Album review: Heidi Talbot glides through ‘Angels Without Wings’

Heidi Talbot
“Angels Without Wings”
Compass Records

Here’s how every review of Heidi Talbot opens: Talbot is from County Kildare, Ireland, and famously was a member of the Irish-American all-female supergroup Cherish the Ladies.

“Super group” seems to be an important term, and is so often used that it seems like part of the band name. And County Kildare seems a very big deal, for whatever reason. The reviews for her new album, “Angels Without Wings,” likewise will all tell you in the first paragraph that Jerry Douglas and Mark Knopfler play on this disc, so there now I’ve done it too.

More importantly, though, is that it’s a really nice collection of new songs from a seasoned performer and writer. While Douglas and Knopfler are the big names that guest here, their presence is so mild as to be non-existent. Better is the inclusion Dirk Powell’s fiddle and banjo on “Dearest Johnny,” and Tim O’Brien who lends his voice in a very noticeable and lovely way on “Wine and Roses” and “When the Roses Come Again.”

And, indeed, the wealth of the material here is lovely. Talbot’s voice is a draw, one that is both strong and delicate, often impossibly at the same time. Her phrasing comes from traditional Irish music, the genre within which she has made a career, though here she branches out. The guest musicians too hearken to the transatlantic sessions O’Brien and Douglas have taken part in at the request of the BBC, and Talbot’s goal seems to be the same as well: to shift the focus a bit from the highly traditional sounds of Ireland and to tease out the commonalities between that music and traditional North American music.

This is her fifth album as a solo artist, though just the second that includes only original material. It also presents a broader range of sounds than her previous albums have, from Parisian accordion on “Angels without Wings” to a feel that echoes ’50s pop on “I’m Not Sorry.” There are many arching melodies that we associate with Irish singing, though “Will I Ever Get to Sleep?” has a bounce that is more US than UK, though with a beautiful pipes part played by Michael McGoldrick that reminds us what we are listening to. That song stands out, as does “The Loneliest,” a sparse vocal piece that will rightly get a lot of attention.

But, really everything here is a strength, and if you haven’t been familiar with Heidi Talbot, this album makes the perfect introduction to an impressive talent. (And did I mention she’s from County Kildare? Apparently, she really is…).

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