Issue 26 10/2003

FolkWorld CD ReviewsDog

Gilbert Isbin: "Red Wine"
Label: Traurige Tropen; TRTR 014; 2003
When this album arrived for review, my initial reaction was to snort in disbelief that anyone could have the barefaced cheek to call his album "Red Wine" when, the CD front and back cover is a candidate for the "Most Insipid and Pathetic CD Artwork of All Time" Award. "RED" wine?! The colours are so washed out that they more resemble a rosé from a fifth pressing.
But when I put the CD into the player, I quickly had second thoughts. For the fact is that this Belgian acoustic guitarist - now with eleven albums under his belt - has come up with an album that proves very rewarding on the ear, and perhaps even more rewarding on the mind.
His music incorporates both the classical and jazz genres. And also transcends them. His work brings to mind that of the late Isaac Guillory, with his additional penchant for the self-penned and the Folk.
His writing is always reflective, and helps the listener arrive at a condition of mental stability: the kind of cerebral calm that allows one to muse and ponder in the most positive way.
Amongst his originals, are the occasional Isbin interpretation of a Hendrix here, or a Flemish medieval song there. Of these, by far the most rewarding is his treatment of Django Reinhart's "Nuages".
How appropriate that a great Belgian is shown proper respect by one of his fellow-countrymen. And to think that some of my fellow Brits enjoy playing a stupid game called "Name Ten Famous Belgians". They just show themselves to be duffers, and INSULAR duffers at that!
Whether Gilbert Isbin will ever be a TRULY "famous" Belgian, is perhaps in the lap of the gods, but for sure, with albums like this he can only succeed in building a fine reputation.
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Dai Woosnam

Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies: "The Parish Notices, the Art Edition"
Label: Tantobie Records; TTRCD 104; 1997-2003; Playing time: 64:35 mins
This is the re-issue of the 1998 recording with the addition of three bonus tracks, and some striking art work on the liner booklet by Wolfgang Wolff (1909-1994). Thus with playing time well in excess of an hour, this CD represents fine value for Jez Lowe fans. Also those same fans will take comfort from the fact that a portion of all Tantobie Records's profits goes to good charitable causes.
That said, I have reservations as to whether THIS is an album to re-issue. Let me explain.
The fact is I have always had a soft spot for Jez. His wistful singing voice and his ear for a melody mark him out somewhat. And he is capable of writing an outstanding song. Indeed, it was Lowe who on an earlier album penned one of the greatest contemporary folk songs " High Part of the Town".
But the fact is that this is hardly the album to re-issue. Not the same class as, say, his 1993 album "Bede Weeps". And although this is pleasant on the ear, it contains - by Jez Lowe's high standards - lacklustre songs that largely forego memorability. Oh for sure the songs are delivered very well indeed, and in Judy Dinning, The Bad Pennies have a worthy successor to Bev Sanders.
And guess what? Despite the original album's healthy sales, it was almost as though Jez subconsciously knew that the album was not his best: hence his decision to bolster it with the addition of three tracks here. And the three additions are the best three cuts on the album. (And yes, I say that in the full knowledge that one of the so-called "lacklustre" songs - "Propping" - has had as many radio plays as any Jez song I can recall. But since when have "radio plays" and "critical acclaim" been synonymous?)
Of the twelve original songs, the best by some distance is "Had Away Gan On". This is a hymn-of-praise to his local dialect, and contains a divine joke about his favourite soccer team Hartlepool United. However since Jez wrote the song, the team have shown a marked improvement. And even better things lie ahead for them.
As I am sure they also do for Jez.
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Dai Woosnam

