Issue 31 1/2006
FolkWorld CD Reviews
The Kane Sisters "Under the Diamond"
Label: Dawros Music DM002, 13 tracks, 52 minutes
After the success of their first album The Well Tempered Bow, fiddlers
Liz and Yvonne Kane have produced another great selection of East Galway tunes
including several more of Paddy Fahey's and a couple of their own compositions.
The opening jigs set the scene nicely, with a pair of powerful Paddy O'Brien
compositions played in fine flowing style. They're quickly followed by a magnificent
set of reels including The High Road To Glin and The Low Road To Glin,
two well-loved tunes, and the dive into The Whistler Of Rosslea is simply
stunning. A couple of hornpipes next, with a lovely treatment of James Hill's
The Acrobat, and the Kane sisters keep up the supply of well-chosen and
well-played tunes until the brilliant final set of reels.
Liz and Yvonne play in tight unison for eleven tracks, including the impressive
slow air Sean O Duibhir A Ghleanna. There are also two solo tracks, one
each. There are a couple of tasty jigs by Liz, too, as well as great tunes by
Paddy Fahey and many other living composers. Apart from the two fiddles, Under
The Diamond features accompaniment by John Blake on guitar, Mick Conneely
on bouzouki and James Blennerhassett on double bass. More information is available
at www.thekanesisters.com - but no sample tracks. Take it from me, though: this
is a very fine CD of East Galway fiddling, unfettered and full of life.
Laura Risk "2000 Miles"
Label: Own Label; 14 tracks, 54 minutes
Fiddler Laura Risk has trawled old Scottish collections for neglected tunes,
bringing to light several forgotten treasures. Like her teacher Alasdair Fraser,
Laura plays in a powerful, percussive style, with tight control and beautiful
tone but bursting with energy and passion, turning reels into romps and slow
airs into soul-searches. Her debut duet recording with Athena Tergis in 1995
was promising: now, ten years later and two thousand miles from home, Laura
Risk has fulfilled that promise with a solo CD worthy of any master fiddler.
The 3/2 reel Dubh an Tomaidh, a rare form in Scotland, reveals Laura's
interest in the music of Quebec, her adopted home: 3/2 is a common rhythm for
step-dance tunes in French Canada. There are other tastes of Quebec in Laura's
own compositions: The Lost Hat is a catchy little gem, and Laura's jig
The Big Meeting is a swaggering success.
The slower tunes on 2000 Miles are handled perfectly. Mr Abel Banks
and The Efficacy of Whisky both have that spine-tingling effect of moving
music played with passion. The slow strathspey Master Francis Sitwell
is gorgeous, as are the airs Duncan Lamont and Tha M'Aigne Fo Chruaim.
More importantly perhaps, Laura can take a 200-year-old tune and bring it back
to life: Skye Air and Another St Kilda Song and Dance might not
sound like names to conjure with, but Laura works her magic on them all the
same, putting them on a par with today's most exciting fiddle tunes.
Add some more well-known material, the right amount of thoughtful accompaniment,
and full and informative notes, and you have an outstanding CD. 2000 Miles
is available from www.laurarisk.com if
nowhere else: go click!
Altan "Local Ground"
Label: Vertical VERTCD069; 13 tracks, 47 minutes
Once again, Altan have expertly navigated between the pure Donegal devil and
the deep blue sea of commercial success. Local Ground starts and finishes
with Gaelic song, one of Altan's strengths, and the trademark soft voice of
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, but you won't hear much Gaelic on the rest
of this album. There are three English songs here, a Donegal version of Blackwater
Side and two pleasant enough ballads well known in Scotland and England.
Maybe it's just me, but I still feel that English song is not one of Altan's
The instrumental side of this CD is as powerful as ever, with tunes by Tommy
Peoples and Con McGinley from the Donegal tradition. It's nice to have another
of Mairéad's compositions here: Nia's Dance is a great wee reel
written for Mairéad and Dermot's daughter. Dermot's box features large
on this album, standing out proud in the instrumental mix and pumping firmly
into the song arrangements. This strong accordion sound helps to take the music
beyond Donegal, embracing slower tracks such as the American-inspired Roseville
and the jig Sport from County Cork, as well as that wonderful curiosity
Is The Big Man Within? which is actually a Donegal fiddle tune but fits
happily into the Galician piping repertoire when Carlos Nuñez weaves
his gaita around it.
I've lost count of Altan's recordings, but they're still at the top of the tree
if this album is anything to go by. Not too many guests either, so we can expect
to hear most of this live. Local Ground will not disappoint Altan's many
fans, and will surely add many more to the millions who regard Altan as one
of the best acts on the world stage.
Luke Daniels "Secret Sessions"
Label: Wren Records WRCD1405; 12 tracks, 52
Way back, a young button box master and recent Young Tradition Award winner
recorded his debut CD. Since then he's played with De Dannan, Reeltime, Broderick,
and Riverdance. Now it turns out he's been moonlighting with other bands. The
evidence is all here: Luke Daniels with Cathal Hayden and Arty McGlynn, Luke
Daniels with Teresa Connolly and Ian Carr, Luke Daniels with Dean Magraw, and
Luke Daniels with a 5-piece English roots combo. Three tracks each, four vignettes
of Luke through the aliasing glass. And very good it is too.
