FolkWorld Issue 36 07/2008

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Island Eddy "Island Eddy"
Cló Iar-Chonnachta; CICD170; 12 tracks; 43 min
A new band based in Kinvara, with some names to conjure with: Brendan Larrissey (ex-Arcady) plays fiddle, and Brian Duke (ex-Cían) joins him on flute. Rhythm is provided by percussionist Martin Gavin and guitarist Jim McKee, who also sings four of his own songs. The bulk of Island Eddy's music is old tunes well played, reels and jigs like Larry Redican's or Scatter the Mud, with flute and fiddle sparking off each other. Brian and Brendan play in different styles, and their notes weave together to create a sort of super-session sound. Charlie Lennon's Leitrim Lilter leaves plenty of space between the instruments, while The Cuckoo's Nest is as you could wish. Brendan wrote the charming waltz Helen of Moy, and Brian's air Guitar Island is spine-tinglingly good, so the down-tempo side of Irish music is well represented too. Sean Ryan and Paddy O'Brien are credited with a few tunes, and some of them are slowed down for extra impact.
Tyrone man McKee possesses a voice somewhere between MPE and Kila: raw, tortured, tearing at you, very effective on his Belfast ballad Bradley and the Troubles content of Dignity Beyond the Flowers and The Bomb Went Boom. His nostalgic Paddy's Day song The World Around doesn't pack the same punch, but provides a nice change of mood and tempo, The arrangements are delicate and robust by turns, with good use of guests on cello, bass and vocals. The whole CD held my attention through fast and slow, songs and tunes alike. As debuts go, this is first rate. It should be easy to find on the CIC label.
Alex Monaghan

LAU "Live"
Label: Navigator Records 4; 9 tracks; 61 min
With six tracks from their debut CD and three new numbers, Lau's live recording is more of the same excellent fare. More music, more mastery, more mayhem. Starting slow, Stewarts shifts up to a French-style waltz, and then up again to Martin Green's reel Last Week's Efforts. The first of Kris Drever's three songs is Banks of Marble, more modern in sentiment than the two ballads which follow, but treated with the same timeless grace. This is a new track, and so is Frank and Flo's which includes Aidan O'Rourke's offbeat jig An Tobar.The carefully choreographerd chaos of Sea is the final newcomer, a big piece with bags of energy, greatly appreciated by the Edinburgh Bongo Club audience.
I think what makes Lau special is their ability to switch between the slow, melancholic, almost English airs and the full-throttle fevered frenzy of modern Celtic reels. Drever's sensitive guitar becomes a Kalashnikov at the drop of a chord. O'Rourke has one of the purest fiddle tones I know, but when his head goes down and his knee comes up he can saw and scrape for Scotland. Green is well known for his Jekyll and Hyde characteristics, not only in his box-playing. Some of the polished beauty of Lau's music is lost in a live setting, but the extra spark more than makes up for this. Butcher Boy has an added urgency, and the 14-minute Lang Set sprouts demonic wings. After another haunting ballad, O'Rourke's trademark lyrical Hinba builds up to more madness before the gorgeous closing air. You won't often hear a more exciting and absorbing trio. If you haven't heard them yet, now's your chance.
Alex Monaghan

May Monday "Midnight"
Label: Own Label; 12 tracks; 62 min
These twelve tracks are a real treat for fans of Northwestern European accordion music. Karen Tweed and Timo Alakotila are the backbone of May Monday, and Midnight is their second album. Karen's piano box is well known in English, Scottish and Irish folk circles, while Timo has composed and played for many Finnish groups including JPP. Emma Reid and Roger Tallroth add English fiddle and Swedish guitar, and contribute compositions alongside Alan Kelly, Chris Wood, Andy Cutting, Maire Breatnach, Ian Lowthian, Sean Og Graham and others. There's also a couple of traditional tunes: Gerry Commane's, The Silver Slipper, and a long-named Scandinavian polska.It all adds up to over an hour of new and exciting music.
The opening medley starts with a bouncy piano air, then slips into reels: Beoga and Sam's Tune inject pace and power. Karen's Moonbeam Passage is a total contrast, low and wistful, almost mood music. Reverof shifts to Parisian waltzes, followed by Chris Wood's driving Lusignac. Emma Reid leads her air Great Uncle Henry, a charming and spirited celebration. The English tone continues with the swaggering march Ensuite Barn and the organised mayhem of Spaghetti Panic from the Late Blowzabellan era of English folk. A couple more airs written for Karen's friends lead to a medley of cracking if ill-omened jigs, then a lovely tribute to lamented genius Joe Scurfield, and an equally beautiful slow polska. Timo's Jig by Roger Tallroth is more of an exercise than a melody, but Alakotila's piano is invogorating here as elsewhere. The final big set starts with Gettingen Polska and follows that with two great Kerry polkas: maybe it's just me, but the Irish tunes seem to cause a large spike in the musical energy levels. Karen's own Orlando Polecat keep those levels high to round off the track. Timo finishes the album with a piece for his sister, Lumen Valossa, a piano and accordion duet, a beautiful conclusion to an unusual but rewarding CD.
Alex Monaghan

Moving Cloud "Welcome: Who Are You?"
GO Danish Folk; GO-0608; 13 tracks; 49 min
Four Danes and a Mancunian: not the title of a hit movie, but the line-up of this very listenable band. The only Irishman playing on Welcome is Donal Lunny, who also produced the album. No mean catch for a Danish pub band, but Moving Cloud have made a name for themselves in Denmark and beyond. Lunny produced their last recording too: this is the band's third CD, six songs and seven instrumentals, Irish through and through, including several compositions from current and past members of Moving Cloud. Highlights are hard to pick, since the musicianship and production are first class, but I will mention a few favourites. Coleman's Number 1 starts with the eponymous slip-jig, adds a Breton tune, links in the rollicking slide Kiely Cotter's, and ends with a charming reel. The House of Gerding set shows quality fiddling from new boy Christopher Davis Maack, who leads most of the instrumentals, as well as demonstrating the composition skills of former band members on three reels. Farewell to Monagh starts a medley of powerful old jigs and reels to please progressives and purists alike.
Among the songs from John Pilkington, three stand out for different reasons. The Wild Colonial Boy is just a dog-eared ballad in the hands of many singers, but here it is sharp and fresh. What Will You Do is known in many versions, and Moving Cloud do a fine job of theirs: they also have the inspired habit of tacking a tune onto the song, thereby enhancing both. The Peeler and the Goat is an old favourite fallen out of favour, and it's high time it was back in vogue with its catchy melody and gently ironic lyrics. Moving Cloud present music a cut above the usual Irish pub band fare. Ballads like The Girl I Left Behind and Around the Hills of Clare are sung with gusto and delicacy. The New Found Out and Owney Davey's Reel fairly scamper along. The jigs are not quite so strong, and there's some fragile flute-playing, but the fiddle and whistle do a fine job throughout. Touches of trumpet, and a great hand-and-foot percussion duet, add that special ingredient. This is a class act, doing full justice to Donal Lunny's careful production.
Alex Monaghan

