FolkWorld Issue 39 07/2009
Label: Nordic notes / Laskeuma records ; LR02 / NN027; 2009
Label: Rounder; DINT0242; 2009
Label: Nana nana boo boo records; 2007
Label: World village; 45004; 2008
Label: Tzadik; 8134; 2009
Label: Navigator; CD 24; 2008; 42 min
Based around the wells and music of Mull, An Tobar is almost a soundtrack without the film. The title piece, the longest of the five, is a melting pot of musical styles. There's plenty of Aidan's fluid fiddling, together with some very innovative harp accompaniment and a hefty dollop of jazz sax. Sea is an evocative piece, repetitive and surprising by turns, showing the changing moods and occssional violence of the island environment. Tobar nan Ealain is the vocal track. With the exception of a certain Planxty album, I've never been a fan of words and music: but the mix of Gaelic song and spoken word here works pretty well. The first melody is exquisite, creating a complete contrast with the chaotic computer effects on the middle section. For the record, if there was an award for "most irritating use of an alarm clock", it would go to this track.
For Martyn is more soothing, part lament for Martyn Bennett's short-lived talent, part gentle celebration of the beauty and eclecticism of his music. There's a bit of everything in here, from scordatura to shaky eggs. Aidan and friends produce a lovely tight sound on the more joyous sections. That tightness is partly lost on the final piece: Eas Fors is a bit of a curate's egg, with an extended sax solo in the middle for no apparent reason, before the fiddle and box return for the big complicated finish. This one doesn't work so well for me, and certainly isn't the climax An Tobar deserves. At the end of this recording, it felt like I was waiting for the big brash encore. Maybe it needs another track grafting on, just to finish it off. Despite that, An Tobar is well worth hearing: try www.NavigatorRecords.co.uk for samples and more info.
Label: Gael Linn; CEFCD 192; 2008; 43 min
The three banjo-free tracks are a delight and a surprise. The charming Carolan air Planxty Davis is not often recorded, but handled with sensitivity and skill here. The Morning Thrush, popular since the posthumous release of Seamus Ennis' Return to Fingal, works beautifully on guitar. Mick O'Connor's Reels are new to me; they started life as banjo tunes, but transfer surprisingly well to a tenor guitar arrangement at a restrained pace. Indeed, there's a sense of controlled energy on much of Pure Banjo which adds to the excitement, recalling players like Kieran Hanrahan or Mick Moloney.
As well as providing some of the best banjo playing around, this album also helps to dispel one or two old banjo myths. The liner notes feature the uncommon claim that "Brian started playing piano ... and later progressed to the accordion and banjo", Brian himself uses the term "banjoist" to describe the player not the jokes, and the back cover clearly shows the tuning pegs from Brian's banjo, proving that there isn't such a big difference between a banjo and a Harley after all. If you like your banjo pure, or with a slight twist, and you're in the mood for some great tunes in the style of the mid twentieth century, be sure to pick up this CD: it should be readily available.
Label: Compass Records; 4502; 2009; 55 min
Let's tackle the songs first. The range is broad: a Dick Gaughan socialist rant, a gentle traditional love song, and a grand neo-classical hunting ballad. Doyle doesn't quite have the power and passion of Gaughan, but he carries off all three songs well and the guitar work is a delight. The vocal tracks add variety, and extend the appeal of this recording, but three songs is enough for me. Two or three of the instrumental tracks also feature sparkling solo guitar, notably the eclectic jig Before the Storm and the gentle waltz Little Christmas among the half dozen tunes from John Doyle here. Liz contributes about twice that number of her own compositions, from her debut reel The Quitter to her recent Lament for Tommy Makem, quality material whose respect for the tradition goes well beyond the titles. I particularly enjoyed The Chandelier, written in the style of a Chicago band I've always admired, and Remove the Rug, which happen to top and tail this album.
Traditional tunes still have their place on this recording, including a tremendous rendition of An Rogaire Dubh and a simply awesome solo fiddle version of Castle Kelly. With the slightly funky edge of The Boys from Bolinas and the echoes of Ed Reavy in Trip to Dingle, plus a little help from their friends, Double Play shows why Liz and John are one of the hottest Irish duos in America right now - or anywhere else, for that matter. Samples are available from the Compass Records website, and of course there's www.lizcarroll.com and www.johndoylemusic.com to browse as well. Enjoy!
