Issue 23 09/2002
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Aly Bain & Ale Möller "Fully Rigged"
Label: Whirlie; CD7; Playing time: 48 min
Aly Bain is well known to fans of fiddle music. Here he plays tunes from his
native Shetland, with a handful of Swedish melodies thrown in. World famous
in Sweden, the name of multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller may ring a bell
for those who remember Filarfolket: on this recording he accompanies Aly on
mandola and various wind instruments, and contributes two fine compositions.
Aly's fiddling is fabulous, with lightning fingers and an amazingly rich tone.
Apart from that, there isn't a lot to say. The tunes are top quality, beautifully
combined: ancient and powerful Shetland reels alternate with those slightly
ethereal slow airs born in Nordic isolation to create a larger-than-life, almost
mythic sound. Da Foula Reel is a good example, with its simple rhythm
and repetitive melody inducing a light trance, accentuated by the mediaeval
continuo from Ale on reed pipes.
For those familiar with Aly Bain's repertoire, there are reprises of some old
favourites here: the great Shetland yule air Da Day Dawn, a new version
of the sword dance from Papa Stour, and the honorary Shetland showpieces Reel
du Pendu and Bonaparte's Retreat amongst others. For the rest of
you, these are all treats in store. There are also plenty of less familiar gems:
a mill tune from Jos, some heartbreaking Swedish waltzes, and some less well
known Shetland tunes such as Da Dykes o' Voe and Maggie o' Ham.
Polished and professional from start to finish, with great sleeve notes, this
is a very fine CD indeed. If I have a criticism, it's that things are played
a little too safe at times: not quite enough bite in the reels, too regular
a rhythm in some of the slower tunes. There's also a slightly tinny edge to
the mandola on some tracks. To be fair, in an album by almost anyone else I
probably wouldn't even mention such trifles. They're like tiny white clouds
which briefly obscure the sun on an otherwise perfect summer's day: you notice
them vaguely if at all, and they certainly wouldn't force you inside when everything
else is so pleasant. Just enjoy the sunshine.
Grainne Hambly "Between the Showers"
Label: Shamrock Records, 1050-2
Gráinne Hambly is a young harpist from County Mayo with a long apprenticeship
in traditional music and a couple of music degrees under her belt. She has been
a member of the Belfast Harp Orchestra for a surprisingly long time, recording
with them and with other groups, but Between the Showers is her solo
debut. This is a true solo album, featuring nothing but the neo-Irish harp without
even any double-tracking, and it contains over an hour of exquisite music. There
are just two duet tracks, one with harpist sister Róisin and the other
with guitarist Peter Ratzenbeck who composed the title track.
If I were a young harpist, I'd be delighted with this recording. The fingering
is deft and lively, the tunes are varied and well chosen, and the sound quality
is excellent. The harp is not the easiest of instruments to record, and this
album captures both the bell-like purity and the deep resonances of this ancient
instrument. Full marks to the engineers at Green Dolphin studios in Belfast.
As you'd expect, there's a high proportion of slow tunes here. About half the
19 tracks start slow, but some of them finish fast. Gráinne's playing
is at its best on some of these airs: her interpretation of Inis Oirr
is out of this world, and the slow version of Brendan McGlinchey's Splendid
Isolation is equally angelic. A couple of lesser-known Carolan compositions
are given fine treatments, and the two modern waltzes are welcome additions
to the harp repertoire. But Gráinne doesn't shy away from the quicker
forms of Irish music. The opening track is a spirited frolic through a pair
of fine traditional reels, and there are plenty more reels and jigs before the
finish, as well as the odd hornpipe, set dance, or fling. The album ends as
it began, with a pair of heavyweight traditional reels that present no problems
to Gráinne's nimble fingers.
This is an exceptionally good album. I know I've said that about a lot of CDs
recently, but it's true: musicians are getting better and better! If you have
any interest in Irish harp music, this is a recording you should have and Gráinne
Hambly is a name you should look out for.
Shamrock Records is a relatively obscure Austrian label which doesn't seem
to have a website, but fortunately Gráinne does: http://grainne.harp.net
is her site, and firstname.lastname@example.org is her
email address. Drop her a line to say how much you enjoyed her CD: I did.
Hoogie "Just for the Halibut"
Label: Kylin Studios, KSCD 007; 2001
These guys will blow your socks off. Hoogie is a quartet of musicians from the
vibrant Edinburgh music scene, this is their second recording, and both are
outstandingly good. The combination of fiddle, pipes and accordeon is ideal
for traditional tunes, but also works well here for some much more modern material.
