Releases > April 2011 releases

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Silver Lining
Wispy Cloud Records
8 tracks
Ciorras (Irish for the cirrus cloud formation and pronounced ‘Kirrus’) are what some might call the ‘manufactured’ band that were created and groomed on the successful TG4 series Lorg Lunny. The term ‘manufactured’ could hold a certain stigma if you contextualise it with the many reality TV music shows that are currently so popular.

These guys however, did not decide to audition, they were sourced personally by none other than the legendary Donal Lunny and when Lunny decides to invest his time and effort into something, you know the man with the musical Midas touch will have uncovered not just one bar of gold but a whole cave of it. Silver Lining excellently utilises the amalgamation of talent that exists within Ciorras especially in the combination of arrangements.

The syncopated rhythms on Runaway induce a subliminal fusion of instrumentals that drive into McGoldrick’s Farewell to Whalley Range, the whole composition enhanced with a textured, funky edge. I keep getting drawn to Rainbow which incorporates Harvey’s Reel,‘Andy Broon’s’ and a scintillating Mackerel and Tatties. The set starts with a carefully paced cadence and builds up into an inferno before suddenly reverting back to the definitively slow paced tempo of the start. I can’t say it better than the sleeve notes where it’s defined as ‘an arc of rhythmic and melodic colours’ that make up the rainbow, all I can say is listen to it!

Richard Thompson’s Farewell Farewell is a vocal standout. Ciara Cunningham enters the lyrics and grabs them by the gut and twists them into an emotional tear jerker that hits hard. Her voice evokes sentiment and the melodic accompaniment reinforces the poignancy of the song.

Silver Lining has only eight tracks - maybe it’s deliberate as it does leave you wanting to hear more of the band. What’s important though is that Ciorras are proving themselves to be the progressive group that Lunny set out to deliver. Intriguingly complex arrangements delivered with a confidence and panache that compels you to listen.
A definite winner.
Eileen McCabe


Lament for the 21st Century
Candyrat Records
10 tracks, 41 minutes
This moothie magician from Down Under has popped up with another recording of mainly Irish music. Brendan has also recorded Bulgarian and jazz-swing albums recently, and there are touches of both those genres on Lament for the 21st Century, but the core of this album is Power’s inimitable Irish harmonica style. Starting with The Drunken Landlady, the opening set of reels is a fresh take on his debut recording. Kitchenaire and Japuneasy are Brendan’s own compositions in a more modern style, both powerfully played. The Mountain Road and The Corkscrew see him back in familiar territory, taking traditional Irish tunes and turning them into tin sandwich tours de force. These and other tracks are available from Brendan’s website, and there are videos on YouTube also.

Several tracks here are reworked from previous albums. Lorraine’s Dream is a delightful lyrical air which I first heard on the 2004 CD Tradish. The thumping monster Balkan number Sweet Bulgarity was also on that CD, as was the title track of this album: both are well worth hearing in these new versions. Brendan is joined on this recording by percussionist Lucy Randall who takes a tantalising solo on Sweet Bulgarity, and by saxist/ flautist Tom Gullion who comes into his own for the funky fun of Brendan’s Boogie.

Keyboards throughout are provided by Vijay Tellis-Nayak. For some reason, Brendan is moved to turn his harmonica into a didgeridoo mimic for Didgeriblues: it must be a Kiwi thing. Technically stunning, this penultimate track pushes all the blues harp buttons - without any actual buttons, of course. The final tune here is The Coolin, a haunting Irish air on solo harmonica: Power takes a few liberties with this one, which you might not want to try at home, but it’s definitely a moothie masterpiece.

This CD is another collection of top-notch music from the master, a must for mouth-organ fans.
Alex Monaghan

Festival Bell
Matty Grooves Records MGCD 050
Fresh from their annual UK Winter tour or “Wintour” as it’s become known English folk-rock specialists Fairport Convention release their latest album Festival Bell. Named after a bell in Cropredy Church Tower for which they helped raise funds and the home of their annual festival, this folk-rock institution stands firmly in its 43rd year. Festival Bell produced by Fairport and sound engineer John Gale has an immediately organic appeal, from the brooding opener Mercy Bay an epic story ballad composed by Chris Leslie based on the HMS Investigator sent to rescue Lord Franklin after his doomed attempt to find the Northwest Passage, this track has Simon Nicol’s powerful vocals upfront.