Label: Greentrax; CDTRAX330; 2008; 42 min
Instrumentally, Malinky have never had the clout of some other groups. The addition of Mike Vass on fiddle has beefed things up somewhat. His performance of Gan to the Kye is exceptional, as is his playing on Ruaraidh Mor's Lullaby: this would easily be my favourite track if it weren't for some ill-considered strumming. Fiona's cello is used to great effect on several tracks, and the fiddle/cello duets are wonderful. However, fiddle and whistle solos are not so reliable: Cottongrass and The Ronan Boys are both a little shaky. In contrast, the two anti-war songs are rock solid. With renewed violence in Ulster, Liam Weldon's Dark Horse On The Wind is suddenly much more topical. Its powerful message is crystal clear in Mark Dunlop's vocals: stop pushing the self-destruct button! When Margaret Was Eleven takes a different approach, highlighting the effect of war on soldiers' families, perpetuating the myth of military glory down the generations. Despite these two hard-hitting pieces, Flower & Iron retains the gentleness and understated quality which distinguishes Malinky from brasher outfits. I appreciate their softer, more intimate sound. The instrumental side could still do with a little attention, but there's a great bunch of songs here from a confident young band: well worth a listen.
Label: Own label; SR060908; 2008; 36 min
Sam's songs all draw on her experience of young love, being away from home, and touring with the band. It's a limited perspective, but still there are some wise words and deep insights. I'm Sorry is a from-the-heart soliloquy on self-image and self-respect, coming to terms with being "not perfect ... not thin", and realising that "I'm just this way ... I'm everything I wanted", a courageous song from a teenager. The same depth of feeling and understanding is evident in Samantha's instrumental composition Always Remembered, a ruggedly beautiful slow air, the first of two outstanding pieces of fiddling here. Fiddler's Rag is the other, one of only two traditional tunes on this recording, played with minimal accompaniment, a real showcase for Sam's prodigious fiddle talent.
A New Stage is a fantastic achievement for anyone outside the mainstream commercial music machine. If I were picky I could mention that there are better wordsmiths, the percussion is slightly off on Answer Machine, and the fiddle almost runs away with itself on IDKYM. But you have to look at the whole package. Great voice, first-class fiddling, good looks: she writes her own songs and tunes (with some help from Chris Colepaugh), she can front up a rock concert, and at the age of twenty she's been in the music business for fifteen years already. Samantha Robichaud is something special, and she hasn't lost her respect for the Canadian fiddle tradition which produced her. In the words of her own song Rose, "To my roots I will stay true". Www.samantharobichaud.ca is the place for more info on this and other albums. Watch out for that straight fiddle CD coming up.
Label: Own Label; TROLLEY-05; 2008; 76 min
Only a third of the 15 tracks here are fiddle duets. Shane's solos include a pair of up-tempo two-steps, a sumptuous French Canadian waltz, a set of Carignan jigs, and the outright swing number Foolin' Around. The Not For Radio big set of jigs and reels is a clear highlight, as is the trio of fun-loving jigs ending with Being Jerry Holland. Troy takes two meaty fiddle solos, The Glasgow Session and a classic piping-style MSR medley. His piano solos are sparkling as ever: a gorgeous version of the air Bovaglie's Plaid and a selection of jigs ending with one I know as Morrison's but here called The Stick Across The Hob. Other highlights include the first track, the last track, and several in between. The sleeve notes don't give composers for most of the tunes, but I'd love to know who wrote Neuketyneuks - a top-notch modern reel given a joyful piano and fiddle treatment here. A special mention goes to Ray Legere for his heavyweight mandolin on several tracks. Great stuff all round - I hope you can find it!
Label: Whirlie CD 15; 1994/2009; 60 min
It's easy to see why dobro man Jerry Douglas took over as co-presenter for the next series. Jerry is into all styles, and adds so much: to Mary Black's Farewell Farewell, to instrumental numbers like Daire's Dream and Goodbye Liza jane, to Dougie MacLean's Turning Away, and even to John Martyn's seminal May You Never (the inspiration behind Jock Tamson's album, I'm told). Jerry's solo track is a stunner too. Other highlights of Volume 1 include Iris Dement's wonderfully pragmatic Let the Mystery Be, Mark O'Connor's fiddle solo Grey Eagle, and the party version of Jay Ungar's Cajun-style anthem You Low Down Dirty Dog. With two more CDs to come from The Original Transatlantic Sessions, there's a lot more great music to look forward to - and of course a whole DVD for those who like their entertainment visual!
