Releases > March 2009

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The Wheels of Life

With Mary Black, Donovan, Gemma Hayes & Tom Paxton

Dolphin Records, DOLTVCD 115

Liam Clancy is one of Ireland’s great treasures and perhaps our most artful entertainer. At 73, he could be coasting on his considerable back catalogue but instead, he’s been in the studio making a new album. He has an unerring ear for fine songs and his voice brings spirit and grace to whatever he chooses to sing. You know you’re in good hands right from the opening track; a glorious version of Paul Brady’s anthem, Follow On. Brady’s songs are so utterly his own that they are difficult to cover successfully. Clancy’s version opens with the chorus - a good entry point to a tricky song - and goes on to reveal its heart and soul.

If I had to pick just one, standout track, it would be The Broad Majestic Shannon, a Shane McGowan song reminiscing about a Tipperary childhood. Clancy cajoles every last ounce of emotion from the lyrics. And then he segues deftly from the Shannon to the wide Missouri on the classic song of the American Civil War, Shenandoah.

The album includes songs by Kate McGarrigle, Tom Rowe, Bill Staines, and two by the Maine man, poet & singer David Mallett. One of his songs, Phil Brown - The Painter, is done as a recitation, reminding us that Clancy’s unforgettable voice is still in great shape. The other, I know this Place, is a sweet compilation of memories forged into a musical tone poem. The Bill Staines song, Roseville Fair, is a delicate and delicious duet with Gemma Hayes. The other duet is with Mary Black on the McGarrigle song, Talk to me of Mendocino.

It wouldn’t be a real Liam Clancy album without a few shanties and there are a couple of sea-worthy ones in this collection. John Cook is based on a true story about a whaling captain whose greed causes him to lose everything - a song for our times. Ambletown is a sweeter shanty and it may be the original version of Home Boys Home.

The album features Clancy’s regular backing musicians, Kevin Evans and Paul Grant and his own immensely talented son, Donal. Various members of Danú constitute a high-powered house band at Clancy’s own studio in Ring, Co Waterford including singer, Muireann NicAmhlaoibh, Bennie McCarthy on accordion, and bodhrán-player, Donnchadh Gough. Other guests are Geraldine Dunne on cello, slide fiddler, Daire Bracken, and the other Danú member, Tom Doorley, on flute.

Three bonus tracks are all from a live performance, still the best way to experience Liam Clancy. He sings solo on Donal Óg, Tom Paxton joins him for The Last Thing On My Mind, that memorably melodic break-up song, and finally, Donovan shows up to reprise Catch the Wind. Like Clancy, he’s in fine voice, going strong and surely on his second or third wind.

Tom Clancy


Fear Múinte Mánla - Sean-Nós Songs From Connemara

Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 176

Anyone interested the Conamara sean-nós style of singing will be interested in a new CD from Cló Iar-Chonnachta: Patsy Ó Ceannabháin’s Fear Múinte Mánla - Sean-Nós Songs from Connemara. There is a generous sampling of Patsy’s songs on the twenty tracks and they range from the great slow airs through to songs that are bright and lively. While Patsy was quite a private man and never sought the limelight, still, he was always very keen in making sure that the unique style of sean-nós singing was passed on to the younger generation. There is an absolutely charming photograph in the CD notes which shows Patsy hunkered down in a room with a dozen or so boys and girls aged about eight to ten as he leads them through a sean-nós song.

Patsy was born and raised in Ros Muc in Conamara and was highly regarded as a singer and as a man; the words in the CD title say it all. He chose not to partake in sean-nós competitions, either locally or nationally, and made just one exception when friends and fellow singers talked him into taking part in a special competition at Oireachtas na Gaeilge in Galway in 1993. This was a competition for men and women who had never previously participated in Oireachtas events, the Maire Ní Dhonnchadha Cup. No one was surprised when he won it.

Apart from the fact that Patsy had been fortunate in inheriting the gift of sean-nós singing, he was also blessed with a fine clear voice that added considerably to his ability to communicate the mood and thrust of a song with great feeling and emotion. He had that other inestimable quality of the good singer - clear diction and enunciation. These qualities made him the ideal teacher for the youngsters who attended his singing classes in the Gaelacadamh in Coláiste Chonnacht in An Spidéal and in the Crannóg at Ros Muc.