Noel Sweeney "The Whinny Hills"
Label: Own Label; 14 tracks; 46 min
Leitrim flute-player Noel Sweeney represents his local tradition with confidence and skill. A mature musician, Noel has a clear and full style: slightly breathy at times, not too ornamented, nicely flowing and perfectly paced. John Blessing's and Frankie Kennedy's show the range of Noel's influences, tunes from two peerless flute-players of different generations. The lovely smooth jigs Twins' Delight and The Thrush in the Straw are topped off by Charlie Lennon's Smile from Sheila. Unusually for Irish musicians, the air Moorelock Mary is paired with a reel, Miss Dunbar. More reels follow, and a spine-tingling shift into The Drummercane Reel makes this set a definite highlight.
Noel adds to his Eb, D and C flutes with a couple of tracks on whistle. The deep resonant tone of the title slip-jigs could be a wooden whistle or a Susato. Alan Kelly's Wing Flapper finishes this set with a lovely swagger. Not Safe with a Razor sparkles on the high D whistle, leading into Brian Rooney's Reel. In between is a set on the high-pitch flute including Westering Home, a jig-time version of the song, usually known as The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre in Scotland. A Scott Skinner slow march continues the Caledonian connection, followed by another set of reels which names one of Tommy Peoples' well known tunes as The Merry Bachelor.
The Whinny Hills is a blend of old-style Leitrim flute-playing and some very modern arrangements. Piano, guitar, strings and percussion produce a range of moods. Although Noel numbers John Blessing and Jim Rawle among his mentors, the backing on a few tracks here would have been quite foreign to musicians of their era. However, they might not have been surprised by the pair of jigs which precede the final track as Noel picks up the alto sax, showband stalwart of many years, for Carl Hession's Rambles of Mike and the wonderful Connie O'Connell's Jig. Three great reels round things off: The Lansdowne Lass, The Coalminer and The Tailor's Thimble, ending a very fine album of delightful and intriguing Leitrim music. If you see it, buy it. If you don't see it, email Noel.
Alex Monaghan

Norman MacKay "The Perfect Squeeze"
Label: Own Label; CAWCD001; 13 tracks; 46 min
A prodigious talent, this button box player from Cawdor has become well known in Edinburgh and beyond. Brash and eclectic, Norman's playing combines the drive of Scottish accordion music with the flow and variations of the continental style. The Perfect Squeeze starts with the monster Klezmer jig The Montreal Fiddler, all semitones and swirling rhythms, helped by a couple of friends from the band Moise's Bagel. Two top-speed twisted reels follow, as Rod Paul tries to keep up on banjo, and so far this debut CD is 100% Norman's own compositions. Lord Haddow's Favourite slows the pace, straight off an early Battlefield LP, paired with the march Mr MacFarlane which is another Mackay original. The Leaving of Paris is mainstream continental accordion music, stunningly played. It's track 5 before we really hear the standard Scottish repertoire on Kenny Gillies. Then Norman's off again into Norwegian airs, Gordon Duncan showpieces, a Cunningham-style slow number and a twang-filled barndance, before a set of reels and a Skinner air bring us to another continental showpiece in Valerie's Waltz. Twelve tracks of very varied music: the final down-tempo organ arrangement of The Montreal Fiddler is pure over-indulgence.
The Perfect Squeeze is a fifty-minute roller-coaster ride, never dull and certainly not predictable. Norman includes eight of his own distinctive melodies, including one dedicated to his fiddler friend Carrie Thomas. One of Carrie's compositions is also featured here, as are tunes by Donald Shaw, J-P Cormier and Allan Henderson. There's a bit of percussion, quite a lot of fiddle, and a few other touches, but it's really all about the box. This is an album for serious accordion enthusiasts, and for those who like their music served hot and rich with plenty of gravy. There's a bit of everything, not unlike a good curry, and occasionally some of it slides off the plate. If you're looking for full flavour and you don't mind the occasional splatter, this could be the perfect CD for you. It's not something you'd manage every day, though. Give it a whirl at and see how much you can keep down.
Alex Monaghan

The Rooneys "Where have You Been?"
Label: Own label; 10 tracks; 35 min
A family band from County Down, this is their second album and it's pretty impressive. The Rooneys are six siblings aged from 11 to 21, singing and playing flute, whistle, accordion, concertina, fiddle and other stuff. Where have You Been? alternates songs and instrumentals. The vocals are a mixed bag, everything from traditional favourites to original folk-pop ballads. The Month of January and Siúl a Rún are well known, nicely arranged here, and competently sung by Sheila. I've heard more coherent versions of the words. Those Words and Another Life were written by Sheila Rooney: the introspective lyrics may one day be available at and the mix of teenage angst and lifestyle advice is similar to countless singer-songwriter creations. Stephen Rooney has a fascinating voice over a drums'n'synth soundscape. The guitar accompaniment gets a little samey after ten tracks: more bouzouki, please.
The six instrumental tracks include one slow air, the rest being jigs and reels. Influences from Wolfstone and other Scottish bands add to a mild folk-rock feel on Stíofan's Rils and Lost The Plot, whilst Brendan Tonra's is straight Irish trad sweetly played. The air The Colours of Cape Breton, written by Phil Cunningham, flows beautifully from accordion and flute. Gordon Duncan's jig The Famous Baravan sparkles on the whistle, as does Fight Or Flight by Sheila. The Rooneys also boast two champion bodhran players, and their sparse guests include a world champion drummer, so the beat is clear enough. Where have You Been? is a delightful surprise, and all too short.
Alex Monaghan

Sam Proctor "Natural Progression"
Label: Higlet Recordings; HGR 081; 12 tracks; 46 min
There's a touch of English folk to this Anglo-Irish fiddler, a straight note here and there where the Irish would curl it, perhaps a little more work in the elbow than the fingers, but that's just stylistic seasoning on a dish of very tasty fiddling. Reels and jigs are the main course, with a side order of polkas. Mother's Delight makes a fine starter as a slow reel. After a couple of spicy modern reels, the unusual setting of The Castle Jig is charming. Cous Cous Kiss is a bit hard to swallow, but not nearly as repellent as it sounds. Tom Oakes' air Joe's Tune was recorded in a stunning acoustic, with perfect clarity and yet a sense of open space. To be fair, the volume and tone do fluctuate a bit through this recording but the quality is consistently high.