The back line of guitar, bass and drums is flexible and tasteful. The three
songs on this recording are a mixed bag, with a traditional Scottish ballad,
an old Gaelic lament, and a recent composition from Hoogie's guitarist: all
three are nicely sung and expertly arranged, although most of the vocals come
from guest singers.
The album title is hugely appropriate. Hoogie seem to have thrown an enormous
range of music onto this CD, to see what happened. The opening set of reels
on fiddle and box, against a rich modern background, is followed by a sumptuous
Scottish waltz in the style of Blair Douglas or Sandy Brechin, and then the
idiom shifts away from the contemporary: a traditional song that owes much to
Ossian, a fine fiddle solo with ringing strings, and a set of Breton Larides
with the pipes coming in half way through like a vacuum cleaner. Things start
to build up again with a set of extremely bouncy reels, then a medley of dance
tunes over slap bass and percussion, then a lovely slow air with a terrible
name, and into the gorgeous Gaelic song Braigh Loch Iall which gets a
dramatic but sympathetic treatment.
Still with me? There are another seven tracks to go in this hour-long outburst,
including an unannounced bonus, but there are a couple of other things I want
First, Hoogie's musicianship is top class. Most of the tunes have been written
and arranged by the band to a stunningly high standard. Hoogie's technical brilliance
is equally high, particularly on the accordeon. I learnt about this CD because
box supremo Sandy Brechin included it in his 2001 favourites, and it's not hard
to see why.
Second, the taste and understanding shown on this recording is exemplary. With
a broad mix of styles and lots of guest musicians, this could have been an unremarkable
and disjointed CD, but instead there's a consistency and coherence which connects
all the different tracks. The only oddball is perhaps the midatlantic song Find
You which isn't really from the same stable.
Last, it's obvious that Hoogie had great fun recording this material. Just
for the Halibut is extremely enjoyable, not just because of all the corny
jokes. I've rarely heard music with more bounce, and the combination of this
with Hoogie's tight sound and sound technique is a definite winner.
If you want to know more, visit www.hoogie.co.uk
- maybe you'll even find an explanation for the name.
Frankie Gavin "Fierce Traditional"
Frankie Gavin is one of the finest fiddlers of the early 20th century, no mean
achievement for a man who wasn't even born until 1956. To compensate for not
getting born in time, Frankie has led a small but significant movement to recreate
the style and sound of Irish music from early recordings. Frankie Gavin and
De Dannan, John Carty and At The Racket, and one or two others, have brought
the music of Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Patsy Touhey and others back to
life in recent years, helped by the sterling work of archivists and restorers
of old recordings. This new recording is unsurpassed in both technical and artistic
merit. The sleeve notes give detailed information on written sources and early
performances, and most of the generous eighteen tracks have that crisp, no-nonsense
flamboyance associated with the early recording stars of Irish music.
There are some modern touches, of course. Gone are the crackles and pops of
the old 78s, and the tunes needn't be played at breakneck speed because nowadays
the wire won't run out in a hurry. There's also a greater depth of tone: today's
musicians may have the benefit of better instruments or better maintenance,
or the difference may all be due to the ravages of time. It would be fascinating
to compare this CD with a pristine recording from the 1930s, or even a recording
of Morrison or Coleman made with today's technology: perhaps their tone would
be as good or even better.
In 56 minutes (one for every year Frankie missed of the 20th century), Fierce
Traditional reworks some of the most well-known and oft- recorded tunes
in Irish history: The Foxhunter's, The Flogging, The Mason's Apron, The Wheels
of the World, Lucy Campbell, Jenny Picking Cockles, and that's just the
reels. There's no elaborate modern production, just Frankie with Brian McGrath
(piano and banjos), familiar sideman Alec Finn (bouzouki), and brother Sean
Gavin on the button box. There's a bit of double-tracking to get Frankie's flute
and fiddle onto some tracks, but that's as fancy as it gets. And the results
are magnificent: the dance music is full of vigour, the slow airs are bittersweet
like the memories they represent, and it's all as fresh as if it had never been
heard before - even The Mason's Apron!
