Releases > February 2010 releases

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Paul Brady
Proper Records, 12 Tracks
On this album Paul Brady returns to his rootsy rock form, it’s a welcome home old friend recording. The album is due for an Irish release on March 12th, (it will be in UK distribution three days later).

Late last year he re-released Welcome Here Kind Stranger, which in the jigsaw of his career can be seen as the album that took him to the end of his traditional Irish ballads road in 1981 and from where he took the crossroads towards something more electric, more American in its outlook. Dig deep into Brady’ history, (he has mentioned Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles as his favourite singers when he was growing up), you’ll see that 1981 turnpike was actually the road home. He started at 16 playing American blues in Hotel bars in Donegal and now he’s back with an album full of swamp stomp, slidey guitar and punchy toe tapping rhythms, chirpy on Rainbow, more melancholy on The Price of Fame (which is a big orchestral production), which is his retrospective look at what is lost when fame tears us from the friends and lovers who didn’t take the journey with us. Luck of the Draw considers the sacrifices artists have to go through before they hit a decent pay day, with a warning that the price of fame is dependent on the toss of a coin or a roll of the dice. I got the feeling that these are not just songs, but they contain a narrative truth that is wrought from Brady’s life story.

His interpretation of the Lennon and McCartney You Won’t See Me has an acoustic Wings feel to it. Fans will spot the influences of earlier work, track 11 Over the Border would not have been out of place on Hard Station. At 62 he sounds as fresh as he did when he sang Crazy Dreams almost thirty years ago. The full production CD looks like it will be a big music event in Ireland and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the full metal jacket.

Art of any kind doesn’t come easy, you have to put the time in to get this good or as he says himself in track 5, “you have to earn your invite to the winner’s ball.” No wonder Paul Brady has a permanent front row seat in the Irish music winner’s enclosure.
Seán Laffey

Saints & Scoundrels
Daisy Discs DLCD036 12 tracks, 42 minutes
Early Sharon Shannon was right up my street, but her recent flirtations with world and country music were too much of a detour for me. However, this latest recording sees her back on track, playing great box and fiddle, pumping out some really interesting tunes, and mixing it with just enough guests to provide variety without losing focus. This is a Sharon Shannon album first, showing what she can do, and advancing the cause of Irish accordion music on the world stage. Or something. Let’s not get pretentious about this, but here is a young lady who has put the music we love on the mainstream agenda. Saints & Scoundrels achieves this with very few compromises.

Half and half tunes and songs, the instrumentals are all by Sharon and they’re all memorable. Back to her trademark combination of reels, polkas and slower tunes, with a touch of calypso and a big dollop of Americana, we get a funky polka Howya Horse?, a cracking clever reel Wild West Wagon Train where Sharon rides shotgun on whistle, a pair of old-timey reels Hillbilly Lily and Buffalo Benji, a haunting jazzy air dedicated to Cape Clear, and a bit more reggae on the hornpipe Lady Luck. With excellent guest musicians, there’s a full sound and lots to get your teeth into, but like I said the accordion stays centre stage.
The other half of this CD is the seven deadly songs. I’m not guessing who’s a saint and who’s a scoundrel, but Shane McGowan numbers open and close this album. His Mamma Lou is delivered by the fun-loving Cartoon Thieves, who also contribute the much less catchy Whitewash Station Blues. Imelda May, The Waterboys, and Jerry Fish are all highly entertaining on the theme of good and evil. Sharon teams up with Carol Keogh for the gentler Shifting Summer Sands. Shane himself steps up to the plate for the final Rake at the Gates of Hell, a cheerful little musing on suffering and damnation, before Sharon intercedes with a heavenly final reel - or the devil’s music, maybe.
Alex Monaghan

