Releases > January 2012 releases

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Teanga na nGael
Own Label GHM2011001
12 tracks

Gráinne Holland has attempted something different in this debut CD of hers, Teanga na nGael, and, happy to say, she has succeeded. The songs are all in the Irish language, some of them familiar, but she has others that are new – at least to this writer – and that is no small contribution to making the songs of the Gael in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man more widely known.
One of those who contributes accompaniment in one of her songs, cellist Neil Martin, confirms that it is not by chance Miss Holland has succeeded: “Gráinne Holland commits herself to song like few others.” And on her presentation of the songs he adds: “She breathes fresh lifeblood into them, empowers them, owns them. And this is no mere act of preservation – this is progression.” And, speaking of which, it’s worth noting here that the quality of arrangements and musicianship is of the highest standard, proving yet again that ‘own label’ CDs – as this one is – don’t have to be the poor relation in the recording business.
Gráinne Holland is from West Belfast and her love of Irish music and song began at an early age. She was raised in both Gaelic and English and she attended the first Irish-medium primary school in Belfast, Bunscoil Phobail Feirste.  It was here that her love of traditional Gaelic song was fostered. The sources of her songs range over a wide area: Rann na Feirste in the Donegal Gaeltacht (A Bhean Údaí Thall), Scotland (Teanga nan Gael an Irish Gaelic version of the Scots Gaelic song Canan nan Gaidheal, and Báta an tSíl sung in Gaidhlig), and from the Isle of Man (Uiseag Bheag Ruaidh).
There are just a few lines in English and these are heard in the track, The Blue Hills of Antrim/Méilte Cheann Dubhrann, the first by Belfast poet Joseph Campbell and the second the composition of Séamus Ó Grianna (Máire) of Rann na Feirste. This happy musical conjoining of Antrim and Donegal owes much to one of the great song airs in Irish traditional music to which the words are set. And as in the other song arrangements on the CD the effect is magical, owing not a little to the playing of uilleann piper John McSherry who is featured throughout the album.

Aidan O’Hara

Heartland: The Composer’s Salute to Celtic Thunder
14 tracks, 56 minutes and 14 seconds
Shanachie 53019

This release is big orchestral work, covering material that is immensely popular in North America. Celtic Thunder the show has played to big audiences across the United States and is popular on PBS TV, so there is an eager fan base for this music.
Phil Coulter has long been known in Ireland both as a composer and a world class producer and it’s no surprise to find that this album shows all the hallmarks of a musician who has been at the top of his game for the past forty years. Some of the numbers will be instantly recognisable, such as Ireland’s Call, Buachall Ón Eirne, Ride on and The Island.
No track lasts more than four minutes, an ideal formula for radio airplay, and he packs a great deal into most of them, with plaintive piano, lonely low whistles and jingling chime bars, there are no vocals as such although there’s shimmering humming on Buachall on Eirne and alos on the opening track a very upbeat anthem Heartland. Coulter writes a good march and his Celtic Thunder march is no doubt a show stopper when the live show comes to town, his Ireland’s Call is fast becoming a unifying all-island National anthem.
The final track, Farewell to Inishowen shows his mastery of the craft, a simple piano tune that appears to build slowly, whistles and pipes come in and out as a huge sound is generated they fall away to leave the piano alone with it’s Celtic melody theme. It appears to last for ages, yet is over in three minutes.
Coulter was always a genius with a popular tune and he proves it yet again on this collection of Celtic numbers.
Seán Laffey