The first three tracks are a sort of Three Men and No Dogs, classic Irish tunes
taken by the scruff and dangled twitching over a bed of hot guitar. Works like
a dream for The Maids of Mount Cisco, The Connachtman's Rambles
and Miss Monaghan. Teresa Connoly and Ian Carr pull Luke back down to
earth with a trio of relaxed session tunes, nothing too startling: reels, a
lovely version of the hornpipe Kitty O'Shea, and the slow air King
of Prussia accompanied by a couple of jigs. Enter five happy-clappy funsters
from the funky end of English music, and we embark on a journey through folk
fusion and urban grooves akin to Scarp or Barely Works. There's a fun version
of Reel Beatrice with touches of De Dannan and Reeltime madness, and
a couple of more challenging numbers. Finally, guitarist Dean Magraw joins Luke
for three more conventional tracks: Raven and Musette A Teresa,
composed by Magraw and Daniels respectively, the latter reprised from Luke's
first solo album, and a straighter run through Reel Beatrice and Reel
of Fortune. I like it. What more can I tell you?
Martin McCormack "Uilleann Pipes & Whistles"
Label: Own Label LisnaleeCD001; 12 tracks,
An interesting mix of familiar and obscure tunes from this young piper, his
debut CD delivers much and promises even more. Martin hails from County Monaghan,
and he's joined here by several other budding Monaghan musicians. Sean McElwain
is there when needed on bouzouki and guitar. Brian Walsh provides percussion
on several tracks. Laura Beagan and Fionnuala Rooney give great cameo performances
on fiddle and harp respectively.
There are some absolute treasures on this recording. Aisling Gheall on
pipes with pumping regulators, is as good a version as I've heard recently.
They say slow airs are the true test of the piper's art, and that's borne out
here: Martin rattles off the reels and jigs like a master. Session favourites
like My Darling Asleep and The Shaskeen flow from his fingers,
joined by the less familiar Snow on the Hills, Humours of Drimnagh,
and many more. Carolan's Madam Maxwell and The Groves Hornpipe
slow the pace nicely.
The rich flow of piping is leavened by three very fine whistle tracks and one
outstanding song. Amelia Murphy sings Roger the Miller with a voice that
could make her the next Cathy Jordan: full, earthy and expressive. In general
I'm against the current trend of bunging a song or three onto an instrumental
solo album, but in this case I'll make an exception: the interruption to the
tunes is more than worth it to make the acquaintance of Miss Murphy, and I look
forward to her own recording.
There are plenty of reasons to get this CD: great piping, lovely ensemble tracks,
a whole rake of young Monaghan talent (no relation), and a powerful new singer
on the block. You can't have my copy: get your own through www.mccormackmusic.com
or specialist outlets.
Gay, Conor & Sean McKeon "The Dusty Miller"
Label: Own Label CDGMCK002, 15 tracks, 49
The Irish pipes are basically a solo instrument. The McKeon pipers would be
among the first to tell you this. Of course, there have been occasional experiments
over the years. Duos, trios, even marching bands. This particular experiment
has worked rather well: take three fine pipers (a father and two sons, as it
happens), record half a dozen tracks with all three playing concert pitch pipes,
then add three solo tracks from each piper.
Gay McKeon is a well-known Dublin piper and currently head of the Piper's Club.
A master of dance music, he's a regular attender at sessions and a talented
ensemble player. He plays a set of Coyne pipes pitched in C for his three solos,
and the influence of great pipers is clear in his music. The March of the
King of Laois has some of Leo Rowsome's discipline in it, while the slow
air An Speic Seoigheach owes more to the soulfulness of Clancy or Reck.
The Humours of Carrigaholt and The West Wind display Gay's abilities
with heavyweight reels, fingers flying and regulators buzzing sweetly in the
Conor plays a modern set of Rogge pipes in B, deep and full, a lovely sound,
especially when the regulators get going as on The Flags of Dublin. These
meaty pipes are also ideally suited to the big old slow airs, and Conor does
a great version of Limerick's Lamentation. Sean sticks to concert D,
and to the established piping repertoires of Ennis and Clancy: Lady Gordon's,
The Boyne Hunt, and Pat Ward's Hornpipe are all old favourites, and
Sean romps through them in style. His party piece is probably The Leitrim
Bucks, as recorded by Seamus Ennis, preceded by the deceptively simple Tomin
O'Dea's Reel. Once again, the regulators are put to good use.
So what about those six trio tracks? Brilliant: a triumph of the pipers' art.
Rattling through The Hag at the Churn, the McKeons remind me of Paddy
Keenan at his best. The title track is more like Ennis or O'Flynn, a measured
pair of grand old slip jigs. Back from the Mountain bounces along in
fine form, and the Humours of Lisheen set is a classic with the final
flourish on a jig they call The Cordal. Accompaniment on the ensemble
pieces is left to the deft guitar of Arty McGlynn, who does just enough in all
the right places. The Dusty Miller is a fascinating and rewarding album:
email Gay at firstname.lastname@example.org for
Tony McManus & Alain Genty "Singing Sands"
Label: Greentrax CDTRAX 274, 10 tracks, 49
For two such big hitters, this is a surprisingly gentle album. Beautiful certainly:
plenty of sensitive counterpoint and subtle harmony, and little of the fast
and furious picking or rock-band rhythms which this pair have recorded previously.