Most of the great songs associated with Patsy are on this CD, recorded by various people on location and in studios over the years. They include stunning performances of An Bonnán Buí, Amhrán Mhaínse, and Tógfaidh mé mo Sheolta, and lively numbers like Amhrán an Bheet and Bean Pháidín. But all twenty songs provide a feast of listening, and I recommend this recording for all lovers of sean-nós.

Aidan O’Hara


If the Cap Fits

Mulligan Records LUNCD 3021

8 tracks, 38 minutes

It is a long time since I listened to this album. Not the full 30 years since it was released, but at least half of that. Not that it isn’t a great recording - it is. I think the problem is that Kevin Burke has continued to make great recordings for thirty years and there’s always his other work to dip into. After the Bothy Band, he recorded albums with Micheál Ó Domhnaill, with Jackie Daly, with Open House, with Celtic Fiddle Festival, and of course with Patrick Street. More recently I’ve listened mainly to his solo recordings, In Concert and with Ged Foley or Cal Scott. It’s hard to think of a fiddler more skilled at solo performance, or more complete in his command of Irish music.

These talents were evident even in 1978. If the Cap Fits, Kevin’s second solo release, includes some marvellous true solos as well as challenging tunes from the fringe of the Irish music scene at that time; Paddy Fahy’s Jig, with its characteristic eerie quality, Dinny Delaney’s and The Yellow Wattle from earthy old Donegal fiddlers, a venerable trio of Kerry polkas, and the sixteen-minute mammoth set of reels which starts with my favourite version of Toss the Feathers and just goes on and on.

There’s an inspired rendition of The Star of Munster and John Stenson’s reels, there’s that Bothy Band classic, Julia Delaney’s, there’s some tasty box playing from Jackie Daly, flute and pipe cameos from a young Peter Browne, and nicely muted accompaniment from Brady, Lunny and Ó Domhnaill. But mostly there’s exquisite fiddle-playing in that slightly low-key style Kevin has always had, slowing the phrase or bending the note, choosing melodies with more to give and putting them together, releasing those hidden notes which make a tune sing. Sounds fantastic, I know, but this is fantastic music. If you look for the common factors in the best Irish music for the last thirty years, the name Kevin Burke keeps cropping up. If the Cap Fits contains the early essence of his music, solo and with friends, and maybe even points the way to the music of Martin Hayes and others. This 30-year anniversary re-issue is a great addition to Irish music on CD.

Alex Monaghan


The Connachtman’s Rambles

Mulligan Records LUNCD 3027

12 tracks, 39 minutes

Yes, this is Mairtin O’Connor from De Dannan and Perpetual Motion, but this re-release from 1979 pre-dates all of that and keeps the old English spelling of his first name. Here he plays a pearloid Soprani box in the old style, sounding much more trad than you might expect. Early influences such as Patsy Tuohy and John Kimmel are evident, as well as his own Galway accordion tradition. The opening Jolly Tinker and Munster Buttermilk are as straight as anyone could wish. It’s only when we get to Mother’s Delight and The College Groves that things start to hot up and Jenny’s Chickens bursts into flame with an intensity that Colonel Sanders would be proud of. At the other end of the scale, Martin plays two beautiful slow airs with all the emotion and under-standing which is reckoned rare among box-players: Mo Giolla Mear and A Stóir Mo Chroí, common enough choices but splendidly interpreted here.

There’s plenty more good stuff on this CD. Jenny Picking Cockles is done in the low octave with a lovely growling tone. The Castletown Connors and Happy to Meet are rattled through in fine style. Lord Gordon’s starts a virtuosic set of reels, including The Chicago which is a favourite of mine. The title track is something special again, striking slow versions of two well-known jigs, poignant and compelling. I won’t say this was Mairtin’s best album, but it was certainly an excellent start and shows both where he was coming from and where he was headed. Fascinating for any box-player, The Connachtman’s rambles is also a good listen with a mix of polkas, hornpipes and slower tunes between the jigs and reels.

Alex Monaghan


A Mighty Session

Mulligan Records LUNCD 3017

15 tracks, 36 minutes

One of several groupings arising from Planxty and The Bothy Band, this one combines arguably the best fluter and fiddler of their generation with a young guitarist-cum-singer named Paul Brady. The atmosphere is very informal, almost like a pub session, and the music is full of grand old tunes. There’s jigs aplenty, and a hornpipe or two, rather than the endless machine-gun rattle of reel after reel. The Creel of Turf and Tom Billy’s is a powerful combination of jigs, flute and fiddle hitting the beat with verve. Track 4 is a more playful pairing, Tommy’s fiddle singing on The Newport Lass and The Rambling Pitchfork. The magnificent hornpipe Mulqueeney’s is followed by the Planxty favourite, Out on the Ocean.