There's plenty of rattling good reels, some fine new jigs including Na Deora Mora, and those Daybreak Polkas in fine Kerry style. The only track that wasn't to my taste was The Flooded Road, starting with a rather jerky waltz and moving into a fine rendition of Jimmy McHugh's reel The Flooded Road to Glenties which is unfortunately marred by the World Music backing. Elsewhere the accompaniments complement the fiddle fairly well. Sam is joined by Englishmen Luke Daniels and Tim Edey, as well as a number of other sidemen. His twin sister Kate duets on flute for the final Chloe's Passion set, the title coming from Dr Angus MacDonald's slip jig, rounded off by delicious Munster Bacon. If I've whetted your appetite for this CD, try for a couple of samples.
Alex Monaghan

Session A9 "Bottlenecks & Arm-Breakers"
Label: Raj Records; RAJCD 003; 10 tracks; 44 min
This fiddle-led band has seriously funked up its music since the debut recording What Road? - Tim Edey (melodeon and guitar) takes over from Kris Drever, and Kevin Henderson joins fellow fiddlers Charlie McKerron, Gordon Gunn and Adam Sutherland. Iain Copeland on percussion and Brian McAlpine on shamelessly funky keyboards complete the line-up, plus occasional guests. Many of Charlie's tunes feature here, from the storming opener Real Mackay Wedding to the triumphant air Fionn's.The title tune The Arm Breaker is another of his, as is the well-known Paella Grande. Charlie shares the pair of almost-strathspeys Kirstie's and Garry Porch with Adam Sutherland, who contributes several other compositions including the currently popular Road to Errogie. Tim Edey adds a touch of Sliabh Luachra melodeon on Adam's reel A Trip to Market, and there's a tune apiece from Tim, Kevin and Gordon.
With a dozen compositions from the band, the other half of this ten-track CD draws on traditional tunes and pedigree composers. Sporting Paddy lends an Irish flavour to a set which includes John Morris Rankin's Hull Reel. Gordon Duncan's Jig O' Beer follows Duncan the Gauger, unusually attributed to Evan Macrae. The Sleeping Tune is one of Gordon Duncan's finest, and gets a melancholy treatment from Session A9. Struy Lodge, credited to Willie Ross, and Far From Home are traditional reels nicely handled. Ross Ainslie's Dirty Bee provides the big finish, a satisfying climax to an excellent album. Never mind the width: Session A9 have produced a quality recording here. Fiery fiddle, rippling keyboards, a good solid beat and lots of little extras.
Alex Monaghan

Sgiobalta "Sgiobalta"
Label: Own label; 2007; 13 tracks, 47 min
A fluid grouping of young musicians, Sgiobalta is based around Stirling and has achieved a national reputation. The 2007 line-up includes four fiddles, pipes, flute, clarsach, guitar and vocals. Sgiobalta's repertoire ranges from Irish session tunes to Gaelic airs, and is mainly well-known Scottish material. Kicking off with Jig of Slurs and two other popular jigs, there are a couple of ensemble sets which have the lively feel of an informal session. Other tracks feature solo performances, duos and trios, with more arrangement. Hector the Hero played by Andrew Cunningham, and Siobhan Anderson's rendition of her own strathspey The Sweetie Jar, show the level of technique and artistry achieved by these youngsters: whether it's fiddle, flute, pipes or clarsach, there's great tone and skill here. Craig Muirhead and Sarah MacNeil are two more names to watch for in the future. Entertainment is not in short supply either. Good music well played: Bulgarian Red, The Hut on Staffin Island, Lexie MacAskill and two versions of Marni Swanson all sparkle. There is just the one vocal piece, Buain na Rainich or Tha Mi Sgith, squeezed into an instrumental medley.
Despite their ages of between 15 and 18, this is not just a bunch of teenagers playing Scottish music. Sgiobalta have organised themselves, promoted themselves, and are proud of their self-motivated and self-funded success. They are also aware of their debt to the Feisean movement where many of them met, to the folk clubs and older musicians who have supported them, and to the music which they love to play. Their attitude reminds me of a young Moving Hearts collective. Sgiobalta doesn't seem to be about fame and money (although they probably wouldn't object): it's about music and people and culture. For me, that's an important part of traditional music. Sgiobalta deserve all the support we can give them. They also win my prize for the most attractive CD cover of the year.
Alex Monaghan

Simon Chadwick "Clarsach na Banrighe"
Label: Own Label; 22 tracks, 63 min
Played on a replica of the 15th-century harp which belonged to Mary Queen of Scots, this music is perhaps as close to renaissance lutery as to the modern clarsach repertoire. The sound is quite different, though: Simon Chadwick plays a metal-strung instrument with bell-like tone and sustain, far removed from gut-strung lutes and harps. This recording is in three parts: mediaeval sacred music, mediaeval and renaissance airs from various sources, and nine pieces from the documented repertoire of one of the last players of the original Queen Mary harp.
The forms and styles of the church music are stately, with ringing harmonies, quite unlike dance music. Vir Iste, Salve Splendor and Pater Columba are more like pieces of the liturgy. Even Ex Te Lux Oritur, which seems to be set to a Scottish jig, is slow and dramatic rather than the even rhythm required by dancers. There's more than a hint of pipe music in The Battle of Harlaw, and again in the several airs attributed to Fingal. Da Mihi Manum strikes a very different note, not the smooth polished air of Planxty's 1973 Tabhair Dom Do Lamh but a rough-hewn melody with harsh polyphonic ornamentation. Other relatively well-known pieces are Port Lennox, Port Athol, Rory Dall's Port and Lude's Supper, all previously recorded on metal and gut harps, but here in slightly different versions.
Whether or not you believe that pibroch grew out of harp variations, the showpiece Lament for the Bishop of Argyll is an impressive and intricate work. There are more piping infuences in the final Flowers of the Forest, a little known version of this classic Scottish lament. With over an hour of music, there's plenty to interest harp fans on Clarsach na Banrighe. As entertainment it's pretty heavy at times, but as a store of new and inspiring sounds it comes close to the seminal recordings by Ann Heymann. Well worth a listen.
Alex Monaghan

V/A "Transatlantic Sessions 3"
Label: Whirlie DVD 01 (CD version available); 47 tracks, 229 min
Gather together the great and good of folk music from both sides of the big pond, and you might just get lucky. Put Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas in charge, and you could get this: better than lucky. In its third series, Transatlantic Sessions continues to coax outstanding music from a group of individual performers. As Jerry Douglas puts it, everyone leaves their ego at the door. Donal Lunny, Phil Cunningham, Donald Shaw, Mike McGoldrick, Bruce Molsky - and that's just the backing band. Six half-hour programmes are presented in full, with 42 tracks of solos, duets and ensemble pieces, plus some bonus material. This series features Jenna Reid, Cara Dillon, Julie Fowlis, Catriona McKay, Sharon Shannon, Gerry O'Connor, Sam Lakeman, Paul Brady, Tim O'Brien, Fred Morrison and many more. There's a bunch of American singers too, if you like that sort of thing.
Kicking off with two of Aly Bain's brilliant bouncy reels, there's too much good stuff to list. Sharon Shannon slays The Swedish Jig. Jenna Reid duets with Aly on her soulful version of Hector the Hero. Fred Morrison plays his own Lochaber Badger, and when he and Mike McGoldrick pick up the pipes for Rip the Calico it stays ripped. Catriona McKay's Swan LK 243 speaks for itself, even without Aly and Jerry. The final chase through Sail Away Ladies and Walking in the Parlour combines Americana and Celtica with a big dollop of Nyah and Yeeha! There's room enough for some exquisite performances from Jerry Douglas, Phil and Aly, and other house band stars too.
On the song side, Julie Fowlis sings a couple of Gaelic classics. Karen Matheson pumps out a stirring medley of mouth music. Cara Dillon sings P Stands for Paddy and The Streets of Derry. Paul Brady returns to his roots with The Lakes of Pontchartrain, and is joined by the chorus line for a couple of his own songs. The camera work and sound quality are excellent, the scenery is breathtaking, the sleeve notes are more than sufficient, the calibre and quantity of music is prodigious. The style ranges from highland to hillbilly, front porch to fiery poteen, all good. No complaints from me: this is one hell of a DVD. Most of it is also available on CD. Google it!
Alex Monaghan

