Releases > Releases January 2020

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The Dimming of the Day
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 53 Minutes
UAINE are Bríd Harper (fiddle), Tony O’Connell (concertina), Paul Meehan (guitar/banjo/mandolin)and Lisa Butler (vocals).  A pan-Irish quartet with a twin melodic core of Bríd (Donegal) and Tony (West Limerick). Both their native traditions shine through. Each musicians complete mastery of their regional styles is obvious from the very first track, as Tony fires into Brendan Begley’s new polka The Camino in west Kerry style. He follows that with a trip further west, to Mabou, Cape Breton, for John Morris Rankin’s The Last March.
Bríd has a fondness for the compositions of Tommy Peoples, offering compelling versions of The Walking Stick Mazurka and The March To Kinsale.  Her own Turas Go Teamhair is a rich journey in the Bflat tuning and her solo fiddling is followed by the ensemble playing yet more of Peoples’ tunes.
Lisa’s songs add another dimension, from Richard Thompson’s The Dimming Of The Day to the Irvine and Brady favourite The Jolly Soldier; the surprise here is the tune after it, Cheer Up Old Hag (from the Petrie Collection gathered in 1843). Her masterpiece is An Londubh Agus An Chéirseach backed by the sparse strings of Paul Meehan.
Bríd travels out of this world with a modal Iapetus Reel, written for her by Sorcha Meehan. The album lands back on earth with the final offering of three West Limerick slides. Tony’s concertina is first out of the gap with a Gan Ainm tune and the band completing the album with Between Newcastle And Ardagh, surely a West Limerick version of the Scottish One Hundred Pipers?
New tunes, bright ideas, deep respect, music as fresh as the first flush of April grass, vivid green spring shoots of promise from UAINE.
Seán Laffey

The Long And The Short Of It
MOZCD03, 12 Tracks, 50 Minutes
Mozaik is a collaboration between Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, American fiddler and singer Bruce Molsky, along with multi-instrumentalists Nikola Parov (who also engineered the album) and Rens van der Zalm. They formed in 2002 and since then have had periodic reunions, which are always eagerly anticipated. This, their third album, was recorded in Budapest at Nikola’s home during September 2015. The group is augmented on this outing with the impressive vocal talents of Chrysoula Kechagioglou, a Greek singer who fits seamlessly into the ensemble on three remarkable songs, two of which are sung in her native language.
Given such a stellar line-up, the music doesn’t disappoint and we are left to marvel at the ease with which the diverse material is arranged and delivered. The opener, Houdini is an Andy Irvine original based on the exploits of the famous escapologist; another, As Good As It Gets, humorously describes his experiences in Eastern Europe in the 1960s. He also delves into his great store of songs, each of which is brought to life by the combined talents of the others.
But the unexpected bonus is Chrysoula’s three Greek songs, which are all sublime; Like A Soft Breeze is a tender love song, while The Song Of The Nightingale is a traditional Greek ballad with a strong social message, sung in English. The final track Neratzoula was learned from her grandmother and is sung acapella, a haunting finish.
Bruce Molsky also contributes a couple of songs to the mix, and the band really takes off on the instrumental tracks where their collective firepower is often allowed free rein. Dónal Lunny wrote the tune which provides the album title, and the long and the short of it is that after quite a long delay, Mozaik have delivered another wonderful testament to their combined brilliance.
Mark Lysaght