There are reels enough, of course. Speed the Plough leads nicely into the piping version of Toss the Feathers. The three parts of The Limerick Lasses slip smoothly into the five-part Foxhunter’s Reel. The confusingly titled, Silver Spire (some say it was named for the New York Chrysler Building much beloved of Batman), anyway it is another great example of the flute and fiddle duet, rounded off by Drag Her Round the Road. Some of the duets don’t quite take off, but the solo tracks are all outstanding: three from Matt Molloy and one from Tommy Peoples. Matt is superb on The Scotsman Over the Border and The Kilavil Jig, and his solo reels are bursting with energy. Tommy’s one solo number explores the intricacies of two big jigs often neglected.

And what of the young Paul Brady? One of the best things about this album for me is that Paul is content to sit quietly in the back-ground, adding little touches here and there but basically doing the job of a good session guitarist, which he undeniably is. He plays a nice little solo on The Rainy Day, and sings a very compelling unaccompanied version of The Shamrock Shore, but doesn’t distract too much from the flute and fiddle. Well played, well produced and well re-mastered, this is a well-rounded and entertaining CD, great to see re-issued in Mulligan’s current revival.

Alex Monaghan




Here we have a new face, a new name and a wonderful new album of songs old and new. Deirdre hails from southwest Ireland and although steeped in music, she still manages to bring a lovely fresh enthusiasm to songs we have heard a million times. She opens with a lovely, lilting rendition of Faces of Friends that will put even the grumpiest listener into a good mood. That mood will linger even when her songs move on to weightier and more sombre sentiments.

Her take on Eileen McMahon is wonderful. Her voice is ideally suited to a song that does not get as many outings as it deserves. I was delighted to hear her give a wider audience to Johnny McEvoy’s great old sentimental ballad, Long, Long Before Your Time. His is a canon that could provide material for a host of singers. The Legend was new to me. It starts unaccompanied and then unfolds as a roll call of Irish patriots, tying them to the vision of Nelson Mandela. I can see this becoming a standard in the ballad sessions if they ever re-emerge.

Scanlan has a voice that defies categorisation. At times her accent seems to come through the singing, giving a lovely intimate feel to the songs. Then, on songs like The Scholar, she reminds me of performers like Eleanor Shanley, with that universal appeal.

This album is very well put together and production values are high, as are the guest musicians adding to the professional content. One small quibble on a top-class production is not just a lack of the lyrics being provided but the songs are not credited either. Leaving that aside this is a great collection of songs allied to a lovely voice and some top-class backing - so we can get over the quibble.

Nicky Rossiter


The Factory Turn

Own label, 2007

13 tracks, 47 minutes

A duet recording of piano accordion and fiddle doesn’t appear too often on the market. This album, however, proves that in the right hands the piano accordion can make beautiful music. Oliver Loughlin is one such exponent, playing alongside Damian O’Brien on fiddle here. Both hail from North Leitrim and have been exposed to a wealth of musicians since childhood, including Paddy Ryan and Michael O’Brien (Damian’s father). Both are long-time members of the notable Inishfree Céilí Band of Sligo (2008 Fleadh Champions), led by Oisín Mac Diarmada and many will remember the group Síona, in which they played alongside June Mc Cormack on flute and Kevin Brehony on piano.

The album features some well-known tunes as well as some lesser-known ones, making for a solid collection of material. The opening track, for instance, presents the well-known reel, The Musical Priest, in a much lower key that is usually played - adding a new lease of life to its melody. There are some gorgeous tunes, particularly reels, which seem to weave seamlessly in and out of each showcasing none other than first-class musicianship. These are contrasted well with a striking arrangement of The Cherry Blossom Waltz. At times, it sounds like only one of the lads is playing - but isn’t that a sign of a duet on top of its game? It’s no surprise then that the duo played together in duets for years at the Fleadh Cheoil. It’s a pleasure to listen to them. Arty Mc Glynn is their choice of accompanist and we know he always does a wonderful job, Other guest appearances are from Kevin Brehony on piano and James Blennerhassett on double bass.