Back Of The Moon "Fortune's Road"
Label: Footstompin'; CDFSR1720; 2003; Playing time: 43:14 mins
14 secs. When this CD turned up for review, it did not at first fill me with enthusiasm. The CD cover was a turn off, and the liner booklet amongst the least attractive I have seen in ages. But fortunately the CD itself was a whole lot better.
Which is not surprising since this young four-piece Scottish band have a growing reputation. And in vocalist/fiddler Gillian Frame they have the winner of the "Young Scottish Traditional Musician 2001" Award. And they are joined on some tracks here by two guest musicians, who help augment the sound.
And a fine sound it is. But some of the material could be better. Golly, if you are going to take a song from the singing of the great Alison McMorland, surely there are 101 songs you'd choose before the uninspired "Maybe I'll Be Married"? But even when the material creaks, as it often does, the effect is salvaged by some truly glorious playing. Throughout, the convincing pipes of Simon McKerrell and the combined vocal efforts always ensure that the CD never loses the respect of the listener.
The standout track is a toss-up between that old Archie Fisher favourite "Heilan Ladie", and that fine biting song "Johnny Cope" (learned from the singing of the late Davy Steele). Oh and the truly beautiful "Skye Air" (from the Patrick McDonald Collection) magnificently played by Gillian with an authority to rival an Aly Bain or a Jay Ungar.
Mentioning "Heilan Laddie" brings me to a final comment. Now Footstompin' is a fine label, who do a lot to promote young Scottish musicians. They have fine standards. But one does not expect them to be so slipshod as to wrongly number the tracks. Oh sure tracks 9 and 10 are correctly shown on the back cover, but are transposed inside the booklet.
Trivial? Nit-picking? Probably. But indicative of flying-by-the-seat of one's pants, and not careful thought. And "careful thought" would have avoided selecting a makeweight number like "Maybe I'll Be Married".
But all that said, still an album well worth buying.
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Dai Woosnam

Jim Condie: "Distant Cousins"
Label: RedberetRecords; bercd01; 2002
Blues aficionados in the UK are well aware of Jim Condie. He is an artiste with a considerable reputation. For two decades now he has performed and collaborated with some major names, and with Ron Tait (as "The Rootsies Duo") opened for such luminaries as Chuck Berry, Albert King, Taj Mahal and Memphis Slim.
But amazingly this is his first solo CD. It consists of some self-penned work and some Condie interpretations of classics. So what's my verdict?
I'd say that it's an album that displays an authoritative approach to the material, and also shows a nice degree of eclecticism (for instance his guitar work on his own composition"Farewell to Edinburgh" is folky - and GOOD enough - to conjure up thoughts of Bert Jansch at his best).
The two standout tracks are the Woody Guthrie classic "Vigilante Man" (here given the Ry Cooder treatment) and "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor". This latter song is really delivered with gusto: I think it the best version I can recall since the great Johnny Silvo put his stamp on to this folk/blues standard.
Condie surrounds himself with some tasty musicians. The two that stand out are Dice Jameson's dobro, and the remarkable mandolin playing of the Canadian, Jane Discome.
Two minor caveats. First, I gave up on reading the liner notes: when will people learn that printing white typeface on an off-white background tests the patience of the reader beyond breaking point?
Second, in his publicity material accompanying this record, he tells of opening for Ted Hawkins the American ex-jailbird blues singer/guitarist. And asks "whatever happened to him?"
Jim Condie and his publicity people must be the only people left on the planet that do not know that Hawkins died from a stroke on New Year's Day in 1995.
Still, that off my chest, I have to say that this album is of real merit.
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Dai Woosnam

Dom Duff: "Straed an amman"
Label: None; DDFF 001; 2003; Playing time: 32:29 mins
Dom Duff is singer and guitarist in the Breton band "Diwall". This is his first solo album. Here he has delivered an album of songs of his written in the Breton language. Now as a Welshman, I should find the sound of the Breton language familiar: for are we not always told that Celtic languages are split in two groups? Northern and Southern.
Apparently the three Northern Celtic tongues are closely related. Irish Gaelic (the Erse), Scots Gaelic (pronounced "the GAL-IC"), and Manx (the language of the Isle of Man). And the Southern languages which include Breton, Welsh and Cornish (the language of Cornwall) are also said to be closely related, but quite foreign to the Northern three.
Well I can hear the similarities between Welsh and Cornish, but Breton seems totally different. But that said, fortunately we have translations here of the songs into both French and English.
Alas whoever translated his work into English has not served him well. The translation is indicative of someone who is not a fluent English speaker. And certainly one hopes that the original Breton words are considerably better than the desperately dim images conjured up in English.
But on the positive side, Dom has a decent voice and is well-served by some capable musicians. And I applaud him for singing in his native tongue.
But I do not applaud his stinginess in only giving us 32 minutes playing time. I have reviewed this immediately after reviewing a Jez Lowe CD with exactly DOUBLE the playing time! So Dom, let's have "value for money" next time.
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Dai Woosnam

Tom Russell "Modern Art"
Label: HighTone HCD 8154
If the name Tom Russell rings a bell, it's probably because you've read his name in the acknowledgements section of other roots/country/folk CD sleeves. With albums that stem from the 1970s, Russell has a body of work to his name which artists such as Ian Tyson, Johnny Cash, Katy Moffat, Nanci Griffith, and many others are indebted to. His brand new album, Modern Art, features three duets with Griffith herself which work well as Russell's singing and songwriting style compliments that of his long time friend. Nanci Griffith's own beautiful ballad, 'Gulf Goast Highway', aptly closes an album which features stories about people's lives, characters both real and fictional, and exceptional performances by musicians Andrew Hardin (background vocals, guitars, ukelele, percussion), Mark Hallman (bass, harmonica, accordian, talking drum, whistles), Eliza Gilkyson (harmony vocals) and Elana Fremerman (fiddle and violin). An interesting track on the album is 'Crucifix in a Death Hand', Russell's interpretation of a Charles Bukowski poem that portrays a Los Angeles in the process of being transformed into a sprawling metropolis. Other memorable tracks include 'The Dutchman', a Michael Smith song Russell hails as his personal favourite- wouldn't we all love to hear Ronan Keating do a version of this one!- and 'The Ballad of Sally Rose' from Emmylou Harris' cycle of songs about an aspiring country singer. The title track, 'Modern Art', is a semi-autobiographical piece that traces Russell's own experience of being born in the days when Henry Truman was in the White House, through an adolescence in the Cold War, and up to the experience of becoming a father himself. Yes, it's a good album. Yes, it's available in all good music stores. And yes, it would make a nice, discerning birthday present.
Kathy Tan

Black Sheep "Rapparees"
Label: (Self-produced) LC 08248 BS-CD-02
Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be another band who claim to be inspired by The Pogues, and who fail dismally at imitating them. Boys, take a hint! And no, not even your silly pirate costumes (see album cover) can abate the fact that Germans who think they can imitate the Irish or Scottish Highland accent somehow fall spectacularly short of the mark. Oh well, they do claim that 'P Stands for Paddy' (the title of track 2), so, enough said. The musicianship on this album is also rather shoddy. OK, OK, so I am being somewhat unkind. Black Sheep (the self-proclaimed evangelists of 'Irish Fast-Folk') are a fun band to listen to, if you like music from the likes of Fiddler's Green and Paddy Goes to Holyhead, two other bands who carry the post-Pogue torch, hoping to light the dark alleyways of the twenty-first century. Afterall, the Hofheimer Zeitung did hail them as the 'neuer Stern am Folkhimmel.' (Alas, the reviewer's idea of heaven must have been seriously challenged.) Nevertheless, the boys must be commended for having the courage to tackle canonical pieces such as 'The Foggy Dew' and 'Young Ned of the Hill'- give them a break, they do try, the poor souls! And Rapparees is their third CD, so they must either a) have a following in their own right, or b) be the descendants of rich German ancestry. Or heck, maybe both. The lineup reads, Joachim Penc (accordion, concertina, keyboard, vocals), Peter Schüz (lead vocals, guitar, mandoline), Dominik Stephan (whistles, bagpipes), David Schüz (bodhran, percussion, vocals), and Alexander Kaus (bass). In other words, Joe, Pete, Nik, Dave and Alex- do I detect the potential for another Westlife or Boyzone here? Or god forbid, an N-Sync or New Kids on the Block. You, dear reader, be the judge.
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Kathy Tan

Smoky Finish- The Rock N' Reel Connection "clear this planet… immediately"
Label: Own, SMOFI- 02
If you are wary of a band who unabashedly hail themselves as 'The Rock N'Reel Connection', I will pledge my credibility as a reviewer to abate your fears. After being unable to press the 'stop' button and hence listening to the band's latest offering, 'clear this planet… immediately', three times in a loop, I admit I'm a big fan. These guys know what they're at. Traditional tunes are infused with a fresh twist of the contemporary (listen out for the theme from 'Mission Impossible' in track 3!) and the musicianship is excellent. No wonder, for each of the members comes from a distinctly musical background, with enough training in their respective fortes to rival other more well-known transatlantic bands such as Lunasa or Solas. And hey, they're good-looking too! Esch, (guitars, bouzouki, mandolin, vocals, percussion), Bernhart Ruso (flutes, whistle, percussion), Andy Neumeister (guitars, bass, vocals), Paul Dangl (fiddle, backing vocals) and Klara Schiffermüller (hail the solo female member of the band!) on fiddle form the core members of the band. They are joined by Leli and Katrin (Irish step dancing, no less!), Oliver Stein (drums) and Robert Scheiber (backing vocals) on this album. Each track is a pleasure to listen to, but if one must choose amongst favourites, I would go for the instrumentals 'Mullah Set' (Track 7) and 'X-Prep Set' (Track 10), both of which feature Klara and Paul's exceptional fiddling. Both tracks are awesome. If you buy one album this year, this is it. And if you buy two albums this year, get a copy for your loved one.
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Kathy Tan

Steve Skaith Band "Mexile"
Label:BMG Aris-CD 76515732
If an album has its own webpage on the Internet, then either that album has gone platinum in the Charts, or we have an artist on our hands who knows the name of the game. The name 'Steve Skaith' may not ring any bells at first, but put the factors 'Latin Quarter' and their hit single 'Radio Africa' into the equation, and the picture suddenly becomes much clearer. Indeed, Steve Skaith is the voice behind Latin Quarter, a politically driven band who unabashedly expressed their views about issues such as racism, political corruption, and unemployment, and who, sadly, disbanded in 1983. Skaith's first solo album is titled 'Mexile', a concatenation of the words 'Mexico' and 'exile'. Indeed, leaving his familiar territory of Britain for the more challenging, unpredictable climate of Mexico, where he learnt Spanish, Skaith imposed a period of self-exile upon himself, after acknowledging that he wanted to find a new direction in life. Mexile is a great album; intelligent lyrics accompany listener-friendly tunes reminiscent of early Paul Simon or Johnny Clegg and Savuka. The album features renditions of three old Latin Quarter songs, 'Race Me Down', 'The Spearcarrier' and 'Model Son'. Joined by Javier Gamiz (lead guitar, cuatro Venezuelano, backing vocals), Tenotio (bass), Hugo Hernandez (drums), Nikki Racklin (backing vocals), Daniel Cortes Alfaro (saxophone and piano) and Bruno Martinez (additional percussion), Skaith has produced an accomplished album that should suit the palate of old Latin Quarter fans, and appeal to the musical taste of new ones.
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Kathy Tan

Serah "Late Harvest"
Label: Own
No details of publication Website: If you like mellow, chilled-out contemporary soul/pop, then Late Harvest is a wonderful album, once you put aside the somewhat New Age feel to it. Stripped down, Serah's seventh album features nine original compositions which compliment her heartfelt renderings of four classic tunes- Ben King's 'Stand By Me', Van Morrison's 'Crazy Love', Cristopher Cross' 'Sailing' and The Shirelles' 'Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow'. In short, Late Harvest has a somewhat 'dated' feel to it, and is best experienced with the volume turned up loud with a glass of wine in the late evening. It is also an album which features an eclectic mix of musical stlyes that draw on Serah's own experiences of having lived in Canada, France and Kenya. Her unique style is thus one that blends world and pop music elements with New Age and world music influences. In an effort to blend visual art with 'inspirational' music, Serah's albums have featured many paintings and inllustrations by different international artists. She is also an active member of the Rainforest Foundation and CALM (Child Abuse Listening and Meditation). All that said, Late Harvest is a gentle album which somehow falls short of the level of the awesome that one gets the feeling its artist aspired to in its making. Certainly, one would expect a little bit more from an album which features a collaboration of some of the most talented musicians such as keyboardist David Sancious, saxophonist Andy Snitzer, guitarist Michael Landau and drummer Manu Katche who have played with artists such as diverse as Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, Tori Amos, Miles Davis, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, etc. Oh well, you did open that bottle of wine, so sit back, relax, and enjoy!
Homepage of the artist:
Kathy Tan

Richard Thorne "Freight Trains and Strange Dreams"
Richard Thorne "Undercover Overachiever"
Label: own
Richard Thorne - Undercover Overachiever Both self-produced Website: The success of the movie soundtrack to 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' has undoubtedly resulted in a spate of releases and a renewed interest in the bluegrass/ hillbilly genre. The songs on Freight Trains and Strange Dreams are, however, more folk pop than bluegrass, although at times they do sway toward the latter. As in the songs on his earlier release, Undercover Overachiever, an album more folk/rock and country/Americana in feel, Thorne's way of combining quirky melodies with narrative lyrics is reminiscent of early Bob Dylan, whom Thorne cites as one of his influences, along with Phil Ochs, Hank Williams and Cole Porter. Promoting his own style of music as 'folk pop with a non-traditional bluegrass/country edge, Thorne does succeed in standing out from the crowd in his use of unconventional chord structures. Whether Freight Trains and Strange Dreams really makes the cut though, I am not entirely certain. Perhaps there are just too many songwriters out there who sing about small town life and the conflicting feelings of ambivalence and nostalgia it evokes. I stand corrected I guess; perhaps a live gig will go down better, but then again, Thorne plays with his band The Teasels (Richard: vocals and guitar, Motoki: upright bass, Zachary Herigodt: banjo, Roland Benedek: violin and Hary Ganglberger: snare and brushes) mostly in and around New York City. Anyone kind enough to send me a free ticket?
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Kathy Tan

DAFT- Deutsch-Amerikanisches Folksänger-Treffen 2003
The Deutsch-Amerikanische Folksäanger Treffen (DAFT) ran this year from 26 June to 13 July, toured through various towns and cities from Berlin to Nürnberg, and showcased six talented musicians in their own right- Sandy Wolfrum, Larry Hill, Eric Hansen, Manfred Maurenbrecher, Rik Palieri and Wilfried Mengs. Not really an expert in the area, and, admittedly, none of the names rang a bell, I was still pleasantly surprised by the zest and energy that infused this album, which features a selection of songs from the six artists. Manfred Maurenbrecher's 'Kleine Forscher' (track 8) sounded, rather uncannily, like an inferior version of Christy Moore singing 'live', complete with anecdotes and canned audience laughter. Somehow I can't see sales of this CD exceeding the number of people who actually attended the event. Oh go on, prove me wrong.
Kathy Tan

Eric Andersen "Beat Avenue"
Label: Appleseed Recordings APR CD 1068
Eric Andersen has an impressive C.V. No one can deny that. Opening for John Lee Hooker in 1964, playing with Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith, singing with Phil Ochs, and participating in the legendary Festival Express train tour across Canada in 1970, along with the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy and The Band, the guy has stories upon stories to tell from his experiences. His latest release, the double-CD Beat Avenue, features Andersen in good (though maybe not top) form, and includes the low-key, atmospheric self-titled 26-minute track on disc 2 (Leonard Cohen would have loved to have done this one first!) which Andersen spent 15 years writing and re-writing. In his own words, the song was 'part of an ongoing personal ritual of trying to pierce and rupture the borders of the usual safe singer-songwriting approaches.' Hmm, is this guy a poet? Well, certainly the song 'Beat Avenue' is an account of a watershed day in American history, Novermber 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and tells the tale of a 20-year-old Andersen who hitchhiked to San Francisco to meet his Beat Movement heroes. Oh, did I forget to mention that Andersen also attended a reading on that same day in poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's house, where, amongst poetry, intellectual ideas and marijuana smoke, a naked Allen Ginsberg was also to be found present? Nice! Beat Avenue is a CD that features a selection of highly-skilled musicians, including guitarist Eric Bazilian, vocalists Phoebe Snow and Lucy Kaplansky, multi-instrumentalist Robert Aaron, jazz-fusion bassist Mark Egan, drummer Shawn Pelton, The Band's Garth Hudson on keyboards, accordion and sax and violinist/ solo artist Joyce Andersen (of no relation). Eric Andersen's own daughter Sari also contributes supporting vocals. No doubt this release will appeal to Andersen fans. Alas, I, however, remain unconverted.
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Kathy Tan

Baka Beyond "East to West"
Label: March Hare Music; No. MAHACD18; 2002
Musical fusion to the extent that Baka Beyond take the concept will always be a bone of contention among serious music lovers and critics. You have to admit, putting a bunch of musicians from France, the UK, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ghana and Cameroon together and asking them to play all manner of traditional Celtic and African styles is a risky business; hell incarnate for the puritans, unlimited blank canvas to the more progressive.
The key to the success of Baka Beyond is the spirit in which they come together. Generosity, fun and energy flow between artists of talent, and the live experience is a driving one. The opening track, "Always Baka", is a gem - high spirited, alive, the glorious harmonies of the Baka vocals having the rousing effect of a ray of sunshine. "Braighe Locheil", on the contrary, is rather more restrained, the female vocal harmonies weaving a mystical Celtic aura. However, the attraction does begin to wane after a while, the various combinations of Celtic melodies and African rhythms becoming something of a blur.
The Baka Beyond experience is not to everyone's taste, but it does go some way towards showing that fusion, in the hands of true practitioners, is a definite possibility. I fear, however, that on this one we might be speaking to the already converted.
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Jennifer Byrne

Rónán Ó Snodaigh "Tip Toe"
Label: Kila Music; No. KRCD101; 2001
Tip Toe is an unassuming little album, released by the Kíla bodhrán man back in 2001. Full of clever, often simple songs and wonderful, intelligent arrangements, this record was one of the treasures of that year and hasn't lost any of its charm since its emergence. Stringed instruments are the accompaniment of choice - luxurious layers of guitar, charango, bass, bouzouki, fiddle, et al abound, creating soft textures to cushion the sometimes hoarse but always honest vocals of Ó Snodaigh.
"Anybody Like You" is a love song which goes straight for the heart in its closing stages, the trumpet-supported cycle of "the sun will set and the moon will rise" never failing to touch with its simplicity. Without question, my personal highlight is the title track, a wonder of lyrical and melodic repetition, with a gloriously unadulterated unwinding of pipes and flute towards the conclusion.
This album is a slow-grower, with each inspection offering something new. Once it has encroached on your musical radar though, it will stay there - take it from one who knows. A rare and wondrous little collection.
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Jennifer Byrne

Two Time Polka "About Time Two"
Label: two Time Polka Music; No. TTP003CD; 2003
Cork band Two Time Polka have been around for almost ten years now, and have, in that time, put considerable miles on the clock, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland, as well as further afield. With a unique blend of their own - a strange concoction of bluegrass, cajun, country and just plain old rock 'n' roll - a night out with Two Time Polka is not exactly an elegant affair, but you can be pretty sure there will be some serious leg shaking at some point.
Fun aside, it is easy to see what this band can really do, for example, on their unaffected but very effective delivery of Dylan's "Blind Willie McTell". The reverse, but equally as impressive in its own right, is the hopelessly charming version of Bill Monroe's "Roxanna Waltz".
About Time Two might not, in fairness, be everyone's idea of bedtime listening material, although there are quiet moments of sentimentality amidst the merriment. But if it's good time strains you're after, look no further. Good times abound.
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Jennifer Byrne

