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Irish Music Licencing, 16 Tracks, CACD 2201
De Danann’s place in Irish music history has been well-earned. Wonderwaltz is the return album from a reconstituted De Danann with founder members Alec Finn and Johnny McDonagh joined by Eleanor Shanley, Brian McGrath, Derek Hickey, Mick Coneely and newcomer Cian Finn is both necessary and vital.
Wonderwaltz harks back to 1977-80 when albums like Selected Jigs Reels and Songs and The Mist Covered Mountain sparkled with vibrant instrumental fireworks. Accordion, fiddle, banjo and bouzouki lead the way accompanied by propulsive bodhrán rhythms creating music rich in character and spirit. The ensemble playing is tight, seasoned and accentuated, unique in its resolute power yet distinctly De Danann in execution. Master Crowley’s, Apples in Winter, and Flax in Bloom lay waste any thoughts of irrelevance, it’s like they never left the building.
The song quotient offers elements of social comment and unrest. Fear, social exclusion, frustration, desolation and romantic fallout colour the written landscape with verbal punches delivered sweetly through Eleanor Shanley’s melodic vocals. Johnny Duhan’s Ireland and Paul Brady’s Hard Station pack powerful doses of acidic social comment, while Emmylou Harris’ My Baby Needs A Shepherd is both allegorical and sentimental by turn. No mistake there’s anger in the songs here, but there is a compassionate heart beating under all the fire and brimstone.
Calibrating their instrumental frisson with nakedly emotional lyrical affiliations, Wonderwaltz is an album made with purpose. De Danann is back, all guns blazing.
John O’Regan

Summer Hill
Pure Records, 13 Tracks
Downloadable from the artist’s website at 80p each

This CD has been out for the best part of the year; This is good, very good, and so good in fact that it has been in my car CD player for the past three months, over the best part of 5000 miles I’m still hearing something new every time I play it.
Damien O’Kane is probably best-known as a banjo player and he chooses that instrument to feature heavily on Summer Hill, but here’s the surprise, he as a wonderful folk voice, a clear tenor that carries a tune easily and expresses emotions naturally. He sings in his own accent and what we have here are Northern Irish songs sung in an Ulster brogue, and it works. Why? For my tuppence it’s because he shares the same intonation as the countless number of nameless folk song makers whose accents pepper the ballads.
Now that would be interesting in its self, ‘authentic local singer sings authentic local songs’ but the genius here is the musicality of the project. Damien’s main instrument is the banjo and there could have been a tendency to over emboss the tunes. The banjo has good attack but poor sustain, and most players get round that technical difficulty by adding in more notes to fill the gaps. Damien thinks differently, he builds the songs up around what would in the rock world be called riffs, musical motifs that add a ground-work over which his songs can soar.
He’s joined by some of the best UK based folk musicians who fill out that groove, and if one word sums up the album it is groove. Those collaborators include: Kate Rusby, (vocals), David Kosky (guitar), Michael McGoldrick (flute, whistle), Andy Seward (double bass), John-Joe Kelly (bodhrán), Aaron Jones (bouzouki), Cormac Byrne (percussion), Duncan Lyall (double bass), Ian Carr (guitar), James Mackintosh (percussion), Donald Grant (fiddle), Thea Speirs (fiddle), Rachel Jones (viola), Lucy Payne (cello), Anthony Davis (piano, keyboards) and Colette O’Kane (vocals).
As for the material, it’s all good, and full of ambition, he tackles songs that used to belong to icons, The Sun Is Burning from Luke Kelly and Paul Brady’s version of Lough Erne Shore (this has a sparse 30 second intro and it’s a real winner). Probably the best and most surprising vocal CD of 2010 and one that will have a very long life. I can’t wait to get in the car and play it again.
I love it Damien but it’s burning too much diesel.
Seán Laffey

