I have been listening to and writing about independently produced music for more years than I care to remember. And it's still a mystery to me why some performers attract a large audience while others enjoy more of a cult following. Carol Noonan is one of those artists who has been able to capture listeners at both ends of the spectrum. As the lead singer of the successful band Knots and Crosses in the 1990's, she rose to a level of stardom that few in the acoustic music world manage to achieve. As a solo artist, she started out with Rounder Records and has gone on to write and record some of her best work on her own independent label.
Her voice is as instantly recognizable as that of Joan Baez or Sandy Denny. And she stands with those icons of modern folk not only because of the unique beauty of her voice, but because of the way she has been able to embrace traditional folk to create a vibrant, contemporary sound. The original music she has created from her days with Knots and Crosses , through the songs she as written to fulfill her dream of a performing arts center in rural Maine, stands with the best work of the premier songwriters of the era.
It is timely that Noonan has released a retrospective of her independent, solo work in her newest recording, Carol Noonan Sampler, Volume One. The sampler contains fourteen cuts from her six recordings on the Noonan Music label. And then there is the added bonus of two spoken pieces not recorded elsewhere.
Noonan grabs you from the start with the Civil War styled love song Emma, an original tune from her CD Somebody's Darling. It's a letter written in song from a woman to her soldier sweetheart off fighting in the War Between the States circa 1862. Touching and timeless, Noonan's voice moves us with the simple emotions of longing and love.
The haunting beauty of Noonan's voice is nowhere more evident than in the two jewels captured here — Lost Soul and Unquiet Grave — from her first solo release, the self-titled Carol Noonan. Love won and then lost, love beyond the grave, and the nature of true love are the timeless themes explored here.
Then there is the funny, raucous Carol Noonan who is well-known to those who come to her live performances. Noonan's Maine woods humor is on display in her telling of the tale Punkin, the pot-bellied watch pig. And the sentimental Noonan we all know is here as well, in her spoken piece A St. Patty's Day Thought, which is a tribute to the memory of her father.
And finally, Noonan delivers an unforgettable version of the traditional Irish tune Danny Boy. And you see that you don't need to be an Irish tenor to move an audience with this great and wonderful song. Noonan's vibrato is simply stunning.
The fourteen cuts on Carol Noonan Sampler, Volume One represent some of the best of Noonan's solo work. From one tune to the next, you are struck that you are listening to one of the seminal artists of the contemporary folk era. Noonan's work is timeless. Her voice is a gift of incredible beauty. May there be many volumes of samplers like this in the years to come.
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