Issue 30 01/2005
FolkWorld CD Reviews
John and the Sisters "John and the Sisters"
NBM0020; 2004; Playing time: 68:47 min
On this album the band Sisters Euclid join forces with blues belter John Dickie
who also plays the harp. The Sisters are guitarist Kevin Breit, Ian Desouza
(bass), Rob Gusevs (keyboards) and Gary Taylor (drums), Breit seems to be the
leader and produced the album. In the past he played with a wide array of artists
as Janis Ian, Celine Dion, Natalie MacMaster, Cassandra Wilson and, the most
famous, Norah Jones, who recorded his composition „Humble Me“. But beware: nothing
here sounds like Norah Jones or Cassandra Wilson! The album was recorded by
band and singer in three days in October 2003, some additional recording took
place in January 2004 when the album was mixed and mastered and I suggest that
the additional contributions of guest musicians (mostly woodwinds and brass)
could have been added here. The band exists since seven years, and this results
in energetic raw intense and inventive playing and arranging.
A sticker on the CD notes that you´re gonna hear „crazy burning cosmic blues
from another planet“, but don´t think of Janis Joplin and her „Kozmic Blues“
album which was an affair much more influenced by soul music. Soul and rock
are here too, but this indeed is mostly a blues album driven by a soulful lead
singer and a powerful band in which guitarist Kevin Breit is the outstanding
force. In the opener „Too Damn Big“ there seems to be a taste of the weird blues
of one Captain Beefheart, in the great soulful „Big Bomb“ there are some slight
and tasteful dissonances that contribute to the tension of the music. This stretched
out number is followed by a gentle instrumental called „Treat Her Right“. Then
again on Track 5, „Gun“, the Sisters surprise the listener with harmony vocals.
„LA“ recalls funky New Orleans productions by Allen Toussaint. When „Pralene“
starts, most listeners will suggest a steady rolling piano rhythm to come, but
the band manages to catch the ear with a more complex arrangement which nevertheless
isn´t sounding difficult because the band plays so damn good. This track and
the ballad „Money Changes Everything“ with a wonderful brass part and female
harmonies by Suzie Vinnick are two of my favorites, but then again „Good Day“
is arranged very clever and leads to a surprisingly melodic chorus line. „Penguin
Walk“ is a rocker with guitar hooks that seem to come directly from Texas and
not from a Canadian band from the Toronto area. On this brilliant album nearly
every song is another surprise, everything is fresh and interesting until the
record finishs. Five stars!
Warner Williams "Blues Highway - Live With
Folkways; SWF CD 40120; 2004; Playing time: 43:20 min
This recording is the result of a series of radio productions that took place
in 1990 to 1996 under the title "Folk Masters". Williams is heard on lead vocals
and guitar, Summerour plays the harp, so what we get is a Piedmont style duo
in the tradition of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry but with only one singer
taking lead voice and doing this in a more relaxed style. Warner Williams is
a musician who plays for entertainment and you can feel that he still enjoys
doing so. His fingerpicking guitar style is of great ryhthmic intensity. He
presents blues standards, but also some Tin Pan Alley, folk and the Fats Waller
composition "Honeysuckle Rose". Many songs are a little bit different from the
original versions - Washboard Sam´s "River Hip Mama" is called "I Got A Woman"
and some words are changed. The same is the case with the folksong "Froggy Went
a-Courtin´", now called "Mouse on the hill" and dealing with this animal. Perhaps
we can see this as an example of the well known „folk-process“. The very eclectic
programm is not only entertaining but shows an often overlooked fact about the
blues singers. Normally they never played blues titles only but added songs
in different styles to their repertoire. So Warner Williams is more true to
the tradition of the bluesmen than anyone who plays only blues in the strict
sense. On "Hey Bartender, there´s a Big Bug in My Beer" he is also joining forces
with Travis-style picker Eddie Pennington. This highly recommended CD comes
with a lovely booklet full of informations and plenty of photos, and is produced
by the folklorist Nick Spitzer who also presented the Folk Masters concerts.
Smithsonian Folkways; German distribution:
V/A "The Piper & The Maker"
CDTRAX265; 2004; Playing time: 56:40 min
"The Piper & The Maker" is the latest addition to the Greentrax piping series,
featuring live recordings of twelve pipers playing pipes made by Hamish
and Fin Moore. The making of the CD was a celebration of Fin finishing his
seven year apprenticeship and becoming a full partner in the firm, and the tracks
were recorded in Pitlochry Town Hall in October 2003. Pipers were Iain
MacInnes (Tannahill Weavers
-> FW#5), Malcolm Robertson (The
St Lawrence O'Toole Pipe Band), Gary
West (Ceolbeg -> FW#9,FW#14),
Iain MacDonald (Battlefield Band
-> FW#27), Martyn
Bennett, Anna Murray (-> FW#3,
FW#13), Graham Mulholland, Gordon
Duncan, Allan MacDonald
(-> FW#4, FW#20,
MacKenzie (Daimh), plus fiddlers Simon
Bradley (Llan de Cubel) and Gabe McVarish
(Daimh), guitar player Malcolm Stitt (Deaf
Shepherd, Boys of the Lough).
