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Cherish the Ladies

Our critics' picks in new releases

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Long before there was "Riverdance," there was Cherish the Ladies, the first all-female Irish music ensemble, a concept far more radical some 15 years ago, when the band emerged from a series of concerts of women Celtic musicians. From the start, Cherish the Ladies masterfully combined the excitement of blending traditional Irish music and dance. The precise rhythm guitar playing of Mary Coogan along with whistle and flute genius Joanie Madden have kept this ensemble--mostly American-born daughters of Irish parents--together for eight albums now, and mark the occasion by releasing this all-star collaboration.

The title pays homage to Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers, who appear on the album, which also draws upon the talents of all their fathers and many of the leading Irish musicians today. Folk giants Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie also make guest appearances. With so many artists involved, the album broadly explores the landscape of Irish traditional music: joyful dance tunes, sad ballads, protest and comic songs, often in nearly unrepeatable combinations, like '60s icons Arlo and Liam Clancy singing a duet.

As well as any book or documentary film, The Girls Won't Leave the Boys Alone explores the emotion of what it meant to leave the Irish nation for these American shores. Cherish the Ladies pulls this off marvelously, melding all this talent into a cohesive, thoroughly engaging album. What gets lost in the process at times, however, is Cherish the Ladies themselves. At times you want the six of them just to cut loose with their ethereal singing, sizzling playing, and powerhouse rhythms and forget about all these guests. But, by gathering this musical assemblage on these particular tunes, Cherish the Ladies has created a landmark statement of Irish music in America that bridges at least two generations.

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