Ladies sing the blues

TAKE three girls was once the title of a popular TV series. But the phrase serves now to introduce latest music making by a couple of truly feisty women and one who sings with angels.

After the best part of half a century, Marianne Faithfull's "I don't really do conventional" mantra rings true as ever. And next year sees her 23rd solo album.

Recorded in New Orleans, the sonically-stunning Horses and High Heels album (on Dramatico) charts musical light years covered since her ethereal 1964 debut on the Jagger-Richards As tears go by.

Against salacious headlines of the time, and the general indulgences of the era, the one-time convent girl has persevered to be taken seriously as a scorched-earth torch singer and songwriter of note.

As befits a diva now in her 60s she calls in favours from chums. Hence the four co-written originals and eight cover versions variously graced by the likes of Lou Reed (two cameo guitar appearances) and Dr John on keyboards.

Another rebel who has exorcised demons through song -- and the more recent penning of a no-holds-barred autobiography Bloody Sunday, my story -- is Ireland's Mary Coughlan whose rare as hens' teeth concert appearances never seem to happen here, alas.

So make the most of The house of ill repute, the Galway singer's latest collection from Rubyworks —— a dozen songs where themes of lust and disillusion, mischief and melancholy vie powerfully for repeated hearings.

Treatments veer from raw-edged to full-blown blues by way of the brittleness of burlesque. And that voice copes with every challenge this accomplished torch singer cares to throw at it.

Her life story (published by Hachette of Ireland) is every bit as uncompromising as Coughlan's songbook. It parades sexual abuse, various addictions suicide bids, psychiatric admissions, failed marriage and emotional abandonment of her children.

Extremeexperiences by any standards, but somehow also a wake-up call to the principal player to find the strength to claw back her sanity. And maybe as importantly, her music too.

In the case of the tragic Eva Cassidy, acoustic music is the simple message. The title of a new album next month from Blix is Simply Eva and its focus set squarely on her seamless vocals and superb guitar work.

These are previously unreleased performances (apart from a redefining version of San Francisco Bay blues straight from the original tape and offering timeless songs in all their breath-catching beauty.The girl is gone yet not, somehow, lost for ever.