Pipes played were Scottish Small Pipes (in the keys of A, C and D, based on
an early 19th century set), Border Pipes (mid 18th century), Highland Reel Pipes
(an early MacDougal set), Highland Pipes (in A, 1785 set). The final track is
a song written in tribute to Hamish by Dave Francis with music composed and
sung by Mairi
Campbell. The audience was intrigued and spirited, not at least by the sample
of Edradour whisky, Scotland's smallest distillery based near Pitlochry, that
sponsored the event. If you like pipes you will even love it when you're sober.
The Pipers' Gathering "Live from North Hero"
Label: The Pipers' Gathering Inc.; 2004; Playing
time: 69:49 min
Piping essential! The Pipers' Gathering
in North Hero in the state of Vermont, USA, has been formed in 1999 to promote
the music and playing of bagpipes in all their forms. Well, pipes of the
Celtic kind it is. Since 1984 an annual gathering is dedicated to alternative
bagpipes, because for the dominance of the Great Highland bagpipe many
miss the wide array of other bagpipes. All pipes on these live recordings
from 2001 to 2003 are bellows-blown: uilleann pipes played by Deborah
Quigley, Kevin Rowsome (->
Koehler, Brian McNamara, Patrick
Hutchinson; Northumbrian smallpipes by Andy
May, Dick Hensold, Ian Lawther;
Border pipes by Moebius (featuring Dave Faulkner, see review above), Matt
Seattle, Finn Moore (see above); Scottish smallpipes by Iain
Mac Harg, Iain MacInnes,
(Tannahill Weavers -> FW#5)
- and no martial Highland war pipes in sight. The booklet includes notes on
pipes, pipe makers and tune sources.
Hilary James with Simon Mayor "Laughing with
Records; CDACS 047; 2004; Playing time: 40:29 min
Simon Mayor & Hilary James "Lullabies with
Records; CDACS 049; 2004; Playing time: 41:59 min
Britain's premier duo, especially if it comes to four double-course stringed
instruments: Hilary James (vocals,
guitar, bass, and mandobass, which is a huge bass-sized mandolin/mandola) and
Simon Mayor (mandolin). Hilary sings
traditional ballads and some of her own making, Simon delivers instrumental
compositions and traditional dance tunes from England and Scotland, and a Carolan
air (-> FW#20). A marvellous partnership
with Hilary's charming vocals and Simon's expert mandolin playing. Personally
I like best the beautiful instrumental version of the well-known Jacobite song
"Johnny Cope" at rather slow pace.
Both Hilary and Simon have maintained a keen interest in music for children
throughout their careers, with over sixty children's songs to their credit.
However, "Lullabies with Mandolins" is a bedtime collection of traditional
songs and classical tunes for children and for the mums and dads as well.
Tunes - "Lavender's Blue" up to "Fais Dodo" - from Britain, France, Germany
and the Americas from the 16th century onwards, as well as melodies from Vivaldi,
Grieg and Schubert, the latter being piano turned mandolin pieces. Please allow
me to cite from "Over the Hills and Far Away" what sums up best that lullabies
doesn't mean sleepy and tiresome: Now Tom did play with such a skill that
those nearby could not stand still, and over Ireland they did dance, over England,
Spain and France.
V/A "Live! at the Talbot"
Kite; RKRCD006; 2004; Playing time: 59:47 min
Off the beaten track there's the Talbot Hotel in the small picturesque town
of Tregaron at the foot of the Cambrian Uplands of mid Wales. "Celf Cambria
Arts" was formed in 1997 to promote the arts in an area not famed for its arts
facilities and made the Talbot into one of the best music venues in Wales. The
Talbot has seen appearances of Welsh groups such as Bluehorses
(-> FW#19), Fernhill
and the Rag Foundation (-> FW#19),
but this disc features folk, acoustic blues, country and zydeco, mostly artists
from the US, such as Jeffrey Foucault,
Albert Lee, Keith
Frank, Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby
(-> FW#28), Kreg
Viesselman, Lisa Millsk, Peter
Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst, except
for a ten-piece a capella band from Zimbabwe and Welsh singer-songwriter institution
The Faire Winds tour united the talents of Anne
Hills (-> FW#20), Aoife
Clancy and Bill Jones (-> FW#23,
FW#29) for a special recording of "Rocking
the Cradle" which can be found only here. So good luck for the future of Cambria
Arts and the Talbot when bringing brilliant music into the hills!
Red Kite Records
V/A "A Chanukah Feast"
for Music; HFM021; 2004; Playing time: 59:34 min
Chanukah, which means dedication, is a Jewish festival which begins on
the 25th day of the month of Kislev according to the Jewish calendar (November/December)
and lasts for eight days. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees led by
Judah against Greek persecution and religious oppression and the rededication
of the Jerusalem Temple. Chanukah is a merry time with eating lots of fattening
food and singing lots of songs. Under the direction of clarinetist Seth
Kibel, musicians primarily from the Washington/Baltimore area performed
twenty Chanukah songs, both traditional and contemporary, celebrating the richness
and variety of today's Jewish/American music. The Alexandria
Kleztet (-> FW#22), Lox
and Vodka, Hip Hop Hoodios, Jinny
Marsh, Robyn Helzner Trio, Klezcentricity,
Honky Tonk Confidential,
Chuck Brodsky, George
Winston and Makela play Chanukah standards,
children's songs, or more adventurous klez-hop and rabbi rap. There's new lyrics
to the traditional Irish tune "March of the Kings of Laois" (compare -> FW#23,
FW#24), and the (possibly) one and only
country & western Hanukkah song. Not forget to mention a funny blues song how
Polish Jews actually invented the blues. Chanukah is also known as the festival
of light and it is a joyous celebration. These artists have fun and listeners
should have it too - Jews and Gojims alike. There's some incredible music.
