The songs and styles of Irish music are pretty much set in stone, making innovation a bit of a challenge. But Middlebury's O'hAnLeigh give it a go on their first album, Of Irish Crossings Told. The CD has garnered strong reviews from as far as Ireland, Australia, the Netherlands and Belarus. But über-traditionalists, take note: Only two of the 14 cuts feature any "rum-dum-dilly-ohs."
O'hAnLeigh came together at a St. Patrick's Day party in 2002, when veteran bar-band rocker Tom Hanley asked his then-12-year-old daughter Becca to join him for a few numbers. The collaboration went over so well, they decided to continue. Fiddler/singer Cindy Hill -- who also contributes bass, banjo, whistles and assorted percussion -- joined the following year.
Of Irish Crossings Told is full of lively numbers about Irish-American living. Occasionally the individual instruments don't mesh well, and the playing gets a bit ragged. Still, the songwriting by Hill and Hanley is strong and the vocals engaging.
The album kicks off with a delightful original called "Mike Muldowney." It tells the tale of Hanley's great-grandfather, who bought a ticket to America with money he was supposed to take home to his family. Hanley's burly baritone provides abundant character.
Becca Hanley, now 16, is a fine soprano. Her crystalline pipes set Crossings apart from other traditional music releases. A member of the Vermont All-State Chorus, she's already a powerful singer. As she gains experience and control, she'll no doubt become more so.
The younger Hanley shines on the disc's slower, prettier numbers such as the classics "Connemara by the Lake" and "Dawning of the Day." Her ethereal voice is also well suited for the O'hAnLeigh original"In the Town of Strabane," about a young woman's haunting disappearance near a "fairy tree."
Her dad tackles Celtic music's rowdier numbers, such as the traditional tunes "Irish Rover" and "Black Velvet Band." The latter's protagonist is betrayed by women and whiskey, the bane of many a pub crooner.
O'hAnLeigh's version of Mike Cross's "The Scotsman" takes a humorous look at what is, or isn't, worn underneath kilts. It makes for a pleasant diversion from Crossings' more orthodox fare.
With Of Irish Crossings Told, O'hAnLeigh add four new and evocative songs to a well-worn genre. Also, Irish-music fans would do well to keep an eye on Becca Hanley as her talent matures.