - down to the engineering yet again unfortunately.

Seacht Suailci na Maighdine Muire is a sacred piece in Irish and is well sung by Sean with excellent backing vocals from Desi. Here the accompaniment on harmoniums is spot on. Tasteful, appropriate and adding real value to the song.

Rounding of with a fine set of jigs, The Humours of Ballyloughlin, Liz Kelly's Delight, Kerry Jig, and Hardiman the Fiddler. By far the best set on the album. Fine playing all round and for once I cannot fault the production.

Overall I found it an enjoyable listen with some excellent playing from one of my favourite fluters, tight piping from Ronan, and great vocals from Sean. I would much have preferred if it had been kept just to the three boys. For all the excellence of the other musicians, either in their own right or with other bands, I felt that they detracted from the essential Cran. Next time round just keep it to the three of ye!