Troy MacGillivray "Live at the Music Room"
Label: Own Label; TROLLEY-04; 12 tracks; 68 min
This Nova Scotian fiddler has already won ECMA album of the year with his fourth recording, no mean feat in Atlantic Canada. Live at the Music Room, to give it its full title, is well over an hour of dance music in the driving Cape Breton style: energetic reels, jigs and strathspeys, a couple of clogs and polkas, and a captivating performance of the air Neil Gow's Lament for his Second Wife. The ten-minute opener sets out Troy's wares: a Skinner strathspey Davie Taylor's, the traditional Braes of Tullymet and Duke of Gordon, Cape Breton favourite Hughie Shortie's Reel leading into Paddy on the Turnpike and Miss MacLeod's in the Irish style, then St Kilda's Wedding (I didn't even know she was engaged) and Rod Alexander's by Father Angus Morris, before the final fireworks of Pointe Au Pic from French Canada. Splendid stuff.
Current favourites and fiddle classics jostle for space throughout this CD. The Marquis of Huntly, Kohler's Hornpipe, Pottinger's Reel and Gladstone's all show slightly different aspects of Scottish music. North of the Grampians starts another ten-minute monster medley of strathspeys and reels, ending with some very fancy bowing on The Irish American. The Magnet, The CBC Reel, The Road to Errogie and a couple of catchy Dave Greenburg jigs are the modern face of fiddle music, and Troy's own compositions fit in well. The only slight disappointment is Gordon Duncan's Pressed for Time, an extremely challenging pipe tune which hasn't transferred too well to the fiddle.
Troy is also one of Nova Scotia's finest pianists, and the Piano Reels set here shows off his considerable talent. The Bird's Nest is a lovely old reel, and The Devil & The Dirk flows beautifully. Troy stays on the ivories for the slow air. Allan Dewar plays back-up piano elsewhere, and Dave MacIsaac shares the guitar credits with Brad Davidge. The final member of Troy's crew is his sister Sabra who provides gentle bodhran and bits of foot percussion as well as a step-dance showcase track, to the big King George IV strathspey and John MacNeil's Reel. The final march, strathspey and reel combination draws deserved applause as Troy thanks his accompanists, and there you have it: another outstanding recording from those sickeningly talented Canadians with the funny names.
Alex Monaghan

Spiers & Boden "Vagabond"
Navigator Records; 12; 11 tracks; 46 min
Continuing their valiant efforts to drag rustic English music before a wider audience, John and Jon have parcelled up six songs from Shakespeare to Sidmouth, along with five sets of fine tunes, for their fifth or sixth album depending how you count them. This is definitely the acceptable face of English traditional vocals: no strained harmonies, no long drawn-out choruses, no stumbling repetitive melodies. Tom Paget is an entertaining variation on the begging ballad which lends this CD its name. The Birth of Robin Hood is a Child ballad with typical suspension of disbelief, full of colour and allegory. Captain Ward provides an excellent example of the pirate song, powerfully arranged on fiddle and melodeon. The instumentals are a joy, from the Umps & Dumps favourite Up the Sides and Down the Middle to the haunting air Roslin Chapel given a Welsh twist here. There's a rollicking version of Princess Royal, and the gently charming Vignette to finish.
John Spiers and Jon Boden are supremely good at what they do: strong dramatic arrangements of folk songs, good clear vocals and pleasing harmonies, supplemented by dance music and airs on fiddle and melodeon. You won't find many acoustic duos with a fuller sound. The Englishness is clear and inescapable with modal tunes, simple but effective chords, and timeless lines like "The salt fish in the brook" or "Our ship was sailing from the east and going to the west". Still, no worse than Lyle Lovett's "Me upon my pony on my boat", and Spiers & Boden's delivery is exemplary. Vagabond is one of the best English folk recordings I've heard in years, fresh and energetic, expertly played and just that little bit different. Worth checking out, I'd say.
Alex Monaghan

Le Vent Du Nord "Dans Les Airs"
Label: Borealis; BCD189; 13 tracks; 49 min
Another generous dozen tracks from this captivating Quebecois quartet who seem set to succeed La Bottine Souriante as ambassadors of French Canadian music. Dans Les Airs is their third album, and will delight existing fans and newbies alike. Pulsing box and demonic fiddle, kicking aces with foot percussion, and close-harmony vocals - all the ingredients of the classic Quebec musical stew, and there's plenty of meat in this one. Opening with Rosette, a jaunty romantic ballad of jealousy and betrayal, the feel-good factor is increased by a bouncy little tune from fiddler Olivier Demers. Next up is another medley of song and reel, a story of good company, wine and women, shared or not. Seven more songs span styles from Hot Club to humble kitchen session: unaccompanied traditional choruses, richly arranged introspections, and the occasional snatch of humour.
In between are moments of instrumental brilliance: crazy piano on La Piastre des Etats, a version of Roxburgh Castle apparently learned from Shona Mooney, deep grinding hurdy-gurdy from Nicolas Boulerice on Les Larmes aux Yeux, with Demers' fiddle and Rejean Brunet's box on several saucy reels and jigs. The sombre song Le Vieux Cheval starts something of a blue period, including Petit Reve 3 and ending with Demers' poignant L'Heure Bleue. La Fille et les Dragons finishes this recording in fine old style, providing a happy ending where most traditional ballads would have had suffering and death. Full of surprises, Le Vent Du Nord have pulled another rabbit out of the hat with Dans les Airs.
Alex Monaghan

Neil Brookes & Tony Weatherall "The Whitchurch Hornpipe"
Label: Wild Goose; WGS350CD; 17 tracks; 56 min
Just when you thought all the possible hornpipes and waltzes had been written, along comes this CD based on recently rediscovered 19th-century manuscripts. Taken from around 450 tunes annotated from 1801 to at least 1837, The Whitchurch Hornpipe presents twenty-five pieces on melodeon, flute and fiddles. The main interest of this recording is in the new-found material, most of which is very pleasant indeed. The Nineteenth Century and Hanley hornpipes are worthy additions to the family, and the title track is well chosen. Albert Hughes' Waltz is a lovely example of old English dance music. Whilst the playing is more than competent, it's not as tight as it might be, and the flute double-tracking seems to muddy the sound. The recording volume level is also surprisingly low, reducing the overall dynamics. Even so, it's still quite listenable.
There seems to be more than a little Welsh influence in some of the melodies, Ellesmere Quick and O What a Row being two examples. There's also a strong military flavour, not surprising given the Napoleonic era from which much of this material comes. Names such as Wellington's Victory and The Shropshire Hero are warlike enough, but The Soldier's Cloak, Worcester Farewell and Sally's March may say more about the people left behind. Of course not all these tunes are completely unknown: Lady Montgomery's Reel is common enough in other traditions, The Oak Stick is a close relative of a tune I know as The Randy Wives of Greenlaw, and there are other familiar measures, but most of the tunes here will be new to most people. Sitting between the Welsh and English traditions, with an ear for a good tune whether it be French or Irish, these Shropshire scribblers have preserved some fine stuff and The Whitchurch Hornpipe is very welcome as both a source recording and a relaxing hour of regional music.
Alex Monaghan