Rui’s Guitar a laconic semi romantic ballad and Wouldn’t Say No a cautionary tale of work expertise hiding romantic regret feature Chris Leslie who provides a worthy vocal counterpart. Smatterings of Harvest Home, The Mason’s Apron and Boys of Bluehill flavour Celtic Moon while Ralph McTell’s Round the Wild Cape Horn and a revisited Rising for the Moon provide the up tempo vocal ante. Ric Sanders instrumentals Danny Jack’s Chase and Danny Jack’s Reward exhibit a jazz-tinged devilry while the tongue in cheek Ukelele Central relates the history of the ukulele in a ragtime novelty.
Musically Festival Bell is folk rock in the English style as patented by Fairport themselves and the tension moves effortlessly from acoustic to electric. Festival Bell’s charms lay in its come hither glances for closer inspection of the jewels awaiting discovery.
John O’Regan


Next Stop
Caladh Nua CN 002
12 Tracks
Available as a Regular CD and as an €
8.99 iTunes download
In the late 70’s when bands like Clannad, De Dannan, The Bothy Band ruled the traditional roost the unwritten rule was, work quickly and in between tours record and release records and never ever leave a gap of more than 18 months between releases. Caladh Nua has applied that same rule with their second album Next Stop, following their impressive debut Happy Days.

Next Stop shares with with its predecessors a musical and artistic leap forward from an interesting group to tightly knit ensemble, here captured producing music of quality and depth. The promise from Happy Days is worked on and distilled into something identifiable and unique, you feel they have arrived at a sound to call their own. The instrumental push and pull is evident in Miss Susan Cooper and Neidin Reels two tune-sets that are tight and efficiently delivered. The song arrangements are sweet and never precocious nor over-fussy. Lisa Butler’s singing is natural and never derivative. The song choice is good too Farewell to You has an American Old Timey charm while Mheall si lena Glorthai Me and Fuigfidh Mise an Baile Seo revisit 70’s and 60’s Gaelic ballad pages with a charming authority. Add in a powerful yet restrained version of Sara Grey’s Cruel Lowland Maid this shows the band has ingenuity and taste.

The difference between the Caladh Nua of 2009 and now is obvious; the playing is punchier, more dynamic and intrinsically powerful, while the singing is sweet and unaffected. The news is that on Next Stop Caladh Nua have not succumbed to the dreaded second album syndrome. Here they get things right, the balance, the control and the expertise all intact. This is as perfect as one can get…for now.
John O’Regan

Took A Notion
Own Label BOS108CD
11 tracks, 45 minutes

Now with Riverdance, this former Gráda fiddler from Kerry has a broad taste in music: he lays it all out in his debut solo CD. The title track melds an ancient Breton tune to one of Tommy Peoples’ great reels - upside down for some reason. The first of four O’Sullivan originals is Cat’s Cauldron, a hot Latin collaboration with saxophonist Steve Hanks, then it’s off to the Rive Gauche for a pair of continental waltzes. Track 4 is the first full Irish set, three big old reels with Matt Griffin on banjo and Damien Mullane on the box. And so it goes: a moody modern air where Steve Hanks switches to clarinet, a contemporary ballad with Sarah Haude providing dusky vocals, the slow Templehouse Reel in an almost classical arrangement, and a Danish dance in quintuple time.
There’s more than a touch of Riverdance in Brendan’s eclecticism: the delicate guitar accompaniment to the grim Scottish slip-jig Put Me in the Big Chest and the switch from Winter to Spring with Carmel’s Jig evoke the contrasting dances of Flatley and Butler. The solo air An Buachaill Caol Dubh brings us right back to traditional Irish fiddling, followed by a homage to Sliabh Luachra music where Brendan is joined on fiddle by John O’Sullivan. Total contrast is provided once again by the final swaggering O’Sullivan tune Bindura, injected with the sounds of Zimbabwe.
While there’s plenty to enjoy on this CD, there’s also a restlessness and a curiously unsatisfying aspect to Brendan O’Sullivan’s music which leaves me wondering where it’s going: only time will tell.
Alex Monaghan