Slainte Mhat "Va"
(for Europe), CDTRAX 229, 2002, Playing time: 50 min
This young Nova Scotian outfit has taken three years to follow their excellent
debut album. Slainte Mhath have something of a reputation for perfectionism,
and the production and packaging here certainly reflect that. They also have
difficulty getting people to pronounce their name correctly, hence the album
Since 1999 there have been a few changes in the Slainte Mhath sound. Ace piper
Bruce MacPhee has left them, to be replaced by John of that ilk. Bruce was a
true piping prodigy: John's style is rather less flamboyant and certainly not
as crisp, but he comes close at times, particularly on Garret Barry's Jig
and Steve Young's evocative tune Magnus Memory. Virtuoso keyboards player
Ryan MacNeil is still a major determinant of the overall style, and the percussion
and twin fiddles are likewise unchanged, but the arrangements have become noticeably
more contemporary and high-tech. Distorted speech is mixed into several tracks,
synthesisers pop up here and there, and the general feel is of a relatively
expensive modern production.
About eighty percent of the material on Va is broadly traditional. Most
of that is Irish, ranging from Donal Lunny's Tolka Polka to the classic
session tune The Silver Spear. The guitar solo on The Farmer Killled
His Ox Today is uncannily similar to early recordings by Arty McGlynn. Scottish
music is also well represented with tunes by Gordon Duncan, Ian Hardie, William
Marshall and others. There's a noticeable Cape Breton flavour to the whole thing,
although there are none of the big Cape Breton medleys. Many of the tunes are
Cape Breton versions, often adapted for the pipes. The fiddles do their share
of the driving too: the one brief medley of nine reels and strathspeys is a
mini fiddle showcase, and they're also well to the fore on the more modern tracks
(with the exception of Attack of the Flying Slugs).
Slainte Mhath made a big splash with their first recording. Their second could
create even more waves, especially with a younger audience. There are clear
differences between this album and Slainte Mhath's debut. The first one had
a wee bit more fire, this one's more thoughtful. The piping was very impressive
on their debut CD, but Va is in some ways more rounded. Why choose? Get
Homepage of the artist: www.slaintemhat.com,
contact to artist: email@example.com,
contact to label: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alan & John Kelly "Fourmilehouse"
Box Music; BBM2003; Playing time: 47 min
Alan Kelly is a fast-fingered phenomenon from Roscommon with two excellent solo
recordings to his name. Here he's joined by baby brother John on flutes and
whistles, and it turns out that the Kelly musical genes were shared pretty evenly.
Alan has previously exploited the versatility of his piano accordeon to dabble
in foreign and exotic musics, but there's none of that on Fourmilehouse:
this is the proverbial pure drop, as distilled by Paddy O'Brien, Paddy Ryan,
Patsy Hanley, and many other fine traditional musicians including these boys'
father Frank Kelly. The accompaniment here is generally low key, and always
in keeping with the tunes.
The tunes themselves are a healthy mix of old and new. A toe-tapping set of
reels including The Boys of Portaferry is followed by some gentle ambling
jigs. A particularly fine rendition of Lady on the Island precedes a
pair of expressive slow reels. Another set of jigs features Liz Carroll's Diplodocus,
the first of two American compositions: Billy McComskey's Palm Tree Reel
is given a sparkling whistle treatment later on, alongside the lovely Pleasures
of Hope hornpipe.
The only slow track is Alan's showpiece, The Parting Glass and a wonderful
half-speed version of The Duke of Leinster. Another highlight has to
be John's version of The Bush in Bloom, similar to Matt Molloy's classic
recording. Straight after it is one of my favourite hornpipes, The Mountain
Ranger. Here as elsewhere, Alan and John take turn about to start a set,
giving a varied and relaxed feel to the whole album. There are plenty of nice
touches in the later tracks, concluding with a trio of driving reels over guitar
and percussion. At times the best thing to do with guitars and percussion is
to drive over them, but in this case they complement the music perfectly.
The worst you can say about this recording is that the sleeve notes are a bit
lacking. Great tunes, mighty players, good craic, and plenty of it: let's hope
there's more where this came from.
Fourmilehouse is available from www.blackboxmusic.ie
or P.O. Box 156, Galway, Ireland.
Tim Edey "Daybreak"
Label: Gnat Bite Records; 2002; Playing time:
Tim Edey has certainly been around, despite his tender years. He's toured with
Sharon Shannon, Flook, Mike McGoldrick, Anam, Capercaillie and others, but he's
always been in the background. Daybreak brings him to the fore with a
vengeance. You won't often hear a tastier touch on the button box, and certainly
not from someone who also plays guitar, banjo, piano, bass and whistle.
