Issue 27 02/2004

FolkWorld CD ReviewsDog

Jay Ungar & Molly Mason "Relax Your Mind"
Label: Angel; 7243 5 35703 2 3; 2003; Playing time: 56.41 min
He was a Bronx kid. She grew up in Washington State. He was raised on pop music of the 1940s and '50s. She had a fondness for traditional fiddle music and '30s and '40s popular tunes. He hung out in Greenwich Village coffeehouses and roamed North Carolina and Tennessee in search of traditional players. She played clubs and colleges on the West Coast and took a liking to the jazzy sound of the Swing Era. Finally Jay Ungar (vocals, fiddle, mandolin) and Molly Mason (vocals, guitar, bass) combined forces both artistically and romantically. Presumably you've heard Jay's slow air "Ashokan Farewell" before, which became the musical hallmark of Ken Burns' TV series "The Civil War" (and recently recorded by The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, see review above). The piece was nominated for an Emmy and originally inspired by Jay & Molly's Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps in New York's Catskill Mountains a popular destination for enthusiasts of traditional American music and dance. (I learned "Ashokan" in Irish music circles long before I got it's title and that it is a contemporary composition.) The couple assembled their all-time favorite musicians into a band called Swingology that provide clarinet, cornet, tenor sax, piano, and a rhythm section of bass and drums. It's country swing and country blues, no more no less, deeply rooted in America's 1920s and 1930s. It's the spirit of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Boswell Sisters, Delmore Brothers, Leadbelly and Guthrie too. I love best the selection of old-time waltzes (The Ookpik, The Blue River, The Old Madera). So relax your mind.
Angel Records
Walkin' T:-)M

Hudel "Musiques Bretonnes et D'Ailleurs!"
Label: Keltia; RSCD253; 2002; Spielzeit: 44.44 min
The band is quite new, its members well-known performers on the European folk circuit, just to drop some names as Skeduz, Arcady, Orion, (-> FW#10, FW#11), and Kornog (-> FW#19). Laors Dacquay (violin, mandolin), Pol Jezequel (flute, biniou koz), Nicolas Quemener (guitar, flute) and Hilaire Rama (bass) play traditional Breton dances as An dro, Ridée and Plinn, the Scottishe, mazurkas, and Irish jigs. The tunes are lovely, everything's very melodious and quite diversified (which is not always the case with Breton music). Furthermore, Nicolas Quemener sings a French translation of a traditional Welsh ballad ("Llywarc' hen"), and Hilaire Rama is crazy about the island of Martinique ("Bom Siwo La"). It's a listening pleasure, and a serious aspirant for my personell Top Five this year.
Keltia Musique
Walkin' T:-)M

Pain d'Epices "De travers"
Label: Cake 5772; 2002; Playing time: 51.59 min
Compared to the above reviewed Breton band Hudel, Pain d'Epices from the St. Etienne area strive for the re-interpretation of the traditional dance music including elements of jazz, rock and ethnic music. The quintet's sound is percussive, and has a whiff 1001 nights. There is a large spectrum of different tunes from Britanny, the Auvergne and Ireland, featuring fiddle, flute, clarinet, saxofon, and a Catalanian hautboy (i.e. oboe) that sounds like a bombard. Another trump card relates to the arrangements, some tracks are almost suites in miniature. Thus not only suited for the dancers. The vocals are great too, and the harmonies tight. Nine points out of ten!
Pain d'Epices
Walkin' T:-)M

Draupner "Arvet"
Label: Caprice; CAP 21691; 2003; Playing time: 53.12 min
Draupner take care of their heritage, at least that is what arvet means. But these three young lads from Sweden's Hälsingland took that sound deeply rooted in tradition and packaged it for the present. Henning Andersson (violin, viola), Görgen Antonsson (violin, 5-stringed violin) and Tomas Lindberg (guitar, mandola) play cool polskas and Schottishe executed piping hot. Traditon meets 21th century acoustic music to satisfy the contemporary listener. Thus it is equally in vogue but true to the past. Where does this brilliance come from? They say that Hulten used a dead fiddler's left pinky to rub his bow hair with, because it gave his violin more tone and volume. Or was it: From-Olle had a special bottle from which he drank spirits. They say that whoever drinks from Frommen's bottle becomes almost as good as he was. A few years ago, Görgen had the honour of drinking from that same bottle.
Caprice Records
Walkin' T:-)M