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


Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part
PMC 001
This CD has subconsciously become my travel companion. It is instinctively reached for when a musical interlude is needed. It’s easy listening at its very best and all instigated through the scratchy meanderings of a well-worn Generation whistle. Peter McAlinden is a former All-Ireland Champion of the whistle (1979) and, like so many, chose a teaching path rather than pursuing a career in music. Thankfully, over thirty years later, after a stint with Karen Tweed at the Return to Camden festival and the poignant passing of his mother and mentor, a decision to share his undoubted talent was made and the result is Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part.
I’m straight away drawn to a haunting lament on track four entitled Anach Cuan which echoes evocatively then settles smoothly into the Killavil jig. The supplementary key stirrings of the piano are ably administered by Pete Quinn of London Lassies fame and as he jauntily steers the chords into The Morning Dew, McAlinden picks up pace and implements the notes with stylish ease. Touch me if you Dare ambles into Peter’s self penned tune Ambie’s Favourite named for Galway fiddle player Ambie Whyms and these invigorate and charm. The grand finale of Star of the County Down flows through an amalgam of timing as it’s played as an air into a march, a jig, a reel then back to an air and fading until only a whisper of audible contentment is left.
There are eighteen tracks to peruse which are packed with tune renditions that define familiarity. This CD will be a welcome addition to any collection as, it’s evident from listening, that there’s a character in that whistle and the man who plays it.
Eileen McCabe

Celtic Nyckelharpa
Own Label GCPCD002
12 tracks, 44 minutes
The title gives it away. Otherwise you’d be hard pushed to tell that this isn’t just a fiddle CD from a master of both Scottish and Irish styles. Edinburgh fiddler and former All-Ireland champion, Gavin Pennycook has transferred reels, jigs, planxties, hornpipes and strathspeys onto the Swedish keyed fiddle or nyckelharpa, for what is perhaps the first all-Celtic album of nyckelharpa music. So why the nyckelharpa? The sound is not so different from the fiddle - a little deeper, more resonant, with the dark overtones of Scandinavian music. The main difference is in technique, and that is likely to impress the small but growing number of nyckelharpa fans.
Gavin has chosen his repertoire carefully, meaty melodies and rhythmic pieces, rather than flightier numbers or wild unconstrained reels. One thing which struck me was the number of these tunes which have acquired words over the years, sometimes in slightly simplified form - Captain Campbell as the song Birnie Boozle, Braes of Mar as a Jacobite song and the Irish doggerel Some Say the Devil is Dead, Munlochy Bridge for several Gaelic songs, and of course the eponymous lyrics to The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Flowers of Edinburgh and Wooed an’Married an’ A’. The steady, driving cadences of such melodies seem to suit the nyckelharpa. The same applies to pure instrumentals such as The Rights of Man, Madam Maxwell and The Lark in the Morning, catchy tunes with firm rhythms which work well here.
One or two of the reels and jigs on this recording are less successful: The Trip to Durrow lacks its usual bite, and Langstrom’s Pony struggles to canter over the guitar and percussion backing - until Gavin adds pipes and whistle for a full-on final track. Elsewhere the arrangements are sparing, touches of guitar with the occasional duet on fiddle or octave fiddle. Some interesting pieces get an outing too – The Snuff Wife, The Orphan and Jamie Shearer to name three. The pipe tunes Calum Breugach and Captain Carswell also benefit from the low tones of the nyckelharpa, its resonances acting almost like drones. Gavin hasn’t included any slow airs, but I imagine they would be very effective on this sweetly resonant instrument.
Overall, this is an intriguing album and a very successful project, well worth a listen.
Alex Monaghan