Ismay’s Dream
Own Label, Distributed by Proper Records, 11 tracks

Open the CD notes that accompany Padraig Lalor’s new CD Ismay’s Dream and scattered there are snippets of stories startling and poignant about the men and woman, boys and girls from a hundred years ago, 1911, the year the Titanic was launched in Belfast.
Then, a glance at the running order on the back cover and all becomes clear. One soon realises that we’re listening not just to a singer singing his songs but a chronicler and storyteller telling strange tales of ordinary people caught up in a cataclysmic event that has echoes right down to the present.
Ismay’s Dream is the first in a trilogy of albums charting Irish history from the Titanic to the Troubles, the work of Belfast singer songwriter, Padraig Lalor. They’ll be released over the next two years. Padraig is based in South Wales and has teamed up with Danny Kilbride to produce a thematic album of new songs that re-tell the Irish dimension of the tragic Titanic. He has also assembled a band to tour the CD as an audio-visual production in the year running up to the anniversary of the launch of the ship (April 2012) look out for him when Cobh commemorates the Titanic 100 in April.
On this recording there are themes of love, leaving, and loss, and one that is somewhat redemptive. The composer writes with a fluid and erudite hand and the songs are dressed out in an impressive array of apt melodies, some very catchy indeed. The tale of redemption deals with the amazing story of Jerome Burke and a bottle of Lourdes water he took with him when he boarded the Titanic in Cork. Jerome was lost but the bottle was found fourteen months later. Where? On the seashore of Jerome’s home parish in Cork. Inevitably the theme of the tensions between the Orange and the Green emerges as a subject for Lalor’s pen and he tells the story of two young lovers, one Catholic, the other Protestant, who decided to elope but whose hopes were blighted on the day that the great ship went down.
No less poignant is his telling of the story of Thomas Miller, an assistant deck engineer with the White Star Line. After his wife died in January 1912, Thomas decided to emigrate to New York with his two young sons. When he left Belfast on the Titanic, the boys were left in the care of an aunt in a village outside Belfast. They expected to see their father again in a few months’ time when they would be brought to either Queenstown or Southampton to board a White Star ship. The children, Thomas Junior, aged 11, and William Ruddick, aged 5, were each given a new penny by their father before he boarded the Titanic. He told them not to spend them until he came back. But he, too, went down with the ship.
But there are stories of survival, too, in Lalor’s songs: Molly Brown is about Margaret Tobin Brown, daughter of Irish immigrants, one of the first women in the United States to run for political office, and who ran for the Senate eight years before women even had the right to vote. Lalor tells how she became known as the Heroine of the Titanic.
In Ismays’ Dream he has created a world peopled by complex Irish characters and I look forward to seeing the live show in 2012.
Aidan O’Hara

Temple Records COMD 2104
13 tracks, 59 minutes
With none of the original Batties members remaining, the line-up on Line-Up sees piper, Mike Katz and fiddler, Alasdair White joined by guitarist, Sean O’Donnell and multi-instrumentalist, Ewen Henderson. Vocals are shared out democratically – one man, one voice. There are six songs on this CD, two in Gaelic fronted by Henderson, and the rest in English fronted by O’Donnell. I was quite taken with Lovers and Friends, not a guide to Facebook categories but a gentle melody with surprisingly blunt words by Sean More from Armagh. The Burns song Westlin Winds is given a fresh lick of spittle, a more romantic treatment than the seminal Gaughan version.
Both Mo Ghleannan and the mouth-music selection are beautifully arranged, with Mike Katz adding his Waves of Qtar to the latter.
In the past I have found some Katz compositions can resemble a hail of notes, the shape of the tune only vaguely discernible, but that’s not the case here: both Waves of Qtar and Long Run are instantly appealing. Mike vies for the composing credits with Alasdair and Ewen who also provide fine tunes on Line-Up, as well as accordionist Donald Shaw and Scots jazzman John Rae who composed Raigmore and the fabulous funky hornpipe Easy Peasy respectively.
Despite the quality of these new pieces, the traditional numbers still steal the show: the magical slow air Iain Ghlinn’ Cuaich, the driving Mary Beaton’s Reel, and the great jig The Clansmen’s Mourning which ends the opening track. Henderson’s versatility means Battlefield Band now boast twin fiddles and triple pipes, possibly their most powerful sound yet: I’m impressed, and so far I don’t miss the synthesisers one bit.
Alex Monaghan