As well as being a one-man ceilidh band, Tim is a prolific composer of fine
tunes. There are over a dozen Edey compositions here, and some of them are outstanding:
Baltic Arrival, New Jig, and the Reculver Polcas to name but a
Born in Kent to Irish parents, Tim is something of a showman. The opening hornpipe
is flash and fancy, with swing guitar and finger-bending melodeon. He plays
the box in a powerful punchy style, akin to the Begleys or the older Galway
musicians. Track 2 rattles through some great tunes in the West of Ireland style,
and Edey manages to make McGoldrick look dull! Tim can also turn his hand to
the slower forms: his tunes for Emma and son Nathan are masterpieces lovingly
He can also coax a few surprises out of the traditional repertoire. Track 8
includes a smashing meaty version of Congress Reel in the lower octave
which could make strong men weep, and he does ample justice to great tunes such
as George White's Favourite and The Gold Ring.
Sure, there are a few imperfections. The timing slips a little on a couple of
tracks, and some of the endings are a bit weak. On the other hand, there's over
an hour of music here with Tim frequently triple-tracking or more, plus he's
written half of it himself, and he's only 22! All in all, Daybreak is
a stunning triumph of skill and musicality, and should take Tim Edey from obscurity
to stardom. This has to be one of the best traditional albums of 2001, and one
of the biggest surprises too.
For the record, this isn't Tim's debut solo CD but the previous two are not
Daybreak is being distributed by Gael-Linn in Ireland, and can be obtained from
Gnat Bite in the UK on 07971415053, email@example.com.
April Verch "Verchuosity"
Label: Rounder; No. 7019; 2002; Playing time:
Never heard of her, right? Well you have now. Ottawan fiddler April Verch was
born with two great gifts: a musical ability that allows her to mix and match
fiddle styles from all over Canada, and a surname tailor-made for puns. At 22,
April has four albums under her belt but this is the first one to be widely
available outside Canada.
April's style makes its mark from the very first notes of Reel William Gagnol,
a Quebec version of an old Irish tune given plenty of swing and lift. This is
fiddling with flair, one eye on the tune and the other on the audience. The
showmanship continues in the New England standard Ross Reel Number 4,
which includes a Brazilian percussion solo: not quite as impressive as her inspiration
Alasdair Fraser, but loads of fun.
The waltz Britany is the first of six Verch compositions, written in
American Old Time style with similarities to Ashokan Farewell and Tennessee
Waltz, a lovely tune. Then things get more contemporary again with the jazzy
Fire When Ready, reminiscent of April's teachers Matt Glaser and Darol
Anger. A very American touch is the pan-Canadian medley which starts with archive
footage of an adolescent April on local radio, then slips deliberately into
a more mature version of the same medley. This is one of only four medleys on
Verchuosity: the other twelve tracks are all single showpiece tunes.
Before her 52 minutes are up, April covers classics from Cape Breton, Quebec,
Appalachia, Brazilian jazz, and a set of tunes by the late great Graham and
Eleanor Townsend. Mixed in with these are April's own tunes, some straight traditional,
some anything but, plus one by husband Marc Bru which balances April's waltz
Marry Me: some men just need a little hint.Thomas Reel, written
for sister Tawnya (sic), is worth the price of a CD by itself, and the Hot Club
number Sneaky would more than justify the postage and packing.
The sleeve notes would have you believe that April is the finest fiddler since
Johnny beat the Devil. I wouldn't agree with that, or with the endorsement from
T.S. Eliot, but she's certainly up there with the best musicians of her generation.
Thanks to Rounder, you can now form your own opinion. As April says, enjoy!
Verchual April is available on the web at http://www.aprilverch.com
and you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
Liz Doherty "Quare Imagination"
Label: Buzzy Lizzy Records; BLR001; 2002;
Playing time: 45 min
On her second solo album, Donegal fiddler extraordinaire Liz Doherty sqeezes
an exciting and uplifting selection of tunes from that narrow space between
bow and fiddle. Liz's music has been described as quirky, happy, bouncy, and
quare by her own admission: she's also a leading authority on the tunes and
styles of traditional music, and she puts her knowledge to good use by selecting
great music and musicians from all over the North Atlantic.