Curious Things Given Wings
2010 Mad River Records, 12 Tracks
The standout on this, the second release for The Outside Track, is definitely the stunning instrumental arrangements that weave an intricate web around the distinctive voice of Canadian Norah Rendell. Along with Norah, we have Mairi Rankin on fiddle, harpist Ailie Robertson, Fame Academy winner Fiona Black on accordion and Cillian Ó’Dálaigh on guitar. Drawn from the pool of talent on display at University of Limerick, The Outside Track’s Curious Things Given Wings is a combination of a variety of musical influences exhibited in twelve tantalising tracks.
With an equal balance of tunes and songs the band commence with Turkish Revelry taken from the recording of Burl Ives and passed on by guitarist and singer, Dáithí Sproule. It’s a quirky song that requires a wide ranging vocal which Rendell provides and it’s driven further by the clever use of instrumentation that is forcefully compelling. The Swerving for Bunnies set starts with Frankie Gavin’s Doberman’s Wallet and with the whistle at the forefront switches into Peter Byrnes’ Jig culminating in a crescendo with Ailie’s uplifting composition named for an incident in the Highlands of Scotland involving a rabbit and a ditch!
A beautiful jig in the shape of Malcolm’s New Fiddle is presented eloquently by the group concluding with Dance of the Mermaid penned by their guest guitarist Alan Jordan. This is followed by Blackbirds and Thrushes learned from the singing of Niamh Parsons and again instrumentally arranged to a high degree. That’s the common highlight throughout this album, the arrangements, and none so much as the musical accompaniment on Farewell Song which blends brilliantly with the vocal harmonies. In fact it is a fitting finish to a highly polished CD that delivers on all levels.
The Outside track have infused style and energy into Curious Things given Wings and the blend of individual talent ensures that this CD will most certainly be a success.
Eileen McCabe


12 Tracks-self published
There’s a spark to this debut album of Séana Davey’s. The five time All-Ireland champion has formulated her mastery of this instrument with study at The Royal Irish Academy, through university and with regular performances throughout the world. She can be heard on the latest CD offering by Phil Coulter’s Celtic Thunder and has finally released her own debut with the title Séana – Traditional Irish Harp.
Versatility is key throughout the twelve tracks and the adeptness with which Séana applies her exquisite finger style is a testament to this. The opening Shandon Bells set flows fluently. It showcases her ability to emphasise each note with clarity in the Kitty Come Down to Limerick slip jig and to then respect Stephen Doherty’s flute whilst also displaying that same clarity in The Shandon Bells jig. This transference from delicate to robust is marked on her eighth track. Rosette’s Trip to Belfast where the momentum builds to a fantastic interpretation of The Baltimore Salute. Skill is superfluous on all tracks whether it be a harp piece, a set of fiery reels or the thoughtful homage to Carolan in his classic Concerto. A standout is a self composed offering by the way of B’fhéidir go b’fhuil, B’fhéidir go won’t which incorporates all the facets of an accomplished harpist from the delivery on ornamentation to the passion inherent in the production and she ends her debut journey with an intricately inspiring reel The Flood in the Holm.
A must for any aspiring young harpist, Séana gives edge to the instrument whilst retaining the traditionalism so long associated with harp playing.
Keep an eye out for this debut CD as it is a quality representation of how to be stylish with strings.
Eileen McCabe

Doorways & Windowsills
Own Label
14 tracks, 50 minutes
Very straight, very trad, very sweet. This pair of paragons have been meeting up at music events for several decades, and both are iconic figures in Irish music: Mick as a leading member of the London scene, and Antóin in the Meath/Dublin area as well as his native Cavan. Fiddle and banjo combine here to deliver a large helping of old favourites in tight duets, with a couple of solos each and some fine flute flutters from Marcas Ó Murchú. Eddie Whelan provides guitar accompaniment.
From Quinn’s Reel to The Sailor on the Rock, most of the material on Doorways & Windowsills will be familiar. It’s the playing that counts, as well as the play-along possibilities: everything is conveniently at session pitch. Mick O’Connor has been described as “more musical than most banjos”, and he proves that here: his solo jig selection Humours of Miltown jogs along very tunefully, ending with a sparkling version of Seamus Cooley’s. The famous Mick O’Connor’s Reel is also featured, the definitive version from the man who composed it in 1971. Antóin takes his first solo on The Rainy Day, all too common where he lives, and a rather less common version of The Flowers of Redhill. He too contributes a composition, the gentle jig You’re Welcome Says Maureen & Hugh, which the duo join to Jerry’s Beaver Hat and The Cow that Ate the Blanket for one of this CD’s best tracks. Antóin’s second solo is another highlight, a relaxed stroll through the four-part Dwyer’s Hornpipe.
And that’s about it, apart from the nine sets of reels which space out the jigs and hornpipes. You know you’re in trad heartland when an album is two-thirds reels. There are some great ones here: The Whin Bush, John Brennan’s, The Red Haired Lass, The Christening, Callaghan’s, Last Night’s Fun, and The Green Mountain which starts a second solo from Mick. I prefer The Otter’s Holt at a slightly slower pace myself, but apart from that it’s hard to find fault with Doors & Windowsills.
Alex Monaghan

