Music is where the heart is

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A couple of years back the Irish label Dara started cobbling together some tracks by their female artists. They didn't have enough for an album so they licensed a few from other companies and released A Woman's Heart. Soon they'd shifted 300,000 u nits and what started off as a modest compilation became the biggest selling Irish album ever. So a daughter was to be expected. Welcome please A Woman's Heart 2, fifteen tracks by nine artists including Mary Coughlan, sisters Mary and Frances Black and the heartwarmingly wonderful accordion player, Sharon Shannon. These four appear at Hammersmith tomorrow, at the start of a tour of Britain. The cover of the new album is a painting of two peasant girls with baskets on a rocky knoll, a couple of thatched cottages and blue misty mountains in the background. But this old-country image belies the music - new country almost entirely. Even the one track in Irish is about a woman scared that her man will marry for cattle, rather than love. That theme is a sta ple of Irish traditional song, but it's not far from there to Nanci Griffith's "Trouble in the Fields", about the impact of the recession on farming families today. It is beautifully performed here by Maura O'Connell. Frances Black sings another Griffith song"Talk to Me While I'm Listening", and Emmylou Harris even provides backing vocals for Dolores Keane. Mary Black applauds the high standard of songwriting in Ireland, particularly by women. But the artists' inspiration, and their idiom, comes from the great female country singers of America. They influence even the most traditional musician of the lot, Sharon Shannon, who says, "Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, all those. I just love them."

Tomorrow's concert at the Apollo, Hammersmith, is sold out but there is an extra date next Friday. Box Office: 071- 416 6080. The CD is on the Grapevine label in Britain