Take the Alasdair Fraser tribute set, two heavy-weight strathspeys in Pamela
Rose Grant and Ewe wi' the Crookit Horn, followed by The Scolding
Wives of Abertarff: plenty of controlled power, but letting rip is not on
the agenda if you're not going to go for a title like that. The Dusty Miller
gets a similarly flawless but restrained treatment, and The Hungry Rock
is a catchy tune which forced even Dervish to slow the pace. In fact the opening
medley of Stan Chapman's Jig followed by Charlie McKerron's Islay
Ranters and Liz Carroll's Wisahicken Drive, sets the tone for the
whole album: excellent tunes lovingly played with great skill and even greater
control. McManus and Genty make short work of a couple of well-known airs, too:
Taimse i mo Chodhladh and Da Day Dawn are both perfectly presented,
but seem a little toothless compared to recordings by Planxty or Chris Stout.
The other half of this CD contains less familiar material: Desert Dance
by US guitarist Isaac Guillory, the lovely Phoenix by Norwegian fiddler
Annbjorg Lien, The Last Dance learnt from Balkan piper Nikola Parov,
and a couple of Genty compositions including his famous Melen Adour where
we glimpse the more modern music of Alain's solo recordings. Top class picking
and gorgeous arrangements are in plentiful supply, but don't expect the unexpected:
Singing Sands is a fine studio album, but for excitement you'll have
to catch Tony and Alain live.
Mike Katz "A Month of Sundays"
Label: Temple Records COMD2095, 15 tracks,
Veteran of Battlefield Band and Ceolbeg, Mike is a piper from the LA Katz dynasty:
pipers, doctors, and cousin Ali whom nobody mentions. Like many pipers, Mike
plays normal instruments too: whistles and guitars here. He's also joined on
this debut solo CD by John Martin's fiddle, Simon Thoumire's concertina, Alasdair
White's fiddle, and Kevin MacKenzie's guitar. The result is not unlike a really
good Battlefield concert without all those boring songs.
The opening set of reels is framed by two of Mike's compositions, The Best
Englishman (William Blake, apparently) and Le Tire-Bouchon (a vital
part of any Breton piper's equipment). These tunes are so good, they totally
eclipse the pair of reels from Allan MacDonald and Angus MacKay which intervene.
Allan gets his revenge on the next track, though: his masterpiece Na Goisidich
leaps out at you from behind a set of classic strathspeys.
The huge sound of the highland pipes gives way to the socially acceptable smallpipes
on track 3, another set of reels including The Dogs Ate the Tradesmen
from an early Gaelic version of the Countryside Alliance. Later on we hear Breton
pipes by Jorge Botua, tuned quite differently from the highland pipes. Most
of A Month of Sundays features highland pipes, accompanied by various
instruments. There are no pipe-free tracks, and only one pipe solo: a set of
old quicksteps which are rarely heard these days, despite the attractive cadences
of The Black Watch Polka and Miss Forbes' Farewell.
Amidst highlights aplenty I should mention the stick shift into Sunset at
Tommy's, Mike's romantic reel named for a burger bar, and the trio of Katz
compositions which ends with the exuberant jig Land of Milk and Honey.
The sinister rumbling in the middle of this track is mouth-music from a two-metre
Californian who can tuck his beard behind his glasses.
We're still only half way through the album, but you get the picture. Still
to come are a couple of Breton tracks, a spellbinding rendition of The Unst
Bridal March, and several other notable moments before the finale of Dr
Angus MacDonald's delightful tune Tubular Peat. Nice album, lots of good
stuff, and widely available thanks to www.templerecords.co.uk
and world-wide distribution.
Johnny Connolly "An Mileoidean Scaoilte"
Label: Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 157,
17 tracks, 59 minutes
An instant classic, An Mileoidean Scaoilte is the third solo recording
from Spiddal melodeon-player Johnny Connolly. Don't confuse him with others
of the same name: this is the original and best. Johnny plays with a rare lift
and flair, coaxing sparks from a deceptively simple instrument. Charlie Lennon's
accompaniment is an added joy. The tunes on this recording are from the heart
of the Connemara tradition, set-dancing favourites and showpieces to delight
any enthusiast. The entire middle section, five tracks, is a complete run through
the Connemara Set in Johnny's inimitable style. There's perhaps a little less
energy and poise than on Johnny's first CD, An t-Oilean Aerach, but you'd
only notice on a couple of tracks.
Miss McLeod's and George White's Favourite, Humours of Glendart
and The Monaghan Jig (no relation), this CD is full of great music. Reels
and jigs mainly, of course, but there's a powerful slow air and a couple of
fine hornpipes for good measure. My favourites include two unusual tracks: the
gentle waltz The Rose of Aranmore and Emmet the Piper which is
neither a march nor a jig but something in between. The jig and reel medley
Bean an Raidió and Paddy in Preston is surprising on such
a traditional album: not a lot of call for that in set dances, but these are
both fine compositions by Johnny's box-player son, Johnny Og. Johnny finishes
off with a couple of rousing reels, Lucy Campbell and The Ship in
Full Sail, the perfect end to a memorable recording of Irish dance music.
Old Blind Dogs "Play Live"
Label: Green Linnet GLCD1231, 13 tracks, 66
Long on quantity and long on quality, Scotland's favourite live act of 2004
runs through an impressive set from their last three studio albums. There's
a nod to the early days of Iain Benzie and Davy Cattenach with The Battle
of Harlaw, but after this opening big ballad it's non-stop newer material
fronted by Jim Malcolm and Rory Campbell. The Dogs settle quickly into their
customary gutsy groove somewhere between blues and birl, and they stay there
pretty much for the next hour. You could winge about the lack of variety, the
same 5-piece sound track after track, the reliance on fancy percussion to lift
the tunes, or even the slightly cheesy choice of chunes, but that would be to
ignore the fact that this CD contains an hour of solid, engaging music whose
warm and intimate delivery is easy to appreciate.
There's a bit of everything here. Breton and Galician tunes played on a variety
of pipes and flutes, Scottish piping classics such as Lochanside and
A Man's A Man, new songs from Jim and old songs from the tradition, new
tunes from Gavin Marwick and other young composers, and old favourites like
The Battle of Waterloo or Kincardine Lads which will delight OBD's
loyal followers. It's hard not to be touched by the powerful vocals of The
Wisest Fool or the musical brilliance of Sky City. Even the packaging
is appealing, chaotic images over a careful listing of tunes and full lyrics
for all tracks. No surprises, but no disappointments either: it does exactly
what it says on the box.
Tony O'Connell & Andy Morrow
Label: Own Label TOCAM001, 13 tracks, 47 minutes
Fiddle and concertina, a neglected combination since Noel Hill and Tony Linnane
recorded their seminal LP in the '70s, but Tony O'Connell and Andy Morrow pick
up pretty much where Hill and Linnane left off. This is straight traditional
Irish dance music from Clare and Leitrim, not a kink or a jink or a twist to
be heard. The boys have taken teflon-coated straighteners to the music of their
forefathers, and whilst there's no denying the direct thrust and pinpoint accuracy
of their music I can't help feeling that some of the life has been pressed out
of it. Carl Hession's is just that bit too quick for a swagger, and the
slow air Sliabh Gullion Braes changes the tempo but lacks feeling.
There are some great tracks here. Andy's fiddle solos on McElvogue's Reel
and Thrush in the Storm are stunners. The slides Kiely Cotter's
and Paddy Jerry's suit the straight-punching approach, with Arty McGlynn
battering away on Cooney-esque guitar. The Hare's Paw is a catchy little
reel handled perfectly here, and there's a happy bouncy feel to The Dusty
Miller and The Sport of the Chase, two wonderful slip jigs. The concertina
solo on The Dean Brig is full of expression, and The Wind that Shakes
the Barley is also injected with Tony's personality, making this one of
the rare tracks where the self-imposed strait-jacket is shrugged off. Lots of
potential: more information is available at www.musictocam.com.
Paul O'Shaughnessy & Harry Bradley "Born for
Label: Own label BFS001, 15 tracks, 45 minutes
There's a clear Northern flavour to this flute and fiddle feast. Paul's adopted
Donegal provides much of the material here, and Belfast fluter Harry provides
more Ulster input. Tunes such as Bonnie Kate and The Wind that Shakes
the Barley would be equally at home in Scotland, and Green Grow the Rushes
hasn't changed since Burns jotted down the song to it 220 years ago. Less familiar,
but equally enjoyable, are the nuggets which Paul and Harry have excavated from
various collections: a charming march based on the slow air The Coolin,
the intriguing polka The Pigs Aitin' Nuts in the Woods, and of course
the double jig which gives this recording its name.
Interestingly, the lads fall back to Sligo tunes for two solo tracks, one each.
Paul treats us to a seemingly effortless romp through Julia Delaney and
Mother's Delight, somewhere between Coleman and Con Cassidy. Harry follows
with a version of Down The Broom and The Five Mile Chase, playing
with enough control and expression to break a strong man. Both solos are unaccompanied,
and such is the richness of tone that you don't even notice. Paul and Harry
also sneak in a flute duet: this is the second recording I've seen recently
where Paul O'Shaughnessy plays flute, and a very good job he makes of it. Maybe
his days of cruelty to cats are numbered.
Chuck in a few Kerry tunes, with bouzouki from John Blake on half a dozen tracks,
and there you have it. Born For Sport is certainly one of the best albums
to come my way this year, on a par with Paul's earlier recording with fluter
Paul McGrattan, or even Harry's duet CD with fiddler Jesse Smith. Widely available
from specialist outlets: get it while it's hot.
Paudie O'Connor "A Different State"
Label: Own Label, 14 tracks, 50 minutes
This young Sliabh Luachra musician has a lovely light touch on the 2-row accordion,
and a charming repertoire of old and rare tunes picked up from the likes of
Johnny O'Leary and John Brosnan. A Different State is unashamedly true
to Paudie's roots, just great dance music lovingly played, with a couple of
dreamy slow airs thrown in. Only two sets of reels on the album, and one of
those is a hornpipe: slides and polkas predominate.
Weel-kent tunes such as Din Tarrant's and Bridgie Con Mattie's
sit alongside the less well-travelled Ger Collins' and The Boys of
Scart. There's another appearance of Pigs Eating Nuts in the Woods,
a tune whose recent popularity may not last, and Paudie has dug up a few tasty
chestnuts of his own from O'Neill's, including a fine version of Kitty in
the Lane. With guitar backing from Paul de Grae on four tracks and cameos
on two more, A Different State is mainly solo accordion and mainly melody-only.
Nonetheless, the music is full and satisfying: a first class debut CD and a
highly enjoyable example of Sliabh Luachra's rich heritage. Contact email@example.com
for more information.
Label: Rolling River RoRiCD 003, 10 tracks,
If you're a Providence fan already, this album will reinforce your affinity.
If you've never heard them, or heard them but walked away, then give this recording
a listen. There've been a couple of line-up changes since their last release:
the excellent Cyril O'Donoghue has taken over as vocalist, and rising star Michelle
O'Brien is now the group's fiddler. III is by far their best album yet.
This new improved recipe packs plenty of punch. Providence open with a set of
session-tempo reels, fiddle and flute blending beautifully with Micheál
Ó Raghallaigh's flying fingers on concertina. The arrangement is very
effective, and the power surge on The Ravelled Hank of Yarn and The
Midnight Reel will make your house lights flicker. Cyril slows the tempo
to a dirge for The Bantry Girl's Lament, a well-worn song sumptuously
delivered here, stressing the lamentation. Then it's back to the tunes, more
of a concert set this time, with Micheál starting a big hairy version
of Garret Barry's. He's joined by the band for Biddy the Bold Wife
and The Fairy Jig, less common tunes these days but all the sweeter for
The emigrant song Jack Haggerty, well sung and played, falls foul of
one of my pet hates. In the version I know, the lass makes off with Jack's fortune:
here it seems Mr Haggerty lost his virtue instead, but found a mondegreen. That
aside, Cyril's songs are a pleasure throughout this CD: My Old Man always
sends a shiver through me, and Jock O' Hazeldean is a grand ballad deserving
of adoption into the Irish repertoire. The instrumentals continue in fine style
too: Dances at Kinvara is a lovely tune which starts a lively set of
barndances and polkas, and the Glen of Aherlow set is simply gorgeous.
Have I missed anything? Only the Providence website - www.providence-trad.com
- which will tell you all you need to know.
Shooglenifty "Radical Mestizo"
Label: Shoogle Records 04003, 10 tracks, 60
It's a while since Shooglenifty's previous live album. This one was recorded
in Mexico and Glasgow, hence the title, and confirms my belief that these guys
are one of the most exciting live acts around. Long tracks, no songs, and bags
of creativity: the technical excellence, infectious tunes, and break-neck lunacy
are all fitted as standard. The Shooglers rattle and roll through some of their
finest compositions, mainly from the last studio album. There is a nod to the
days of A Whisky Kiss with the opening She's In The Attic, still
a great overture, leaping between Angus R's plangent fiddle and the thumping
engine-room sounds of Quee MacArthur's bass and James Mackintosh's noise factory.
Glenuig Hall does the business for a couple of well-established jigs,
and The Arms Dealer's Daughter is as captivating live as she was in the
studio. Nordal Rumba is even better here: harking back to the frivolity
of Battlefield's Saughiehall Street Salsa, but with serious Afro bite,
this track is quintessential Shooglenifty.
Other highlights? Well, there's some nifty banjo from Luke Plumb on Delighted,
something we don't hear so much of from Shooglenifty these days. The slower
tracks are great for those out-of-skull moments, particularly Schumann's
Leap. Scraping The Barrel is a suitably up-beat end to an hour of
great music, good fun and gentle weirdness. Radical Mestizo should be
available wherever two or three music shops are gathered together, but mosey
on over to www.shoogle.com for more information.
Fraser Fifield Trio "Slow Stream"
Label: Own label, 14 tracks, 64 minutes
After his excellent dubut CD Honest Water, Fraser has got his feet wet
for a second time with sidemen Graeme Stephen on guitars and Stuart Ritchie
on percussion. This CD misses the pipes which Fraser wielded for Old Blind Dogs:
Slow Stream is mainly soprano sax and whistles, mainly Fraser's own tunes,
and mainly gorgeous.
The title track is as good an overture as any, mixing pipe-fingered sax and
solid low whistle on a tune which owes much to Balkan and Celtic musics. The
jazz influence is stronger on several tracks: Snow Angel is a sort of
Mississippi Blue Riverdance combo, and Strathspey A93 is almost pure
jazz: slightly too modern for my taste. On the other hand, Lament for the
Children is pibroch through and through, while Fraser's own compositions
Smoke Signals and Before and After clearly belong with that body
of pan-Celtic whistle tunes from McGoldrick, Moynihan, McCusker and others.
There are also three sets of almost straight traditional tunes: reels from Ireland,
laridés from Brittany, and a polska from Sweden. Slow Stream ends
with a well-deserved reprise of Fraser's Dark Reel, one of the high points
of Honest Water and no less powerful in a trio setting.
The bad news is that this album is not easily available. If you see it, buy
it. If you don't see it, try www.fraserfifield.com
- and pick up his other album while you're there.
Tim Collins "Dancing on Silver"
Label: Own Label CM001, 15 tracks, 49 minutes
Young concertina players are relatively rare, even in Ireland. Most people prefer
to buy a house, but Tim Collins has chosen to nurture the little-known Sliabh
Luachra concertina tradition which he was born to. You'd expect slides and polkas
from him, and there's one set of each here: Tim's composition The H Note
sits very well after Bridgie Con Matt's Slide, and Tom Billy's Polka
is a first rate tune that's new to me.
Tim plays Jeffries and Suttner concertinas. He has performed and recorded with
the Kilfenora band for a decade, but this is his solo debut. He's joined by
some great musicians. Piper Brian McNamara contributes to two tracks, particularly
the set of reels ending with The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Fionnuala
Rooney plays harp behind Tim's own slow air An Caioneadh, a great new
tune. Tim's wife Claire Griffin joins him on button box for another old favourite,
The Thrush in the Storm. Alec Finn and Brian McGrath provide accompaniment
on about half the 15 tracks here.
His lovely bouncy style takes Tim through almost fifty minutes of fine dance
music and two slow airs. There are times when ornamentation is lacking compared
to what we're used to these days: this version of The New Mown Meadow
is rather bare, but it fits with the old-fashioned feel of Dancing on Silver.