The Bonny Men
Own Label BON1, 12 tracks 63 minutes
The Bonny Men are one of the newest groups on the scene, formed in January 2011. they are from Dublin, are not all men and there is a lot of them. Turlough Chambers, Fiddle, Conor Lyons, Bodhrán, Natalie Ní Chasaide, Piano, Maitiú Ó Casaide, Uilleann Pipes, Íde Nic Mhathúna, Vocals, Adam Whelan, Bouzouki, Moss Landman, Flute, Barry Lyons, Guitar. Count them up, that’s right an eight piece. And what a sound they make, a Bothy Band for this new century. They have that drive and swagger, and in piper Maitiú Ó Casaide they have a musician who grabs a tune by the throat and squeezes out every last dance step in your shoes.
Amidst the great tune sets and their clever arrangements are a few songs and for me they didn’t really work, they might be the singer’s favourites but any band and every young group should ask themselves “do these songs fit into our sound?” for me most of the songs here didn’t do that. They pull it back a little with Morecambe Bay, which I feel might be appearing on a raft of albums in 2012, sentiments aside it hasn’t a good enough melody to work alongside their choice of trad tunes. They close the album with a piece of pure Americana The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, complete with faux American accents, good tune of course, but I had to ask, why?. The best song is undoubtedly Caoineadh an dTrí Mhuire, it is uncompromisingly Irish and for me sits far better into the feel of the instrumental album it has a tingle factor that the other songs can’t match.
Song choice caveats aside this is a stunning debut album, filled with energy and references to the best Irish ensemble work from the heydays of the 1970’s, as an example they pay homage to the Chieftains on a track they call Planxty and there’s a bouzouki intro to The Hop Jig that would make Donal Lunny smile. It’s retro and modern all at the same time. They’ve a huge future ahead of them and once they sort out the songs they’ll be the bookable big trad band for 2012.
Seán Laffey

An odd title for a brilliant album. Thanks to the notes on the beautifully produced insert we know that it comes from a mining disaster of 1907 and inspires a fascinating first track that combines an alluring voice, superb playing and haunting lyrics to hook any casual listener.
Her lyrical talent comes to the fore again on Devil at your Back with its word pictures that will fill your mind as you listen. Storytelling comes to the fore on Virginia as a young man comes of age to the voice of a great performer. Carey takes a lot of her inspiration from poetry and transforms it into poetry of her own set to music and again she triumphs on Resurrection.
Two further title tracks will remind us other well-known songs but these are only peripherally related and stand very strong on their own. Orange Blossom is a lovely song of Southern nostalgia. Meanwhile Carey gives us a story of a lady left out of the popular ballad on John Hardy’s Wife.
The Star Above Rankin’s Point is another mood song that could be best heard relaxing in the dark and letting the mind’s eye be transported by the music and lyrics to a distant and tranquil place. She takes a gospel ballad called Let Them Be All and gives us a fantastic rendition a-cappella with a superb vocal backing that will raise your neck hairs.
Adendine stays sort of in gospel mode with the fate of the child of a person who dies from being bitten by a rattle snake in the days of the rattlesnake Baptists.
A beautiful album, beautifully packaged, featuring a beautiful voice closes with a lovely little instrumental reprise. This is an album that must be experienced.
Nicky Rossiter

A Celtic Connection
Claddagh Records
Not quite the end of the year, but I’m content recommending A Celtic Connection as my album of 2011. With artists like Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw of Capercaillie and Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh from Altan as part of the cast of stellar musicians on this album you know it’s going to be worth listening to.
The 12 track album, produced by Manus Lunny, showcases the wonderful style and melodic charms of its creator, Scottish born Ian Smith. With nine truly great originals, co-written with Enda Cullen, and Tony Kerr, five of which celebrate Ian’s adopted home of Donegal, I was immediately drawn to track four Brightest Sky Blue a song which will catch you off guard first time round.
This is imaginative song-writing at its finest. Based on a local tale, the song is a tragic love balled that is well capable of becoming a standard. Ian’s very special Celtic Connection takes us from the ancient battlefields of the Scottish Highlands in opening track Upon Culloden’s Moor to a romantic stroll On Keadue Strand with a brief diversion to the tragic slums of South America in Pablo’s Eyes, a brilliant song that through its subject has managed to generate awareness and funds for Casa Alianza, a charity that endeavour to rescue street children of South America.
With four of the songs on this CD already being performed by other artists in their live gigs, the album and these songs are up there with best the tradition has to offer and ring a similar chime to the work of artists in the bracket of Paul Brady and Dougie McLean.
Strong choruses, great melodies, stirring imagery and a couple of Burns’ classics thrown in, this is a true songwriter’s album. Make your own Celtic Connection and discover the talent that is Ian Smith for yourself.
Martin Roddy

