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All Music Guide:
Maura O'Connell embodies many paradoxes: lead singer for De Danann, she was not a traditional Celtic singer; resident of Nashville, she is not American; collaborator with New Grass Revival, she is not a bluegrass performer. Nevertheless, O'Connell has made a name for herself on two continents as a superb singer. O'Connell was born and raised in County Clare, Ireland, where she began singing at an early age. Involvement in the folk club scene led to an invitation from Celtic traditionalists De Danann to join their ranks. Her involvement with De Danann resulted in the recording of Star-Spangled Mollie, a clear indication of interest in transatlantic culture. O'Connell then began to collaborate with members of New Grass Revival, and in particular with Béla Fleck, who produced several of her tracks. Together with Fleck and others, she recorded Just in Time and made the decision to settle in Nashville, Tennessee. Since then, she has released Helpless Heart, Blue Is the Colour of Hope, and Real Life Story, each album registering a move toward a pop synthesis. Stories followed in 1995, with Wandering Home appearing two years later. As the new millennium unfolded, O'Connell signed with Sugar Hill in late 2000 and began working on her seventh album. Instead of working with her longtime producer Jerry Douglas, O'Connell had Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams) produce Walls & Windows, which was released in 2001. Don't I Know was issued in 2004 and the a cappella album Naked with Friends followed in 2009.
Maura O'Connell (16 September 1958) is an Irish singer and actress. She is known for her contemporary interpretations of Irish folk songs, strongly influenced by American country music.
O'Connell was born in Ennis, the main town in County Clare, in the west of Ireland. Born into a very musical family, the third of four sisters. Her mother's family owned Costello's fish shop in Ennis where Maura worked, until music became her full-time career. She grew up listening to her mother’s light opera, opera, and parlor song records. Her father's interest leaned towards the rebel ballads. Despite the presence of classical music in the house, O'Connell got very involved in the local folk club scene and together with Mike Hanrahan, who later fronted trad/rock outfit Stockton's Wing, they performed, a country music set, as a duo called 'Tumbleweed'.
O'Connell attended St Joseph's Secondary School, Spanish Point in the period 1971-1974 where she took part in the school choir. She was also part of the "Cúl Aodha Choir", led by Peader Ó Riada, that sang at the funeral of Willie Clancy in 1973.
Musical career 
Solo career 
O'Connell began her professional musical journey during a six-week tour of the U.S. in 1980, as vocalist for the traditionally-based Celtic group De Dannan. The following year, she was featured on the band's landmark album, The Star Spangled Molly, (where she has the lead vocals on four tracks) which became something of a national phenomenon in her homeland. However, not long after joining the group she became very interested in the experimental roots music of America's New Grass Revival when the bands' paths crossed, and moved to the U.S. in 1986, settling in Nashville, Tennessee. There she met newgrass pioneers Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas, with whom she’d work on most of her records.
She recorded her first solo album in 1983, however, it didn't make any impact in Ireland or in the United States. O’Connell received a Grammy nomination for her 1989 album, Helpless Heart, which was her first record released under Warner Bros. Records. Real Life Story (1991), and Blue is the Colour of Hope (1992), registered a move toward a pop synthesis. O'Connell's versions of "Living In These Troubled Times" and Cheryl Wheeler's "Summer Fly" became standout tracks on the 1993 album A Woman's Heart, on four all-female overseas tours and on the 1994 follow-up album in her homeland. A Woman's Heart Vol. 2 features her heartfelt renditions of Nanci Griffith's "Trouble in the Fields" and Gerry O'Beirne's "Western Highway." After numerous album heavily inspired by American newgrass music, O’Connell returned to her Irish roots with the 1997 release, Wandering Home.
As the new millennium approached, O'Connell signed with the Sugar Hill label in late 2000 and began working on her seventh album. Instead of working with her longtime producer Jerry Douglas, O'Connell had Ray Kennedy (who worked with Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams) produce Walls and Windows, which was released in 2001, and featured an eclectic collection of songs, including work by Kim Richey, Van Morrison, John Prine, Eric Clapton and Patty Griffin. Her 2004 album, Don't I Know, contained musical textures added by everything from fiddles, to clavinets, to lap steel and B-3 organ.
The 2009 album, Naked With Friends, is Maura’s first a cappella album. Guest vocalists include: Mary Black, Paul Brady, Moya Brennan, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Tim O'Brien, Dolly Parton, Sarah Dugas, Kate Rusby and Darrell Scott. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Other work 
In addition to her solo work, O'Connell has collaborated with a number of Celtic, folk, pop and country artists, including Van Morrison, Brian Kennedy, Moya Brennan, Mary Black, John Prine, Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien, John Gorka, Bela Fleck, Robert Earl Keen, Dolly Parton and Shawn Colvin. She has also sung background vocals for a number of artists, including Van Morrison's 1988 project with the Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat and Stockton's Wing on Take A Chance (Tara3004).
Aside from the music world, Martin Scorsese cast O'Connell, scruffed up for the role, as an Irish migrant street singer in his 19th century epic The Gangs of New York, released in 2002.