Reels are Liz's forte, and about half the tracks here demonstrate her prodigious
talent for these demanding tunes. Reels from Scotland, Canada, Orkney, and of
course Donegal, flow effortlessly from her fiddle, each with a new twist or
variation. The marriage of a rhythmic style and a bouncy personality is a happy
one, and it puts extra life into even the finest tunes. My favourites are James
Kelly's Touching Cloth, the full band sound on The Blue Lamp,
Neil Dickie's great tune The Kitchen Piper played at a blistering speed
and losing one or two notes in the process, and the entire Spirits of Wine
Jigs are also here in abundance. There's a lovely set which starts with the
slow Canadian jig Le Tourment, moves into the jazzy Pacific Avenue
from John McCusker, and finishes with a saucy little tune called Betty Anne's.
Another track groups the Donegal jig Gally's Canter with a John Doherty
version of The Irish Washerwoman and then follows the emigrants to Scotland
for Annie's Carafe.
Like many Donegal fiddlers, Liz is a rover. Her travels have allowed her to
assemble tunes and people which we wouldn't otherwise hear on an Irish album.
Michael's Mazurka from Shetland, with Eilidh Shaw on fiddle and Daniel
Lapp on trumpet, is a good example. So is The Ba' Rag, a tune from Orkney
with Canadian backing from Matt Foulds on drums, Ryan MacNeil on piano, and
Daniel Lapp again. Liz can also tell you the composers and the histories of
almost every tune, which makes for excellent sleeve notes. Add to this the skills
of producer Gerry "banjo" O'Connor and other Irish stars such as John Joe Kelly
and Manus Lunny, and you have a quare album indeed, all of it good and most
of it excellent.
Frères de Sac "Bag Brothers"
This is the first recording by Christophe and Jean-Loup Sacchettini, playing
flutes and squeeze-box respectively. Whistle wizard Christophe may be familiar
from the French folk supergroup Dédale, and baby brother Jean-Loup has
learnt his melodeon style from Dédale's leader Norbert Pignol.
The brothers Sacchettini offer us ten tracks in forty minutes. The title is
a translation of the duo's name, itself already a pun, and there is also a slightly
misleading subtitle "Bal Folk ...". A "bal folk" is like a ceilidh or a barn
dance, and although one track of Bag Brothers does feature actual dancers,
only about half the music here lends itself readily to dancing. Despite that,
it's all mighty fine stuff and it certainly gets my toes tapping.
Christophe's exceptional talents are immediately obvious. The clarity and dexterity
of his recorder playing is simply world class, comparable with Carlos Nuñez
or Dick Lee, and he can crank out a cracking bourrée on the Berry bagpipes
too. Jean-Loup's musical gifts are less apparent until one realises that he's
the composer of more than half the music on this CD: his tunes sit comfortably
beside traditional greats and modern compositions by the likes of Jon Swayne
and Jean Blanchard.
There are many highlights on this recording, particularly in the middle. My
own favourites, after repeated listening, are the two traditional bourrées
d'auvergne, and Jean-Loup's compositions Change pas d'Main and Les
Dernières Volontés d'un Danseur. The soaring sweetness of
the recorder and whistle is truly uplifting, and the tunes are enchanting.
This is a very enjoyable CD, and a brilliant debut. The accordeon shows off
its multiple personalities to great effect, and the flute sparkles on every
track. Bag Brothers is full of little twists and surprises, but I won't
spoil the fun: listen for yourself.
Available from www.mustradem.com and
well worth getting, now distributed in the UK by ADA of Belper in Derbyshire
Various Artists "Evolving Traditon 3"
Label: Mrs Casey Records, MCRCD 1002
If the previous two albums in the series are anything to go by, this should
be a pretty good predictor of the future stars of traditional music. Names such
as Kate Rusby, Luke Daniels, Eliza Carthy, Simon Thoumire, Catriona MacDonald
and Michael McGoldrick were featured on Evolving Tradition CDs 1 and
2, not to mention the Wrigleys, the Hendersons, Tabache, and Cordelia's Dad.
Many of the artists on Evolving Tradition 3 have already made quite a
name for themselves - the likes of Cara Dillon, Chris Armstrong and Malinky
are well known in certain corners of the folk music world. There are several
names here that were relatively new to me, though: Kieron Mearns, Ola, Philippe
Barnes, Talei Edwards and Emma Reid among them. The styles range from purist
to pop, from bluegrass to barndance, with well over an hour of music and song.
I'll tell you what my favourites were: not the big names, in many cases, perhaps
because I'd heard them before. Roughly two thirds of the eighteen tracks here
have been previously released, and the rest will probably make it onto another
album pretty soon.