Ray Dunne

Ray Dunne is a young man who has clocked up a mammoth amount of musical miles over the past few years. He’s from Kildare, bases himself in Armagh and was blooded on the tough ballad circuit of the Irish pub scene in the UK. That pedigree gives an edge to his delivery, his attitude and his song writing, playing to the often dishevelled Diaspora has helped him focus on the deep meaning of Irishness.
So with that background it comes as little surprise that here we have another strong reminder of our heritage in music, song and sentiment, being kept not only alive but invigorated by another generation. Dunne’s voice has a strength to it that could never be called pretty, smooth or soothing, emotionally charged and edgy, he makes you believe he knows the lyrics from the inside out, this is a voice to grab your collar and demand you pay attention it never attempts to flatter or seduce, quaint it ain’t.
Dunne has the heart of the old style minstrel but he has embodied his songs in the modern rock era. From track 1 Ireland My Ireland his thumping beat is allied to sentiments as old as those of evident in our earliest ballads and love songs.
Old Ways slows it down a tad but that power remains on a lovely song that recalls other times with some lovely lyrics and sentiments. This is strong contender as the standout track that could get Dunne a wider audience. There is similar well-described nostalgia on January Morn and on a more personal level he expresses himself very well on Just Thinking. The album is quite nicely topped and tailed with the final track called A Sense of Reality.
Ray Dunne ably assisted by a wonderful ensemble present a brilliant showcase of his writing and performing talent on this collection of ten songs.
Nicky Rossiter

Colours, 15 tracks, 56 minutes
You might think that Finbar Furey a veteran of the Irish folk scene has his best work in the back catalogue but like a bottle of vintage port the stuff he has in his bottle is only getting better with every passing year. His voice is still commanding. His banjo playing on Ewan McColl’s School Day’s Over is deft and light; he never loses a beat as he whispers, “Come on then…”
The first track After Sunday Mass, tells of those little gatherings of lonely emigrants on a Sunday lunchtime in London, New York or Sydney, a condition that hasn’t become history. Here the story is delivered with an American twist. The title track Donovan’s Colours, is itself a re-working of Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair, there’s a lovely shuffle beat tripping along as Finbar
is obviously enjoying the simplicity of the song.
Finbar gets a swamp stomp sound out of his banjo on Walking with My Love where Mary Black joins him. Another collaboration is with Shayne Ward, a relative of Finbar’s and the young fella has a gorgeous tenor voice, and the genes win out! Finbar takes on Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind, complete with double tacked whistle. He gets back into Americana on Begging Change in the Street and visits sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a Chris Rea album with Whiskey Come to Me on Sunday. Dan O’Hara is a classic Irish song, popular in the 1960’s and on this album Finbar entwines it in a swinging syncopated style. He pays homage to the soccer genius George Best, with the chorus: “If God needs a hero from Old Belfast Town. Build George a turf pitch where a freeman can run”. Finbar leaves us with Up By Christchurch and Down By St. Patrick’s and Home, an eerie and ethereal track, magnificent pipes playing a slow air over which he ghosts an almost Gregorian chant.
A really enjoyable album and a great way to spend nearly an hour with one of the warmest individuals in Irish music.
Sean Laffey

