Maura O’Connell

Irish-born O’Connell has released her most coherent stateside album yet. Credit producer Ray Kennedy’s emphasis on streamlined guitar works to provide the right grit to complement O’Connell’s considerable alto pipes. Backups Mary Ann Kennedy, Pam Rose, Kim Richey and Patty Griffin sound like real singers and not an ethereal choir, a problem on O’Connell’s previous work. O’Connell illuminates the soul of each song here, especially Griffin’s Guthriesque “Poor Man’s House,” along with the impossibly sad “Long Ride Home” with its Lucinda Williams feel. But she saves her best for three great numbers that close the CD: “Blessing,” built on Irish aphorisms with a subtle touch of Uilleann pipes, “To the Homeland” with its dark longings, and a slowed-down version of John Prine’s Carter Family-like “Sleepy-Eyed Boy.” It’s a melancholic finale, proving that great interpreters are as valuable as singer-songwriters.