Up The Stairs
14 Tracks
Red Biddy Records RB2009
The combination of The Makem Brothers with their compatriots The Spain Brothers isn’t an unlikely one. In fact it’s one that was bound to happen, each pursued the same source material Irish and Scottish balladry. In the Makem’s case it was in their loins being sons of Tommy Makem. What has taken some time to happen though is the development of an individual group character and a sound that distinguishes them from the Clancy Brothers, Corries and McCalmans – their most prominent peers.
Up the Stairs proves that the Makem & Spain Brothers have arrived and created their own identity. The opener Crossroads Céilí seals that deal conclusively the backing instrumentation rich and supple, the singing is strong and unified and the arrangement perfectly in tow. Maggie Lauder has another strong performance while the blustering balladeering is in evidence its fire has been toned with smoothness more redolent of American 50s folk groups like The Kingston Trio. There are some quieter moments like a restrained Kitty from Baltimore and Mickey Spain’s own Nancy O and Tommy Makem’s Bright Eyed Girl from Keady which add balance. Showing a musicality previously un-minted and maturity of thought and vision, The Makem & Spain Brothers have finally found their niche.
This is their best effort to date and with the demise of The Clancy Bros and the McCalmans’ recent abdication the balladry seat has lacked a fitting occupant – here it is.
John O’Regan

Own Label
13 tracks, 46 minutes
Based in South Sligo, this five-piece grew out of the regular sessions at the Michael Coleman Centre in Gurteen. Not surprisingly, the emphasis is on flute and fiddle music, reels mostly, at a driving pace in the flowing style of North Connacht. Misneach’s music is reminiscent of The Border Collies, but more focused and perhaps of even better pedigree: just one each of fiddle, flute, button box, guitar and drum, played by Declan Folan, Michael Hurley, PJ Hernon, Brian Lofthouse and Junior Davey respectively. The box-player seems to have strayed in from Connemara, and breaks into a fine Galway set of jigs and reels at one point, but makes a very good fist of the Sligo repertoire nonetheless.
Gorman’s, Farewell to Connacht, Dowd’s, Fred Finn’s, The Silver Spire, The Green Mountain - Misneach just manage to keep the sets of reels in single figures, and throw in four selections of jigs, barndances and Sligo polkas to leaven the brew. They’ve paired up Fear a’Tigh and Beann a’Tigh - a trick I’d planned myself - ending up with a surprise in The Bag of Spuds. Influences from beyond Sligo are evident in The Dublin Reel, The Devils of Dublin and a couple of other classics. A rare modern tune, Frankie Gavin’s snappy Doberman’s Wallet is one of several excellent jigs including Scatter the Mud and The Mist Covered Mountain.
With occasional solos and highly sympathetic arrangements, Misneach exemplify the finest of North Connacht music on what will probably become a landmark recording.
Alex Monaghan