Clannad 2/ Dulaman
Gael Linn Cefcd 196
Back catalogue re-issues from an influential record label offer an opportunity to reappraise the company’s output and its choice of artists. In the case of Gael Linn their courtship of Clannad for two albums 1974’s Clannad 2 and Dulaman in 1977 yielded impressive results.
Now issued back to back and re-mastered, they show an influential band at a pivotal stage of development. Clannad consisting of the Brennan and Duggan siblings had cut one album and made initial forays into Germany and France. Clannad 2 issued in 1974 was a leaner stripped down version of their ouvre, paired to the bones Gaelic songs made relevant to 1970’s folk sensibilities. Donal Lunny’s production ushered in a focus on acoustic instrumentation, which allowed for a firmer grounding in ensemble dynamics and musical understanding. The material was almost entirely local gleaned from neighbours in the Rosses and Gwedore and also the regal strains of O’Carolan with some Scots Gallic and Breton strains for good measure. Micheal O Domhnaill adds screaming electric guitar to Dheannian Sugradh, while Triona Ni Domhnail adds an understated harpsichord to Chuaigh Me na Rosann. An Gabhair Ban opens in sprightly fashion while Coinleach Gleas an Fhomhair unveils an emotional epic ballad they would revisit in 1983.
By 1976, Clannad had found its voice assimilating traditional expertise with jazz flavoured arrangements. With new producer Nicky Ryan in town they encamped to Wales and Rockfield Studios in Monmouth. With Fritz Fryer engineering they produced their first stone classic Dulaman. The title track ushered in jousting male and female vocal pyrotechnics with a lush ECM style Hiberno Jazz vibe. Cumha Eoghian Rua Uí Neill rested in a linear sadness, while Two Sisters upped the ante its jaunty rhythm betraying a tale of sorocide. Eirigh Suas A Storin was their first big epic performance the lush harmonies of Harry’s Game making their debut. The Galtee Hunt stepped lightly through its cadences, while Eiurigh is Chuir OIrt Di Cguid Eadigh combined razor sharp technical expertise and a spacey middle eight and Mo Mhaire, D’Tigeas a dMhasadh and a pair of sprightly jigs ended Dulaman in fine energetic style.
This double CD set packaged in a delicious spread of period photos. They perfectly capture the ethereal Hippy folk vibe Clannad espoused in their pre-new age days before a certain Harry played a game that would change their lives forever. This is more than a musical history lesson, it’s a slice of Irish pre-Punk 70’s life when Clannad was an outstanding cutting edge folk/roots act.
John O’Regan


Irish Traditional Sean-nós Songs,
Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 183,

