Prime Cuts: 500 Miles, Feet of a Dancer, I Still Miss Someone
Overall grade: 5/5
Harpist/violinist Orla Fallon's latest effort "Sweet By and By" is beautiful. Fallon, who was part of the international phenom Celtic Woman from 2005 to 2009, has a voice that is simply enchanting. Possessing the angelic finesse of Alison Krauss with the tenacity of a demurred Celine Dion, her lovely vocal timbres are just heaven-sent. Sonically, this album consists of ballads executed in a warm, relaxing and soothing tone. Though the Celtic cultural ambiance is present, it is not accelerated to the Riverdance theatrical velocity as what we hear on the music of her former girl band. Rather, this is the type of record you want to listen to after a hard day's work or if you want some pick-me-up done to your discouraged soul.
Though marketed as a Christian product and licensed under the Gaither music imprint, "Sweet By and By" isn't strictly a Christian album. A third of the record consists of hymns, a third of them are standard love songs from yesteryears and the remaining third are inspirational/folk numbers. The album begins on a plaintive pace with the 1960s folk revivalist's "500 Miles," a song about a forlorn soldier out of money and ashamed to return home. Fallon brilliantly acts as a foil of comfort for this dispirited soldier with her careful phrasing and her gentle tone. Then without any introduction she subtlety segues into a soothing rendition of "Amazing Grace" as if to suggest that such desperation can only cease in the grace of God.
If there's ever a perfect take of Maura O'connell's "Feet of a Dancer," it's Fallon's. Gorgeously capturing the innocence of the song balanced with a bouncy optimism, this prayer of a mother for her unborn child literally comes to life. Speaking of songs sung by moms, don't miss the acoustic-guitar-led "Remember Me," an encouraging and affirming lullaby. Fallon's Irish background is foregrounded with those Titanic-style flutes on Bill Gaither's "Because He Lives." She then showcases her vocal prowess in a measuredly majestic rendition of the evergreen church hymn "How Great Thou Art."
Fallon goes country by delivering a breezy version of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone," rivalling Emmylou Harris and Martina McBride for the best cover of this classic. Then she goes even more rustic with "I'll Fly Away." Teaming up new country trio the Railers, Fallon shows her versatility by delving in a song surrounded by banjos and dobro.
This album, in short, canvases quite a few genres of music, from Celtic folk to country to Christian hymns, yet what ties everything together is Fallon's vocals. Without ever being overly dramatic, her sensitive and heartfelt vocals have ways of portraying comfort in ways that are palatable and alluring. In fact, so alluring that you want to listen to this disc again and again.