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Sweet-Singing Irish Colleen

What's a sweet-singing Irish colleen like Bríd Dower doing working as a computer geek in Phoenix?

In the early '90s, Dower's employer, the technology giant Honeywell International, shipped her from her hometown of Waterford, Ireland, to the American southwest for some temporary IT contract work. Dower fell in love with the desert, got a green card and stayed.

"There's just something about the Arizona winters," she said last weekend by phone from her home in the 480 area code. "We've been here now going on 14 years. I'm practically a native."

But husband Graham Byrne wasn't all that Dower brought over from the Emerald Isle. She came equipped with a hauntingly beautiful singing voice and a passion for traditional Irish song, which she has put to good use in the burgeoning Phoenix Irish-music scene.

Dower will perform for the first time in Tucson this week as opening act for renowned Irish musicians Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill.

Bríd Dower--her first name, more or less pronounced "breed," is the Gaelic form of Bridget--has been singing since she was a child. She started doing so in public when she would appear in school functions, she said.

In her teens, she began busking in the streets of Waterford. "I did it with a partner of mine, because we were so poor ... that we needed some money to make it through the summer. We got our first paying pub gig because of that."

Soon, she was performing in pubs around her city and pretty much throughout Ireland. But by the time she was 22, she was also working for Honeywell, which sent her to Phoenix. She still works for the global corporation.

Dower, now 35, has been one of the leading lights in Irish music in the Phoenix metrosprawl for about a decade. Soon after immigrating, she began singing with the Irish rock group Ashling, which was received enthusiastically by the Irish community in the Valley of the Sun. The audience for Irish music, however, often was particular.

"A lot of the early times here in Phoenix, I spent singing pub songs, drinking songs and the lot. That's what people often wanted to hear. But as I got a bit older, I started to get a hankering for the older traditional songs that I used to hear growing up in Ireland."

Her desire to perform traditional material sometimes presented a challenge. "I would pick traditional folk and Irish and Celtic songs that meant a lot to me but weren't as well known by the listeners. It can be so difficult to capture an audience with those songs that sometimes, I tend explain things a little bit too often and too much on stage. But it's important for me to make it clear to the audience what the music means and why it's important to Irish culture, and why it's important to me."

Among the female Irish singers who have inspired Dower by taking traditional music to the general audience are such noted performers as Karan Casey, Niamh Parsons, Mary Black and Maura O'Connell, she said.

Traditional Irish music has always been as important to the Irish culture as is literature, and for many it is a part of every-day life.

"I know that for myself, I didn't really appreciate Irish music until I had been away from it for a while. Also, it's one thing to sing songs about the immigrant experience, but it's another to have the experience of being a stranger that has come over from different country."

Eventually, it became evident that a solo career was in the offing, and in 2003, it produced her debut CD, Comings and Goings. Dower didn't work much at promoting the record, though, until recently. Her daughter, Maeve, was born one week after the CD was released.

"I was pregnant most of the way through the recording of the CD, which started around November 2002. By the time the CD arrived, she arrived a week later. The CD just didn't get as much attention at the time as it should have."

Dower took nine months off from performing and didn't begin to think about promoting the CD until last year. Now, the 16-month-old Maeve can give up her mom for the occasional gig.

Although Dower often performs in Phoenix with a full band, including a rhythm section, her show here will rely on a smaller group. She will be accompanied by flute and whistle ace John Good (from Wales) and guitarist Tom Bertling (from Ohio).

The Bríd Dower Trio will open the show for Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11, at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets cost $16 and $18; they're available in at the ATC box office, Antigone Books and at www.arizonatheatre.org. Call 622-2823 for information.

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