Overall, this is an excellent recording that truly deserves to be heard. It’s richly musical and enjoyable - highly recommended.

Edel McLaughlin


Seal Ag Gabháil Don Cheol

Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD171

Jimmy Dinny Ó Gallchóir’s lifelong friend and neighbour was the fiddle player and song writer, Proinsias Ó Maonaigh (Francie Mooney). In a tribute to Jimmy in the notes accompanying the Seal Ag Gabháil Don Cheol CD he says, “We grew up together in Cois Cláidí (near Bun Beag, Gaoth Dobhair). I took to the instrument and he to the songs. No matter what the occasion, the sun never went down without a song from Jimmy Dinny.”

Jimmy’s is the unique Donegal style of singing that has no melodic ornamentation, is delivered in a regular rhythm, and comes under the term ‘the raw bar’ a description attributed to an informant of the late Seán Ó Baoill. “He had a remarkable singing voice and a great repertoire of songs,” Francie writes, adding that what is also unusual is the fact that even though Jimmy and his siblings were all young when their father, Dinny Hiudaí Hughie, a noted singer, died, they remembered a great many of his songs.

Jimmy was born in 1921, and when he was seventeen he emigrated to Scotland but he always hankered after his native place and, soon after his return to Cois Cláidí in 1953, he married Anna (Nan) Ní Ghallchóir. They had five children, and some of them can he heard singing along with him in a song with the unlikely title, Tar Go hAlasca. This is Francie Mooney’s translation of the song, North To Alaska, featured in the 1960 film of that name which starred John Wayne and Stewart Granger. Séamus de Napier recorded Jimmy Dinny and his family in the 1960s, and its reproduction on this CD is just one of the charming elements of the recording’s appeal.

There are nine songs in all on the CD, three in English and six in Irish. One of the latter is among the most popular songs of Tír Chonaill: Amhrán Pheadair Bhreathnaigh, so-called because it is regarded as one of the best compositions of the Baile na Finne poet Peadar Breathnach (1825-70). It is set in Árainn Mhór in the mid-1800s, and ‘the little house on the side of the road’ mentioned in the song is still there to this day. Another song Jimmy probably got from his father is in English - Lovely Green Gweedore. It deals with the Plan of Campaign, the tenants’ rights protest of the 1880s. Another song in English that has emigration as its theme is The Star Of Donegal, a version of which is in Colm Ó Lochlainn’s Irish Street Ballads (1960).

The production, Seal Ag Gabháil Don Cheol, is full of nostalgia that is evoked not only by Jimmy’s distinctive Donegal singing style and the songs themselves, but also in the beautifully reproduced ‘family album’ photos that are scattered throughout the CD notes that come with copious background information and songs words.

Aidan O’Hara


Various Artists

Arc Music, EUCD 2156

Irish Folk At Its Best is a compilation CD with nineteen tracks and 69 minutes of music - good value by anyone’s standards. We’re used to getting CD’s with bilingual notes but this one has them in English, German, French and Spanish; which tells us that Arc Music are seriously intent on reaching as wide an audience as possible. The tracks are all licensed from Cló-Iar Chonnachta in Galway, who are noted for their publishing of books and recordings mainly in the Irish language and some bilingual - in Irish and English.

The mix of music consists of songs traditional and original and tunes, old and new, from groups and individuals. The first two tracks are by the group Cúnla - a medley with the unusual title, Doctor O’Neill’s Peoples, followed by a love song sung by the group’s guitar player, Stephen Fagan. The title in translation is, ‘If you go to the fair’, and so the first line goes: “If you go to the fair, make sure you’ve the sheep with you, its wool and its lamb…” That’s more or less it for the agricultural aspect of things; after that it is standard love sentiments for a beautiful girl, nicely sung to a beautifully plaintive air by Stephen.

Staying with the opening tracks, next up is Eilín Ní Bheaglaoich of the famous Kerry musical family who sings her own song, Cian, written for her son on the family’s return to Ireland after 20 years in Australia. I remember interviewing her on RTÉ Radio 1 just before she left for the land down-under about the year 1971, I think. Time flies! Although it doesn’t say so, I suspect that while Eileen (Eiblín) - as I knew her way back then - could have harmonised with herself via multi-tracking, I have a strong suspicion that the voice doing the harmonies is her sister, Josie.

It would make too long to list the names of all the performers and their material, so here’s a summing up: a couple of tunes from the box and banjo duo of Johnny Óg Connolly and Brian McGrath; Máirtín Tom Sheáinín and Helen Flaherty a Conamara name, but to my ears she sounds Scottish, (she is too Ed, based in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, check out her lead singing with the Belgian Group Shantalla) on this album she sings sing An Cailín Álainn and the Mingulay Boat Song; Cyril O’Donoghue sings his own song, The Bright Side of the Moon; Joe Corcoran and The Lonely Stranded Band perform the song, Come Up the Stairs; Parson’s Hat (Bríd Ní Chathain and Fred Johnston) give a delightful performance of the song, Crann Úll. Others appearing are Lillis Ó Laoire, Colm Ó Foghlú, Catherine McEvoy, Mairéad Ní Oistín, Johnny Beag, Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin and Eleanor McEvoy.

Aidan O’Hara


Sands of Aberdeen

Boston Road Records BRR08 2008

Jed Marum, whose family originally hailed from Kilkenny, must be one of the most prolific recording artists on the scene today. His highly individual and always welcome albums appear with regularity.

This CD opens with the title track from his own pen and, as ever, it tells a tale with brio and feeling. In addition to his own work and his interpretation of traditional songs, Marum showcases the songs of other writers and, on this occasion, his renditions of Brian McNeill’s songs like The Rock and the Tide and The Belles of Ontario are excellent and the latter shows a wonderful shade of Percy French in the witty and erudite lyrics.

Broom of the Cowdenknowes will be familiar to many from the singing of Mary Black. On this album Jed Marum takes the Scottish folk song and by upping the tempo he gives us a new tune. Re-interpretations of old favourites is a risky business but this time it pays off.

Another piece of standard fare of the early folk circuit that he resurrects is Down by the Glenside and once more he breathes new life into a lovely song so often neglected.

The Star of the County Down will forever stick in my mind as one that was drummed into us by the Christian Brothers at school. Then we heard Van Morrison give his version. Now Jed Marum brings it to us.

A modern classic that he re-interprets is Phil Coulter’s, The Town I loved so Well. This is fascinating if only for the lovely guitar intro. Annie Laurie is one of those songs where the title is probably better known than the song. I thought I knew this song but in fact this was my first time actually hearing it performed. With just a beautiful guitar backing Marum brought alive a sense of old Scotland.

Nicky Rossiter


Rossinver Braes

Cló Iar-Chonnachta, CICD 174

“When my father mentioned that he thought it would be a good idea to make a CD with Tony, I sensed that something special was happening, and so it proved to be.” That quote is taken from the CD notes of Rossinver and was written by David Lennon, one of Ben’s sons. David also said that when his father first mentioned he had been playing music with a top-class concertina player called Tony O’Connell from Limerick, he realised that this man must be good. “My father is not is not in the habit of praising musicians without considerable merit…”

Ben is a great living exponent of the strong, regional style of fiddle playing from the north Leitrim, south-eastern Fermanagh area and the fact that he took up with a man from far-off Limerick and almost fifty years his junior was also a bit of a surprise. “It took a while for us to get it all together,” Ben says, “because we have different styles of playing but he was able to adapt. He’s very adaptable, very musical, and he has a great passion for the music. He’s a younger man, but he really knows what it’s all about.”

That said, Ben is no stranger to playing with musicians from all over Ireland, having lived at various times in Cork, Limerick and Donegal. “When I was in Cork we had a group with Jackie Daly and Charlie Piggott and Gary Cronin. At that time there was great music in Cork and we had regular sessions, maybe twice a week. We formed this little group and called ourselves The Shaskeen, long before the well-known band of the same name came along. I enjoyed that very much. Then in Donegal we had a band called Dog Big Dog Little that featured himself, Seamus Quinn, Gabriel McArdle & Ciaran Curran. I liked playing with them very much. And then I played with my own family, my sons, Brian and Maurice, and my brother, Charlie.”

David notes: “Tony is probably the most empathetic musician I have heard my father play with. There is an understanding of phrasing, time and nuance that one finds only rarely in any musical form.” You can check it out for yourself in this delightful fifteen-track album of reels, jigs, hornpipes and barn dances that comes with the typical Cló Iar-Chonnachta attention to detail in notes that are full and generously informative on the musicians and their music.

Aidan O’Hara