all proceeds from this album benefit Hungry for Music, a wonderful DC-based
charity that promotes music and music education for disadvantaged youth. The
proceeds of "A Chanukah Feast" benefit Hungry
for Music which primary mission is to inspire children by bringing musical
and creative experiences into their lives. Though Chanukah and Xmas time is
over, time for giving is never.
Hungry for Music
V/A "Indies Records - Original Czech Music
- PF 2005" [Promotional Disc]
MXM 004-2; Playing time: 79:24 min
Rather unusual to review a promotional disc, we actually received half a dozen
of CDs from the Czech Indies label. But
to wet the appetite while you have to wait for the full menu in the next FW
issue. Since 1990 Indies Records from Brno had produced over 240 albums of Czech
music, currently producing some 30 records anually, featuring folk music, folklore,
folk rock, world music: We've already reviewed the excellent Moravian folk rock
band www.konaboj.com (-> FW#28).
I've seen the ethno punk of Traband at
the folk festival in Rudolstadt this summer (-> FW#29),
while encountering the original traditional Irish music of Dun
a Doras a couple of years ago in Austria (-> FW#12).
Furthermore, these 21 tracks include Iva Bittova,
Kocko, Muziga, Maraca,
Chave, Ida Kelarova, Raduza,...
So stay tuned for details in the next issue, it's worth the wait.
The NoExcuses Celtic Guide [CD-ROM & DVD]
Excuses Guides; ISBN 1-904771-04-1; 2004
The NoExcuses Didgeridoo Guide [CD-ROM & CD]
Excuses Guides; ISBN 1-904771-06-8; 2004
Another couple of CD-ROMs from the NoExcuses series No
Excuses Guides (-> FW#29):
The Celtic Guide CD-ROM written by Mat
Walklate (-> FW#26, FW#29)
examines all aspects concerning Celtic music, its origins and history, the differen
Celtic regions and their respective styles from Europe to Cape Breton, music
theory, instrument types, player's biographies and an a-z jargon buster. There's
also a selection of tunes to learn and play; on the additional Celtic Jam Video
DVD you can play along with a session band, replace any musician or go with
the rhythm section. Notation and chords of the 18 tunes (jigs, slip jigs, hornpipes,
reels, polkas, a breton march, and a song: "Star of the County Down") are also
available from the booklet. The session group, including members of The
Sturdy Beggars and Uiscedwr, consists
of Mat Walklate (flute, low whistle, uilleann pipes), Anna Esslemont (fiddle),
Seamus Curley (guitar, vocals), Anthony Haller (upright bass) and Cormac Byrne
(bodhran). The good thing is that the band won't mind if you make a mistake,
they never get tired and never disappear into the bar.
There's some great stuff here and it covers almost any topic, something to learn
for beginners and advanved players alike. Certainly it is no tutor for any specific
instrument and can only be an addition. In contrast, with the Didgeridoo
Guide written by Stuart Jebbitt you can learn to play the Australian native
instrument and one of the oldest instruments on Earth from the very heart (or
lungs). The instructional CD-ROM features the didge's history (and/or legends)
information on the instrument itself, how to play it and playing techniques
(e.g. circular breathing), a buying guide (also for gear and accessoires), care'n'repair,
even how to mike it, etc. There's jamming tracks and there's also a 14 track
Audio CD available which features a selection of rock, pop, blues and folk music
from the NoExcuses catalogue (partly featuring a didg already).
Moonroller/No Excuses Guides
Label: Own label; MOS001; 2004; Playing time:
The City of Dublin
is an ideal community in which to raise a family. Unfortunately, mosquitoes
enthusiastically agree. That’s why the City of Dublin’s successful, proactive
mosquito control campaign will return in full force... Ah sorry, these Mosquitoes
play a mix of rock'n'roll, blues and americana that you won't believe that this
group is bred in the city of Dublin, Ireland (-> FW#29).
Foxy Murphy (guitar,harmonica), Willo O'Brien (bass), Shane Atlas (drums) -
plus some discreet brass and organ and a voice straight out of hell that ain't
Sweet so Sweet but Howlin' - are playing the Pig Boogie
about Cars, Girls and Drinkin'. But is is no retro rock, it's 21st century
suitable. There is no need fearing disease and spraying chemicals, it is no
nuisance. The Mosquitoes bite into a complacent music business that lost its
soul. So sing with me the Rick Derringer
song: Rock and roll hoochie koo, mosquitoes start buzzing 'bout this time
Genticorum "le galarneau"
Label: Own; No.GENT1202; 2002; Playing time:
Since La Bottine Souriante, French Canadian folk music became known around the
world, and several bands have since come to international fame, including Le
Vent du Nord and Ad Vielle Que Pourra. Genticorum is another young band following
the same foot steps. And indeed, foot steps are heard aplenty on this album,
as Genticorum also have the most distinctive instrument of the Canadian folk
scene: foot percussion. Joining the dancing feet are violin, Irish flute, guitar
and bass. Many of the titles on the CD are songs, either traditional or written
by band members, usually in the typical French Canadian style, and often with
some counter-singing. The tunes are all dominated by the Irish flute and fiddle,
along with foot percussion.