Harpist Phamie Gow's was the first track that leapt out at me. Her lovely lively
jiggy composition Heelstergowdie is a wee gem expertly played, and was
enough to persuade me to buy her solo CD. The set of reels from NeffBros could
be straight from a Dublin session, and a good one at that: the fiddle and pipes
combination is full of raw energy, and there's bags of rhythm and musicality
too. The fjord-style fiddling of Edwards and Reid is a different beast altogether,
dark and earthy but with a power that affects those little hairs on the back
of your neck. Ola is a trio of young musicians who play music for fun. They're
technically brilliant, imaginative and well rehearsed, but the fun comes across
loud and clear. I'd go quite a long way to hear more of them. I probably won't
need to go so far to see Acaysha, an established young string band playing mountain
music and its variants: very listenable. In a similar vein, the supercharged
acoustic swing provided by The Black Cat Theory takes some beating.
Depending on your musical tastes, you may prefer the tracks by Broderick, Clive
Carroll, Brolum, Bedlam, Dr Faustus, or the trio of MacDiarmada, Fitzgerald
and Rooney whose fine debut CD I reviewed a while back. Whatever your likes
and dislikes, you should give Evolving Tradition 3 a whirl.
Johnny B. Connolly "Bridgetown"
Of the many Johnny Connollys playing the Irish button accordeon, Johnny B is
the Dubliner who played with Anam and then moved to Oregon. For the past several
years, he's been performing stateside with fiddler Kevin Burke and guitarist
Aidan Brennan who join him on this recording. The promising young box-player
on Anam's first album has matured into an accomplished performer, as his solo
On first hearing, this CD may not grab you. It took me a while to get into it,
causing some initial disappointment, but there are hidden depths here if you
take the time to listen. Johnny B has tremendous technical ability, and at times
that can take the life out of a tune. He also doesn't always pick the best material
for his talent: the two French tracks here are unnecessary low points. On the
other hand, some of the solo reels and jigs are breathtaking and the duos with
Kevin Burke are a joy to listen to.
A somewhat frugal ten tracks means only 42 minutes of music. Never mind the
quantity, feel the warmth: there's a lovely light tone throughout, and several
great moments. My favourites would be the opening set of jigs with Kevin Burke
hitting some eerie harmonies, the set dance Down the Hill with Skip Parente's
string trio, and the final thrash through The Trip to Durrow with Jim
Chapman's bouzouki tinkling away in the background.
Most of the music here is relaxed, flowing, and firmly traditional. It's great
to hear an acoustic recording with just a few guests, and no fussy arrangements.
The cover photo sums up the feel of this album: Johnny B alone in an empty room,
just playing the box for his own pleasure. It's a very intimate, very pure,
and very traditional sound. Enjoy it.
Hammy Hamilton "The Moneymusk"
Label: Ossian Publications; OSSCD120; Playing
time: 43 min.
Belfast-born fluter Colin "Hammy" Hamilton is better known as a composer and
flute-maker than as a performer. This CD, and his recent Ossian recording with
Seamus Creagh and Con O Drisceoil, should certainly change that. In actual fact,
twelve of the eighteen tracks on The Moneymusk were released on cassette
in 1990 but disappeared into obscurity except among the cognoscenti. This CD
is doubly welcome because it adds six new recordings to these older tracks.
Hammy Hamilton moved down to West Cork in the '70s to set up his flute workshop,
and he's joined here by several local musicians. Most noteworthy perhaps is
the concertina of Peadar O Riada, which features on two or three of the older
tracks. There are also a couple of flute duets with Paul McGrattan, and some
flute'n'fiddle tracks with Connie Connell, as well as several flute solos.
Hammy plays flutes in D and Eb, presumably his own products, and an Indian bansuri
in low Bb. He gets a lovely tone out of all of them, and his playing is technically
very good. The Ulster style comes through strongly, plenty of tonguing and an
emphasis on rhythmic effects. The tunes are all little gems, many of them chosen
to highlight the possibilities of the wooden flute: nothing too fancy, and plenty
of variety. The highlight of this recording has to be Hammy's two famous jigs,
The Woodcock and The Kerfunten which have become session standards,
but there's plenty more memorable music here: the title track which combines
a traditional strathspey with an old Irish hornpipe, Sarah's Reel which
Hammy wrote for his daughter, a pair of fine old jigs from the rich repertoire
of James Morrison, John Egan's great polka, a smashing reel identified as The
House on the Hill which I hadn't had a name for before, and two truly wonderful
slow airs on flute and bansuri.
