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Dolores Keane "Solid Ground" Shanachie

April 08, 1993|RANDY LEWIS

Few sounds go so piercingly straight to the Western heart as that of a traditional Irish singer. It's something about the tremulous turns, the fetching brogue, the centuries-old ache in the voice. One such voice belongs to Dolores Keane, who has recorded or toured with such traditional-minded groups as the Chieftains, Planxty and Kinvara, earning the reputation of a singer's singer; she counts the likes of Nanci Griffith and Emmylou Harris among her fans. With her new album, her first for a U.S. label, she's using pop-inflected material to make a bid for a larger audience. That doesn't mean exploding electric guitars and throbbing digital sequencers; she's still leaning heavily on such folk instruments as uillean pipes, tin whistles and accordions, but she's applying them to such contemporary numbers as Linda Thompson and Betsy Cook's "Telling Me Lies" and David Mallett's "Summer of My Dreams." There's even a country waltz, "Tonight as We Dance."

The ultimate test of a great Irish singer is the ability to turn a song that looks hopelessly saccharine on paper into a genuine tear-inducing experience. Keane pulls it off here, aided to no small degree by Harris' characteristically elegant harmonies, with "Emigrant Eyes," a ballad of a grandparent's bittersweet trek from the Emerald Isle to the United States. And it's a cold, cold heart that won't be touched by Keane's reading of "Never Be the Sun," a profession of love for her son:

You'll never be the sun burning in the sky

And you won't be the moon up above us on a moonlit night

And you won't be the stars in heaven

Although they burn so bright.

But even on the deepest ocean,

You will be the light.

It seems a misuse of precious time that she spends one track covering Steve Winwood's "The Finer Things," a song that hardly has been crying out for reinterpretation. But that's about the only lapse. The rest of the time, Keane truly is on "Solid Ground."

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