The Blue Black Waves
Own Label
10 tracks 43 minutes

I had the great pleasure of working with Peter Baxter a few years ago at the Cashel Arts Fest when he brought his song school project to town and in a couple of days had a CD recorded by local 6th class children. No question then that he can make an album, so see what happens when he gets an experienced team together.
The title track The Blue Black Waves and the musicians on the album hint at what is to come, with Donal Lunny playing bouzouki and piano and Keith Donald adding a saxophone, it has the feeling of a modern take on Andy Irvine’s Rainy Sundays. An opening killer line too: Mathew Mark Luke and John Hold the Horse till I get on.
More quality follows, with Sinéad Madden adding traditional fiddle on Watching Over You and Through To You, which has an acoustic U2 sound to it and an easy on the ear melody. Shook the Hand would work on many other levels, a big ballad number with a full orchestra and even as an intelligent and deceptively simple Eurovision song. Donal Lunny comes in with zook scale runs on The Liar’s Tears and this is augmented by Liz Seaver on Harpsichord.
The song that got me running to Wikipedia was The Ballad of Pemulwuy, in which Baxter recounts the anti-colonial guerilla war led by the native Australian Pemulwuy, who is still controversial to this day. But that’s what I like about Baxter’s music, it takes you to places you’d might not know exist and as it says in the words to the songs in the liner: Closed eyes can never see the deepest scar of history.
Baxter has a keen eye for the human condition whether it be from two days ago or two hundred years he can make a very good song about it and has musical friends who can bring out every drop of music in this work of adept originality.
Seán Lafffey

Washington’s Irish Volume 1
18 tracks 68 minutes, Own Label

I’m mindful that this might be the very first review of this album as I received a special couriered disc straight off the press at Trend Studios. America is the key to this album, which has been eight years in the making. It charts in song the Irish contribution to the American War of Independence, which was the first major blow to British controlled colonialism.
The Irish were the largest ethnic group to fight in the war, half of the army was Irish or of Irish descent, the marines on John Paul Jones’ ship the Bonhomie Richard were recruited from the Wild Geese regiments of France, indeed the first units to be sent to America by France were the Irish Brigades under Walsh, Dillon and Roche. The war began as beverage barney in Boston and ended up as global conflict, bankrupted the French, ending in guillotine, revolution and the despotism of Napoleon. In Ireland it help inflame the tragedy of 1798 whose failure divided United Irishmen into religious tribes which persist to this day. Derek includes a 42 page booklet full of historic detail and he pulls no punches. British colonialism is exposed and criticised and he includes recent history to leave us in no doubt their experiment didn’t end at Yorktown in 1781. I’d love to see some of his source documents, as the story he tells would make an astounding book. Musically, Derek and the Young Wolfe Tones have won me over. The eighteen tracks are catchy, in no time I was humming along to their choruses, there are a couple of poems too in the mix, well worth learning. Certainly some of the songs will inflame chat-room arguments. Is Over the Hills and Far Away an Irish Song? Can we claim The Girl I Left Behind Me? (The latter I’m pretty sure was first printed in Dublin, but that was a generation after the conflict 1776).
Does the album give a flavour of what it must have been like to be a fighting Irishman in Washington’s Army? Yes. Is it more than a history lesson? Sure. If you are ever confused about Tea Party Politics or the polemics of the O’Reilly Factor both have foundations in that continental conflict.
Warfield gives us songs on battles: Kings Mountain in the Carolinas, allies: Sheridan’s poem to Tammany the Native American leader who fought and died on the side of the rebels. Derek has an original song re-telling of the story of Molly Pitcher, (real name Mary McCauley of Pennsylvania) who carried water to cool both men and cannon at the battle of Monmouth. Derek has composed a song on Commodore John Barry, which has the hallmark of authentic language that you might unwittingly think it was contemporary with the conflict.
The songs are stirring, the tunes catchy, the playing lively, with some excellent banjo, pipe and mandolin work from the Young Wolfe Tones (check out the set and history behind George Bush’s Tunes). I was hitting the replay button by the time they reached the final track Yankee Doodle (one of my favourites, straight from 1775 and as acerbic as any political cartoon by O’Keefe, Gillray or Cruikshank).
Frank Harte used to say that the victors write the history and the losers write the songs, well in one conflict during the Age of Revolution, the victors had some great Irish songsmiths fighting alongside them. Derek Warfield is adamant we won’t forget them or their songs.
Seán Laffey