The musical quality of this trio is high, yet - especially compared to the more
famous bands from Québec - I feel that the band does not yet have quite
the "kick". But it is quite likely that this has only not been captured
on CD - I could well imagine that Genticorum are in live a treat. And no doubt
"le galarneau" should be for all fans of French Québec music
a welcome addition to their CD collection.
Homepage of the artist: www.genticorum.com
Nuada "Open the Door for 3"
Label: Own label; No. NU001; 2004; Playing
time: 45 minutes
These three lads met at Cork University and have been on the go for a year or
two now. Full of fun and energy, their music is refreshing and inventive. Open
the Door for 3 is almost all material from the heart of the tradition, with
a handful of the band's own compositions. There are two songs delivered by Daithi
Kearney in a take-it-or-leave-it style, and the other eleven tracks are the
usual Munster mix of reels and jigs, slides and polkas, with one slow air thrown
Nuada are certainly not short of pace. Castle Jig reaches fever pitch, and we're
still only on track 2. A carefully-picked slow reel, Free & Easy, calms things
down, but then the pace picks up again and by the time they get to The Green
Fields of Rossbeigh the boys are flying. After a gutsy performance of Molly
Na gCuach, it's back to the dance music with reels, hornpipes, slides ad polkas.
The New Hands set is straight out of the same mould that produced Nomos and
North Cregg, a medley of cracking tunes finishing with a cheeky swagger through
The Auld Fiddler.
Jeremy Spencer shines on the fiddle. He has a sure touch on the faster numbers,
and his playing of the slow air The Poor Distressed Soldier is pure and sweet.
Podge King's button box is the power-house of the dance music sets, playing
up a storm on the Magic Slipper set, with an impressively steady beat. Daithi
adds brilliant banjo to his vocals, and plays tentative mandolin on a few tracks.
When they all get together the result can be terrific, as on the title track.
The final set disappoints slightly, but this shouldn't detract from an outstanding
debut CD. Highly recommended: check out www.nuadamusic.com
for more information.
Christy Hodder "Celtic Energy"
Music; No. CHCE2004; 2004; Playing time: 48 min
Subtitled "45 Minute Cardio", this novel CD is fronted by a fiddler, dancer
and aqua fitness teacher from Nova Scotia. Yes, it is basically a medley of
well-known traditional favourites set to modern backing tracks, but before you
run screaming from the room (to buy the CD, or to buy an Uzi), you should know
two things. Firstly, some of the tracks here are very tastefully done: there's
an exciting version of Danny Boy somewhere between Van Morrison and the Afrocelts,
as well as interesting treatments of MacPherson's Rant and I'll Tell My Ma.
Secondly, Celtic Energy is intended as an alternative to the 100% pop recordings
usually suffered during aqua fitness classes. So this album is definitely a
good thing. And it must be said that Christy Hodder is a fine fiddler: she rattles
off the reels and jigs from St Anne's to I'll Be Wedded In My Auld Claes. Christy's
fiddle is joined by saxaphone, drums, pipes, guitars and electronic stuff. Give
it a whirl: there are sample tracks at www.lochabermusic.com
if you want to try before you buy.
Jim McGrath "Melodious Accord"
Label: Own; Playing time: 53 min
Fermanagh man Jim McGrath's music is well known throughout the northern counties
of Ireland. On this CD he has combined thirty of his own compositions into fifteen
sets of tunes. Reels, jigs, hornpipes, flings, slides, barn dances, a Breton
march, a slow air, a strathspey and even a foxtrot: no highlands or Germans
though, and you'll look for mazurkas in vain. The tunes and the playing here
are both first rate.
My first reaction, hearing the opening bars of Jim's reel Bouncing Bellows,
was "that's a traditional tune". I had that same feeling several times before
the end of this eye-opening CD. The hornpipe Raphoe Rhapsody is another tune
which has been deservedly absorbed into the tradition. Correl Glen is a swaggering
pipe march in jig time, and House To Finish is a catchy barn dance with plenty
of punch. Among Jim's many reels, The Knocks Session and The Peake Dancers really
stand out. Some of these tunes come very close to well-known traditional melodies,
which is probably no bad thing.
Jim is joined on Melodious Accord by Seamus Quinn, Cathal Hayden, Pat McManus
and others on fiddles, Gerry O'Donnell on flute and Robert Watt on highland
pipes, as well as several accompanists including Jim's son Sean on bodhrán.