No Bird Sang
12 Tracks

John O’Regan wrote in a recent IMM interview with Ger Wolfe. No Bird Sang – Ger Wolfe’s fifth album goes back to the acoustic roots of his music. Using a voice and guitar combination ably produced by Peadar O Riada, the result is immediately intimate and personal. It has trademark song writing and melodic depth his work has developed within the last decade.”
Ger Wolfe is a city boy from Mayfield in Cork, but he is happiest when he takes a decidedly bucolic rural ramble, his world and music have a surface quality that speaks of the open air and of the soft Irish country side, I could cite ‘I have been loved’ and ‘Look At That Old Field’ as ones to listen to carefully for their delicate haunting poetry, but there is also a hard edge to his writing that can take us to the margin of the precipice, where the familiar can fall into chaos, and for an example I can think of nothing better on this album than the ‘The Grey Crow’ which on its surface is about a grey crow scavenging but deeper down was inspired by Christine Buckley’s work on exposing clerical abuse in institutions of the state over the last century especially.
Ger Wolfe’s music is bardic in its perceptions, his prose is intelligent, his words are witty and carefully crafted, in a nut shell this is beautifully played and sung modern Irish music.
Seán Laffey

The last house in Ballymakea
Double CD 11+16 tracks

Reading the Aenead – as one does – you frequently come across the hero being described as pious. It doesn’t mean pious: more like dutiful, determined to be true to tradition and fulfil obligations. It’s the perfect word for what Ita Crehan has done here. Junior had an incalculable influence through his playing, his work for the Willie Clancy week, and his love of his own culture. So more precious than any individual song or story is the insight into a time when songs, tunes, dances and stories were all integrated into one living culture, and Irish was first nature to the people Be warned: the sound quality is not studio – these recordings were done on tape in the 60’s onwards (and even back then, you couldn’t stop some people from talking through historic recordings).
Junior was both gentleman and a gentle man: some of the speeds are quite slow and deliberate. And he seems to use a bit of vibrato in the slow airs. Nowadays we hear boasts that Irish music has become a world music. Not in this way it hasn’t. If you listen to track 1, and the story of the leprechaun, you can forget the Shillelaghs and Begorrahs, and get back to a time when people feared spells, curses and the Evil Eye, and it’s not so long gone. Perhaps the most interesting item is the suggestion that De Valera banned country house dances because they were used as fund-raisers for the IRA. There’s no denying the damage done – and it would be a fitting tribute to Junior to see the law repealed.
But the best possible tribute is this recording, and our thanks to Ita and to all who helped in it.
John Brophy

Strawberry Town
Keltia Musique KM 318

Orion’s latest album Strawberry Town has been five years in the making. Since their last release 1999’s Restless Home the line up has changed significantly. John Faulkner is on the vocals and bouzouki with the young Breton guitarist Erwan Berernguer now plucking the steel strings. The core of founder members fiddler Rudy Velghe and accordionist Raquel Gigot remains unchanged and keyboardist Gwenael Micualt makes a welcome return.
Their sound is a cosmopolitan one befitting their location at the hub of Europe. Elements of Flemish traditional forms and purely classical strains such as a Mozart minuet are incorporated as easily as Scottish Gaelic mouth music and Irish jigs and reels. Faulkner’s contributions are commendable, he is after all a veteran of the scene and he brings a gravitas to the production. The title track Strawberry Town is an epic ballad of incest, lust and of course an inevitable murder, the song is based on Bocaccio’s Decameron , (first collected in 1907 but going all the way back to 1482). Faulkner learnt this version from his mentor Ewan McColl and in folk music that’s a trip to Delphi.
The opening piece Ton ar Liestalegou is an almost ambient soundtrack while the closing The Open Café mixes traditional jigging and classical poise crossed with crisp Musette accordion ripping the sidewalks. Orion’s musical span is wide on this album and where Orion and Strawberry Town is concerned the exclamation wow seems appropriate.
Seamus Matthews