Early Bright
THL Records THL0003, 10 Tracks, 43 Minutes
A prodigious multi-instrumentalist and composer, Séamus Egan is probably best known as a founder of Irish American band Solas, but he has several solo albums to his name, as well as collaborations with various other Irish artists. His music spans the sometimes narrow gulf between Ireland and North America: Early Bright has a foot in both camps. Almost entirely Egan compositions, this CD makes use of a few accompanists including The Fretless as a string quartet sans pareil, but Séamus takes the lead on every track, whether on flutes, fretted strings, or occasional keyboard.
The title tune is a dreamy minimalist air, evoking the remote Vermont cabin where most of this material was conceived, but soon gives way to a blue-grassy improvisation, quietly impressive. Welcome to Orwell seems to come from further south, melody and rhythm resembling Brazilian or Galician music. Hints of contemporary Irish in B Bump Bounce, New Country in Everything Always Was, and a classical gigue in Simon Nally Hunt the Buck bring us to the most clearly Irish track here: the traditional slow reel Connor Dunn’s married to the faster Tournesol which could be a new piece by Brian Finnegan or Mike McGoldrick if it wasn’t this man’s. 52 Hertz seems to be inspired by whale song, while Two Little Ducks draws again on the classical mandolin repertoire. The final track takes us back to the cabin, a gentle end to this giant vista of Egan’s music.
Alex Monaghan

Dog In The Fog
Box Room Music BRM001CD, 12 Tracks, 41 Minutes
Two lads from Manchester, two lads who don’t need any introduction, neither do they need to prove anything, two lads who got together in 2018 and made, for me what is the pure drop album of the year. Mike McGoldrick plays flute and Dezi Donnelly plays fiddle, it’s that simple. Inside this apparent simplicity belies a lifetime of playing music together, from their initial meetings as 8 and 9 year olds at the O’Carolan branch of CCÉ in Manchester to touring with the likes of Lúnasa, Flook and the Sharon Shannon band. Now in their forties Mike and Dezi finally got the time to record the tunes they’d grown up with; The Killavil Jig, The Galtee Rangers, The Walls of Liscarroll and more. Twenty-nine tunes in all, assembled in the dozen selections on the album. If you know the tunes you’ll recognise them as classics of the tradition.
Their duo playing is airtight, music flowing as if from a single instrument; it’s a fiddle and flute album, and that is it. There’s no accompaniment here, no guitar, no bouzouki. The lads bring out the intrinsic rhythm in each tune. They never hurry; it’s exciting, yet there isn’t one hint of an ego craving the spotlight. For a touch of variation Mike plays uilleann pipes on A Buachaillin Dreoite, which they follow with The Lark in the Morning. On track twelve Mike picks up the pipes again for a big version of The Humours of Carrigaholt.
There’s a deep respect for every single tune here, with jigs and reels that go back to the lads’ roots, where the tunes always take the limelight. Their pacing is Goldilocks perfect; this is an album for musicians and proves the value of the best of starts. Moreover it shows the power the real McCoy holds over two of the most gifted players of their generation. The boys have brought us versions of tunes that will be benchmarks for generations to come.
Seán Laffey

Raelach Records RR017, 13 Tracks, 47 Minutes
As the name suggests, Fidil is a trio of well-known Irish traditional fiddlers from Donegal – Ciarán Ó Maonaigh is a member of the famous Donegal family; Damien McGeehan, an innovative player who recently released a solo album The Tin Fiddle, and Aidan O’Donnell, TG4 Young Musician of the Year in 2010. Together, they released three highly-acclaimed albums, most recently a collection simply called 3 in 2009. There followed a hiatus of several years, but they are now back with a new recording which will only enhance their reputation.
Drawing on the shared tradition of their home county, the trio eschews the use of accompaniment and uses the combined power of the three fiddles to weave intelligent and elegant tapestries which explore melodic touchstones and embellish them in a way that is natural and authentic. The ensemble playing is instinctive and spellbinding, and even well-known tunes and airs are delivered with a new and refreshing perspective.
All three members contribute original material, Ó Maonaigh’s Na Farraigí Dearga is rooted in Donegal folklore, while McGeehan’s tune An Chéad Chathlán is based on his own family history. Each piece has been meticulously researched and there is room for waltzes and mazurkas, as well as highlands drawn from the apparently bottomless well of their collective repertoires. They also shine on well-known tunes such as the opener The Pinch of Snuff/The Wild Irishman where the two reels are transformed into fiddle extravaganzas. The Valetta, composed by an Englishman, reflects the way in which popular waltzes were incorporated into the Donegal tradition, exploring various tempos as it progresses. The opening pulses of the slip jig Jenny Jumped Over The Wall are modernistic but segue effortlessly into the tune, finishing the set with A Fig For A Kiss in an authoritative reading. An album full of gems, highly recommended.
Mark Lysaght