The sound is rich and full throughout. Whether you use it as a source of tunes
or simply as entertainment, this recording is a treasure. More details are available
Gerry O'Connor "No Place like Home"
Label: Myriad Media; No. MMCD002; Playing
time: 39 min
We're talking world-class banjo here, but without the World Music feel. Gerry's
third album harks back to his Time To Time debut, taking Irish session tunes
to their virtuoso limit. The line-up is pared down to old stalwarts Tommy Hayes
on drum, Brendan O'Regan on bouzouki, and Damien Evans on bass. Gerry does the
honours on banjo and fiddle: for a banjo-player, he's a great fiddler. There
are three of his own compositions on No Place Like Home, but the eight other
tracks are almost entirely traditional material. This is a very different beast
from Myriad, Gerry's second album, which was more about his own compositions
and pushing the banjo envelope: No Place Like Home celebrates Irish music, and
the mind-bogglingly brilliant playing is almost a by-product.
Lowlights are non-existent on this album. The Bag of Spuds is worth its weight
in gold, and The Copper Plate also enjoys Gerry's Midas touch. Tom Billy's Jigs
are a pair of absolute gems: you won't hear better. Thomond Bridge Hornpipe
starts a selection of Tipperary tunes, justifying the album title and bringing
Gerry's fiddle to the fore. The showpiece Colonel Frazer is taken at a very
leisured pace, leaving plenty of room for expression, even on a banjo: this
is one of my favourite tracks.
Alright, so there's a bit of African rhythm and Latin flair thrown in here and
there. And there's a fair helping of American Old-Time: but most of that's just
stripped-down Irish anyway. The Old-Time standard Billy in the Low Ground is
a simple beauty, followed by some flawless picking on the American cousin of
The Teatotaller. The title track is another of Gerry's Bluegrass-tinged tunes,
with the electric bouzouki wailing away like the coyotes in the Texas desert.
The jigs Banish Misfortune and Trip to Killarney could have been cloned from
the Connaughtman's Rambles set on Time To Time: they have the same strong beat
and Eastern swing, but the rest of No Place Like Home is much closer to Ireland.
Track 9 is a trio of reels which all appear to be O'Regan compositions: the
melodies are totally trad, but the arrangement rocks. Banjo don't get no funkier.
Two more top-flight O'Connor tunes finish the CD: a sensuous slow drag called
Ruby's Birthday, and the pulsating powerhouse Really Green Reel.
Any recording by Gerry "banj" O'Connor is worth hearing. This one is worth hearing
again and again. Treasure it, but don't hoard it: let your friends hear it too.
Anyone who doesn't want a copy of this CD is either insane or deaf. If they're
deaf and they play banjo, give them two. Available on prescription, or from
Garry Walsh "Uncovered"
Label: Ossian Publications; No. OSSCD134;
Playing time: 37 min
Of Cork and Louth parentage, fluter Garry Walsh learnt his music from the Irish
exiles around Manchester. He's now returned to Ireland with a store of tunes
which have been forgotten by the auld sod. Names such as Narrow West Street
and Under the Tholsel refer to Drogheda landmarks, while Back to Skibbereen
and Around Lough Ine are from the other end of the country. All the material
here is played in a fine style which manages to be both fluid and rhythmic.
Among the jigs and reels, Garry has slid in a couple of hornpipes and an enchanting
slow air. There are also three Walsh family compositions here. Garry's grandfather
wrote Eileen Fahy's Reel, a lovely flowing tune. Garry himself wrote The Travelling
Lamp, and his daughter wrote Ciara's Reel. There are so many new tunes here
that it's hard to absorb them all, but my current favourites are Casey's Jig,
deep and meaningful on the Bb flute, and Robbie's Welcome on the high whistle.
Garry's flutes and whistles are joined by Dave Hennessy on button box, Clare
Fitzpatrick on fiddle, Johnny Neville on guitars, Colm Murphy on bodhrán, and
Ilsa De Ziah on cello. The overall sound is rich and varied, complementing the
powerful earthy tones and high floating sweetness from Garry. Uncovered may
be a little short on quantity, but its quality is never in doubt. An excellent
debut, with more to come I'd say.
Blair Douglas "Angels from the Ashes"
Label: Ridge Records;
No. RR029; 2004; Playing time: 72 min
Ever since his early days with Runrig, Blair Douglas has been one of those rare
visionaries who can drag Scottish music into the mainstream without ripping
its guts out on the way. Angels from the Ashes is the latest step in Blair's
successful sexing-up of accordion and bagpipe tunes. Its winning mix of power
and pace, poignancy and passion, characterises the best of traditional music
and incidentally makes it a more appealing product for the mass market. Granted
the arrangements can be a little OTT at times, and there's a conscious sentimentality
which smacks of Country & Irish, but that's all part of the fun. Remember De
Danann's Star-Spangled Molly, or almost anything decent by Van Morrison? Nuff
Talking of Van brings us to the other side of Blair's music. Swing, funk, Latin,
Cajun, Kilt'n'Kongas, if it fits then he's used it. The steamy sax track dedicated
to Mr Morrison is surrounded by the lush New-Age Country groove of New Island
Waltz and the Spartan beauty of super-slow Night Falls. Later on there's a wee
Cajun section which starts with Blair's Rockabilly Reel and includes the song
La Fleur de Bayou Noir and two more stomping dance numbers. The 15 tracks on
Angels from the Ashes are almost entirely Blair's own compositions, and the
music stays fresh for all 72 minutes.