Moran's and The Garden of Daisies are similar in style, as is
the set ending with Tie the Bonnet which Tim takes at a good steady pace.
The final pair of flowing reels ends this album in grand style, and should whet
your appetite for more. Check out www.timcollins-concertina.com
for more information.
The Border Collies "Unleashed"
Label: Own label BC 001, 13 tracks, 53 minutes
Three cheers for the banjo, box and bodhrán, pariahs of Irish sessions
but mainstays of céili bands: they're all here. Add flute, vocals, guitar
and bouzouki, and you have the whole picture. With a regular alternation between
tunes and songs, Unleashed pushes the concert repertoire hard, but it's
still the dance music that comes through strongest on this Sligo band's debut
The banjo has just been allowed into the Willie Clancy Summer School as a demonstration
sport, and in the hands of Theresa O'Grady here it sparkles. Whether it's solo
on John Brennan's or with the box and flute on Martin Wynne's No 3,
Theresa grabs the limelight and does it full justice. Colm O'Donnell's flute
and Declan Payne's piano box are more to the fore in the carefully arranged
set of jigs ending with Tom Billy's. Declan's solo rendition of The
Whistling Postman is a wee cracker, and Colm's whistle slow air provides
delightful contrast. Maria Lynn's bouzouki showpiece is another slower number,
a relaxed swagger through Peadar O Riada's lyrical jig Sport.
Bodhránist Siobhán O'Donnell gives us a version of Wild Mountain
Thyme which is almost able to rise above the clichés, and unless
Colm is better at those high notes than he lets on, she also provides backing
vocals elsewhere. Three of Colm's four songs here are well known: Here's
A Health is one of those ballads everyone learns at birth, Dílín
O Deamhas was popularised by Clannad before the enema, and A Lover's
Heart will be familiar from Silly Wizard's Glint of Silver album.
Unleashed ends with one of Colm's own compositions, The Tinkerman's
Daughter, a modern ballad in the classic style, and probably my favourite
of all the songs here.
And that about wraps it up. There's no party piece from guitarist Shane McGowan,
but he's solid and sober throughout. The mix of well-played tunes and songs
is as successful as ever, and the arrangements are first class. There are some
splendid moments, particularly in the dance music, and not a bad track: the
hour flies by. Don't be sheepish: ask for The Border Collies at your favourite
retailer, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
The Unusual Suspects "Live in Scotland"
Label: Footstompin' Records CDFSR 1727, 12
tracks, 65 minutes
Anyone out there remember Clan Alba? No? Well, this is similar. But different.
The Unusual Suspects are twenty-two of the great and good in Scottish music,
united by the musical direction of Corrina Hewat and David Milligan. Recorded
in front of a home crowd, much of this album is simply great. Some of it is
For openers there's an eight-minute canter through the charming Wee Michael's
March and six reels, marvellous music and tight as a Jacobite corset except
for The Pirriwig when the stays come unlaced a little. The first song
is a valiant three-voice interpretation of Donald MacGillivray which
lacks the guts of the definitive Silly Wizard version. Sae Will We Yet
is much more compelling, strong vocals over a subdued accompaniment. In between,
Charlie McKerron's full-bodied Bulgarian Red joins session favourites
The Waves of Rush and Wes & Maggie's Ceilidh Croft. Next up is
a steamy swampy sax solo from Phil Bancroft: not sure why it's there, maybe
to give the guitarists time to re-tune, but it's a wee cracker. Track 6 is a
mixed bag with some great piping moments: The Twisted Bridge and Lexie
MacAskill are spot on, but those laces will not stay fastened and the line
between experimental and execrable has been misjudged in one or two of the saxophone
Fiddle Frenzy is a bit of fun, finishing with Clare McLaughlin's catchy
romp Mince in a Basket. John Morran's unassuming vocals on Cold Blow
are nicely matched with Rory Campbell's reel There's Time to Wait, and
the long intro to Donald MacLeod's Reel is more than made up for by The
Islay Ranters, another McKerron tune. The Heights of Casino recalls
an even more evocative treatment by Smalltalk, and by the end of the track things
are really buzzing again with Jock the Box. Another barbershop song brings
everyone back down to earth, then the big encore: The Famous Baravan
on twin turbo pipes, building to a thunderous full-on climax, and it's all over
bar the shouting.
Without a doubt, this is a CD you should hear. Comparisons are ubiquitous, so
let's run a few up the bass drone and see who sues. La Bottine Souriante in
kilts. Battlefield meets the Blues Brothers. Keltik Elektrik unplugged. The
Whistlebinkies wired. Ceolbeg on Class A drugs. Shooglenifty sober. Take your
pick - they're all good today.
MAM 234-2; 2004; Playing time: 70:40 min
Al-Yaman is the Arabic name for the Republic of Yemen. Some say it means blessing
and prosperity (al-yumn), others say it means on the right hand side of the
Kaaba (yumna). The right hand side is a symbol of good fortune for Arabians,
and this is in agreement with Arabia Felix which is the old geographer's name
for the country. And we're lucky to have the group Al-Yaman
from Prague. Singer Ashwaq Abdulla Kulaib came from Aden to study in the Czechian
capital in 1990 and she stayed. She had been guest singer with Hypnotix
before, here she is in the centre. Right by her side is Ales Hyvnar (Al-esh)
who is the band's composer and keyboard player. Furthermore sharing the band
experience, Jonathan Omer is an Israeli drummer, Bashar Ashhab a Palestinian
darbuka player, Jan Hais a Czech bass player, and Tomas Reindl a multi-talent
on tabla, didgeridoo and percussion. Al-Yaman is inspired by popular and traditional
songs from the Arabic world, mostly of Yemen. They are fusing acoustic instruments