Label: Own Label; MHRCD002; 2009; 46 min
To the details: I love the uplifting change into Karen Tweed's Back Home reel, the missed half-beats in Flora MacDonald's which add a twist to this traditional tune, and the touches of humour behind both the title track and the Mediterranean musical tantrum I Lost My Harp. On the one hand, Rachel can do totally traditional harp, solo or for the song Leis an Lurgainn, without getting an attack of the runs. On the other, this recording contains more than enough jazzy bits to keep her contemporaries happy: Tsunami Jack with its swing fiddle, strong cajon on Francie's Jig, and the guitar-bass backing from Paul Tracey and Andy Sharkey. There's innovation here, but on a solid foundation: ten relatively long tracks, plenty of new tunes, without being self-indulgent. I like it, and I'm hoping to catch the trio live. CD details and gig schedule are at www.rachelhair.com, along with a couple of sample tracks: highly recommended.
Label: Leitrim County Council; 2009; 73 min
So what does this greatly extended Lúnasa sound like? In a word, brilliant. Just a touch of Paul Meehan's magic lifts The Concert Reel, Kevin Crawford joins the McNamaras for The Edenderry and Maggie on the Shore, Sean Smyth follows three Lennon fiddlers on The Road to Garrison. Leitrim men (and women) can manage very well on their own too, as the McGoverns and McCartins show with a lovely lilting version of The Battering Ram, while Tom and Mossie Martin romp through a couple of Charlie Lennon reels on fiddle and moothie. There's an occasional rough edge - Kilty Town and Maguire's Welcome for example - but that just adds to the authenticity of these recordings. For seekers after new material, there are five tracks of fresh compositions forged in the furnaces of informal workshops: from the simplicity of Courthouse Reel, through the twists of In Walked Dalai, to the beautifully turned Stig Jig.
Lúnasa have resisted the lure of lyrics for a long time now, but I'm afraid there are two songs on this double CD. Not, I hasten to add, from messrs Vallely, Smyth, Meehan, Hutchinson and Crawford: thankfully they restrict themselves to the occasional "Hup!" as ever, and there aren't even any of Kevin's famous monologues here. No: the singing duties fall once again to the ladies, in the formidable shape of Eleanor Shanley and Mary McPartlan. My Own Leitrim Home is delicately arranged for flute, guitars and bass, while Generous Lover stands well as a solo session ballad. I suppose two vocal tracks in twenty-one is acceptable, especially given the quality of all the music on The Leitrim Equation: top notch to the very end, warmly wrapped up by a double pipes version of Snug in a Blanket. So with dozens more counties to choose from, and many more years left in the lads, I'm now dreaming of localised Lúnasa recordings for decades to come. Thank goodness the Chieftains never thought of this!
Label: Own Label; KODACD002; 2009; 51 min
Koda is an accordion-heavy band, but the sound doesn't stress that. There's plenty of fiddle from Tom Gold, and although only one piper is credited he appears on most tracks and fronts a fair few of them. While we're taking about credit, it's stretching things to attribute Fair Helen of Kirkconnel to Emily Smith: Burns published a version, and it may be much older than that. Nevertheless, it is sweetly sung here by Shelley Clark, one of four songs on the CD. The others are a very creditable rendition of Dougie MacLean's Caledonia, a version of Flower of Scotland which is best ignored, and Karine Polwart's Follow the Heron brilliantly arranged with a Cunningham march which I think comes from Para Handy.
Of eight tracks of dance music here, seven are first rate. The opening jigs set the tone for a powerful swagger through plenty of great tunes: The Double Rise is a hard act to follow, but Snug in a Blanket does it nicely. Koda manage to hit a high between Keltik Elektrik and Chilli Pipers, without the all-star cast but with all the passion and drive which this music deserves. Not that talent is lacking: I'd be hard pushed to name any group who could do a better job on Big John McNeil's, The High Drive, The Thin Man and MacLeod of Mull, plus pouring such pathos into Kate Martin's Waltz. There are things I could criticise - the rushed Farewell set, the slow waltz version of There's a Hole in My Bucket, the over-use of a shift up to piping pitch - but in general this is a fantastic CD. It finishes with a wonderfully arranged finale of Beaumont Rag - how's that for breadth of talent?!