If ever an album had it all, this one does. The dozens of supporting musicians
provide variety without excess. Enchanting slow airs like An Gaidheal Uasal,
storming ceilidh sets like the aptly-named Storming The Ceilidh (which includes
The F In Jig), an ode to Michael Collins in Gaelic verse, that Cajun song, and
of course the title track remembering the victims of 9/11. Blair excels in every
aspect of his music here: composition, arrangement, playing and production.
Get it while it's hot.
Douglas Montgomery & Stewart Shearer "Crossing
Label: Attic Record; No. ATCD062; Playing
time: 45 min
This is the sort of music that gave the fiddle a bad name in religious circles.
Listening to Douglas Montgomery drive into The Trip to Windsor or chassay languidly
through The Blue Reel, it's easy to believe that the devil is playing along.
And maybe there is something supernatural about a man who can bend his bow to
Scott Skinner or Swamp Fever with equal ease, as well as writing his own tunes
in several styles. Orkney man Douglas Montgomery has his fingers in many musical
pies. He's half of Saltfishforty, one of the Silver Penguins, and here he's
teamed up with Orcadian guitarist Stewart Shearer. Between them they've composed
about half the material on this CD, and they play nine instruments, leaving
hardly any need for guest musicians.
The gorgeous waltz Holland Bay is one of Stewart's, as is the leisurely jig
which provides the title. There's a cracking crop of reels in the middle of
this recording: a rollicking rendition of The Flowers O' Edinburgh, a super
set combining The Silver Spire with McFadden's, and a great tune called Frank's
Reel by a mysterious John McKusker. The last three tracks on Crossing Warness
are all Montgomery and Shearer compositions, showing their versatility and genius.
The Ferry Crossing is a slow fiddle lament for a distant home, and Sunset Over
Rona's Hill is in a similar vein on solo guitar. In between, Wulk Fever captures
the fiery spirit of island celebrations with that Celtic swing so typical of
Scotland's northern outposts. Crossing Warness is hard to categorise, but easy
to like. Enjoy.
Hekety "Furze Cat"
Label: Wild Goose ; No.WGS319CD; Playing time:
This is strong stuff. If I didn't know better, I'd have guessed that Hekety
were an offshoot of one of the better Central French bands of the '90s. But
the sleevenotes insist that this is English music, so let's go with that, leaving
aside the vexed question of what counts as English music anyway. Hekety are
first and foremost a dance band, with an unambiguous beat and solid tempo. This
makes them particularly good for listening to, because you can tap toes and
and drum fingers without annoying other dancers. And make no mistake, this is
toe-tapping and finger-drumming music. Never mind that some members of Hekety
are self-confessed Morris dancers: the closest they come to the Morris tradition
is probably The Man Tiger, a Cotswold tune that's been forged in the Sheffield
steel mills and now has an edge on it that would cut through baldricks and bells
like a chainsaw. There are hints of John Kirkpatrick on The Rambling Sailor
too, but they don't last long in Hekety's crucible.
So who are these motley-clad mayhem-merchants? Rich and Jess Arrowsmith provide
the basic box'n'fiddle groove, although the fiddle turns into a hurdy-gurdy
at full moon. There's a powerful blast of clarinet from Jo Veal, easily mistaken
for bagpipes in a certain light. The tried and trusted guitar of Gavin Davenport
is joined down below by Nigel Holmes' electric bass. Add some sharp haircuts
and shades, short skirts for the girls and long dresses for the lads, and there
you have it. As seen on www.hekety.co.uk
Arrowsmith and Davenport compositions abound, including the charming waltz Elvaston
Castle and the menacing title track which conjures up the sort of barn dance
where everyone wears black and carries scythes. Other high points are the dark
brooding Panaché de Main and the Breton-influenced Battle Swing. All the material
on Furze Cat is played magnificently, with surprising depth for an unadorned
5-piece. Well worth a listen.
Mary Bergin "Tin Whistles"
Paddy Keenan "Paddy Keenan"
Various Artists "O Riada Sa Gaiety"
Label: Gael Linn, No's. CEFCD71, CEFCD45,
Wow. Four of the greatest Irish recordings of all time, all re-released on CD
with the original artwork, as part of Gael-Linn's jubilee celebrations. To be
honest, these have all been available on CD for some time, but not in this form,
so if you needed an excuse to add them to your collection, you've got one now.
Mary Bergin's first whistle album is still one of the best, despite two new
generations of musicians and numerous improvements in whistle design. The reels
and jigs sparkle: Blackberry Blossom, Lady on the Island, and of course The
Monaghan Jig. She also gives us two splendid slow airs, from the days before
low whistles: how many people have been brave enough to do that? There are still
very few musicians who can compete with Mary Bergin - Carmel Gunning, take note!
