Call me old-fashioned, but I think most of the best voices in the world come out of folk singers. Maybe that’s just because you can actually HEAR the singing, instead of the beats or the effects (which both have their places in my heart, don’t get me wrong). Over the last year I’ve immersed myself in the Pacific Northwest’s stellar Celtic folk music scene, and Colleen Raney has been the clear standout on my playlists and concert-going schedule. I’ma let you finish, but her voice is the best one I’ve heard in years.
Musicians don’t come with much more history in the craft than Colleen. She’s been singing for more than two decades, and has been immersed in America’s Celtic music and dance scene for three. Raised in Seattle, previously based in New York and now calling Portland home, Raney has studied and performed Irish music in more places and for longer than most musicians do in the span of their entire careers.
She has self-released three albums since 2008, her first projects independent of her formidable Irish-American family, who are giants in the Celtic cultural scene in Seattle. 2008’s Linnet was produced by Portland flautist Hanz Araki, who played with Colleen on that and her next album, this year’s Lark, which Colleen co-produced. Both albums feature original songwriting and arrangements in conjunction with traditional tunes, which are where her voice comes most stunningly to life. She lilts and trills and belts; I’ve seen her silence a crowded pub two lines into a lullaby without asking for quiet. If you’re lucky, she’ll pull out a bodhrán (Irish frame drum) for a few songs. Her rotating set of collaborators (Northwest music staples in their own right) includes guitarists Casey Neill and Colm MacCárthaigh, with whom she just released a gorgeous duo cd, Cuan, and mandolinist Zak Borden.
Here’s a video from a 2009 performance of “Geordie”, which is one of my favorites. You may also notice she has the most infectious laugh ever of all time, but that’s neither here nor there.
Colleen’s voice, musicianship, and stage presence are all stronger now than ever, and her band is never anything short of seamless. She mentioned once at a show that she wanted to start writing country music, which I am calling her out on for the whole internet to read. If there’s a voice I want to hear tackle Celtic folk AND twangy bluegrass, it’s hers. Eyes and ears on you, Raney! For info on Colleen’s tour schedule (she’s touring right now!!) and discography, visit here.