Label: Skipinnish; SKIPCD16; 2008; 49 min
I have some niggles, of course. Stuart's midi bass doesn't seem to be resolved often enough or soon enough for me, most obvious on those Gaelic waltzes. Gary & Jackie's reel could do with a resolution to the first time through the second part, too. And whilst I understand the inclusion of an Irishman singing a folksy version of The Galway Shawl - quite well, with fine accompaniment as it happens - it certainly interrupts the flow of this recording. However, these little gripes don't outweigh the numerous gold nuggets of music on The Curer: the irresistible box'n'fiddle assault on Kenneth J MacLeod, the infinitely gentle keyboard finish to Phil Cunningham's beautiful Donna's Waltz, almost the entire Skyeman's Set, and the wonderful contrasts through Gordon's Jigs - from intro to final chord, a fitting tribute to the late Gordon Duncan and a superb finale to this splendid second outing for Jock and Doris. I'm not sure what it cures, but this CD comes highly recommended by one doctor at least.
Label: Waulk Music; WAULK3; 2009; 62 min
Traprain Law and Skanklat for Thursa bring out the pure tone of the nyckelharpa, as well as some fascinating percussive and harmonic possibilities: both are based on Griselda's own striking compositions. Harpaphonics contains a lot which is experimental, exploring the potential of this unusual instrument, and combining it with a huge number of different instruments. I found some of the percussion quite distracting, but the use of the Gambian riti was an experient which worked well for me. There's a bonus video which shows details of the nyckelharpa in action, and www.grissanderson.com provides links to the YouTube version as well as other samples. Nyckelharpa albums are few and far between, and Harpaphonics isn't typical, but it might give you a taste for this delightful instrument.
Label: 3 Scones Music; 2008; 51 min
DDT, as they style themselves, play quite a range of less common forms as well as the usual reels and jigs. Tara takes her solo on two hornpipes with unusual names, Paul Ha'penny and a tune which Mairtín O'Connor introduced to me as Trans-Roscommon Airlines. She also leads off on a set of highlands starting with Maggie Pickens, followed by an intriguing tune known as Barny Bhríanaí's. One of my favourite tracks is a pair of Fermanagh polkas, the beautiful Return of Spring and The Mountain Path, Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is the two barndances Belle of the Ball and If There Weren't Any Women in the World: I suppose the titles cancel each other out, and they're certainly worth the risk.
Much of the music on Seanchairde was learnt in the '70s, from older players who often had a story to tell. In some cases the tunes have become well known over the past thirty-odd years, but in others they are as fresh as when Dermy and Tara learnt them. Either way, the music and stories are both faithfully represented on this CD. Danny O'Donnell's is a rare version of a well known reel, followed by The Cedars of Lebanon and The Milliner's Daughter which are both popular session tunes. The Humours of Glynn and The Cordal Jig are quite widely played now, while the version of Paddy Taylor's here deserves to be better known. There is also an uncommon versions of Miss McGuinness, before the more familiar Lady On the Island and Sailor on the Rock. Tara switches to the whistle for Shandon Bells and Condon's Frolics, a tune I've played for years without a name for it. The final Three Scones of Boxty set brings back the Donegal flavour and explains the choice of www.3scones.com as a website, ending a spirited and uplifting album. Fine music beautifully presented, straight from the source with no artificial anything: you won't get purer than DDT!
Label: Own Label; OJM009; 2009; 62 min
Among a dozen or so of their own compositions, Olov and Catriona play traditional tunes from Sweden, Shetland and Scotland. There's a lovely version of Da Shaalds o' Foula a classic Shetland tune which Catriona learnt from fiddler Chris Stout. A charming old polska from Småland sits well with Catriona's Early Sun Polska. Olov's composition Astrids Vals and the traditional Swedish Byss-Calle Vals show the range and power of the nyckelharpa, not to mention Ms McKay's taste for way-out harmonies. Catriona's modern harping comes to the fore in The Harper's Dismissal, a tune from legendary Gaelic harper Rory Morrison. The two instruments complement each other beautifully throughout this album, producing a full and rich sound which is as ancient as the tradition with the freshness of today's young virtuoso musicians. The CD packaging is also striking, with colourful graphics and informative notes. Shame about the title, but hey, nobody's perfect!
www.myspace.com/olovjohanssoncatrionamckay, www.olovjohansson.se, www.catrionamckay.co.uk
Label: Own label; 2007
Tunes by Finbar and Richie Dwyer, Finbar McGreevy, John Brady, Sean Ryan and Paddy Fahey add an extra dimension to this fine recording. The Berehaven Reel and The 9th of July are particularly pleasing. On a more traditional note, there are outstanding renditions of Seamus Connolly's Jig and Kitty Gone A-Milking. The opening romp through The Musical Priest is jaw-dropping, and the final set powers into a climax on The Crooked Road to Dublin. If I have a criticism, it's the unrelenting full-on attack: another change of pace or two wouldn't go amiss, but if it's straight-ahead session music you're after, then this is your man. Email email@example.com or get lucky at your local retailer.