At Complete Ease
14 Tracks
Racket Records, RRO10 2011
If you like infectious fiddle tunes played in an easy authentic style by two of the finest modern day fiddlers, this ticks all the boxes. Their stories have been well told, Brian Rooney emigrated from Leitrim to London, and John Carty was born in London and returned to his family roots in Boyle in Roscommon. The pair have played together for years, many times in London and all over Ireland, but this is their first album together and the near forty year wait has been worth it.
This is tight playing from two musicians who are very happy in each other’s company. Add into the mix the undoubted accompaniment genius of Alec Finn, Arty McGlynn and Brian McGrath and you have a musical work that has the hallmark of a classic stamped on it. The bonus is an ensemble,( who finish the album with a huge set of tunes) as the lads are joined by Brian’s brother Mickey and John’s son James, both fine fiddlers in their own right.
Essentially this is an album about two fiddlers whose styles are seasoned and complimentary, knowing the melodies as intimately as they do; they allow the natural swing of the notes to carry the listener along, no more so than in the jig Old John’s, named after Sean Pot’s father the Wexford piper John Potts.
Rooney and Carty have their hearts rooted in an older Northwest tradition, where subtle variations and a vital lift are the constant reminders that this is after all dance music. And we get dance music of the highest order, reels,jigs, barn dances and a waltz too; the latter is called My Own Western Home and seems to be a variation on the Scots Tune Westering Home which is itself The Mucking of Geordie’s Byre set in Waltz time.
The album is a homage to North Connaught music, opening with just two fiddles playing the jig Moris Scanlon’s which builds to close on a Up Leitrim complete with backing musicians. The second tune in contrast is The Bunch of Green Rushes which allows the accompanists in early and the sound is consequently more modern, more driven. Some tunes will get new breath of life because of this album, I’m thinking of the hornpipe O’Dwyer’s, an old tune which can trace its roots back to O’Farrell in the early 1800’s.
Carty and Rooney began trading tunes in London in the early 1970’s and one of those from sessions in the heyday of the Camden scene makes it as the middle tune in track 6, it’s an unusual version of Rakish Paddy, that set close with the Pinch of Snuff reel (attributed to Andy O’Boyle who would have played this forty years ago in London). There’s so much in each tune, exemplary playing, big histories and such life. If I were to choose one track to represent what the lads are capable of it would be number 12, a three tune selection of slow air, jig and reel: Old Arboe The Battering Ram and The Dimaco Reel.
The title says it all, two fine fiddlers at complete ease with their tradition.
Seán Laffey

The Habit Of A Foreign Sky
14 Tracks
FILN 611

I wrote in this very tome some years ago concerning Lily Neill’s debut album Without Words: “Harp albums tend to normally follow a pattern of well-worn tunes from a repertoire west of O’Carolan and east of Cornelius Lyons and seasoned traditional pieces”. However, a trend is emerging with a wider net cast into the seas of eclecticism. Lily Neill rode those very seas at that time. By the evidence of her second album The Habit of a Foreign Sky, it is clear that has no intention of abandoning her wide angled musical viewpoint or playing safe. If anything she has broadened her scope planting herself in Scandinavia from her American home via University spells in Ireland and Finland. The geographical influence as well as the musical one has benefited her creativity. The Finnish school of modal ambient jazz style folk modulation lies encased in the foreign field of the album. With help from Finish heavy hitters like Timo Alakotila, Ilka Heinonen Vesa Norilo and Kukka Lehto, Lily Neill has managed to interconnect the Celtic, Scandinavian, Jazz, and Classical schools of thought and made something real and tangible of their varied roots.

There are still traditional idioms present as in The Miser’s Pocket and O’Carolan’s Loftus Jones but her own work which dominates the album from opener Bedford Row named after a street in Limerick, the glistening Life on wheels, and the plaintive Beneath a Balcony. These show her idiosyncratic approach rooted and grounded in firmer more accessible bites.
The Habit of a Foreign Sky lives and breathes with a musical and artistic freedom which is boundless in its possibility and contagious in its energy and passion.

John O’Regan

Achill Air
Own Label ZEDCD10
11 tracks, 40 minutes
It’s not so unusual these days to start an album with a slow air, but it’s still a brave statement, and an indication of this Mayo man’s confidence and poise. In three tracks, Des Cafferkey covers the beautiful but challenging air Cradling Arms of Cruachan, the lyrical jig Ciaran Patten’s, and the downright funky Special Star - remember Battlefield’s Sauchiehall Street Salsa? All this on the humble tin whistle. Switching to flute, the title track is a majestic melody supported by old-style harp from Laoise Kelly. There are many familiar names backing Des on this debut CD - Trevor Hutchinson, Peter Browne, Gerry O’Connor and Paul McGrattan among them - but Cafferkey’s is the one which stands out on every track. Whether it’s the Lúnasa-style whistle duet on Tommy Peoples’ Reel, the staccato tonguing on a pair of humorous slip-jigs, the swirling resonances of the wooden flute on numberless Scones of Boxty, or the sheer exuberance of Des Cafferkey’s music throughout this recording, Achill Air is a striking collection of music and a fine achievement for a first release. Three gorgeous airs go along with the reels, jigs, slides and polkas. Comparisons with whistlers Sean Smyth and Vinnie Kilduff are sorely tempting. The flute is not quite so cheeky - reminds me of Emer Mayock, and indeed of Paul McGrattan.
Des Cafferkey is clearly an exceptional talent on both instruments. His live performance is equally impressive, so catch him if you can!
Alex Monaghan