You'll have gathered that I liked this album. The old and the new fit together
seamlessly to make 43 minutes of very fine flute-playing, the notes are full
and interesting, and the tunes are among the best in the tradition. What more
could you ask for?
La Bottine Souriante "Cordial"
No. 67527 02042; 2001; Playing time: 59 min
It's hard to believe that anyone still hasn't heard of La Bottine Souriante,
acclaimed by many as the best band in the world. However, just in case any readers
have been on a desert island (or in Mountjoy) for the last few years, I'll tell
you that La Bottine is a 9-piece band from Quebec, combining French Canadian
and Celtic traditional music with a large dose of swing, a brass quartet and
an irrepressible sense of humour. If you haven't heard them yet, now would be
a good time.
Over the past 25 years, La Bottine have become incredibly good at what they
do. Traditional and contemporary songs in Canadian French, accompanied and unaccompanied,
alternate with reels and airs from the rich repertoire of Quebec. This band
boasts one of Canada's best singers in Yves Lambert, as well as the incomparable
foot-tapping multi-instrumental talents of Michel Bordeleau and an unrivalled
line-up of traditional and contemporary musicians. They play everything from
barbershop to rap, kitchen session to cool jazz, and it's all excellent.
Cordial follows the success of recent albums La Mistrine and Rock'n'Reel
at pulling new styles into La Bottine's melting pot. There's a bit of Caribbean
party music, a bit of techno, and a lot of big band razzamatazz, but the core
sound is still the dance music and songs of rural Quebec. Canadian standards
like La Grondeuse and Reel de Baie St-Paul are dusted off and
souped up to fit La Bottine's sound, but in many cases this is the band that
established them as standards in the first place. In fact, there are only four
non- traditional tracks here.
There isn't really a lot more to say. I could get all misty-eyed about André
Brunet's fiddle on Suede Inn, or tell you how wryly amusing the lyrics
are on A Bas les Rideaux, but what would be the point? Like the man said,
it's all good. Brash, bouncy, brilliant and beautiful, Cordial is bound
to appeal. Try it and see.
Homepage of the artist: www.mille-pattes.com
Blyth Power "On The Viking Station"
Spiral; DR010CD; 2002; Playing time: 72.20 min
"On The Viking Station" sounded nice when listening for the first time.
After repeated attempts, getting familiar with the material, and grasping an
understanding of the songs, I must say I am nearly addicted to it. Blyth
Power (-> FW#19)
plays no folk rock by any means, even if acoustic guitar and accordion gets
out sometimes. The music is deeply rooted in post-punk and new wave. The words
are opulent and Baroque, speaking to us like an obscure poet from distant times.
Blyth Power's engine is at full speed from the beginning. Joseph
Porter is constantly at war, following Mary
Queen of Scots, Armstrong
going to war (he drank and he whored and he stayed in bed, and where
his soldiers fought and bled, he neither knew nor cared), riding with the
gang, and battling in Iceland's
fishing grounds. The Cod War along with The Falklands Conflict and Desert
Storm provided us in the latter half of the 20th century with a trilogy of Tolkienesque
complexity and splendour. Because there's more good men in The Fisherman's
Friend than all of Iceland's shores. The CD cover pictures the trademark
of Fisherman's Friends lozenges,
which are made in Fleetwood, Lancashire, just on the other side of the Pennines
Chain from Blyth Power's base in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Try a "Friend", it first
sends chills down your spine. In the end it is both tasteful and salubrious.
So is Blyth Power.
Downwarde Spiral/Blyth Power
Naer; 401; 2000; Playing time: 49.17 min
Spontus (i.e. frightening) has
been founded way back in 1996 by school friends from Auray in South Britanny.
The line-up consists of Alan Paranthoen (violin), Yann Le Bozec (bass), Ronan
Le Bozec (binioù), Youen Paranthoen (accordion), Erwn Bérenguer
(guitar), and Pascal Kermorvant (bombarde, piston). The group interprets Breton
dance music, mostly from the area of Vannes, but also original compositions.
It was their simple aim to create fest-noz music, but the group found a niche
inbetween classical fest-noz and a modern jazzfusion sort of things. The self-titled
debut album, produced by the famed accordeon legend Yann-Fañch
Perroches is a diverting listening pleasure. Even the CD package is an optical
masterpiece (but it won't fit into your CD stall). The booklet is in French
and Breton only.