and electronics, traditional tunes and modern dance rhythms and elements - and
to great effect, dancers and listeners alike. And if that wasn't modern enough,
two tracks had been remixed by Hypnotix
and Transglobal Underground. Sounds from
1001 Nights as you never heard it before.
Kate McDonnell "Where the Mangoes Are"
APR CD 1085; 2005; Playing time: 52:01 min
Singer-Songwriter Kate McDonnell
is looking for fruits and she found an orchard. Songs I mean. Kate was born
in Baltimore, but is now based in NY state. Eventually, after hearing a Joan
Baez album she became a singer and guitar player. Strange enough, she's self-taught
and the righthanded Kate is playing her acoustic guitar lefthanded and strung
upside down. Perhaps that makes her a very special songwriter and storyteller.
But her songs are no strange fruits, but quite accessible songs anyway and a
treasure house of acoustic folk pop. For the folkies, there's the sparkling
acoustic-blues arrangement of the traditional "Railroad Bill" and Steve
Earle's (-> FW#30) "Goodbye Song".
So long for a while. We're waiting for the next delicate fruit basket.
Chatham County Line "Route 23"
Roc; YEP-2087; 2005; Spielzeit: 41:56 min
If you're leaving North Carolina's capital Raleigh heading down south and taking
the old route 23 instead of the new highway, you are passing a small town called
New Hill. There's a deserted gas station and a battered pump, and that's the
one depicted on the CD cover of Chatham County Line's "Route 23". Is there any
meaning in this picture? Rather no, I'd say, CCL is a lively bluegrass band
from New Hill's neighborhood in Raleigh, Chatham County. The quartet comprising
of its principal songwriter Dave Wilson (vocals, guitar, harmonica), John Teer
(vocals, mandolin, fiddle), Chandler Holt (banjo) and Greg Readling (bass) is
not living in the past either. While firmly rooted in the old-time and bluegrass
tradition, their original songs and tunes triumph over the genre. But very carefully
and never alien to the tradition. The boys themselves say that they are fusing
the old music with a love for John Hartford
and The Band. Fair enough. Furthermore,
I'd say that the title track "Saro Jae" and some others are real gems.
Yep Roc Records
James Talley "Woody Guthrie and Songs of My
CIM1009; 1999; Playing time: 73:52 min
Joel Rafael Band "Woodyboye"
APR CD 1086; 2005; Playing time: 45:50 min
I have heard it said that it is the ability to think and reason which separates
the human race from the other animals of the earth. Says James Talley, but
what truly separates man from the beasts is his ability to dream. And,
I'd like to add, his ability to sing and dance and play music. A fitting epitaph
for Woody Guthrie (-> FW#20,
FW#26) who was the spiritual and musical
godfather of the folk music revival in the 1950s and 1960s. G. Logsden said:
Woody was the most creative son that Oklahoma has enjoyed, for his documented
creativity was limited to approximately seventeen to twenty years. Now it must
be said that he probably is this nation's most creative son, for in that stated
time period he wrote thousands of songs and poems, recorded hundreds of original
and traditional songs and traveled thousands of miles sharing his talent.
Like Woody, James Talley is an Okie
himself. As a kid he heard about the Great Depression era and listened to Guthrie
songs (his father sang his favourite "Oklahoma Hills", not realizing who's the
author). In 1967, he left university where he had studied the Great Depression
years and took a job as a caseworker for the New Mexico Department of Public
Welfare. This let James know that for some people, things had changed very
little during the thirty years since the Great Depression. By that time
he had begun to write songs about events around me and became, like Woody
again, a musician at the intersection of country music, folk and blues. But
James soon realized: Nashville's music business is just that, a "business"
- art has no place in it, unless it can be translated into dollars. I learned
that songs were simply the entertainment fodder to hold the audience's attention
between commercial breaks on the radio. I was writing songs from the heart,
the way Woody Guthrie wrote, or Bob Dylan. I tried for a while to write commercial
songs, but the results were simply not satisfying. So I followed my heart, followed
my dreams. In his song "Are they Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again" from his 2001
"Touchstones" album he says: I think I see why Pretty Boy Floyd done the
things he did. Thus James made most of his living in the real estate business,
since working people, not professional musicians, made much of the world's
most heartfelt and inspiring music. "Songs of My Oklahoma Home" features
21 Guthrie classics again with a country music feel and a swinging, backing
Joel Rafael was born in Chicago and
raised in California. He was drawn to folk music by the 1960s folk boom and
high school hootenannies. He and his band is now based in San Diego, featuring
Joel on vocals and guitar as well as his daughter Jamaica on fiddle and Carl
Johnson on acoustic lead guitar. Moreover, here helped out by Jackson
Browne, Arlo Guthrie and Jennifer
Warnes (-> FW#21), Van
Dyke Parks, and others. After writing and performing original material,
he felt he should be honoring one of his formative inspirations. So he recorded
a Woody Guthrie album in 2003. "Woodyboye" is the sequel, with 6 Woody songs,
best known is "This Train Is Bound for Glory" and "Two Good Men (Sacco and Vanzetti)",
four Woody lyrics put to music by Joel himself and Billy Bragg's great adaption
of "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" from his "Mermaid Avenue" album. Besides
Guthrie songs there are other tales worth telling, and Joel Rafael's original
"Sierra Blanca Massacre", which recounts a true tragedy involving Mexican immigrants,
is in the best Woody Guthrie tradition.