Kane O'Rourke "The Jolly Tinker"
Label: Own Label; 14 tracks; 79 min
An extraordinary album this, in many ways. Kane is a multi-instrumentalist - fiddles, flutes and other stuff - and he's good. As far as I can tell, he doesn't sing: the four songs are each credited to a different vocalist. He does throw in a nice bit of lilting on Mucka's, and he enlists the help of a few friends including Nigel Davey on the box, but the ten instrumental tracks are fronted by Mr O'Rourke in styles ranging from pure drop to Paddy-A-Gogo. There's quite a bit of synthesised keyboards and drums, and some revival of folk-rock ideas, but this CD stretches comfortably from well-played straight trad on The Nightingale Set and the title track, through modern arrangements on Dogs Pollon Jigs and Johnny Cope, all the way to weird post-contemporary pieces. See what you make of May Morning Dew for starters.
Kane O'Rourke's flutes and fiddle are handy enough, but it's the arrangements which make this such a compelling listen. There's always something going on, from double-tracked low whistle to laptop loops. The vocal tracks are raw and heartfelt, whether it's Eamon McDonagh on May Morning Dew, Alan Burke on Conamara or Peter Coughlan on Make and Break Harbour. Kane has musician friends too: there's a lovely bit of piping from Eanna Cronin on The Old Bush. Sean Ryan's shows off Kane's bodhrán ability with evocative African-style percussion behind the reels. The Kilkenny builds to an impressive climax. Then we get Mamo, almost as an afterthought: eat you heart out, Paul Mounsey. The Jolly Tinker is well worth seeking out, maybe at Kane's myspace page. I'm intrigued to see what direction this man takes now.
Alex Monaghan

Fergal Scahill "The Dusty Bridge"
Label: Own Label; FSCD0001; 14 tracks; 49 min
With over a thousand releases planned on his label, this Galway fiddler is going to be even busier in future. Fergal Scahill's debut solo CD follows a few forays into recording with Paul Moran, The Brock McGuire band, and others. The menu here is mainly reels and jigs. Frankie Gavin's Mystery Reel is much in vogue just now, and Fergal gets dark and dangerous on Patsy Tuohey's. He turns in a fabulous lilting performance of Maid at the Spinning Wheel before the first of three hornpipe sets starts with The Banks, a challenging piece on which Fergal stamps his authority. The Dusty Bridge includes a few idiosyncratic versions of well-known tunes: Jenny's Welcome to Charlie, President Garfield's and The Humours of Ballyconnell to name three. The title jig is Fergal's own, the only one on this recording, sitting nicely with Ryan's Favourite and The Boys of the Town.
Fergal Scahill's playing is strong and rhythmic. The Hag at the Churn is attacked with gusto, and the horsehair is almost alight on The Boys of the Lough. There's more testosterone than tone at times, but that's fine by me: a good fiddler needs a bit of the devil in him. Mairtin O'Connor tunes The Celebration Reel and The Long Lane accentuate the playful bedlam of Fergal's music, reminiscent of Reeltime or Nomos at their best. Two big numbers finish the album, The Spike Island Lasses paired with one of Paddy Fahey's well-known reels, and finally the enchanting air Port na bPucai given a stunning six-minute treatment. There's a bit of rhythm guitar, a bit of sean-nos stepping, some fine piano accompaniment from Ryan Molloy, and the rest of The Dusty Bridge is Fergal's fiddle. Impressive and powerful.
Alex Monaghan

Catherine McEvoy "The Home Ruler"
Clo Iar-Chonnachta; CICD172; 15 tracks; 49 min
Almost a decade on from her last solo recording, Catherine is looking good and sounding better. I'm not sure if the title is a reference to her Republican sympathies or her role in the McEvoy household, but either way The Home Ruler demonstrates that this Birmingham-reared Roscommon-style fluteplayer is still one of the finest Dublin-based musicians. There's a warmth and intimacy to this recording, an up-close feel that sometimes reveals the mechanics behind the magic (even the best players have to breathe!) but also shares every nudge and nuance of the performance: the cheeky sustained slide on F# in The Bag of Spuds, the inspired flutter across the octaves in the title track. As ever, the tempo and phrasing are world class.
Catherine's trusty Rudall & Rose flute is put aside for eleven tracks, to be replaced by three of Michael Grinter's instruments. The range of tones, from Eb to C, plus the four Rudall & Rose tracks, make this album a fascinating comparison of flute characteristics as well as a delightful fifty minutes of Irish music. On the earthy C flute, Catherine has a lovely touch and is in total command of the music: Elizabeth Kelly's Favourite and Follow me Down to Limerick are perfectly paced examples. The high Eb is heard to great effect on Major Moran's and The Mystery Reel. The opening track is one of my favourites, session tunes Rolling in the Ryegrass and The Traveller on her familiar Rudall & Rose. There's only one air here, the gorgeous Bánchnoic Eireann O, played on the Grinter C.
Most of the material on The Home Ruler is of long and ancient pedigree, but there's a handful of compositions by twentieth-century musicians and Catherine has included three of her own tunes. Dancing at Kilbrew is a charming jig named for a place just round the corner from Catherine's house in Meath. Dermot Grogan's Farewell and The Curskeagh Lasses are both powerful reels. Catherine is joined on piano by Felix Dolan as usual, and also by Geraldine Cotter and nephew Paddy McEvoy. Steve Cooney plays guitar on a few tracks, and Joe Kennedy provide just the right amount of rhythm on the old Irish frame drum. Highly recommended.
Alex Monaghan

V/A "Borders Pipes"
Label: Own Label; 12 tracks; 39 min
From the relatively staid Gordon Mooney to the positively turbo-charged Chris Waite, the full range of Borders piping is represented on this nicely produced CD. The relation to Highland and Northumbrian pipes is finally explained in detailed notes by Fred Freeman. The repertoire covers a bit of everything: Burns songs John Anderson, Rattlin Roarin Willie, Westland Winds and others, mainstream Scottish pipe tunes Stumpie and My Wife's a Wanton Wee Thing, Northumbrian melodies like Jimmy Allen which don't quite fit the Borders pipe compass, and several old Borders tunes such as The Souters o' Selkirk, Duns Dings A' and Brose and Butter. The tones range from a thin high Northumbrian sound to a brazen blare which is almost Highland. Calum Galleitch plays a resonant set of smallpipes, while Chris Ormiston's instrument is reedy and warbling like a French cabrette.
One of the best things about this recording is the new tunes and techniques which have emerged in the short time since the Borders pipes were revived. Gordon Mooney, an early mover in the current revival, penned the powerful Shona's Reel for his fiddler daughter, and The Upland Way for the hiking trail that runs past his house: there are strong echoes of MacCrimmon's Lament in this melody. Gaby's March is an altogether more cheerful tune from the Scottish Salsa school of piping, and Waite's Reel joins 17 Minutes to Midnight in Chris Waite's thoroughly modern medley. I should mention that Marc Duff, Angus Lyon, Shona Mooney, Ian Anderson and Brian Maynard add their genius on several tracks: whistles, box, fiddle and strings all gel well with the pipes. There's plenty of variety on this CD, and lots of good music.
Alex Monaghan