A Ditch Near Cree
4-C-U-B4-T CUP 8044
The Dutch band Fling based in Friesland has a long time association with Irish music. Their fourth album A Ditch near Cree carries the local connection in album titles as their last one was Lost in Dunkineely. While Irish idioms loom in their musical outlook–the influence musically is that of less dance tunes and more in the melodic airs and melancholy songs of the Irish and Celtic tradition. They reel and jig too with vibrant pipes, flute and fiddle upfront but in less measure than their Euro cousins. There is real joy in their music and their playing never digresses from exemplary.

The flute and pipes combination of Annmarie deBie and Evert Jan’t Hart are now joined by Phillip Masure and Siard de Jong two heavy hitters in the Benelux Celtic posse. With those names excellence is expected and delivered in spades. A Ditch Near Cree is mostly atmospheric and moving stuff best found in Caitlin Ni Ullacahai, Night after Night and the closing pipe solo air Port na Bpucai. The Glen Tavern set mixes slow airs and dance styles convincingly while Shores of Lough Bran and Heathery Hills of Yarrow are serious epics covered exquisitely. The latter is cunningly re-arranged in Eastern European tempo which works. Fling’s bag might be different to most European Celtic outfits however A Ditch Near Cree delivers a quiet storm with its slow burning power, it is quietly addictive.
John O’Regan


The Blue Dress
Eats Records ESL CD 009
12 tracks, 43 minutes
From Boston, USA, or thereabouts, fluter Shannon Heaton and her guitarist husband Matt have long been mainstays of the New England Irish music scene. Shannon is a confident and accomplished player with beautiful tone, and is also respected for her many compositions: there are some crackers here. The Blue Dress is Shannon’s first pure flute album - no songs, no string solos from Matt, just Shannon’s flute and some first class accompaniment. This CD shows Shannon Heaton to be one of North America’s finest traditional musicians, able to hold her head up with fluteplayers worldwide. Around half the tunes here are traditional, and half are Shannon’s own, with one or two compositions from other contemporary sources. Shannon opens with Sonny Brogan’s Reel, apparently an adaptation of the slide Over the Hill: there are several unusual versions of traditional tunes on this album, including some fresh variations on the slip-jig Moll Roe and a transformation of The Irish Washerwoman attributed to the late great Gerdie Commane and Joe Ryan. There’s also a spirited romp through the classic reels Wheels of the World and The Flogging Reel, followed by Shannon’s own tribute to Chicago-based musician Dennis Watson. In more contemporary style, the dark swirling rhythms of the polka 99 High draw some great percussive playing from Paddy League and harpist Maeve Gilchrist. Against the Grain tees up a set of three Shannon originals, the unmistakably modern jig In the Dog House sitting between a more traditional-minded jig and reel.
The title track is one of three slow compositions which Shannon presents here. The Blue Dress Waltz reminds me strongly of the song air Tá Mo Chleamhnas, recorded by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and others: this is a charming variant, played with skill and soul. Nights on Caledonia Terrace is a beautiful air with all the nuances and ornamentation of a traditional flute masterpiece. The slow reel Frost Place is another delight, with excellent bouzouki backing from Matt: it stretches Shannon’s breath control, or perhaps she is straining at the leash, eager to launch into the up-tempo Aunt Jane’s Trip to Norway set which follows. Paddy plays drums on these three reels, and before the end I find the snare drum is slightly distracting: but Shannon ends this CD with two terrific tracks. Down the Dark Lane and Humours of Castle Comer are meaty old jigs taken at a swaggering pace, leading into those rolling variations on The Irish Washerwoman. The final pair of reels combines a punchy rhythmic turn of The Hornless Cow and a storming climax on the Chieftains favourite Boil the Breakfast Early.
Brilliant stuff altogether.
Alex Monaghan