A profoundly moving singer, Ireland's Maura O'Connell with her big voice that rings with centuries of Gaelic tradition can soar from a small romantic whisper to full-throated passion in a single note. She spent a couple of years fronting the Irish traditional group De Danaan before going to Nashville to record solo LPs, all of them hits in her native country. The second was released in America two years ago under the title Helpless Heart. Far closer to folk than country, that album was a collection of acoustic music that, lovely as it was, sounded like a cross between folkabilly singer Nanci Griffith and pop songstress Karla Bonoff, though with an added Irish brogue. This new album, A Real Life Story, is entirely original; it takes a progressive turn toward a fuller, more urban sound, with songs by the likes of John Hiatt (''When We Ran'') and Tom Waits (''Broken Bicycles''). Whether singing of the pain and power of love and loss or addressing political unrest in Ireland (''Guns of Love''), O'Connell proves a marvelous vocal actress. She is a woman who takes no detours to the heart.