David Rovics "Return"
Label: Ever Reviled; 0005-2; 2003; Playing time: 57.19 min
David Rovics (-> FW#23, FW#26) back again. This time not only armed with his voice and his guitar, but an entire band behind him. And that adds another dimension to his smart songs. David's troubadour folk settles inbetween pop and country styles that could reach a big(ger) audience, but still David preaches revolution and strikes a blow against the empire, as one of the most tuneful songs goes. The record is dedicated in the loving memory of Jihad, Muna and Kifah El-Ali. They were killed by mercenaries under orders from Ariel Sharon in the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon in 1982 along with 2,000 others, mostly women and children. Most of the new songs are concerned with Palestine, according to Michael Moore such a nice name - the Holy Land - for a place with more evil acts per square mile than the VIP room at Satan's annual marsh-mallow roast. For David, on one side is the fighter jet, on the other side the stone; on one side is the slave, on the other is the throne. He feels sick when I hear your general say that in order to deal with the intifada, you must learn from the tactics of another general, one Mr. Stroop in Warsaw. But David puts it into the wider perspective too: The war between the haves and the have-nots continues to rage, as it has for the past several thousand years, as it will until there's sanity in the world, or until there is no more world. I'm not that sure one has to sing a song from the perspective of 9/11 assailant Mohamed Atta. That makes everything too rational than is bearable. In the end, David has plans for the future: George Bush and Henry Kissinger were sent off to the World Court. Their weapons of mass destruction were inspected and destroyed, and the world breathed a sigh of relief. All the terrorist groups disbanded with no empire left to hate. All the billionaires had to learn how to share, and Bill Gates was told to quit his whining when he said it wasn't fair. His mansion became a collective farm. And I learned how to play the accordion - after the revolution.
Ever Reviled Records
Walkin' T:-)M

Chris Jones & Steve Baker "Smoke and Noise"
Label: Acoustic Music; 319.1303.242; 2003; Playing time: 67.25 min
Chris Jones (guitar, vocals) and Steve Baker (blues harp) take over the "Bourgeois Town" of Fulda to lay down some live tracks in the smoke and the noise of the German "Backstage" club, covering a fruitful ten year collaboration. It's literally rock'n'roll without a band. Both are extraordinary musicians and know how to play. Both, on their own as well as blending together. Most songs have been written by Chris. They cover a wide range of styles - country blues, folk, almost rock, ballads -, and a brilliant songwriter he is at times. Additionally there's the odd by Huddie Leadbetter, Lowell George, Bobby Miller, and finally the traditional "St. James Infirmary Blues". For the musos key, guitar tuning and kind of harp for each song is given.
Acoustic Music Records
Walkin' T:-)M

Robb Johnson "Clockwork Music"
Label: Irregular; IRR048; 2003; Playing time: 50.46 min
It seems he still exists, I saw him just the other day, the next Bob Dylan is well on his way, sings Robb Johnson (-> FW#25, FW#26). Robb might resemble Bob in his early days, but I'd rather think of the great English songwriting legend Leon Rosselson (-> FW#26). He would call himself a "chansonier," possibly we experience a new genre emerging, "English chanson." The term describes the style rather appropriately, it's more Brecht & Weill than Baez & Dylan. I must have had the wrong guitar, now I do the blues in the former DDR. All the songs were written on his German tours over the last three years in, around or on the way to & from Ilmenau in Thuringia, Eastern Germany. Not so renowned as the neighbouring city of Rudolstadt with its big folk & world music festival (-> FW#26). Robb faced the Karl Marx statue in Chemnitz (former Karl-Marx-Stadt): The workers of the world keep working, turning base to gold, waiting for the sun to rise & the wind to change. He paid a visit to the concentration camp Buchenwald near Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Weimar: Just outside the wire, to entertain the wives & children of the officers, the built a small zoo. The commandant had to put up signs ordering the guards not to tease the animals. But his chansons do not only apply to Germany, they are Pan-European. At least millions said "Stop the War": We got Muslims, we got Christians, we got pagans, we got Jews, we got atheists, anarchists, socialists, we even got a Liberal or two, we got pensioners, we got pushchairs, we got the actress & the bishop, we got respectable housewives from suburbia who've never done this sort of thing before, with the International Sex Workers of the World united, on the day we all said Stop The War. Robb plays the guitar, with double bass by Miranda Sykes (-> FW#9, FW#25, FW#26), and cello and violin by Saskia Tomkins. The backside of the back cover (don't know how to call it properly) shows the label of "Jäcklein Bier" from Ilmenau, and it might have been an inspiration. Cheers, Robb!
Irregular Records
Walkin' T:-)M