Maggie Adamson & Brian Nicholson "Tammy Norie"
Label: MB Sounds; 2008
At the tender age of fifteen, this Shetland fiddler has more attack than the entire Scottish three-quarter line. Starting off with her title jig, snappy as a crocodile in a crate of crackerjacks, she shifts into the smoother Glenlivet Crofter reel, another of her own tunes and just as jaunty. To go from this to the Skinner showpiece The President is brave verging on rash, but Maggie pulls it off spectacularly, from the bass pizzicato to those eye-watering notes up in umpteenth position. Silk and shrapnel by turns. Willie Hunter's waltz Ivor and Eleanor's Wedding shows tone and control on one of several tracks here from the Shetland swing movement. Beaumont Rag, Somewhere Over the Rainbow and The Old Rugged Cross are all infused with that uncanny Shetland feel for Americana. The more usual fiddle repertoire is dispatched with skill and vigour: Beeswing Hornpipe, Shalder Geo, Dinky's, The Cup of Tea, The Poppyleaf, The Mason's Apron with variations, and Willie Hunter's most famous air Leaving lerwick Harbour for a bittersweet finish.
Leaving aside the horrifyingly young age of Miss Adamson, this is a prodigious debut recording for any fiddler. Spanning strathspeys to czardas, rags to rich airs, Tammy Norie is fifty minutes of very fine fiddling. Not perfect, but doubtless that will come soon enough - a little more contrast in the march, strathspey and reel, a touch less staccato in places. Maggie is accompanied throughout by Brian Nicholson on versatile Shetland guitar, one of the best in the business. Both Maggie and Brian contribute several of their own tunes to this album, high quality compositions including the implausible Wir Dug dat Ate da Fiddle. All in all, an excellent first venture and a new rising star of Shetland music.
Alex Monaghan

The Hogs & Václav Koubek "Všem Se Nalejvá"
Indies; MAM 804 – 2
Yes the man is Czech. No, he does not possess a melancholic disposition. In fact, quite the opposite, thanks to his teaming up with Irish folk group The Hogs (from Co. Galway), on this very promising debut album. Koubek is not only an accordion player, but also a poet, song writer and director in the Czech Republic. Unsurprisingly, this is reflected in the Czech lyrics on the album. One theme runs clearly throughout the album – brace yourself!– that of drinking, and enjoying the rousing craic in life. Traditional Irish numbers like “Nancy Whiskey” as well as Czech such as Fláma (“Rake”) – which is an adaptation of “The Wild Rover” – are given a manic, trad-punk spin, which, again, is unsurprising, seeing as one of Michael Casey’s (banjo, backing vocals) all-time heroes is Shane MacGowan himself. Michael says that his favourite song on the album is “Vše co mám” (“All for me Grog”). I find myself in agreement with Michael, although “Zvedni číš”, track 8 and Hráz, track 10, are also close favourites, both of them reminiscent of some early Pogues stuff. All in all, the album conveys the sense of enthusiasm and passion that went into the making of it. Try it – you might like it.
Kathy-Ann Tan

Ben Reel Band "New Horizon"
Label: B. Reel Records; BRBCDA-005
Ben Reel is one of the upcoming singer-songwriters in Ireland these days. Live, Ben plays with Michael Black on drums, Ronnie O'Flynn on bass, and Micky McCarney on guitar. In the last few years, the Ben Reel Band have built up the reputation of being one of the finest live bands in Ireland. Ben Reel’s fourth album reflects the influence of the masters of his craft such as Van Morrison, Neil Young and Elvis Costello. The songs are a mix of folky pop, country, bluegrass and Americana (think harmonica and slide guitar). Ben’s vocals are a real treat, and for some reason, remind me of a less scratchy Shawn Mullins. My favourite on the album has to be “Waitin For U” (track 6) – it puts James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” in its place. Another treat on the album is “On Raglan Road” (written by Patrick Kavanagh), which does a good job of competing with Sinead O’Connor’s heartfelt rendition. Check out Ben’s My Space page, where you’ll find the most up-to-date information on tour dates and be able to read his latest blog entries.
Kathy-Ann Tan

Saoirse Mhór "Skin"
Label: Own label; 2006
If you’re a fan of Christy Moore, have bought all his albums, gone to all his live gigs, flash your “I love Christy Moore” bumper sticker, and are looking for fresh meat, then Saoirse Mhór is the name you’ve been looking for. An Irish singer/guitarist based in Germany, Saoirse has participated and played at events like the Würzburg Busker’s Festival and the Waldbrunn / Odenwald Annual Nabu festivities in Waldkatzenbach. His debut album, “Skin” features cameo appearances by his wife Birgit and Thomas Drost, a flute player and street musician based in Belgium. The songs on the album – nine in total – seem to reflect the usual themes of love, loss, self-reflection, emigration, the search for happiness, but there are interesting twists as well. Take the track “Highway Love”, which takes up the contemporary theme of cyber love (“The light upon your skin in the night turns me on/ The light upon my screen screams soon switch me on/ And the messages you send are burning me/ I feel your love through my window”), but also reflects the deeper tragedy of being trapped in oneself. For more information, go to Saoirse’s website, and, if you can, catch him live at a gig near you.
Kathy-Ann Tan

April Moon "Road Trip"
Label: KraKustiK; Kre200602
If you’re looking for an accessible, radio-friendly Celtic folk band based in Germany, then April Moon will be your cup of tea. Think fiddle, accordion and mandolin, combined with percussion and drums. Since they first came together in 1999, April Moon have worked hard and played numerous live gigs and concerts on stages large and small. The band are Uwe Juras on lead vocals, Laura Werner on electric violen, Daniel Franz on acoustic guitars and mandolin, Mattias Büttner on electric guitars, Mike Brühl on piano, accordion, trumpet, percussion and backing vocals, Sebastian Ritter on bass, cello, guitars, backing vocals and Uwe Charissé on drums. The album “Road Trip” comprises fourteen original compositions which take the listener – yes, on a road trip – from Northern California to Fairbanks, Alaska – or so the lyrics of the song “Stay” claim (do I detect the influence of Lou Reed on that track?). The tunes are catchy, even hum-worthy, but after listening to the entire album at one go, songs started to blend into one another – a danger, perhaps, when you have titles like “Raspberry Hearts”, “Dance With Me”, “Dear Diary”, “Complicated Lives”, “Happy Tears”, “A Rainy Day” and “Baby Blue”. Having said that, the album was still an enjoyable listen. File under: Pop/Rock/Celtic Folk aus Deutschland.
Kathy-Ann Tan

The Ginn Sisters "Blood Oranges"
Label: Sweetbird Records; 0001
Think Americana Bluegrass Country. Think sisters. Think great sense of humour and charm. Think biker bar cross Texas dance hall. Then, think again. The Ginn (pronounced with a hard ‘G’) Sisters’ second release (“Generally Happy” being their debut offering) is a juicy, zesty, tangy album, and not just because of its title. The thirteen tracks range from acoustic country rock (“Down the Drain”) to swaying country pop numbers like “Let It Burn”. Tiffani Ginn sings lead vocals slightly reminiscent of the Dixie Chicks and plays guitar, while sibling Brit does harmony vocals and demonstrates some impressive flute playing on the album. The duo has received some serious airtime to date, especially on radio stations in Austin, Texas and Nashville, and it’s not hard to see why. If you’re looking for an album that reflects the usual repertoire of themes – dreams of leaving a small Midwestern town, surviving when you’re down-and-out on your luck, broken promises – then this album is just perfect for you. My personal favourite on the album? It’s gotta be “Get it and Go”. Go figure.
Kathy-Ann Tan