The Greentrax Years
CDTRAX350 2009

McCalmans released their first album on Greentrax way back in 1986. In that time some fans may have missed some vintage material. Likewise new fans could be discovering this fantastic group and contrary to the Scottish myth they are interested in delivering great value to these.
Over a selection of 46 tracks on this CD you – old or new fan – can discover the magic of McCalmans. Combining wit, great singing and playing talent and a knack for picking great songs this group epitomise the voice of Scotland. The songs range from protest through history to funny but each track will have you hooked.
One amazing trait I find with the group is their ability to “ambush the listener”. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Leave Us our Glens”. This starts out sound like a typical environmentalist anthem until the listener wonders about the call if they listen closely. It soon emerges that the Glens in question are the various brands of good whiskey.
We are familiar with the big names of 1960s protest songs but bands like McCalmans have a very good line in anti-war songs and few sound better than the live version of “Victory Parade”. It refers to The Great War but the sentiments survive in this very understated protest song. They also champion travellers to great effect on the wonderful “Yellow on the Broom”.
The standard fare of Scottish folk is also included to great effect on such tracks as “Both Sides the Tweed”, “Neil Gow’s Apprentice” and “Twa Recruiting Sergeants”.
Humour looms large on the double CD and makes one yearn for a live show. Among the comedic gems are “The 12 Folk Days of Christmas”, “Wrecked Again” recalling that night out and the classic with the mystical title “Don’s Sit on my Jimmy Shands”.
Nicky Rossiter


Conversation at the Crosses
12 tracks,
Own Label

August 2009 saw the release of a beautiful duet album of musical conversation between Feakle fiddler, Pat O’ Connor and Sliabh Luachra accordion player, Eoghan O’ Sullivan.
One of the most refreshing aspects of this album is the fact that it so clear and simple; the music is uncluttered and speaks from the heart. I liked the fact that the musicians did not succumb to being overloaded with accompaniment, but opted for a minimalist approach in that regard. The majority of the tracks feature the timeless duet pairing of flute and fiddle unaccompanied allowing the music a chance to speak for itself. Their approach is to highlight the beauty of their chosen repertoire in a melodic sense expressing the lift and charm of Irish traditional music.
The repertoire played is rich and varied in tune types ranging from reels and jigs, to carefully selected set dances and waltzes. There are lots of old favourites here and great traditional tunes they are - some of which often escape the session repertoire. The blend of instruments works very well with some lovely touches on the box. I was impressed by the subtle variations and ornaments here that one must listen carefully to hear and to appreciate fully. The fiddle complements this with an ever-steady, consistent melody and rhythmic drive throughout. It’s interesting to hear some of the old favourites presented in different keys to the norm – this adds a fresh dimension injecting a new lease of life to the tunes. Listen to track one for example to hear the reels Farell O’Gara and Crowley’s in the mellow key of C.
Finally, the use of guitar accompaniment on two tracks sits nicely in the background – where the accompanist should be – adding that extra full chordal sound to enrich the melodies. It is played sensitively, never overpowering the tunes. The album was recorded in the intimate surroundings of The Crosses of Annagh pub outside Miltown Malbay in the presence of “responsive souls.” Well done to the lads on this fine recording which will stand the test of time. Visit their website on to hear an extra track of reels that didn’t make the album.
Edel McLaughlin

Dave Sheridan, Ciarán Somers and Nicolas Quemener
Folkroads 02/2/2 Keltia Musique
13 Tracks

First to avoid confusion, this is a CD featuring Dave Sheridan the fiddle player from Carlow, not the flute playing Dave Sheridan from Roscommon, and secondly the label is the highly respected Breton Music publisher Ketia Musique of Quimper. So now to the detail, the line up features Dave Sheridan on Fiddle, Ciaran Somers on Flute and Nicolas Quemener on Guitar. It is Quemener, the Breton who had the lads record this very Irish disc in Brittany and what a fine job they did of it.
The fiddle and flute are at the heart of the ensemble pieces here and they produce exemplary very spirited music from the opening track The Galtee Reel to the last McGetterick’s. The recording is as clean as a whistle and there’s a joyful presence in the sound on the disc that tells us the lads had having fun playing. The thirteen tracks offer some nice turns and Sheridan and Somers have canny ears for gorgeous melodies, as they show on Jimmy Duffy’s Barndance and the O’Carolan air Grace Nugent. Carolan’s tunes are often disregarded by the alpha males of the session circuit which is a shame because they offer so much scope to demonstrate a musical mastery above the usual macho rush for speed. The trio here can play fast, slow, with gusto and at tasty tempos which draw us into the music rather than leaving us as drop-jawed bystanders.
This is a musicians album, from a fine set of musicians. The title means “Blooming and to borrow a phrase from Diarmuid Gavin this is blooming good.
Seán Laffey

Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh,
Errigal SCD 014
Claddagh Records

I can’t remember when Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh and I first met, but then and later it always involved music, song and dance, and pleasant times. Seoirse is a man of many talents: singer, musician, poet, artist/painter, record producer, and much more, and on this CD Mná na hÉireann – The Women of Ireland, he salutes the women in songs that portray them in many different ways. “The two drinking songs are no exception,” says Seoirse. “In Níl sé ’na Lá the feckless man is mesmerized by the mugs a-filling and the glasses a-clinking in the tavern below but is brought to his senses instantly when he hears that his wife has been looking for him all over the countryside!”
There are fifteen songs altogether, six in English and nine in Irish (with translations). When he was considering his approach to the translations, Seoirse said that because the rhythm of a song was always in his ears, that somehow this enabled him to capture what he calls the swing of the songs, and so it “makes them more readable on the page” as one listens to them being sung. The title song, Mná na hÉireann, is by south Armagh poet, Peadar Ó Doirnín (1682-1769), and Seoirse sings it to the air composed by Seán Ó Riada in 1969. Seán had been commissioned to set the poem to music by Éigse Oirialla that year to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of the great poet. The air was a recurring theme throughout the 1975 Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon and was performed by the Chieftains.
Seoirse’s very full song notes include lots of useful and informative detail. For example, he informs us that the place named in the song, The Flower of Magherally O was the ancestral home of the Brontë family. Not that there ever was a family of that name in Magherally; Patrick, the father of all the Brontës was one of the Ó Proinntigh (Prunty or Brunty) clan from east Ulster, and he changed his surname presumably to give it a ‘grander’ sound and appearance.
It obvious from Seoirse’s expressive delivery that he lives each song he sings, that he not just engaging in a singing exercise. In fact, he can experience such emotional intensity sometimes when singing, that it becomes almost too much for him – the poignant emigration song Méiltí Cheann Dubhrann is one such song. “It’s a very intense song to sing,” he says, “and I found it increasingly emotionally draining, so I began to recite the words in concert instead.” And so he recites it on the CD, alternating the verses in Gaelic with his loose translation in English.
Other songs include such familiar titles as Ní’l sé ’na Lá, The Flower of Sweet Strabane, An Droimfhionn Donn Dílis, An Crúiscín Lán, and Mo Mhuirnín Ban. This is a generous offering of choice songs sung to Seoirse’s own guitar accompaniment which is always appropriate, unobtrusive and enhancing the appeal of words and music.
Aidan O’Hara

Songs of Love and Lamentation
Helen Brennan
Own Label BBR001
10 Tracks

For this album Helen has gathered together a number of excellent musicians who come from the country spectrum of Irish music (Barry ‘Baz’ Leahy - Lead Guitar. Daren Rooney-Upright Bass; Electric Bass Dave McCune- Drums, Harmonica, Guitar, Mandolin). Americana runs throughout the work. Helen’s voice is suited to the Appalachian influenced songs, whether they are original mountain music or her own compositions such as the title track. She can reach that high lonesome almost discordant heartfelt sound so characteristic of songs from the Blue Ridge Mountains, as if she is momentarily on the edge of a musical precipice. Now don’t assume that she is imitating Nanci Griffith or Emmylou Harris, she has a voice and accent which is Irish and this comes out not only on native songs such as the Curragh of Kildare (given a upbeat blás here) but also on tracks such as Worried Blues and Rambling Boy. Her version of Sweet Duleek Gate is from Drogheda, near her own place, it is a ballad of star crossed lovers and Irish begrudgery, the lovers dream of escape to America, where of course they are sure to find another set of woes and blues to haunt them.
The sleeve notes contain a short essay on Helen’ music by Ciaran Carson, which is authoritative and detailed. Helen’s music is direct, clear and delivered with passion over a musical back cloth that adds rather than hides the message and the message with Helen Brennan is in the song.
Seán Laffey