When I hear fine sean-nós singers like Celia Ní Fhátharta from Conamara I sometimes recall what Seán Ó Riada (1931-71) said of Irish traditional music: “By ‘traditional’ I mean the untouched, unwesternised, orally transmitted music which is still to the best of my knowledge, the most popular type of music in the country.” He went even further and added that it was not even European, saying that European music as we know it today only developed during the early Renaissance and emphasised that that whole era passed us by. While some begged to differ to some degree with him on elements of his thesis, none will disagree that the sean-nós style of singing is distinctly Irish and unique in Europe.
We are indeed fortunate that so many younger singers today retain the sean-nós singing style, and Celia is one of the finest of them. It really isn’t at all surprising that she continues the tradition, because she belongs to one of those Conamara families noted for their accomplishments in the sean-nós style. He mother is Caitlín Ní Ghriallais from Baile na hAbhann, and the Griallais family have won Corn Uí Riada, the highest accolade in Gaelic song at the Oireachtas, no fewer than seven times. Celia herself took the chief prize in 1999.
Her interest in Sean-nós prompted her to study it formally at NUI Galway where she completed he MA in Modern Irish on the song tradition of her native Conamara. “Celia’s vocal gifts are readily apparent in this wonderful collection of Conamara greats,” writes Lillis Ó Laoire. He adds, “Her versions of Úna Dheas Ní Nia and Sagart na Cúile Báine, both learned from her aunt Sarah, are simply peerless.” Ó Riada wrote: “Sean-nós singing demands great skill and technique, and an artistic understanding beyond the demands made on the average European singer.” His description most assuredly applies to Celia.
Other songs she sings on Irish Traditional Sean-nós Songs include Neainsín Bhán, Seacht Suailcí na Maighdine Muire, and Tá na Páipéir á Saighneáil, all performed with assurance and style.
Aidan O’Hara

Dance Sean Nós
Own Label TDM001
19 tracks, 67 minutes
Now here’s a point. A fine young box-player turns to the simple one-row melodeon to record a album of music for board-batterers. This has to be from Connemara, right? In fairness, there has been something of a Sean Nós renaissance going on for a while, certainly in Ireland and in North America. I must confess to being almost a Sean Nós virgin myself, but from what I’ve seen and heard this is a much freer form of Irish step dancing, without the chunky socks and curly wigs (for the most part), danced mainly by grown men: pretty much anything goes, and it’s not clear how much of Sean Nós has crept into Tap or vice versa, let alone where to draw the boundaries between the Irish tradition and those of Scotland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, or exotic Blackburn.
The music is Irish dance tunes in the old style, with an emphasis on Connemara music as the stronghold of Sean Nós. The Swallow’s Tail, Miss McLeod’s, Cooley’s and The Bucks are probably favourites, and Tom Doherty pumps these out with skill, gusto, and most importantly with plenty of lift for dancing. The old ten-button melodeon, in G or D, was commonly used for economic reasons: the biggest sound for your spondoolicks. The trick is to overcome the limitations of this diatonic instrument, and great players like Johnny Connolly or Tom Doherty’s American namesake could make the melodeon sing as well as any accordion. This recording follows in their footsteps, with sparkling technique and bags of showman swagger. Listen to Pigeon on the Gate if you’re in any doubt.
So what’s the difference between a CD for Sean Nós dancing and a CD for listening? Not a lot. The tempo is obviously crucial for dancers, and Tom has carefully noted the beats per minute for each track. This should stay constant through each set of tunes, and Tom Doherty manages almost metronomic regularity without losing that vital lift. There are some slower tracks for beginners and improvers, coming down to 70BPM, and the performance sets go up to 132BPM for Foxford’s flashdancers. Almost every tempo makes good listening, so there’s no need to be a dancer to enjoy this CD. Nothing but reels, jigs and hornpipes, of course, with a single selection of flings: no waltzes, slow airs, horos or czardas here. Just button box, with piano accompaniment on most tracks, and familiar old tunes. The Wise Maid, Larry O’Gaff, The Home Ruler, The Silver Spear, St Anne’s, Munster Buttermilk, Harvest Home, plus a couple of more unusual gems like Sweet Biddy Daly and The Lobster. Quality, quantity, consistency: what more could you ask for?
Alex Monaghan