George Papavgeris "For My Next Trick"
Folk4All; IRR061; 2006; Playing time: 67:07 min
One of the great pleasures for me this past 5 years was to become acquainted with the work of that British based Greek troubadour and songwriter, George Papavgeris. In an age where so many British folkies seem to want to style their performance on one or other of the leading lights of the day, it is refreshing to encounter a man who is such a one-off that it makes me wonder whether there is something in the water over there in Greece that gives birth to such individuality. He is joined here by a stellar cast of mainly young folk performers to help bolster his (perfectly adequate) acoustic guitar. It is perhaps invidious of me to mention one name over others (since they all do a fine job), but I simply must mention that gem of a singer/musician from South Lincolnshire, Miranda Sykes. Golly, how well her soprano voice blends with George’s earthy baritone. I think I can honestly say that I enjoyed all 16 tracks. A couple of them are truly magnificent Papavgeris compositions: his much-covered “Anytown” and his slightly lesser known “Silence of Friends”. They are the standout tracks here. If there is one track I could have done without it was probably his venture into Folk Opera with “Landfall”. It seemed to be an attempt at re-heating Peter Bellamy’s “The Transports”: pleasant enough, but not the real George methinks. And to finish the review, let’s take another quality composition of his: “Last Train Home”. There are times – like this - when he is not in “sentimental mode” that he makes you think of Leon Rosselson at his best. THAT’S how good he can be. He captures chocolate box pix of England, after the chocolates have been eaten and the empty box has been squashed and discarded into the dustbin.
Dai Woosnam

Parti Cut Lloi "Henffych Well!"
Label: Recordiau Bos; RBOS 007; 2005; Playing time: 58:44 min
This is an album from a 20-strong Welsh male folk choir, under the leadership of Welsh folk singer Siân James. They are based in the Dyffryn Banw area of Montgomeryshire in mid-Wales. First let me say that the CD makes no concessions on the linguistic front. You might ask, why should it? Why cannot it proudly be in the Language of Heaven? Why not, indeed. But look, it is just this: to use the immortal words of that great Welshman, Dr Glyn Jones, “the Dragon has two tongues”. And it is all very well appealing to the bilingual 20% of Wales: I would like to see perhaps two of the 18 tracks in the English language., in an effort to bring some of the 80% monoglot English speaking Welshmen on board. If you want someone to come into your garden, you have two options: to yank him over the adjoining fence from his garden. Or to go into his and sell him the benefits of walking around into yours. Use a bit of gentle encouragement. And to be fair, this album does indeed make that effort when it comes to the liner notes: they are helpfully translated. Okay, lecture over. What can I say about the album? Well, let me point out that most of it (apart from a few tracks with harp accompaniment) is delivered “a cappella”, and none the worse for that. The singing is of a high quality (as befits a group that won the competition for Folk parties at the National Eisteddfod of 2003). The material runs the gamut from “penillion singing” to translations of songs that are hugely popular in the English speaking world (like “To Be A Farmer’s Boy” and “The Grandfather Clock”. And although it was very much a joint effort, one singer’s voice stood out. Edfryn Lewis. It went straight to my heart. Very enjoyable. An album that shows that we Welsh are indeed a musical nation.
Dai Woosnam

William Lee Ellis "God’s Tattoos"
Yellow Dog Records; YDR 1343; 2006; Playing time: 43:24 min
This is an eclectic album from a chap who is a bit of an enigma to me. I was not familiar with his work, and having played the album through three times, I immediately did my usual thing of trying to describe him in a sentence or two to a friend who just came into the room as the CD finished playing. But it was no easy task. All sorts of musical styles. From Mississippi John Hurt/Rev Gary Davis material; to a rhumba that features an accordion redolent of that tango maestro Astor Piazzolla; to dreamy spaced-out self-penned instrumentals like the closing track; to up-tempo slide guitar numbers that get you moving your feet; and even containing a number he says was revealed to him in a dream by the by then long-dead Rev Davis! All human life is here, and seemingly all instruments. We even have the washboard in evidence! And talking about all human life: it seems that he has thanked everyone he has ever met in his life (in his liner notes). I have never seen so many people acknowledged on an album cover. It is a rum affair. As for describing his voice: I would best call it “pleasant” without having a DNA that marked it out as special. However his dear wife Julie appears, doing harmony on one song, and I have to tell Mr Ellis that his best career move would be to promote the girl to be his vocalist and let him do the chorus harmonies. She strikes me as a bit special.
Dai Woosnam

Mozaik "Changing Trains"
Compass; MOZCD 02; 2007
Irish legends Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny are undoubtedly the headliners of this latest effort from trans-Atlantic quintet Mozaik. But add classy multi-instrumentalists Nikola Parov (sheer Balkan brilliance), Bruce Molsky (folksy, old-timey Americana) and Rens Van Der Zalm (Dutch Celtic whizz), plus guest Irish piper Liam O’Flynn, and you’d expect something special. With “Changing Trains” you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Andy Irvine’s opening song, “O’Donoghue’s”, is a wonderfully jaunty potted history of his musical life. With Liam O’Flynn’s whistle and Donal Lunny’s bodhran and bouzouki, it sounds like the brilliance of Planxty renewed. Bruce Molsky’s following medley of old-time Tennessee tunes – “Sail Away Ladies / Walking In the Parlor” – might have you wondering whether the trend of the album will be successive nods to the musical heritage of each band member: a weld job of disparate influences. But the Molsky-led “Reuben’s Train” achieves a far greater level of musical melding. Starting in the deep south (think Soggy Bottom Boys), it choofs seamlessly into both Balkan and Irish countryside.
But Andy Irvine proves to be the king of Celtic cross-over on his hauntingly beautiful “The Wind Blows Over the Danube”. An autumnal, wistful look at times past, it superbly weaves Irish and Balkan sounds. Parov’s gadulka and kaval add an almost mystical longing to Irvine’s plaintive vocals. The complement is returned on “The Humours of Parov”, with Irvine adding an Irish 9/8 slip-jig to a Bulgarian 9/8 dance to great effect. Donal Lunny then makes a rare foray to the vocal mike, sounding as though he’s learned something from Frank Harte in an almost sean-nos rendition of the trad. Irish song “Mary Mhaggie / Siún Ní Dhuidhir”. Another trad. song, “The Ballad of Rennardine”, proves how embedded Balkan rhythms are in Andy Irvine’s music. He uses the rhythm of a paidushko horo (Bulgarian 5/8 dance) rather than the usual 4/4 time. The result is sublime, lifting an already great song to another level altogether. Music such as Mozaik’s make you glad that Andy Irvine allowed the east wind to blow on him all those years ago.
Peter Grant

