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In Love and Light
Artist: Heidi Talbot
Label: Compass
Length: 12 tracks /  47 mins
With the label based in Nashville and many of the musicians like a small Celtic music factory, playing together on an array of shared projects, you could expect this to be a pre-packaged sounding disc. Instead it is a beautifully-assembled collection of strong songs, sensitively arranged, that leaves you feeling good in all sorts of ways.
For those who wish to try before they buy, the only song on Talbot's web site is the opener, “If You Stay.” A good indication of what's on the CD, it's airy, delicate, and sung as if she's looking up at you with big, round eyes. 
Apart from the strength of the material, it's Talbot's malleable Irish voice that deservedly fills the spotlight. At sixteen she enrolled in Dublin's Bel Canto singing school (as did Sinéad O'Connor) which specialises in using the voice naturally to bring out a song's narrative. It has done well: her voice has a terrific emotional and textural range, and is easy on the ear, with a soft, breathy after-taste. But when the lyrics call for a stronger approach, she can add some attack to her phrasing, even mixing styles within a line.
With this voice as the centre point, Producer Boo Hewerdine has done a superb job of dressing it in a lace-work of sound, each strand clear, strong and fine, but gentle to the touch when all brought together. Apologies for mixing the senses even further, but it does for the ear what a light, tasty chocolate mousse does for the tongue.
The songs themselves are well-chosen, an eclectic mix from traditional pieces through covers of The Inkspots (“Whispering Grass”), Tom Waits (“Time”) and Jump, Little Children (“Cathedrals”) to new songs by Hewerdine and Talbot. The producer's lovely “Invisible” is so delicately spun that you feel it would tear if you sneezed. By contrast there is a sinister edge to the traditional “Bonny Boys” that Hewerdine (and John McCusker) bring out in the angular arrangement. The song starts starkly, mainly with Talbot's voice and a spiky bass occasionally punctuated by discordant guitar. It's pretty addictive, all the same.
Talbot was singer in the transatlantic band Cherish The Ladies, and she heads west as the disc goes on, with touches of country, jazz and Americana, even ending with the gospel song “When They Ring the Golden Bells.” It's not just the surroundings – her voice has a definite tinge of country when she turns her volume knob above 'breathy'.
I have always felt that Irish musicians have an unfair genetic musical advantage over the rest of the world. Talbot gives me no reason to change my mind. This is superb.
Derek Walker


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