Four / 4
Own Label OAIM002, 12 Tracks, 46 Minutes
With a Scottish background but many years in Ireland, this accomplished fluter combines both traditions very effectively on her second solo album. Kirsten opens with three Scots reels, eerie modal melodies, followed by three lively reels from Ireland with a very different feel. A gorgeous pair of jigs Kathleen Hehir’s and Sweet Marie are delicately fingered on the Eb flute before two relatively recent Scottish reels, ending with the classic Maggie’s Pancakes which was almost certainly written by fiddler Stuart Morrison for Hamish Moore’s wife Maggie.
A thoughtful mash-up of flings and schottisches serves to highlight the similarities between Scottish and Irish music. Allstaff switches entirely to the Scottish tradition for the first of two stunning slow airs, Oran na Maighdean Mhara, one of my favourite Gaelic melodies, with just a touch of piano accompaniment from Maija Koskenalusta. Elsewhere, more familiar names chip in on guitar, fiddle and bodhrán - Jean Damei, David Lombardi and John Joe Kelly - but the flute is always front and centre.
This solo sound does mean that every breath is heard, every pause felt, so it’s fortunate that Ms Allstaff is well able to carry the melody unaided. Her own Taiga Waltz leaves scope for fancy blowing, while The Braes of Busby and The Little Cascade are demanding enough in their own right. More delightful jigs, that second slow air, and a couple of fine reels bring us to the big finish - what else but Brazilian showpiece Tico Tico? Great tunes, strong rhythmic playing, and a very approachable sound make this a most pleasing album.
Alex Monaghan

Take a Look Around
Own Label OFTF001, 10 Tracks, 44 Minutes
The original duo of Tadhg Ó Meachair (piano and piano accordion) and Joanna Hyde (fiddle and vocals), are joined by guitarist and singer songwriter Dave Curley to create the trio One For The Foxes. The recording is augmented by Byron House on bass and Kieran Leonard on bodhrán and percussion.
Take a Look Around is a phrase from Curley’s When We Became None, he also penned Ghosts and Dreams, writing in a contemporary Americana folk style. He also covers the traditional American folk song Pretty Fair Maid in the Garden.
Collaborations are key on their newly composed pieces, which form the main body of the record; although the first track Lost Pints and Shiny Shoes, is credited solely to Ó Meachair. He delivers a confident curtain raiser, very much in the piano Hiberno-jazz mould of the late Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. Hyde’s fiddle is centre stage on Bat in the Cap, with the piano playing block riffs underneath a repeated motif, until it all gets gloriously busy as piano and fiddle frolic in a flurry of notes.
Velvet Strand is a song duet from Hyde and Curley; they take a verse each before working in harmony on the chorus. If you are looking for signposts, think Capercaillie. Hyde also sings the syncopated swing jazz song We Wander Through, could this be the Irish Summer Time of the 21st Century?
The Tailor’s Thimble is a traditional air tucked inside The Forgotten Tune; listen out for Curley’s banjo. They close the album with a reprise of When We Became None; this time trimmed all ready for radio.
Brilliant polished new music from a very popular trio, three musicians with a huge amount to say in every eloquent track.
Seán Laffey

MIG LC23370, 15 Tracks, 66 Minutes
A duo from Donegal, Blackbird and Crow inhabits the crossover area between Folk, Roots, Grunge and Americana. Add some beat poetry to the mix and you have an idea as to what’s on offer on their second album Ailm.
Opening with a spoken word poem over a grungy guitar track is a daring move and as such The Harlot on Holy Hill track makes for an audacious beginning. Much of the album covers an Alt-folk semi-Americana territory that mixes uncompromising vocals with searing fuzzed guitar leads and semi-languid acoustic guitar arpeggios from Stephen Doohan. While it initially may puzzle, it’s an initially strange mix of styles and influences, the more I listened the more I got it.
Maighread Ni Ghrasta’s voice is immediately compelling, whether intoning a poem or singing her emotionally charged lyrics. Maighread was exposed to a lot of American Country music in her childhood and first attempted writing music at the age of about 13. At this time Maighread found Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Aretha Franklin and other artists and has worked with blues band, The Beekeepers also based in Donegal. It was during this time that Maighread really honed her craft as a front person. Stephen listened to American country and Irish folk in his early childhood. In his late teens Stephen discovered Rory Gallagher, his biggest influence, both as a musician and as a person.
For all their blues background, this is an entirely different album, a Celtic muse has surfaced here, and clearly they’ve discovered their original voices. Together they make music for the head and spirit that’s righteously glorious one minute and acidly sonorous the next. Theirs is a raw skeletal brew, moonshine raggedness exuding a rugged beauty from its dark core of angst.
John O’Regan

Own Label, 9 Tracks, 43 Minutes
The title of Scottish banjo player Ciarán Ryan’s new album, Banjaxed, drew an immediate comparison to Dessie Kelliher’s similarly titled Banjoed, released almost 15 years ago. Given the irony in Kerryman Kelliher’s title, which still stands as a banjo album masterpiece, Ryan has a lot to live up to. And, thankfully, the similarities do not end there. Ciarán Ryan layers both fiddle and banjo on an album, which is not necessarily a purely traditional album, but more a progressive journey into the musical heart of Ryan, and his collaborators on the album, with Bevan Morris on bass and Donald Hay on percussion. Of the nine sets on Banjaxed, only one tune is listed as ‘trad’, with 16 of the overall 20 tunes credited to Ryan.
The opener, Tongue in Cheek, pretty much sets the standard, with an American flavour suggested, the selection includes a tune from Stevie Dunne, a contemporary of Ryan’s; it is full of energy and crisp, clear banjo playing which at times has the vibe of a 5-string banjo being picked, even though the tenor is Ryan’s weapon of choice.
While a number of the compositions on Banjaxed would indeed satisfy the criteria for being considered at some point as being traditional, with Ryan’s ability and obvious diverse eclectic taste, the overall production creates something beyond what we would generally consider a traditional music album. The soundscape of the opening of the track Stumbleweed showcases this point, with exploratory banjo intros and outros, nesting around a fairly trad fiddle performance.
A lot of care and attention has been put into this recording, with mood shifts and changes of pace, like the melancholic Andiamo set, with its ode to the Tesio-Ryans, as one tune is titled. That set, put alongside Darragh’s, displays the depth of atmosphere, which is displayed on this album, created through Ciarán Ryan’s banjo and fiddling.
The album finishes with the title track, Banjaxed, a five-minute musical romp, which lets Ryan and his collaborators loose with their creative flair. Ryan is on the leading edge of the tenor banjo, an album that is sure to influence the future.
Derek Copley

