The French word terroir roughly translates as soil. But it means much more. It is the unique and alchemic ingredient in great wine; it is the mystery-filled expression of what makes one parcel of this earth different from another.
A sense of terroir pervades Maura O'Connell's singing in all its colourful shades and varying moods. At the core of her voice is a connection to her roots in the vivid musical landscape of her native County Clare. Whatever song Maura takes on, be it country, bluegrass, new grass, traditional Irish, modern folk, old-timey or whatever, she imbues it with the natural warmth and empathy of a great singer, a great Irish singer.
She no longer lives in Ireland. Nashville is now her home and the community of musicians there have become a second family for her. But though she lives many thousands of miles away the terroir of her voice continues to define her, the characteristic inflections that act like a signature through each album of varying vintage.
These 19 tracks cover her solo career after her fledgling but impressive entry with legendary Irish traditional group De Danann. Even their eclectic repertoire was too constraining for O'Connell and she forged our on her own, releasing 10 solo albums since 1981. While not the most fevered output -- O'Connell has always been more interested in quality not quantity -- many of these tracks have become seasoned favourites at home and abroad.
It is not surprising. There is a timelessness to tracks such as the ebullient Irish-American parlour song My Irish Molly-O and her evocative readings of other traditional material such as Down By the Salley Gardens and The Water Is Wide. But O'Connell has always had a good ear for contemporary Irish songs as well. Paul Brady, Jimmy MacCarthy, Gerry O'Beirne and Charlie McGettigan are represented here while her rendering of classics by the likes of Lennon/McCartney and Van Morrison is rightly celebrated. And while O'Connell has remained uniquely Irish she has also embraced the music of her adopted country with songs included here by Cheryl Wheeler, Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Nanci Griffith and performances by players of the calibre of longtime collaborator, dobro master Jerry Douglas.
Greatest hits compilations often represent the end point of an artist's career, the last hurrah of a once-fashionable career. This is not the case for Maura O'Connell. Her voice defies fashion and ignores trends. And although not a prolific writer herself, she reaches inside songs by others to give performances grounded in emotional honesty, empathy and intelligence.
Ten albums, almost 25 years. The years hurry by but Maura O'Connell's soundtrack has had it moments and who would bet against many more to come?
--from the liner notes by Joe Breen