Cora Smyth "Are we there yet?"
Label: Own label; W.EDGE1; 2008; Playing time: 46:08 min
Are we there yet? is the question of whining children in the back seat of the car. Irisher fiddler Cora Smyth (-> FW#32) has just started yet. Cora hails from a musical family from Straide in County Mayo; brother Sean plays with Lunasa (-> FW#32). Cora's journey led her joining the backing band of the Irish Eurovision Song Contest of 1996, as well as Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance show, where she met her now husband Sean Horsman. They started developing musical ideas, and eventually getting there to present a CD to us. Besides one traditional set and one Frankie Gavin tune, it is all Cora's. She plays fiddle and whistle, Sean played guitars, percussion and keyboards, did some programming and - made odd noises. The arrangements include a rich bass sound, keyboards and trumpet, and there is a bunch of guests such as Lunasa's bass player Trevor Hutchinson. The fiddle tunes are in the traditional vein, but the arrangments are inspired from funk and jazz music, what ever seemed appropriate to the respective track. Cora and Sean's is not an old-style marriage, but modern 21st century. Though not for the faint-hearted traditional purist, it is always tasteful. So are we there yet? - I don't think so. Probably there are many musical adventures ahead.
Walkin' T:-)M

Prosti Dumi "Ajde na Balkana"
Indies Scope; MAM417-2; 2007; Playing time: 47:37 min
Ladislav Romanov Assenov, guitar player and singer, was born in Sofia in Bulgaria, but has lived in Pilsen, Czech Republic since being 12 years of age. He started composing and writing songs, because It is a way of conveying pain, sadness, joy, memories and yearning for Bulgarian, or rather Balkan culture, and the country where I lived as a small boy. My Bulgarian grandmother brought us to local folklore and folk songs by her natural way of life. I remember her singing national songs when she was cooking or doing household chores. "Ajde na balkana" is the debut album of Assenov's band Prosti Dumi, featuring Petr Cerveny (accordion), Tomas Blaha (bass guitar), Zdenek Maxa (percussion) and Gabriela Bultasová (vocals). Their songs are inspired by Balkan folk music. Gabriela Bultasová turns out to be a fantastic singer, who also plays a tapan drum, self-made of Macedonian provenance. Prosti Dumi's interpretation is very percussive and rhythmic. However, there are also elements of world and ethno music and, so the band acknowledges, psychedelic folk rock of the 1970's. "Ajde na Balkana" is very much recommended if you are into such kind of music.
Walkin' T:-)M

Bella Hardy "Night Visiting"
Label: Noe Records; NOE01; 2007; Playing time: 40:25 min
Bella Hardy is a young singer and fiddler from Derbyshire in Northern England, who was BBC Young Folk Awards finalist in 2004. Her debut solo album features mainly traditional songs, two originals, which both are quite promising, and one contribution by Kristina Olson. Amongst Bella's traditional night visiting songs are the well-known "Young Edmund", "Molly Vaughan" and "Bonny Susie Cleland", but also not too familiar stuff. Unfortunatly there is not that much information about the songs or the lyrics included in the booklet (maybe on her website, I didn't check). Bella turns out to be a great vocalist, easily outrunning competitors such as Kate Rusby (-> FW#35) and Cara Dillon (-> FW#34), for her singing is fresh and clear, but much more robust. I feel she could sing nearly anything. The songs and her singing is in the front, she also plays some fiddle and is backed up by musicians such as Corinna Hewat (-> FW#26).
Walkin' T:-)M

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset "The Bairns"
Label: EMI; 5099950438020; 2007; Playing time: 65:33 min
"The Bairns" features traditionals such as the Northumbrian nursery rhyme with violent undercurrent, "Felton Lonnin," or "Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk" (courtesy of Belle Stewart), music that is floating around from the River Tyne to the Scottish Borders. There is more, Owen Hand's whaling song "My Donald," Terry Conway's "Fareweel Regality" and Bonnie Prince Billy's "A Minor Place" - with the thought in mind that a song only becomes a folk song when people start singing it, and we'd like to start the ball rolling for A Minor Place. Rachel Unthank is the singer, Becky Unthank does some additional vocals, Belinda O'Hooley plays piano and Niopha Keegan the fiddle. Especially the piano accompaniment reminds of fellow English-woman June Tabor and her interpretation of traditional folk music (-> FW#34). So this is not your run-of-the-mill folk music. It is fragile and intimate, dark and chilling, with influences from blues and jazz music. It makes you shiver at times, at others uplifting like a vaudeville stage act. The booklet contains infos and comments about the songs, unfortunatly not the lyrics.
Walkin' T:-)M

Blazin' Fiddles "Live"
Label: Own label; BRCD2007; 2007; Playing time: 53:35 min
This is the Blazin' Fiddles' (-> FW#15, FW#23) 4th album altogether, celebrating 10 years on the road. This time live in concert, and the Blazers are best experienced live. This means five Scottish fiddlers: Catriona MacDonald (-> FW#13), Bruce MacGregor (-> FW#20), Allan Henderson (-> FW#29), Iain MacFarlane (-> FW#24), Aidan O'Rourke (-> FW#32), plus guitar player Marc Clement and keyboard player Andy Thorburn. 10 instrumental tracks from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and beyond. It gets hot at once with the opening French Canadian reel, but there are also sweet strathspeys and airs, or Mike McGoldrick's slow reel "Glenuig Bay". More uncommon, a Finnish tune by Arto Järvelä, Allan MacDonald's "Smirisary," and the late Johnny Cunningham's (-> FW#27) air "Murachadh nan Gealaich" (Murdo of the Moon). Though this is a mighty fiddle extravaganza, it is no wish-wash and no indistinguishable wall of sound. Every fiddle player gets his solo outing, and with the different rhythms and moods the Blazers present the whole spectrum of traditional Celtic instrumental music.
Walkin' T:-)M

Ian Hardie "Westringing"
Label: Own label; IJHCD001; 2007; Playing time: 54:53 min
There is a physical connection between the Blue Mountains of Scotland (Cairngorms) and the Blue Mountains of the New World (Blue Ridge), which were settled by so many Scots-Irish in the 18th century. Once they were part of the very same land mass. However, "Westringing" is music that is not from million years ago. Scottish fiddler Ian Hardie has been a member of bands such as Jock Tamson's Bairns (-> FW#31) and The Occasionals (-> FW#32). In 2003 he became interested in the sound of old-time Appalachian fiddle music, some of which came from Ireland and Scotland before. Ian made some study trips to learn from native American players. He composed own tunes in the genre, the outcome being "Westringing - Scotland meets Appalachia - fiddle and viola solos in altered tunings from The Cairngorms to The Blue Ridge". This actually says it all, except that it really is a great and enjoyable album too. Most tunes are Ian's original compositions, plus some traditional Shetland tunes and a set of pipe reels, respectively. Ian uses altered open tunings on the fiddle to increase harmony, drone, tone and volume options for the unaccompanied player. The old Shetland tuning AEAE is the most common, it is featured on eight tracks, and furthermore two GCGD, ADAD and C#F#C#F# (on the viola), respectively.
Walkin' T:-)M

More CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5
German Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3

Overview CD Reviews

Back to FolkWorld Content

© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 07/2008

All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission. Although any external links from FolkWorld are chosen with greatest care, FolkWorld and its editors do not take any responsibility for the content of the linked external websites.

FolkWorld - Home of European Music
FolkWorld Home
Layout & Idea of FolkWorld © The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld