Releases > January/February 2009

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3-CD set

Gael Linn ORIDACD04

“This is a three-CD Set of three albums, each of which marked a milestone in the development of Irish traditional music”. That terse statement from the Gael Linn publicity notes, issued with the Pléaráca an Riadaigh 3-CD set, cannot even begin to convey the huge sense of excitement and discovery felt by those of us who were alive in those bright days of our youth when Seán Ó Riada (1931-71) and his musicians appeared on the scene. Fifty years ago Ceoltóirí Chualann, Darach Ó Cathain and Seán Ó Sé embarked with Ó Riada on a journey of musical innovation in traditional ensemble playing of Irish music that enthralled the imagination of Irish people everywhere.

These recordings of Ó Riada and his musicians are from that time and in his informative CD booklet Seán’s son, Peadar, refers to them as, “concept albums2, a term we know today but that was not actually in vogue in the late 1950’s. “Seán was enthralled with rediscovering the ‘Naisiún Gaelach’ or the ‘Great Gaelic World’, the world of Brehon laws and poetry and heroism and legend and language”, Peadar writes. The results of his discoveries were applied to his work as music director of the Abbey Theatre and the traditional musicians and singers he assembled round him later came to be known as Ceoltóirí Chualann. And as we all know, a number of them eventually metamorphosed as The Chieftains under the direction of uilleann piper Paddy Moloney.

The first album, Reacaireacht an Riadaigh, took its title from the radio series Seán presented on Radio Éireann in the late ’50’s. “The format used was a mix of arrangements of music”, Peadar Ó Riada writes, “A selection of poems or verses by the great poets and a few songs sung solo by Darach”. Darach Ó Cathain was the great sean nós singer in the Conamara style featured by Seán in the early days but who had to emigrate to England in 1959 in search of work. Cork man, Seán Ó Sé, eventually succeeded him and he is the singer on the next two albums.

In Ceol na nUasa, Ó Riada wanted to re-acquaint the Irish public with the art music of their indigenous culture. “This was the music of a people who were very au fait with what was happening in Europe of the Renaissance”, writes Peadar. People heard for the first time the unique arrangements of Carolan’s Concerto and his famous Planxty pieces. The harp sounds were cleverly provided by Ó Riada’s harpsichord playing. In the third album, Ding Dong, Ó Riada had the singing of Seán Ó Sé to the fore in songs like Raithineach a Bhean Bheag, The Boys of Kilmichael, and Ding Dong Dedaró. Accompaniment was provided as usual by Ceoltóirí Chualann whose other contributions included Cearta an Duine (The Rights of Man), An Tonn Reatha (The Rolling Wave), and Rogha Liatroma (Leitrim’s Fancy).
Aidan O’Hara


Wind and Reeds,

15 tracks, 50 minutes

It’s not often one hears an album bursting with energetic enthusiasm from start to finish. Wind and Reeds is one such recording, featuring the unusual pairing of accordion and uilleann pipes from Paudie O’Connor and John O’Brien. Hailing from Kerry and Dublin respectively, this duo displays a shared passion for traditional music, in particular, focusing on the repertoire of the Sliabh Luachra tradition, honing in on many tunes inspired by the playing of such masters as Johnny O’Leary and Denis Murphy. The tune types range from polkas and slides to reels, hornpipes and two notable airs played solo by each of the two lads. Raghadsa’s mo Cheatí is played with considerable ease on pipes, featuring some tasteful use of chords via the regulators, whilst O’Rahilly’s Grave is performed beautifully on box on this recording. One of the most noticeable features of the tunes played is how melodic they are all interpreted and expressed by the lads. They blend together extremely well, complimenting each other’s music throughout. Track five switches from reeds to wind, featuring a lovely mellow set of reels with both the lads playing B flat tin whistles. The melodic contour is further enhanced by subtle guitar chords and ostinatos from Jim Murray, adding a great sense of drive and lift to the tunes. Again, this is particularly apparent in the reel playing on the album - lively music that is driven by pulsating rhythmic accompaniment on guitar.

The jigs on the album are very melodic, and the versions of the tunes presented are carefully chosen. There’s an unusual rendition of the classic reel, Bonnie Kate as well as a gorgeous hornpipe, Corney Drew - a version of Turkey in the Straw. It’s an excellent album, indeed one of the best in years, highlighting many rare gems of tunes - which will hopefully become popularised as a result of this recording. It’s evident from the opening bars that these lads thoroughly enjoy their music: this translates immediately onto the listener. Recorded by Ruairí O’Flatherty in Killarney, this collection does complete justice to the music of Sliabh Luachra. Packed with informative and interesting sleeve notes, the recording can be obtained from
Edel McLaughlin


Various Artists

Compass Records 744932

12 tracks

A worthy charity CD, not just for Yuletide, but for the future. You can read about the background to the work in our feature in this issue. To put it in a nutshell, what we have here is a bunch of musicians who are lending their talents to a project to bring cheap sustainable drinking water to Northern Malawi - its practical, it’s a ‘hand up not a hand out’ and that alone should encourage you to shell out a little money

But you’ll ask is it worth listening to? Of course it is, with Paul Brady, Maura O’Connell, Sinead O’Connor, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Micheal McGoldrick and Alison Brown appearing, you get variety and quality. Many of the twelve tracks mention water in their titles such as: Baby, Let Me Buy You a Drink from Sinéad O’Connor, Wading Deep Waters from Crooked Still, Watermans by Michael McGoldrick with a little bit of encouragement from Maura O’Connell on Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves. Back to more H2O on The Lakeside Barndances with Éamonn Coyne and Kris Drever, and a final mention of the wet stuff on Muddy Water with Heidi Talbot. You also get fun from the irreverent Salsa Celtica and if you need to know what it’s all about the opening song, Dig a Little Well for Zoë, has it all. What a song! Beautifully crafted, upbeat and folksy, it will stand alone outside of this album as a song that delivers its message without preaching and is full of American optimism. What more could you ask for the future?
Seán Laffey



Bo ho ho hola

18 tracks Running time 58.40
The Chicago duo of Jimmy Keane and Pat Broaders are out with a Christmas album that is unlike most releases of that genre. It combines humour, music and song, tied together with narratives. It almost sounds like a sampled album, with bits and pieces tossed in.

The opening track sets the tone and the theme for the album. Broaders does a bit about a Christmas in the Irish Bronx, then going into the Wren Boys song, and Jimmy Keane follows with parts of Handel’s Messiah and Jingle Bells as a combined tune. This manic approach is sustained through the work - and it does work.

Broader’s narrative of a Christmas story is underlined by Keane’s playing. The middle of the album is filled with the Yule tale of a young boy, and is reminiscent of Dylan Thomas’s, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Although the story of New York Irish coming across in Broader’s Dublin accent seems a bit incongruous, it fits the theme. Keane’s arrangements and playing on piano accordion well played.

The songs cross all sorts of styles, such as the Pogue’s, Fairytale of New York, to the plaintively delivered The Bells of Paradis, which is preceded by a subtly played March to Fingal. Miss Fogarty’s is a song that recalls Keane’s time in Green Fields of America. Broader’s excellent rendition of Boys of Barr na Sráide is backed by Keane, and is followed by a well played Chapleizod by the duo.

They are joined on the album by former band-mate, Sean Cleland, on fiddle and vocals, Kathleen Keane and Mary Broaders on vocals, and Larry Gray on bass. ‘bo-ho-ho- hola’ finishes with a bit of whimsy - Frank Kelly’s Dear Nuala, the twelve days of Christmas come to life, and Recipe, the attempted creation of a fruit cake with whiskey.
Bo-ho-ho-hola is not a typical Christmas album, but it is fun, well played and memorable. It was well thought out, and the invested work shows. Happy Christmas to all.
Brian G. Witt


A Story to Tell

LAW Records LAWCD 0801
An album of twelve original tracks by a relatively new name on the scene is an ambitious undertaking. Linda Welby is well up to the challenge she sets herself.

From the opening track, The Galway Fiddler, she sets a scene and continues through the other eleven tracks, the vocal offerings in particular, to recount stories - as the album title alludes to. These are stories that are either well-acted or very personal and Welby presents them very well.

The most enigmatic track on offer is A Lonely Lovely Man. This beautifully crafted and sung piece appears to give us a very sad story about a first love. I was almost tempted to break my first rule of reviewing and seek information outside that presented in the package.

Linda is blessed with a wide versatility in styles. She can switch from very folk-oriented tales of the fiddler to tracks that fit very easily into the ‘Country and Irish’ mode. Her personal-sounding songs include two lovely family tributes, We Love you Mum and Dear Dad. Although these are written and sung with very obvious personal notes, I can see either of them being covered by other artistes and becoming mainstays of request shows.

The singer/songwriter lists her influences as ranging from Sean Keane to Pat Boone and her output on this album certainly gives evidence of this. She is not corralled into a particular genre and as such will appeal to a very wide audience. In addition many of the songs have the strength to become hits for some established artistes.
Linda certainly has more than one “story to tell” and she tells all of them with imagination and some wonderful musical backing including her own multi-instrumental offerings.
Nicky Rossiter


Midwinter Live

Lough Records 010CD

15 tracks
The Boys of the Lough have been around for a long time now and have always been a Pan-Celtic musical experience.
No strangers to the North American circuit, the band pioneered Celtic Christmas shows back in the early 1990’s and this album is from their 2007 Midwinter concert in Philadelphia. It is an exemplary live recording, concentrating on the music with no asides or spoken introductions, although we do get to hear the enthusiastic calling and clapping during the deserved standing ovation at the end of the concert. The key figures in all this have been Cathal McConnell, the Enniskillen flute player, and his mandolin and cittern playing partner, Dave Richardson from Northumbria. The band’s latest incarnation includes Brendan Begley from Dingle on the button box and vocals, Shetlander Kevin Henderson on the fiddle and Highland-born Malcolm Stitt on the guitar.

The tunes have a leaning towards Kerry and Shetland and it is a testament to the musicianship of the players that these two regional styles are so well respected. The songs bring out the contrast between the Munster and Ulster song traditions as well as that between Irish and English language renditions of big seasonal ballads. For example, the English translation of the Scottish The Christ Child’s Lullaby, sung by Cathal and his telling of the Christmas story in The Wexford Carol. Set this against Begley’s Coinne an Linbh Íosa and the Irish That Night In Bethlehem (preceded by the Swedish tune Sankt Staffan Han Rider). The ensemble even tackles The Blarney Pilgrim on whistles - now there’s guts for you.

Make sure your local folk DJ has this in their studio and beg them to play it at every opportunity. The track list is an impressive array of seasonal music that should be on the play-lists of radio stations everywhere; it fits the season perfectly.

And, if you need an excuse to buy this, then the cartoons by Alice Druitt in the style of Shultz are worth the price of the CD alone, seeing Brendan Begley as a box playing Charlie Brown - that’s inspired!
Seán Laffey


Seven For Old England

Park Records PRKCD100

16 Tracks. Running time 1:13:50
For readers of a certain age, Maddy Prior will be forever the voice of Steeleye Span, arguably the most popular of the 1970’s English Folk Rock outfits. Before Steeleye, Maddy Prior was singing traditional ballads as witnessed on her Folk Songs of Old England Volume 1, which appeared in 1968. Now, forty years later, she is back where she started as if she was born to sing this material.

For the most part the songs on this album are old and those ancient sources are duly noted. No surprise then to find the opening song from the Francis J. Child collection, collected from Christmas carollers sometime between 1829-39, Dives and Lazarus, to the air we know as the Star of the County Down. Another one of Child’s is Jock of Hazledean, which she tackles gamely but scores the only draw on what is generally a winning record. I find she is more at home on the essentially English material. And there is much of it here. Take a parental advisory of the Trooper’s Nag (from Pills to Purge Melancholy of 1720), chuckle at the light and very jolly Collier Lad, from Prior’s native Lancashire. (Jolly? There’s no better English word for it and she sings it with girlish glee). She does a good job on Martinmass Time, which we know here from the singing of Andy Irvine, but both Prior and Irvine trace their versions back to the wonderful Anne Briggs. There is more of course; a line from her own Magpie gives us the album’s title, the song was left on the shelf for forty years because it came out at the same time as a Children’s TV programme on the old ITV network.

The huge joy of the album is in the musicians she has assembled around her. The bulk of the work is carried by Benji Kirkpatrick on the guitar and rather loosely strung bouzouki. The real folk find is fiddler, Giles Lewin, who adds so much subtlety to the backing. Some tracks even feature Benji’s father the venerable English box player John Kirkpatrick, with whom Maddy appeared in the Steeleye Span’s Rocket Cottage Tour of 35 years ago. A highly recommended album from a revival singer who has never lost her grasp on the roots of English music.
Seán Laffey



Mulligan Records LUNCD 3002

14 tracks, 47 minutes
This is the big one. 1975, the Bothy Band’s mahogany album, completes the set of three studio re-releases on Mulligan Records. This debut recording includes many of the most famous tracks from their brief but brilliant career. Julia Delaney, Do You Love an Apple, Creig’s Pipes, Hector the Hero, Pretty Peg, The Kesh Jig, and of course Coleman’s Cross: he still is, apparently. On what was a lengthy LP when it was recorded in October 1975, there is excitement in every note and a freshness that equals any modern release. Right down to the surprising finish on The Sailor’s Bonnet, this music is as moving and as startling as it was three decades ago. Take The Flowers of Redhill, a reel I listen to frequently in Gerry O’Connor’s rockabilly version - so many musicians have played with this melody, and their inspiration is clear when you listen to the pumping bouzouki, pipes, flute and fiddle here. Classic doesn’t tell the half of it.

Having just shed Tony MacMahon and Paddy Glackin, the Bothy Band’s line-up for this historic recording was the Ó Domhnaill siblings, Tríona and Micheál, Paddy Keenan, Matt Molloy, Donal Lunny, and the mighty Tommy Peoples, who was later replaced on fiddle by young Kevin Burke. The melodic firepower is awesome on these eleven instrumental tracks, and the three songs only scratch the surface of vocal talents which were fully revealed in later performances of Fionnghuala and The Heathery Hills of Yarrow. That wonderful harpsichord version of The Butterfly is here, as is the unforgettable canter along The Tar Road to Sligo. As if you didn’t know, 1975 is a must-have album and this CD release is more than welcome. The Bothy Band’s live recording from Paris is now also available, so no excuses for not updating those LPs!
Alex Monaghan


Skin and Sins

Own Label NLCD001, 11 tracks
Surprising how quickly things move in the modern world of traditional music! Back in July 2008, world bodhrán champion, Neil Lyons, was applying to the Deis scheme for funding to release an album called Skins and Sins and in November 2008 the disc is in my CD player. Neil has gathered together an impressive group of musicians, many of whom bear the Lyons name, Helen (harp), Brian (bouzouki), Barry (fiddle) and Conor (bodhrán). He also has called on the prodigious talents of Éamonn De Barra (flute), Paul McNevin (fiddle), Peter Browne (accordion), Leonard Barry (uilleann pipes) and Mick Broderick (bouzouki, cittern and mandolin). And there are more musicians too, which, if you know the names, will indicate they are the cream of the late twenty-somethings from the Dublin traditional scene. Deis, it seems, spent wisely.

From the start we know we are in solid traditional territory here, with Leonard Barry leading out the pack with Connie the Soldier. Neil adds his bodhrán beat, which is steady; played on the bunch of sticks which gives a snare expression. The sound fills out with Mick Broderick’s bouzouki adding a pulsing bass and then in come the regulators, ending in a huge sound. Great start and it just gets better. For me the bacon and cabbage of the bodhrán world is how well the player can accompany the flute - they are a combination boiled in heaven. Éamonn De Barra is on top form with the pairing of Mick Coynes and The Guns of the Magnificnent Seven, while Neil Lyons pulls alongside him to great effect. The ensemble playing is lively and intelligent throughout and Lyons never overstates his welcome; the tunes are allowed to ramble, never being tied to the Garmin by the goat skin. Indeed, so at home is he with the group (which is more or less Slide with Pipes) that we don’t hear a solo until track five, which is an essay on the full dynamics of his Seamus O’Kane drum.

The album closes with Brother Fusion, where he is joined by his brother Conor and the two De Barra lads for a jazzy trip around bodhrán beating . Young and rooted, it’s a lot of skin but hardly any sins at all.
Seán Laffey


In Full Swing - Live

CD and DVD

CD - 14 Tracks, 76.32 minutes

DVD - 15 Tracks, 87.52 minutes
The sound of Irish and Scots music comes richly from Germany as this quintet displays in this live recording. It is a nice melange of new and old, traditional and neo-trad. In Full Swing - Live is their fourth album and it is possibly their best - rare for most live albums.

The opening set is Three Ravens/Raving in the Bathroom, a good combination of singing and playing, with arrangements by piper Claus Steinort. The Moving Statue is a nice set of strongly played reels. I Buried My Wife and Danced on Her gives the ensemble another chance to let loose on this set of jigs.

Gudrun Walther and Sandra Steinort share the singing, mostly in duets. The King and the Fair Maid is a song written by both and it features a nice overlay/underlay of voices in what is a bit of a showcase piece for them. Sandra Steinort plays piano for a rendition of Kate Rusby’s, Sweet Bride. The House Carpenter is a song that allows Claus Steinort’s flute to fill the background.

Guitarist, Jurgen Treyz brings a bit of Balkan playing in with his piece, And Off He Went; a spirited, high-octane and frenetic tune. His Frida is the polar opposite, a softly worked tune that has some great backing from the rest of the band.

There was a bit of irony felt when I realized that the Germans were performing at a theatre in the Netherlands, singing in English. Ah, the worldwide and universal draw of the music. These veterans of Germany’s folk scene are all accomplished musicians who have a love for the music they are performing. It isn’t a visit to the beach, but a real deep and heartfelt feeling for the songs and the tunes that they play. There is nary a weakness across this piece.

In Full Swing Live is a very good album by a group of players who know how best to be a band.
Brian G. Witt


Clement Street

Gasmenmusic 2008
The Gasmen are a San Francisco based group of traditional Irish music players. And in true Californian fashion, they are a mixum-gatherum of musical backgrounds. Vincy Keehan from Galway is a founder member of the band and a stalwart of the Irish scene in the city. He sings, plays mandolin and composes songs including Argentina on this album. It’s a song that draws from the little-known Irish contribution to that hybrid South American nation and has this plaintive closing line: “Though we speak in Spanish now, in Gaelic we sing our songs.”

Vinny Cronin moved from Boston to San Francisco in 1978 and has been playing flute and whistles since childhood. He began playing with his dad, Paddy Cronin, the well-known fiddler and his uncle Johnny Cronin. He features on The Boys of Ballinamore/The Monks of the Screw on the album. John Caulfield, on fiddle, mandolin, and vocals has been a Gasman since 2002. He has played in a number of bands (including the wonderfully named Mild Colonial Boys) and gigged with many Irish musicians in the U.S. and Europe. Barry O’ Connell moved to the Bay Area in 2000 from County Cork moved to the Bay Area in 2000. His accordion playing is front and centre on many of the tracks. The Jug of Punch, that old chestnut gets an affectionate and lively treatment. The Wild Rose of the Mountain and The Star of Munster make a grand set.

Kenny Somerville represents County Fermanagh in the band’s mix. He started out playing guitar and singing at Bundoran, in County Donegal. Cormac Gannon plays bodhrán and sings. He hails from Mayo and works in a song called Up Mayo, composed by Padraig Stevens. Gannon has the distinction of organizing the band’s affairs and often has reason to remember the name of their first album in 1998, Minding Mice at Crossroads.

Clement Street is the epicenter of the current Irish music scene in San Francisco, particularly The Plough and Stars Pub. The music has seen better days in the city and the Plough is one of the only venues that regularly features Irish music. This is a very enjoyable album with a generous twenty tracks that mix it up nicely. It reminds me of a very good session complete with solid individual playing and more songs than you’d get in most sessions.
Tom Clancy


Matt & Orlaith Keane

MK4 2008

This is one of the best albums of 2008. Matt Keane has a voice that would charm the birds from the trees. Regardless of what he is singing you will be captivated by the sound. In addition Orlaith is the perfect counterpoint to his tones.
With fifteen tracks on offer this album is excellent value and all the more so when you hear the quality of the material and the production.

From the beautiful opener, The Moon on Clancy’s Wing, a song that gets far too little airtime, he sets an agenda of providing the listener with a collection of songs that are delightful but also meaningful. Somebody Special could be the ultimate love song, if we could all sing it as well as Matt Keane to our significant others.

The first solo outing for Orlaith on this CD is I Wish It Would Rain and it is ideal at displaying her wonderful voice.
The choice of songs is eclectic and if I am honest it can be a bit surprising when I look at the cover photo. I did not expect songs from John Prine and Louden Wainright III, but when this duo takes them on they certainly more than do them justice.

The album is worth seeking out if only for songs like Hello in There and The Picture. These are classics that you will probably never hear on radio and they may feature on very few albums. Here you get excellent renditions.
Added to the content, performance and production is a very striking presentation with an informative booklet insert. What more could you desire?
Nicky Rossiter