Paddy Keenan's first solo CD is a classic of Irish piping pure and simple. Recorded
partly as a tribute to Johnny Doran, it shows Paddy at the height of his youthful
brilliance, pouring out music in the swirling traveller style. Listen to his
duet with fiddler Paddy Glackin on The Humours of BallyConnell and Toss the
Feathers, regulators going full blast. Paddy duets with brother Johnny on banjo
for The Ace and Deuce, and there are also two banjo solos from Johnny, among
the best of his rare commercial recordings. Brother Thomas contributes a couple
of solos on the whistle, and Paddy does a spot of whistling himself, but pride
of place goes to the pipes. The final track is a corker: Colonel Frazer and
My Love is in Americay, two big piping reels played by a master.
In 1974, Clannad released their second album and set the traditional music world
alight. Whatever you may think about their subsequent musical direction, Clannad
2 remains a fine achievement. This is how I first heard Clannad, playing acoustically
at concerts around 1975: spirited arrangements of songs like An Gabhar Bán and
Coinleach Ghlas, delicate instrumentals such as Eleanor Plunkett, and that great
Irish-Scottish cross-over which is the guts of Donegal music.
Sean O Riada's 1969 concert in Dublin's Gaiety theatre featured many of the
best musicians in Ireland at the time, doing things which hadn't been done before.
His Ceoltoiri Cualann group included Paddy Moloney, Sean Keane, Mairtin Fay,
Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy, who metamorphosed into The Chieftains. Thirty-five
years later, they're still going strong, and still building on the visionary
eclecticism of Sean O Riada. Many of the Irish melodies which have inspired
two generations first surfaced here: O'Neill's Cavalry March was taken up by
Silly Wizard, Limerick's Lamentation by Boys of the Lough, and March of the
King of Laoise by Duck Baker, pipers Neil Mulligan and Allan MacDonald, and
many others. Seminal stuff indeed.
Eoin Duignan "Lumina"
Label: Own; No. OAC CD704; 2004; Playing time:
Piper and whistler Eoin Duignan has a reputation for wild and beautiful music.
Lumina is his third album, and doesn't disappoint in this respect, but it's
quite different from his previous recordings. Inspired by the stained glass
in Dingle's Díseart Chapel, Lumina traces life from birth to death and beyond.
Eoin's low whistles are joined by Gerry O'Beirne on guitars, plus a number of
guest musicians and a vocal cameo from Liam Ó Maonlaoí.
There's the same pan-Celtic feel here as on albums by Lúnasa or Kila. Add the
Latin influence of throbbing guitars, and the first two tracks could be Galician.
Fine by me. After the joy of birth and the energy of youth, Sermon on the Mount
presents a rich arrangement of a slow air and reel, perhaps the most identifiably
Irish selection here. Gethsemane is a hugely atmospheric track, beautifully
played to convey mixed emotions, concluding with both triumph and sadness.
The last two tracks give yet another flavour. Letting Go takes two old Norwegian
melodies and stretches them over a rough-hewn arrangement of strings and percussion.
The result is akin to New Age trance blended with an eclectic earthiness. New
Beginning is much more ethereal, soaring gracefully, then bursting into song
for the joyous finale. Wild and beautiful alright, like the windows which inspired
it, Lumina requires openness and quiet contemplation. Further enlightenment
is available from www.duigo.com at a modest
The Midden "P:igloo"
Label: Own; No. Midden002CD; Playing time:
Album titles can be absolutely anything these days. It would take too long to
explain this one. Suffice to say that The Midden are the three Reid sisters,
Kate, Meggan and Hazel, and that they seem to have a thing about pigs and snow.
This is their second CD in as many years: the first one was red, this one is
There's an unavoidable sinking feeling when any band opens with Wild Mountain
Thyme, especially the unperfumed version, but The Midden quickly redeem themselves
with a captivating pipe march. The Shores of Loch Bea is followed by a couple
of great reels in the style of Iron Horse, engaging and thrilling. Sadly we
have to wait six tracks for the next and last instrumental set: despite its
relaxed pace, The Clumsy Lover leaves Meggan's fiddle rather exposed at times,
and it's only when the tempo picks up into Lexy Macaskill that any sparks are
Between the two tune tracks there's an intriguing mixture of songs: Burns' Lea
Rig, Man Of War from Show Of Hands, Teddy O'Neill from Irish music hall, and
three thoroughly modern Meggan compositions. Kate takes lead vocals on all six,
and her strong versatile voice skips from style to style with ease. There's
nothing new in the cover versions, although the arrangements are smooth and
satisfying. The original songs are like so many contemporary ditties: the story
is personal, and without the context it's hard to interpret the words. The Train
Song is an exception, with enough of a story to get hold of, and it works well.
The tail end of P:igloo adds Annie Laurie to two more Meggan Reid songs, including
Walk Through Winter where she takes the lead with sharply contrasting head and
There's a lot to recommend The Midden: lush arrangements, clear and powerful
singing, and some great instrumental moments. Spelling is not their strong point,
and I'm not sure that song-writing is yet. If there's more like The Train Song
to come, things could get really exciting. More tunes and less music hall would
also help. P:igloo is certainly worth a listen, and www.the-midden.com
is more than worth a look.
Mark Saul "Mixolydian"
No. CDTRAX267; 2004; Playing time: 43min
This is amazing stuff. Experimental piper Mark Saul is well known in the Scottish
piping scene for his inventive and sometimes downright crazy compositions. Based
in Australia, Mark draws on everything from aboriginal chant to acid techno:
eclectic meets kleptomaniac. His music is more full of contrasts than a home-decorating
make-over, with never a dull moment but no shortage of shock and surprises.