Label: Na Píobairí Uilleann; NPU DVD007; 2009; 106 min
The pipers on Volume 2 represent a wide spectrum of styles and backgrounds. Emmett Gill is probably the most accessible player here, a young-ish piper born and reared in London who moved to Ireland to pursue piping full-time a number of years ago. He plays more in the style of folk pipers, appealing to a wide audience, following the likes of Keenan, Spillane, Masterson and others,and it's perhaps surprising to hear that his interest in piping has taken him further and further back in time. He cites several very early recordings as major influences now, playing versions of tunes such as Hennessy's Hornpipe and The Gardener's Daughter learnt from archive recordings of Patsy Touhey, Tommy Reck, Tom Busby and others.
Mick O'Brien is a well-known Dublin piper, a direct product of the Piper's Club lessons and sessions over a couple of decades. Mick plays two lovely slow airs in his selection, starting with The May Morning Dew which just happens to be the title of his solo CD. He also begins a discussion of different drones and regulators, a favourite topic of conversation among pipers, second only to the care and manufacture of reeds. Mick's style seems intuitive, very aware of the different sounds of tunes and keys and sets of pipes. He gives us a lovely rendition of The Heather Breeze, and my favourite version of The Maid in the Cherry Tree paired with another air The Conneries. Along with his excellent air-playing, and masterly interpretations of some big reels, Mick plays charming versions of the jigs When Sick is it Tea You Want and An Buachaill Dreoite.
Waterford piper Jimmy O'Brien-Moran recently completed a PhD on the music of the blind Galway piper and singer Paddy Conneely who died unrecorded in 1851. Jimmy is able to discuss the nuances of several piping styles, going back to the earliest transcriptions of 19th-century players, and plays a wide range of tunes including a couple of flings and two contrasting versions of the classic air An Buachaill Caol Dubh. He also offers a pair of lovely slip jigs, starting with A Kiss in the Shelter which was one of Paddy Conneely's 180-odd transcribed tunes. All in all, there's enough music and talk here to keep any competent piper happy for many hours, and quite a lot of general documentary interest too. The range of music and styles on this DVD is enormous, and I'd say even the pipers featured here would learn a thing or two from it.
Label: Na Píobairí Uilleann; NPU CD017; 2009; 51 min
One thing which is definitely a characteristic of Dublin music is an emphasis on reels. There are seven tracks of 'em here, and four sets of jigs. I'll come to those. The album starts with a muscular, intricate march, The Races at Ballyhouley, not often heard these days but a great vehicle for ornamentation and variation. The penultimate tune is another march, known by many names including The Boyne Water. Both these tracks have a touch of percussion, but otherwise this recording is pure pipes and fiddles. Liam plays a stunning version of the slow air Taimse i mo Chodladh, absolute magic, with high and low fiddle parts as well as some viola. The remaining selection is a pair of set dances, The Hunt and An Súisín Bán, lovely lilting tunes which lighten the tone. On two solo tracks, Seán makes a lovely job of The Lady's Bonnet and wrings every nuance from The Pinch of Snuff, while Liam's variations on The Duke of Leinster are just staggering. Ornamentation and variation again.
The reels are exemplary, of course. The Stony Steps, The Leitrim Thrush, Murphy's, Mrs Galvin's, and The Merry Harriers to finish, all grand old tunes. A couple of jigs stand out too. Maids on the Green has been recorded a couple of times recently after a period of neglect, a deceptively simple tune. Leo Rowsome's version of The Kerry Jig merits a track to itself, one of the big Munster piping tunes given a Dublin makeover. Finally, I must mention two striking aspects of this album. Firstly, somewhat surprisingly, the duet playing is not as tight as on most recordings these days. I find this refreshing, and it's fascinating to follow the interweaving of the instruments: it also gives the CD a more spontaneous feel. Secondly, the sleeve notes are absolutely magnificent: spontaneous or not, Liam O'Connor's knowledge and ability to express himself in writing is almost as prodigious as his musical skill, and many older heads could learn from these notes. Seán and Liam clearly have strong opinions about their music, and are keen to share them: don't miss the opportunity. Dublin Made Me is featured at www.pipers.ie and should be widely available.
Label: Na PŪobairŪ Uilleann; NPUDVD008; ca 1:15 h; 2009
Label: Felmay; fy 8148; 2009
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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 07/2009
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