Alvin Youngblood Hart "Down in the alley"
Label: Memphis International; DOT 0203; 2002; Playing time: 43.07 min
The new album of California-born and now Memphis-based A. Y. Hart is a celebration of the giants of pre-war blues, played completely solo on historical instruments. Hart treats the guitars in a manner very similar to the old authorities. Feeling and a natural rawness are more important than exact timing. He seems most comfortable with delta blues songs like Charley Pattons Tom Rushen Blues or Memphis-situated Furry Lewis´ Judge Bouche (the 1928 orignal is titled Judge Harsh Blues) but Bootlegger´s Blues, where he imitates a whole stringband overdubbing himself on mandolin and banjo is equally great. You can feel the enthusiasm for the music all over the album. Of course there are some selections on which AYH isn´t able to match the qualities of the original recordings. Leadbelly´s playing on Alberta has an unequalled resonant rhythmic power (but no one was ever able to sound like him in this way), the forceful chaotic drive of Sleepy John Estes´ Broke and hungry is missing (like the piano, played by Jab Jones on the original from 1929) and for my taste he would have done better not to try Skip James´ Devil got my woman. But then again, you won´t get a better chance to listen to much of this great music played on original instruments with a feeling for the sensibilities of the country-blues in modern sound quality.
Memphis International Records
Ansgar Hillner

Chad Dughi "Freedom Fries"
Label: Own label; IMPS/TRANE 002; 2003; Playing time: 57.43 min
Chad Dughi was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, plays rootsy american music, has travelled North America and parts of Europe and seems to spend most of his time actually in Ireland, playing with the creme of Irish folk musicians. Freedom fries is his second album. Andy Irvine, John Prine and Steve Earle praise him, and the press-echo especially in Ireland is much the same. If you listen to his actual album, you don´t wonder why. The opener is the joyful swinging standard What a little moonlight can do, followed by the haunting original Southwest Lonesome Blues. Five Woody Guthrie songs of different popularity come next, followed by four Duhgi-originals. The album is closed by four selections of different origin (one by Chad, one by Woodie, two standards). The way of sequencing seems to be unconventional but listening to the album as a whole it makes good sense. The program is build like a concert with two longer sets in the middle, framed by starting and finishing part with more diversity. Chad sings and plays the guitar with authority. There is an unforced streetwise voice and fingerpicking accompaniment with no tricking around but with a great rhythmic punch and thump-work. Woodwinds, fiddle and a guesting Arty McGlynn on guitar are examples for adding colours in a very effective way. Damian Evans on double bass is present on all tracks but one. This album is highly recommended for all friends of American roots music. Included are liner notes by the artist. In form of diary notices they reflect the singer's life on the road but also give insights in his feelings about the political situation before the war against Iraq.
Ansgar Hillner

Loudon Wainwright III "So damn happy"
Label: Sanctuary-Zomba; SANCD 197; 2003; Playing time: 60.11 min
Veteran Loudon Wainwright III presents his humourous but thoughtful version of the singer/songwriter idiom (which is manifested in both his lyrics and in the music) in a live context, recorded in the winter of 2002. Fans will be damn happy to get a live recording and also to hear five new songs as will be the neophytes to get a good introduction into this man's work, not featuring songs from his whole career but of the period since 1990. It´s mostly pure Loudon Wainwright with some guest appearances including Richard Thompson, Van Dyke Parks and David Mansfield. There is a lot of laughter on the recording as well as announcements by the artist, who still is a great performer and entertainer, in fine voice and not running dry of ideas. Commentates the New York Observer, "Mr. Wainwright is one of the few artists who has actually gotten better as he´s gotten older."
Sanctuary Records, Loudon Wainwright III
Ansgar Hillner

M. Ward "Transfiguration of Vincent"
Label: Matador/Beggars Group; LC 11552; 2003; Playing time: 44.17 min
M. Ward is a singer/songwriter from Portland who now has his third solo album out. Listening to him some authors seem to think of Tom Waits. I think that Sad, sad song (or the song in which the words sad,sad song are used - it´s the third selection and on the package the third selection is named Vincent O´Brien, the second Sad, sad song) sounds like a Doors-song and Duet for guitars # 3 makes me think of (yes!) Werner Lämmerhirt, so we now have some very different points of reference. So what about his actual album Transfiguration of Vincent? Starting with a moody instrumental called Transfiguration # 1 it is an intensive but nevertheless silent album. Influences of folk and blues, jazz and country can be felt, but on a whole I think he is sounding like an alternative/independen musician who listened careful to roots music. The result is heavy on the melancholic ways of American music. It´s the right companion for nights when you don´t find sleep. The only cover version is David Bowie's Let´s dance which is slowed down and treated in M. Ward's melancholy way, sounding great.
Beggars Group
Ansgar Hillner

Mike Whellans "Almost 42nd Street"
Label: Temple; COMD 2092; 2003; Playing time: 53.42 min
You think there are no more one-man-bands in blues after Juke Boy Bonner, Dr. Ross and Jesse Fuller? Well, you have to search where you wouldn´t expect... Mike Whellans is a well known figure in Scottish folk music, played with Aly Bain and with a reformed version of the Boys of the Lough, but his musical passion was the blues, and since many years he is following this passion. His new album contains 5 originals and 9 cover versions taken from very different sources as Woody Guthrie, Blind Willie McTell, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed or J. B. Hutto. On McTell's Warm it up to me he shows the folky side of the idiom, remembering on Jesse Fuller (favoring the harp instead of the kazoo which I don´t miss), but mostly he sounds more like a blues man in the style of Jimmy Reed, favouring the electric guitar. The vocals fit well with the music for Mike sounds authentic and not fighting to hard for a "black" voice. This is no "deep" blues but goodtime music. There is very little overdubbing on this album - most of the tracks were done live. Three tracks have piano contributions by Graham Scott. It must be a delight to see Mike Whellans perform live, so look out for him.
Temple Records
Ansgar Hillner

Richard Gilpin "33"
Label: RGM Recordings; RG002; 2003; Playing time: 54.14 min
Richard Gilpin (-> FW#23) hails from the troubled Northern Irish town of Belfast: I was born in 1969 the youngest of three. There were honky tonk women and love that was free. Yeah it was a great year for the first man on the moon and me. A country-rock tune with a Dylanesque harmonica opening. Now Richard Giplin is based in Donegal and assembled a solid backing band and additionally luminaries such as Maire Breatnach (-> FW#25) and Cathal Hayden (-> FW#14). The singer/songwriter in the pop, rock and country mould has his own thoughts: 33... My age when I began this recording, when I wrote many of the songs, allegedly the age of Jesus Christ when he was crucified and the rate per minute that a vinyl record turns. Meditating on Christ: Now those in power might use his name to silence those who don't agree, to seal their wars, to settle scores. Three scores and ten he did not see, they took his life at 33. In this land of saints and scholars this bible belt is choking me, upon the trees they nail his words to, but some words you'll never see like "Love your enemies." But maybe I don't understand, I'm just a man of 33. Enough time anyway to give us even more profound songs.
Richard Gilpin
Walkin' T:-)M

Papa Roncon & Katanga "Marimba Magic"
Label: Oriente; RIEN CD 43; 2003; Playing time: 48.20 min
Often was written about the African roots of the Afro-American music, and the focus was mostly on North America. Here we have music from South America, and the listening experience is stunning. You hear authentic African music from nowhere else than from the rain forests of Ecuador! The beginnings of the black community living here are adventurous: in the sixteenth century shipwrecked slaves on the way to Panama fled and reached the Ecuadorian coast where they founded the first free republic of Esmeraldas. Naturally the words are in Spanish - a strange listening experience. Papa Roncon is Guillermo Ayovi Erazo, who comes from the village of Borbon in the North of Ecuador, a place where they have electricity since five years and where still no aphalt street is to be found. Invited by the UNESCO he visited Paris and was a guest at the EXPO 2000 in Hanover, but not at the Marimba special at Rudolstadt 2003. He not only plays (his instruments are the marimba and the guitar), sings and dances but also is a crafter of instruments. The small ensemble Katanga is Papa Roncon plus Catalina Mina Quintero and Rosa Huila Valencia on percussion and vocals, the former sometimes taking the lead. The album was recorded in Quito with nature sounds added later, recorded on Dat by producer and annotator Astrid Pape, but everything sounds natural, like a local celebration. The whole album seems more than a labour of love than a release to earn money. The notes not only talk about the music but also about the situation in the region. Curious friends of percussion music or authentic traditions will be delighted by this publication.
Oriente Musik
Ansgar Hillner

Lúnasa "Redwood"
Label: Green Linnet; GLCD1224; 2003
Album number four is a little more laid back than Lúnasa's previous recordings. Recorded in a relaxed Californian setting with almost no guest musicians, each of the eleven tracks is given room to breathe. There's a bit less yang, and a bit more ying, as they say in the Golden State, but every track in these forty-three minutes is a precious nugget.
Cregg's Pipes reworks a Bothy Band favourite and adds a pair of quirky little-known reels. Welcome Home combines a Donegal jig with a sumptuous Junior Crehan tune and a jaunty new reel from Donogh Hennessy. Harp and Shamrock slows down a couple of recent compositions, and Fest Noz picks up the pace again in fine Breton style. Spoil the Dance is a set of three great reels given the famous Lúnasa low whistle treatment, finishing off with Cillian Vallely's pipes rampant. Kevin Crawford's flute is enchanting on the slow air A Stór mo Chroí, and the Dublin to Dingle set combines slip jigs and polkas with all the flair for which Lúnasa are justly famous. Lady Ellen and Cotati Nights feature new tunes from band members, with some particularly fine fiddling from Seán Smyth. The album winds down with the Shooglenifty classic Two-Fifty to Vigo, a gorgeous tune given a mellow interpretation here, and then the Temple Hill finale with Trevor Hutchinson's trademark basslines and the full Lúnasa sound plus a wee tickle from drummer Jim Higgins.
And there you have it. Another near-perfect CD from Ireland's best instrumental band. So far, the lads have avoided adding a female singer (today's ultimate fashion accessory). When you're this good you don't need to be trendy.
Alex Monaghan

Patsy Reid "With Complements"
Label: Own Label APMR901 13 tracks, 53 min
Born and bred in Perthshire, Patsy Reid won two Glenfiddich fiddle titles before starting a music degree in Glasgow. Here she's joined by several friends who have shaped her style: Irish harpist Declan Hegarty, Battlefield fiddler Alasdair White on bouzouki here, and pianists including Cape Breton's Harvey Beaton, Dundee's Gill Simpson, and Keith Morrison from Lewis who doubles up on guitar. Patsy plays fiddle and viola, and takes over at the piano for one track just to show the others how it's done.
The overall sound on this debut CD is fairly traditional, fiddle and piano on most tracks, and the North East repertoire is well represented with tunes by Gow, Marshall and Skinner. There's more than a hint of Cape Breton music too, with a couple of lovely Brenda Stubbert tunes (not the ones everyone plays) and several traditional medleys with that scintillating Maritime piano style. Add a good handful of Irish tunes, many learnt from Martin Hayes, and a stonking Shetland set, and the CD is starting to fill up. Patsy still squeezes in a couple of New England fiddle tunes, plus two of her own compositions: the lovely waltz Fiona, and the spirited reel Midnight Cruise to Inverie.
The most impressive thing about this recording is the way Patsy can change the sound of her fiddle. At times her tone is exquisite: on Hector the Hero, a tune trotted out by everyone from Tommy Peoples to Wolfstone, the sweetness is almost unbearable. At other times, tone takes a back seat while rhythm and energy do the driving: listen to the snap in Athole Brose, and the power in Da Ness O' Soond. Other memorable moments are the lively versions of Cooley's Jig and Miss Sarah MacFadyen, the perfectly paced rendition of that great reel The Otter's Holt, and the glorious combination of fiddle and harp on the slow air Archibald MacDonald of Kepoch which bravely opens this album. My warmest compliments to Patsy on a very impressive debut.
Homepage of the artist:, contact to artist:
Alex Monaghan

Djal "Extra Bal"
Label: MusTraDem MTD326, 10 tracks, 62 min
They're French, they're fresh, and they're fun. They're also fabulous musicians. Based in Grenoble, Djal combine influences from jazz and Arab music (ubiquitous in France just now) with traditional material from the Savoie region and beyond. Their instrumentation includes fiddle, flute, hurdy-gurdy, button box, bouzouki, recorder, bass, bombarde, dulcimer, guitar, and various drums. The overall sound is rich and varied, with plenty of punch and the added depth of a seven-piece band.
This is a live recording, made at a home gig with an atmosphere halfway between a barn dance and a rave. There's a primal energy on tracks like Hollwenn and the opening set of three bourés. Michel Bordeleau'S great Québecois Reel des 4 Fers en l'Air is given an inspired treatment, and it's followed by a trio of jigs with more than a touch of Irish about them. Gavottes, rondeaus and other Breton dances are mixed in among the standard French forms. With the exception of Michel' reel and a couple of polkas, all the tunes are by band members. Most of the tracks here are up-tempo dance music, but there are some gorgeous slow numbers. Ivoirine is a stately air, and the waltz Masque Rouge is one I intend to learn.
Improvisation is one of Djal's strengths. Several of its members have one foot in jazz, and their extended solos are a joy to hear. Yann Gourdon's demonic hurdy-gurdy is awesome on Hollwenn and elsewhere. Christophe Sacchettini's flutes are pure magic, and Daniel Gourdon's fiddle brings an eerie swirling quality to several tracks. The rhythm section is also worth a mention: imaginative, incisive and irresistibly intoxicating. All in all, this is an excellent CD and a wonderful example of the best French music. Available from and ADA distribution.
Alex Monaghan

Peatbog Faeries "Welcome To Dunvegas"
Label: Peatbog Records CDBOG 001; 11 tracks, 53 min
How do you describe the indescribable? The Peatbog Faeries have to be heard to be believed. Six crazy mixed-up guys from Skye, their blend of Celtic music and weirdness has now been distilled onto three fascinating albums, all well worth a listen. There are similarities to Shooglenifty, The Pogues, Martyn Bennett, Paul Mounsey and mainstream pop, but nothing really comes close. For one thing, you never know what you might catch.
On the other hand, if you have a taste for the unusual, especially when it has bagpipes in it, you'll probably be hooked. Welcome To Dunvegas is a mosaic of pipe and fiddle tunes, earthy dance rhythms, keyboard effects, dodgy vocals and various unidentified noises. Sometimes the foreground is filled with tunes from the Irish and Scottish traditions, sometimes with modern melodies, and occasionally with Gaelic singing. The rest of the time, anything goes. Stepping back from Wacko King Hako, Phat Controller and Ironing Maiden, the big picture is of a good-time band with enormous creativity.
Technically, the production on this album is spot on and the musicianship is excellent. Peter Morrison is particularly impressive on pipes and whistles: crisp and percussive on Teuchstar, light and lyrical on Shifting Peat & Feet, just two of seven Morrison-penned tunes here. Roddy Neilson's fiddle matches the pipes note for note on Teuchstar, and sparkles on his own composition Skeabost Monsoon. The engine room of bass, drums and guitars is red hot. Morning Dew is probably the best illustration of what the Peatbogs (never the Faeries!) are all about: a powerful Irish reel over a slow tango beat, with general weird background effects. Marvellous stuff. Move your mouse over to for the lowdown and the downloads.
Alex Monaghan

Todd Denman & Aniar "Soulstice"
Label: Aniar Records ANR 006 12 tracks, 52 minutes
Give this a listen - it takes the right line between trad and trendy, and it's great fun too. Todd Denman is an excellent uilleann piper based in California, with several fine albums under his belt. He's joined here by Tina Lech on fiddle, Flynn Cohen on guitars, and Eamonn Flynn of "Commitments" fame on keyboards. The mix of trad Irish, American R&B, and post-Hearts experimentation is just right here, turning good music into great entertainment. The intro to Con Cassidy's is a fine example of this, with throbbing guitar and moody blues keyboards giving way to driving pipes and fiddle. The live show must be worth seeing too.
Todd's pipes and whistles occupy most of the foreground, and rightly so: his playing is sweet and sensitive, a joy to hear. Comparisons with Paddy Keenan and Davy Spillane would not be totally exaggerated. Rakish Paddy, To Limerick We Will Go, and the concluding set of polkas all demonstrate world-class piping. Todd leaves plenty of space for the other musicians, too: there's lovely controlled fiddle on Jimmy Devine's March 6, underpinned by eerie whistle and sepulchral organ, then Tina cuts loose with a beautifully bouncy treatment of The Oak Tree while the guys turn up the funk. Magic stuff indeed.
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh provides guest vocals for two songs. The Bay of Biscaye is a classic English dead sailor song, hauntingly delivered by Muireann's powerful voice and Todd's overdubbed pipes. It flows perfectly into March 6. Mál Bhánis a great old song given a sparse but effective treatment here. The second half of this CD is all instrumental, with well-known and obscure tunes including the Leitrim reel Bring Her To The Shelter in a sumptuous slow version with all the trimmings, and Todd's Rising Head Reel which I believe owes much to Addie Harper's Barrowburn Reel. The title track is another highlight, an improvisation combining uilleann firepower and organ effects. The last track is a cracker too. As they say in San Fran, it's all good. Available from and the usual specialist outlets.
Alex Monaghan

Natalie MacMaster "Blueprint"
Label: Rounder Records 7056 13 tracks, 57 minutes
You instantly know you're listening to a MacMaster. The power, the lift and the sheer exuberance are there in spades, all the hallmarks of this great Cape Breton fiddling family. Three of Natalie's own tunes prelude a heart-stopping switch into the piping masterpiece Mrs MacPherson which ends the first stomping set of reels and strathspeys. Track 2 takes Phil Cunningham's Appropriate Dipstick to new heights, with some fabulous fingerwork from Matt MacIsaac who is a revelation throughout on electric and acoustic pipes.
It's no accident that this album appears on the Rounder label. Natalie is joined on most tracks by names from the bluegrass hall of fame: Bela Fleck and Alison Brown on banjos, Sam Bush on mandolin, fiddler Darol Anger, and the best dobro player ever in Jerry Douglas. There are a couple of vocal tracks too, written by Natalie and sung by John Cowan and Kate Quinn, but it's the instrumentals that really score for me. Plenty of great reels and jigs, of course, but that's not all. Natalie has taken Phil Cunningham's slow air Eternal Friendship, which left me cold before, and turned it into a bluegrass hymn of outstanding beauty. She follows this with a brilliant version of the Canadian classic Carignan Clog that any fiddler would be proud of. Then there's Josefin's Waltzfrom Sweden, one of my favourites ever since Dervish picked it up, alternating earthy bass with angelic mandolin from Matt Flinner.
The soul of this recording is still in those Scots and Irish reels, though. They shine out like beacons in the sea of bluegrass picking and Nashville production. Tarbolton Lodge, The Silver Spear, Lad O'Beirne's, Lord Gordon's Reel, Ed Reavy's The Street Player, and Jerry Holland's Reel for Carl all make an appearance, often at the end of a set when Natalie maybe wants firmer ground under her fiddle. Nashville's fine for a visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Blueprint is a truly MacMasterful CD, full of life and spirit. Don't miss it.
Alex Monaghan

Michael Cooney "A Stone's Throw"
Label: Own Label 12 tracks, 49 minutes
Michael Cooney hails from Tipperary but plays his pipes as though he'd been born within earshot of Dublin's Pipers Club. There's a synergy in his playing between the controlled Dublin style of Rowsome or Ennis and the more flowing music of Clancy and Touhey. There's even a hint of the traveller wildness of the Dorans and Keenans: listen to Fred Finn's Reel. Michael immersed himself in all styles of piping from a young age, served his apprenticeship in America, and is now back in Ireland as a master piper. He's joined here by such luminaries as Kevin Burke on fiddle and Ged Foley on guitar.
From the off there's jigs and reels in abundance, tunes from the traditional piping repertoire: The Gold Ring, The Pipe on the Hob, Sean Reid's and others. Track 2 combines the heavyweight reel O'Connell's Trip to Parliament with the lighter Micho Russel's, and then takes a refreshing twist with the mournful modal Famous Ballymote. The slow air Green Fields of Canada is a very pleasant surprise, neglected by pipers since Liam O'Flynn's recording with Planxty. Michael does this haunting melody full justice, and the accompaniment on slide guitar from Tom Hall is highly effective.
The Cooney family tradition of Highland piping is evident in Donald MacLean's Farewell and Johnny Cope, both great pipe tunes from Scotland. America is represented by a passionate performance of Midnight on the Water which closes this album. In between there are Irish tunes aplenty. My favourites are a highly rhythmic treatment of Na Ceannabhán Bhána, a cheerful swagger through Frankie Gavin's curiously named jig The Doberman's Wallet, and the set of reels containing Cooley's No. 2 and Kieran Hanrahan's characterful Gold Stud.
A Stone's Throw is very respectable recording debut from a piper I hope to hear more of. Available from the usual specialist outlets, or direct from Michael at in virtual Tipperary.
Alex Monaghan

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 02/2004

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