Sure, no one does Woody better than Woody, can be, but there are few that show
more integrity doing Woody than James Talley and Joel Rafael. Or, as Bill Bentley
had it, hear someone singing from the heart, and not simply for the cash
register. James and Joel were there before Alt.Country became fashionable
and will hopefully stay with us for some time. (See also the other album reviews
of James's original material.)
Cimarron Records, Appleseed
Darren Maloney "who"
Label: Own label; 2004; Playing time: 50:40
Darren ... who? Well, now is the time at least that you should be introduced
to this first-rate tenor banjo player (and mandolin at times) from County Cavan,
Ireland. Darren Maloney had been
hidden in the lakes of Cavan, though he toured Germany with this year's Irish
Spring Festival, but eventually he joins the likes of Gerry O’Connor (-> FW#30)
and Éamonn Coyne (-> FW#24). It had
been a long way, since he found an old banjo under his parents bed twenty years
ago. Darren studied the great old musicians and grew up on a traditional diet,
but he also studied the great five-string masters and has transcribed classical
and jazz music for the banjo. For his exciting debut album he chose 15 original
tunes, some standards and some new compositions by great musicians and composers
such as Bela Fleck and Mike
McGoldrick (-> FW#13). He is clever,
technically and musically, described by fellow banjoist Kieran Hanrahan as fearless
on frets and pre-eminent with plectrum. Darren is only in his late twenties,
so there is pretty much to expect. And never again ask Darren... who?
Julee Glaub "Fields Faraway"
Label: Own label; 2001; Playing time: 58:24
Julee Glaub "Blue Waltz"
Label: Own label; 2004; Playing time: 53:06
Julee Glaub originally hails from North
Carolina, but she had crossed the Wild Atlantic and had been living in
Ireland for six years. There she listened whole days to my dear Irish boy
and started learning traditional Irish ballads. Back in the US of A, she began
singing American folk music. Julee soon became fascinated by the connection
of the musical worlds of Appalachia and Ireland, as was Cecil Sharp (-> FW#26)
almost a century before, and their albums "Fields Faraway" and "Blue Waltz"
represent both genres. Well, that sounds a bit academic, this is no study nor
exploration of a distant past, but a practical lesson. This includes a gorgeous
selection of standard traditional ballads plus contemporary songs such as "You
Will Always be Mine" by Lennon/Hanrahan (-> FW#23,
FW#24) and a couple of dancing tunes,
featuring e.g. piper Jerry O'Sullivan
and guitar player Daithi
Sproule (Altan). While the song selection on "Fields Faraway" is rather
save, those on "Blue Waltz" is more adventurous. And there's some rewarding
finds to make from a great singer.
Bran "Chemins de Sel"
Label: Own label; 2003; Playing time: 46:39
Bran "The Coast of Bohemia"
Label: Own label; 2005; Playing time: 49:40
First of all, digging up some mythology. Bran is the name of a legendary British
king who appears in Welsh, Irish and Breton medieval literature. The "Voyage
of Bran" dates back to the 7th or 8th century, but this supernatural adventure
story is almost certainly much older and of pre-Christian origin. Bran literally
means "Raven", so he is also the messenger bird. It might have been quite another
adventure that led the Breton David Pajot to Prague to show them what a true
Breton helmsman is like and form the band Bran
in 1999 to play traditional Breton music. However Bohemia is named after a Celtic
tribe, and Czech musicians are smart to adapt whatever kind of music. This band
from Central Europe is devoted to Breton music in particular and music from
the Celtic fringe in general. Their sound is pleasant, subtle and relaxed. Instruments
include fiddle, flute, accordion, clarinet, bombarde, guitar, bass. Some notes
about both albums: "Chemins de Sel" (which means "Salt Paths") and "The Coast
of Bohemia" (which is a quote from Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale"). Some
words and music are from David Pajot himself, some are trad. arr. The song "Marzhin
Foll" is sung in Ireland as "Paddy's Lamentation", here it is a Breton language
ballad about King Arthur. "Balade en Iwerzhon" is an Irish tune as well (better
say, it is common in Ireland as well), however, I forgot what it's named there.
The booklet text and song lyrics are in Breton, French and Czech (unfortunatly
for me). This messenger bird brings us no bad news, but excellent music.
Kristi Bartleson & Reddesert
200493-2; 2005; Playing time: 45:20 min
The harp player and singer Kristi Bartleson
was born in Colorado. She studied classcial music and played with different
symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles. However, Kristi also has a
liking for Celtic music. Her debut album was a gentle affair, rather quiet and
spartanic. Now she's back with her band "reddesert" and her harp pop is not
easy to pidgeonhole. It is some kind of colourful (folk)rock and world music,
very powerful, both quite commercial and experimental. There are some oriental
influences thrown in for good measure into the western mix. After all, an extraordinary
voyage through musical styles and sounds. Most songs have been written by Kristi
plus covers of the Anglo-American traditionals "Blow Ye Winds", "Silver Dagger"
and "John Riley". There's excellent musicians too: Sandro
Friedrich, who plays woodwinds, flutes, sax, and his fellow band colleagues
Dodo Hug oder Efisio Contini from the Swiss and Italian quartet with multicultural
roots Acanto. Well-known musicians
in Switzerland, and that's where Kristi is based as well. Defying all preconceptions
about the Swiss.
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