Shauna Burns Album More New Age than Celtic

Red Rock Music 7007
* * ½

I’m not sure if this is a bad album I like more than I should, or a really good one I like less than is warranted. Las Vegas-based singer Shauna Burns is often cited as a “Celtic folk rock” singer, but the out-of-fashion label “New Age” suits her best. She places her soprano in a mix of piano, harp, cello, guitar, and percussion akin to Celtic chanteuses such as Loreena McKennitt and Connie Dover, but with the moodiness of Tori Amos and the atmosphere-over-lyrics ethos of Enya. The album’s 14 songs are originals and there’s nothing particularly Celtic, folk, or rock about any of them. The songs that work well–the fragile “Orchid” and the understated “See Her Again”–do so because they are less orchestrated pieces and ring with honest emotion rather than enveloping us in a studio-enhanced aura. The album’s strongest track, “Portobello,” enchants because James Clark’s hand drums add a jumpy counter to the rain-like piano notes.

There are many beautiful soprano voices and Ms. Burns’ is among them. Alas, there are not many clear sopranos and she does not reside in that august company. The instrumental feel is lush and Burns simply can’t sing through, across, and above the mix like Loreena McKennitt. The songs are spiritual and mysterious, but you’ll experience this from the way the arrangements feel rather than the lyrics. (Good luck reading the latter, which are printed in 2-point cursive.) Like many of Enya’s projects, what we hear are vocalizations rather than vocals–impressionistic voice that creates soundscapes evocative of everywhere and nowhere. Violet is a lovely background album that impresses upon first listen, but like much New Age music, it doesn’t get better when we listen carefully. Don’t get me wrong; I like Enya and this album, but I have to be in the mood because mood is all they give us. Poetry? The universal human condition? These may be there, but there are too many layers and not enough articulation between delivery and reception. And there’s not an ounce of beat-down-boogie rock, so don't even look for it.  Violet is an album with a lot of shading, but not much color. --Rob Weir

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