Label: Own label; 2001; Playing time: 47.16
Legend has it that the town of Mulhouse (i.e. mill house) came into being one
winter's evening when a miller's daughter looked after an exhausted warrior.
However, Mulhouse's Celtic group Excalembour
took their name from another legend. The man, who is able to pull the mythical
out of a stone, was to be the rightwise king of England. Arthur succeeded. In
fact, it were French narrators who introduced the name into the Celtic-Britannic
lore. Now comes the band Excalembour, the CD cover depicting a fiddle fixed
in a rock. But the French dare to draw it, playing Celtic music, i.e. Irish
here, featuring fiddle, whistle, flute, accordion, guitar, bass and bodhran.
The odd French Canadian tune is thrown in for good measure. Add some interesting
twists, some French songs, and you get a combination of bal folk with traditional
Irish tunes. I was instantly captivated by the "Musical
Priest" reel which becomes the piano piece "Saint
Gangolph" (+760; the Burgundian martyr had been killed by a priest who had
an eye on Gangolph's wife). These are the French ways. Unbeaten tracks in South
Séamus Quinn & Gary Hastings "Slán le Loch
Label: Cló Iar-Chonnachta;
CICD 152; 2002; Playing time: 46.17 min
Numerous stories relate to Irish priests who opposed traditional crossroads
and house dancing and used to break up parties, if not breaking the instruments
themselves. (Junior Crehan composed a lament concerning the decline of the country
house dance -> FW#21.)
A hundred years ago, some clerics didn't anticipate what dancing fashions were
yet to come. So nowadays some are much wiser. Others even doing it for themselves.
Father Séamus Quinn from Derrygonnelly, Co. Fermanagh, is priest in Scotshouse
near Clones, Co. Monaghan, Reverend Gary Hastings from Belfast a Church of Ireland
minister in Westport, Co. Mayo. Both met first at the University of Ulster,
Coleraine, and shared many a tune on fiddle (S) and flute (G). Later Gary toured
with De Dannan, Séamus
played with Craobh Rua, before
both retired from professional music to take up a "respectable" career.
Séamus and I are great fans of the old 78'' records, confesses Gary.
We also feel that there was a lot more freedom in the music on the 78''
records than there is today. So, with a little piano backing (S), some
bouzouki accompaniment by Ciarán
Curran (Altan), and a fiddle duet with
we are treated to some old-style tunes from John
Killoran's Pride of Erin Orchestra, Michael
Coleman (the "Shaskeen"
reel is played in C instead of the usual G), some rather unusual slow airs ("Farewell
Dear Erne, I Now Must Leave You", "The Banks of the Clyde"), and tunes from
the Fermanagh tradition, and the Orange fifing tradition as well. "Maho
Snaps" is played in the old West Fermanagh fiddle style, tuned up half tone
to A flat.
Traditional music isn't about music at all, it's about people. Indeed, the
most important bits of a session of traditional music are the bits in between
the tunes. The crack and drivel and silence and chat that give the music shape
and meaning and reason. Without that, the music in only another flurry of notes,
one more kind of music amongst the hundreds available in the modern world. To
really get a hoult on this music, you need to be close enough to smell the musicians.
This kind of stuff doesn't stick too well to shiny CDs and plastic tapes. People
are people. Recordings are only recordings. Wise men - and musical priests
Cló Iar-Chonnachta Teo
Mary Timony "The Golden Dove"
2002; Playing time: 46:33 min
Here it comes, that poison melody plays to me. That kind of music can kill
your mind. I see it coming, an apocalyptic sign. Mary
Timony once was the head of the art-pop band Helium
from Boston, Massachusetts. Taking the road on her own, she blends effortlessly
her celestial, melancholical voice with psychedelic folk and grooves, bringing
back the early 1970s. A bit Suzanne Vega,
yet with a sinister edge (a very dark one). Kafka
with a touch of Charles
Manson, it sends chills down the spine, but don't dwell in the
black holes. There is darkness but it always seems like there is always some
way out. (G. Belsha) The 17th century "I
Prithee Send Me Back My Heart" gets an ambient treatment in a final encore.
The chorus of "Magic Power" resembles very closely a German ditty, "Hejo,
spann den Wagen an," I wonder if there's an English version. Music sets
us free, music of the spheres uncover the dust of ancient years.
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