The Harvard Tapes
Greentrax CDTRAX406, 13 Tracks, 60 Minutes
I first came across Dick Gaughan in person about a year after this concert, in Edinburgh where he was already a giant of a man, a hero for both singers and socialists. This CD pretty much sums up why. Dick Gaughan had - and still has - a voice folk singers dream of (one German exchange student I know spent a year copying him), and a guitar style, which allowed him to execute flawless intricate accompaniment and even to record a solo album of session tunes on guitar. But perhaps more importantly, he BELIEVED. Whether it’s a song of socialist rebellion, a plea for human compassion, a ballad of historical injustice or a celebration of natural beauty, Gaughan’s emotion here is strong, real, tangible in every performance. Dick has been unwell recently, and part of the reason for releasing The Harvard Tapes is to help him over this period before he can get back to touring.
Almost all the early Gaughan classics are delivered on this album: the Hiberno-Scots tale of Erin Go Bragh, Burns’ ode to autumn Westlin’ Winds, the title track of the 1981 Handful of Earth LP from which about half this concert is drawn including his definitive version of Song for Ireland and the Diggers Ballad, which is my personal favourite. In addition there is some less well known material: the old Scots song Glenlogie, the newer On the Road, Dominic Behan’s Connolly Was There, and Gaughan’s own Lemmings, which seems to capture the human condition even better in 2020 than in 1982.
There are even a couple of guitar instrumentals, a set of reels and a slow air. Hamish Henderson’s great anthem Freedom Come All Ye sees Dick joined by fiddler Johnny Cunningham, who followed Gaughan in this concert. I would love to hear Johnny’s set if it was recorded, a great talent lost tragically early, but for now we will celebrate Dick Gaughan, a man still very much with us in body and spirit.
Alex Monaghan

Mirmidón - Artimaña AR-126, 9 Tracks, 40 Minutes
Celtic music is very popular all over Europe. This album proves the point; Briganthya began life in 2000 in the Basque Country, when eight young people from the music school of Beasain in Guipuzcoa met around the traditional Irish, Scottish, Galician, Asturian and Basque music.
Back in 2014, after three albums, the band decided to take a break. In 2017, David Fernández (accordion and vocals), Dani Conde (gaïta, tambourine and vocals), Eneko de la Fuente (bodhrán, percussion, accordion and vocals), joined by Edu Andérez (guitars), embarked on a new musical journey as a quartet.
Two years later, in 2019, they finally offered us this, their fourth album, Samhain. Nine tracks here, including eight compositions by members of the band. Samhain, an important celebration of the Celtic calendar, represents the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new stage, a shoe in title for that of the reconstituted group.
Fernández, founder of the band is credited with seven tracks, the opener Spiral, his Seguran is a tribute to the small Basque village of Segura, The Happy Family dedicated to his wife and two children. I especially liked the little pearl A Roda Da Vida, the only song on the album due to the talent of E. de la Fuente, who allows us to appreciate the beautiful Basque voices. All this is energetically supported by D. Conde’s gaïta.
The band called upon the crème de la crème of Celtic music: Eric Rigler, a Californian piper, Mohsen Amini from Scotland on concertina, Harry Price an English fiddler, the Galicians Xosé Liz and Fernando Barroso, the Basques Kike Mora, Ander Hurtado and Pablo Gregor. Briganthya’s music is playful, full of energy and exudes a joie de vivre that is a pleasure to hear. Theirs is a big sound, cinematic in its scope; they are a band that was a joy to discover.
Philippe Cousin

The Preservation of Fire
Own Label, 9 Tracks, 46 Minutes
David Mitchell and Graham Vincent are two English musicians who play a number of different instruments. The Preservation of Fire contains a mixture of English and Irish tunes, songs and original compositions. Dave & Graham found themselves playing together in a ceilidh band called Fiddlestix. Both are trained luthiers, they realised they had very similar musical tastes and wanted to spend a lot more time playing music, so they started a duo playing instruments that they made by themselves.
Dave plays a wonderful sounding nylon strung a cedar topped classical guitar with Graham generally playing a violin of his own pattern. Theirs is an intimate acoustic music. I got the feeling that I was eavesdropping on a conversation rather than listening to a recording. They display a deep understanding and appreciation of their instruments, mellifluous melodies and pulsing rhythms abound.
The selection includes Irish tunes like Apples in Winter and King of the Pipers, both classic tunes. There is also an epic closing 12 minute medley beginning with the air Crested Hens and then mixing familiar reels The Tarbolton, Pigeon on the Gate and Star of Munster, The English Morris tune Molly Oxford introducing the song Hard Times of Old England and a version of As I Roved Out following Andy Irvine’s inspired setting. The Preservation of Fire sheds a warm glow on a fine duo who make music and the instruments on which they play it.
John O’Regan