Bridging the Gap
Vertical Records VERTCD 088
12 tracks, 50 minutes

This is an astonishingly good CD. Bigger names than Patsy Reid have failed to impress when asked to blend folk and classical music for Celtic Connections, but her three-movement fiddle concerto is a total triumph. In some ways, the quality was never in doubt: Patsy’s fiddle credentials were underlined by her recent CD With Complements, and she has enlisted several other stars of traditional music to assist in this live recording. Mairi Campbell, Aidan O’Rourke, Natalie Haas, Duncan Lyall and Anna Wendy Stevenson join her on fiddles of various sizes, while Iain Copeland provides the beat. On the other hand, in addition to taking on all the composing duties, Patsy chose to include all seven melodic modes in this work: not just the familiar Ionian and Aeolian modes, representing the major and minor scales, but also the Mixolydian Scottish bagpipe scale and the related Dorian mode, and even the downright unpopular Phrygian and Locrian modes, a risky business. Plainly put, this means that some of the tunes here sound a bit weird, but it still all works.
Bridging the Gap is divided into three movements. The first includes four tunes: Baby Broon, Space to Breathe, Slowing Down, and Vanessa Edward’s Enviable Rhythm. Starting with a splendid minor reel, the tempo moves to a slow jig and then to a sumptuous slow air. So far there’s nothing which would be out of place on any modern Scottish album, but the 7/8 rhythm of the final theme immediately cries “Balkan”, emphasised by the Dorian mode of this hypnotic tune. The second movement contains the much more orchestral Strath Sunrise, an evocative piece in the Scandinavian-sounding Lydian mode, almost a tone poem, followed by Two of a Kind as a bagpipe-style military march.
The final movement reprises Baby Broon before launching into a four-part medley. The powerful strathspey Not From These Parts echoes a small number of older Scottish melodies in the Phrygian mode, often ascribed to trollish or faerie musicians. Parts of this track slip into the Locrian mode, adding a manic edge to the melody. Five is Better is firmly in 4/4 time, so I presume it refers to the five-string fiddle which Patsy plays here: the lack of notes on the tunes is my only real criticism of this release. At the Edge is an atmospheric slow reel, and the final hornpipe Life is Good certainly left me feeling that way. Classical or jazz gurus might mention the counterpoint and structure, the riffs and grooves, but for me these just add depth and lift to what is essentially an excellent recording of contemporary Scottish fiddle. Yes, it blends in other influences. Yes, it pushes the envelope of modes and rhythms. No, I don’t mind that: Patsy Reid has done a perfect job of weaving all these strands into one cloth, giving us great width without compromising on quality.
Alex Monaghan

Deep Waters
AMP Productions
Live CD and DVD

A few years ago I was asked to make a compilation album for the sadly now defunct Keltia magazine in Milan. They wanted something Irish but not the regular suspects, they went for underground talent. I was lucky to get one of Anne Wylie’s songs on the disc and I’ve been following her work closely ever since. If you have not heard of her, perhaps that is because she has lived and worked in Germany for the past years, and over that time has been a tremendous ambassador for Irish culture.
This CD and DVD set offer a good introduction to her work and there’s plenty of humour in the outtakes on the DVD, albeit that most of the jokes are in German but Anne sticks to English for some funny moments at a live show when the electrics fail. The core of the discs however is her electric take on songs in Irish. The DVD runs for 80 minutes and the CD for 78, each has 12 tracks and there is some overlap between the two, but together there are 16 songs presented in total.
This is music for big stages, large concert halls and huge night time festival, the band play Celtic rock which has an ethereal quality but stops short at becoming New Age Musak. Anne fronts the band, sometimes playing Djembe or guitar and the three backing musicians, (Florian King Bouzouki, Andreas Norbakken – percussion and Henrik Mumm – guitars), make a huge wall of sound on which Anne paints her Irish songs and stories.
I’d love to see Anne play in Ireland, and surely one day we will have a big Celtic Festival here that will bring these songs home. In the meantime, the CD is perfect for a long car journey. Secondary school German departments might show the DVD during Seachtain na Gaeilge 2010, it would be an eye opener for most Leaving Cert. students. As for the rest of us, if you have one of those big flat screen TVs, it’s well worth seeing it large and live.
Seán Laffey