Maggie Keane, Happy Day, (Independent, 2002)

Dublin based singer-songwriter Maggie Keane was described in 1999, on the Web site of Cork music venue the Lobby Bar, as the "hottest new international discovery." The writer claimed that her "unique style" had been likened to The Cranberries, Bjork, and Enya. I am surprised that he did not mention the Corrs as well, as I found this extended play CD, issued last April, much closer to the mixture of pop and ersatz folk music of that group than it is to either Bjork or Enya, although perhaps it is not a million light-years from the Cranberries. The resemblance to the Corrs is probably more than coincidental, since one of Keane's regular accompanying musicians is Conor Brady from that band. There is also more than a suggestion in her singing of Sinead O'Connor, to whom other critics have compared Keane.

The aforementioned enthusiastic Web site writer described Keane's music as "ethereal" pop that doesn't quite fit into any existing musical box. This may be true of track 1, "Happy Day," which has a breathless quality also found (where else?) on the Corrs' "Breathless". However, the following song, annoyingly entitled "Loving U," is too soulful to be ethereal, even if it begins with a breathy, whispering moment. As for the next cut, equally annoyingly called "Life B4," it is too dramatic, albeit in a vocally understated way, to fit the same writer's dictionary definition of ethereal, which, he tells us, means "having a spiritual quality and being intangible and heavenly." Only on the fourth and final song, logically entitled "Life After," does one find a little more ethereal breathiness. When it comes to ethereal music, believe me, Enya has Keane beaten hands down.

I came at this recording not knowing what to expect. The sparse information supplied with the CD is limited to the titles of the songs, a statement that Maggie Keane finds her inspiration from the busy streets of Dublin to the tranquility of Donegal and the name of the man who, with scant thought for spreading employment around, not only engineered and mixed but also produced and arranged the recording: Pat Donne. Seeing the name Keane, I half-expected someone combining the best talents of the wonderful Irish traditional singer Dolores Keane and of the Chieftains' fiddler Sean Keane, but Maggie turns out to be a pop-singer, even if the biography on her Web site tells us that she began singing on the folk scene.

Keane describes the songs on this disc as "about hope, love, and celebration." She was apparently inspired to start writing her own songs following the birth of her daughter Annie in 1994. Incidentally, the jewel-case contains an attractive photograph of, one supposes, Annie with Maggie, whose pre-Rapaelite hair is certainly deserving of the adjective ethereal. Keane started her career as a backing vocalist, working with Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Noel Brazil and Donal Lunny, following which she issued a first CD of her own compositions, entitled Luna, in 1998, attracting some of Ireland's classier musicians to back her.

This CD is classy, in that everything is well played and sung. The four songs try to vary the mood, even if the medium pace does not differ much from one track to the next, and the arrangements are highly professional. Keane has an attractive voice and can introduce enough variety into her vocal technique to ward off monotony. Nonetheless, I find it difficult to be really enthusiastic about this recording. It has a little bit of everything that is needed to make a successful CD, but I would not expect it to knock any of the musicians mentioned above off their perches. Is it that the songs are not quite strong enough, that their tunes are not sufficiently memorable or the words sufficiently powerful? Is it that there are so many other fairly talented singer-songwriters on the scene, working with competent arrangers and producers, that a recording has to possess that little something extra to stand out? Whether you like them or not , the Corrs came up with a controversial but winning formula, and before them so did the other musicians already alluded to. For whatever reason, I do not see this recording as the major breakthrough to fame and fortune that some critics seem to be expecting for Maggie Keane.


[Richard Condon]