Gavin Whelan "Gavin Whelan"
Label: Tallaght Records; 2002; Playing time: 51.10 min
It's been a while since I received a record of straight whistle playing, and what a way to break the deadlock. Gavin Whelan is a young whistle player from Tallaght, Dublin, not exactly a hotbed of trad talent, but who cares? On discovery of the youngster's talent, the Whelan family would spend many hours on the rocky road to Doolin, where Gavin played and learned under people such as Micho Russell. Further summers spent at the Willie Clancy school under the tuition of Sean Ryan and Fintan Vallely reinforced Whelan's love, and by his late teens he had formed the successful band Dal Riada with young fiddler Zoe Conway. 2002 saw the release of this, his self-titled debut album.
This is a record of unsullied, sturdy playing. Versatile, strong whistling is the order of the day, and the accompaniment of a series of discerning guitarists and bouzouki players adds just the right shade of vibrancy. The slow air "A Hiúdaí Pheadair Éamainn" is a beautiful example of what Whelan can do - he is confident enough as a performer to let the melody stand for itself, using only very subtle ornamentation to make his mark. With regard to ensemble playing, Whelan shines when paired with the likes of Aogán Lynch on concertina or Zoe Conway on fiddle, the drive of bouzouki and bodhrán pushing either pair forward, the years of Whelan's session involvement quite obvious.
There is no question that this is an album from a player who will continue to excite for quite some time. The future of the whistle looks assured.
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Jennifer Byrne

GiveWay "Full Steam Ahead"
Label: Greentrax Recordings; No. CDTRAX245; 2003
In the liner notes to this, the debut album of the Johnson sisters, there is a request for the listener to ignore the very tender years of the artists and instead approach the album in the same way as any other. I could not agree more - these young ladies are certainly willing to put themselves out there in the public eye, and as such deserve constructive criticism if they are to mature with the level of promise they currently display.
The primary blemish then, on an otherwise excellent debut, is the overuse of drum kit on this record. The result is that a delicately and sensitively rendered tune can go from zero to all-out Riverdance in no time at all. Thus, on, for example "Jiggin'", Fiona's very eloquent fiddling ends up in full-on ceilí band mode. This may be deliberate, but is a shame, given the subtlety and purity with which the sisters can deliver, to name but one example, Phil Cunningham's "Tonder". A very promising aspect of the record is Fiona's compositional skills, as illustrated on "Glencoe Beginnings". Again on this track the kit is, unfortunately, very much present, but the evidence of a future composer in the tradition is definitely there.
GiveWay are clearly in full stride on this record, putting their ideas out there, wearing their musical hearts on their sleeves. The talent of this family is undeniable. However, they might do well to ponder upon the principle that sometimes less is more. I very much look forward to their future.
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Jennifer Byrne

Mike & Mary Rafferty "The Road From Ballinakill"
Label: Own Label MMR112000 19 tracks, Playing time:59 minutes
East Galway fluter Mike Rafferty has lived in New Jersey for most of his life, but he hasn't lost the feel of the music he grew up with. His daughter Mary, box-player with Cherish The Ladies, has picked up his love for the old tunes, and when the two of them play it's as though they'd never left Ballinakill. On this CD they're joined by neighbour Gerry Conroy, a fine whistle player, and a couple of young lads on guitars. I'll make special mention of twentysomething fiddler Willie Kelly, because it's the tracks he appears on which really stand out for me. On reels, jigs or hornpipes, with Mike and Mary or on his own, Willie Kelly's fiddling is a joy to hear and this album is worth getting for that alone. There are also two outstanding songs from veteran singers Micheal Rafferty (no relation) and Kathleen Glynn (Mike's sister). The first is an old version of The Banks Of The Lee which Kathleen delivers in a warm relaxed style. The second is a great new song which I'd never heard before called Horses And Plough, written in 1982 by the late Michael Hogan of Ballinasloe. Apparently Michael won an All-Ireland medal with this song in the same year: the singer and the song are both instant winners on this recording. Mike and Mary mix and match through a very traditional repertoire, slowing down only once when Mike picks up the pipes for the lovely slow air Barrell Ó Rabartaig. Grand old reels and jigs like Ambrose Maloney's, Dominic's Farewell To Cashel and The Daisy Field have been gleaned over the years from Paddy Kelly, Martin Mulvihill, Paddy Taylor, Josie McDermott and others. The general effect is of a really high-class Irish American house party about twenty years ago, great music well played with some of the regional colour that's been bleached out more recently. Email and give this CD a whirl.
Alex Monaghan

More English CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6
More German CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2
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