Think Martyn Bennett with multiple personalities. For that subtle Antipodean
touch, the back cover is printed upside-down.
Mark plays pipes and low whistle over an electronic landscape which ranges from
gentle New Age to frantic rave. The notes to one track read "Blues scale improvisational
bagpipe solos in a 6/4 time signature. No rules here." - like there are rules
on the other tracks?! If you want more explanation, visit Mark's website www.marksaul.tv
which also has samples of the album.
All ten tracks on Mixolydian are Mark's own compositions. His pipes and whistles
are complemented by stringed things from four guest musicians, and by a broad
palette of sampled sounds. The opening track is a very catchy low-whistle piece
with a bit too much guitar, then comes The Gateless Gate, a brash New Celtic
mixture of thunder and mysticism. Next is that 6/4 one - very flash and funky
- followed by a pan-Celtic extravanagza a la Dan Ar Braz titled Journey to the
Centre of the Celts. The Balkan-style dance/hymn Beyond is a definite highlight,
akin to some of the great piping slow airs from Shotts & Dykehead, then we plunge
into turbo ceilidh and night-club dance mixes before an intriguing track which
insists that the highland pipes are "an instrument for playing music". Point
taken. Wicked Train of Thought is another experiment that went right, and the
closing track is a reprise of the opener in a much lusher arrangement.
Comparisons are onerous, but many of Mark Saul's compositions have the same
multi-cultural urgency as Paul Mounsey's music. The actual melodies are more
avant garde, similar to work by R S MacDonald or Jimmy MacRae. When Mark sticks
to a sane time-signature, there are hints of Gordon Duncan or Finlay MacDonald,
and the actual piping is not far off their standard. Mixolydian was originally
an own-label release, but when Greentrax heard it they were hooked: it's not
hard to hear why. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in contemporary
BOOK: Steven Spence "Spencie's Tunes"
Published by Steven Spence, no ISBN Softback
I can't think of a more appealing tune book. Steven Spence has bundled 37 of
his Shetland fiddle compositions into a colourful and fun-filled publication
to provide any musician with dozens of excellent melodies and hours of entertainment.
Photos, cartoons, a health warning, and even a ghost story: this book has everything.
A 90-page open-flat A4 softback, Spencie's Tunes will fit in most fiddle cases
and sits majestically on music stands or bar stools.
Steven is a fiddler from Unst, the most northerly inhabited island in Shetland.
His tunes suit most melody instruments, and they're annotated with John Laughland's
chords for a simple but effective arrangement. Many of them flow so naturally
that you seem to have known them forever: the reels Uyea Sound and Pig's Reel,
the jigs Da B O Lasses and Valaberg Jig, the joyful Sonya & Steve's Wedding
Waltz and the poignant Calum's Waltz. Some of Steven's best-known tunes are
Gibby Gray, Da Auld Man, Radio Shetland and The Rayburn Reel, firm favourites
with fiddlers from Shetland and beyond.
All 37 of Spencie's tunes are recorded on a companion CD, with keyboard accompaniment
by John Laughland, but Steven Spence is not a man who needs to play his own
tunes for them to be heard: you'll find his compositions on albums by Fiddlers
Bid, the Wrigley sisters, Hom Bru, and in the TMSA's Nineties Collection. So
you don't have to take my word for the quality of Spencie's tunes. The book
and CD are available from www.spenciestunes.com
- there's also a T-shirt which is all the rage this year in Lerwick, just right
for any fiddler of your acquaintance.
Catherine & John McEvoy "The Kilmore Fancy"
Label: Own; No. Lagore 001; Playing time:
If gentle dance music on flute and fiddle takes your fancy, you're a Kilmore
person. Catherine and John, brother and sister of excellent Irish musical pedigree
(Roscommon and Dublin via Birmingham), share a taste for grand old tunes well
played. Pace is not the issue here: it's the lift and turn, the loop and twist
of the melody, the magic which makes fingers tap and feet tread lightly over
the floor. The McEvoy siblings have that magic in spades.
The Kilmore Fancy is a rolling spread of jigs, reels and hornpipes, as fresh
and weloming as a Sligo landscape. Pleasant surprises appear like hidden springs,
or over blind summits. The Bush in Bloom rises gloriously out of a set of reels.
John's fiddle launches into a splendid solo setting of The Maid I Ne'er Forgot.
Catherine's flute pours out a powerful version of The Highest Hill in Sligo,
jumping for joy at the final measure. The slip jig Humours of Kilkenny twists
and turns like a lakeside path, before settling down to the steady trot of Hunting
This delightful album also includes a handful of John McEvoy's own compositions.
He provides the two hornpipes on the title track, the meandering Kilmore Fancy
and the punchier Felix in Paris, written for pianist Felix Dolan who deftly
accompanies all tracks here. Two of the three reels on the final track are also
John's, leading seamlessly into Kevin Henry's which ends a most enjoyable forty-five
minutes of the pure drop. If you can't find The Kilmore Fancy in the shops,
give Catherine a ring on Dublin 8256016.
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