Releases > April 2010 releases

Want to see earlier releases? Visit the archive.


High Up Low Down

Myriad Media MMCD003 12 tracks, 48 minutes

Solo album No. 4 from this banjo beacon is relaxed, contemplative, almost like a fireside session, with the pyrotechnics throttled back but the virtuosity still turned right up to eleven. Gravel Walk jogs effortlessly through two classic Donegal reels, over a subtle string accompaniment. Foggy Mountain Breakdown ups the tempo a bit, fiddle and banjo with bluegrass mandolin by Gerry too. Mary J stands out as one of the two vocal tracks here, redolent of 4 Men & A Dog, with Kevin Doherty’s vocals familiar from the band’s classic Shifting Gravel album: while if you’re looking for mandolin magic just listen to O’Connor’s little intro to Sail Away. Gerry’s tune Outlaw recalls his Redhill Burning, and probably comes closest here to the World Music gumbo of his second album. A brace of clearly Irish tracks follow, fine jigs and reels, before vocal number 2 affords an opportunity for another of the banjo slow airs for which Mr O’Connor is justly famous.

More jigs and reels - nothing startling, just delicately played perfection - bring us to the air Beautiful Friend on tenor guitar. This is a mini masterpiece, unassumingly graceful. Brearton’s Jig is a charming little piece which swaggers into a reel - not Brereton’s which would have been neat, but the bouncy Sally Kelly’s instead. High Up Low Down ends with a novelty track, a grand old hornpipe played in twangy twenties style, and for the life of me I can’t tell you how seriously this is meant to be taken. In any case, it concludes a very fine album which bears repeated listening. It won’t shock your mother, even your grandmother may like it, and Mr John Gerard O’Connor can take a bow - or take his pick. Not all the credit goes to Gerry, of course: helpful friends on this recording include many familiar names from Irish music, and the sleeve design is outstanding too. Special mention should go to the photo on the CD itself, a lovely touch.

Alex Monaghan


In Transit

White Fall WFRCD002

12 tracks, 54 minutes

Long-time member of the Emily Smith band, this multi-instrumentalist has put together an album of his own compositions in the celtic idiom. New Zealand born, Jamie grew up with Irish and Scottish music: his own tunes are identifiably from this tradition, in the style of Smyth, Finnegan, McGoldrick or MacColl, lyrical lines twining with intricate rhythms. Emily’s Wee Tune is a cheery jig I’ve heard in a few places, and The Sun Trap could drive for Brawn. Jamie can do slow too, his sweet Peggy’s Waltz mimicking McCusker’s style, while the air Road to Bennan brings in a touch of Appalachian music. Little Red is kind of in between, a catchy offbeat slow reel.

There are times when Mr McClennan’s fiddle is hard pushed to do justice to his compositions, but the musicianship here is generally first class and the whistle tunes are well supported by Alan Doherty. Jamie plays mandolin and guitar too, Duncan Lyall is solid on bass, and there are a few other little touches. In Transit is never dull, and this music is certainly going places. Jamie McClennan is a dab hand at tune titles: Demon Ducks of Doom, The Emergency Flapjack, Aisle Surfing and Rainbow Sheep are among the most colourful. The final Horizontal Living track is one of a handful here with electronic jiggery pokery: well judged, not overpowering, this modern edge complements the acoustic arrangements. Certainly one to watch, and well-worth checking out the online samples.

Alex Monaghan


Happy Days

Own Label CN001,

13 tracks, 46 minutes

A new young band, this time from the Midlands and County Waterford, an area with plenty of music these days it seems. Caladh Nua is a five-piece of two fiddles, button box, banjo, whistle, guitar, and the almost obligatory female singer. They set out their stall with The Windmill Set: Ciaran Tourish’s storming reel on Derek Morrissey’s B/C box, fine picking by Colm O’Caoimh and Eoin O’Meachair on guitar and banjo for the Paddy O’Brien reel Larry’s Favourite, with the twin fiddles of Paddy Tutty and Lisa Butler boosting Billy McComiskey’s popular composition The Commodore. The first of four songs is Craigie Hills, strongly sung by Lisa, with accompaniment in good Planxty style. There’s a rousing Donegal Gaelic anthem to individualism, where Lisa is backed by some fine male voices, and a version of The Banks of the Lee which never really gets going. The final vocal track is Richard Thompson’s Beeswing, neither Irish nor original, creditably sung by Colm but I doubt if this needed another recording.

The remaining eight tracks are all instrumental, all good or better, with bags of variety. The Lisnagun Set combines three grand old jigs on box and banjo, while the title track is a pair of twin fiddle hornpipes. By Heck is a ’20s favourite from the Flanagan Brothers, a banjo showpiece which started out as a reel and ended up as a swing barndance. There are reels aplenty in The Templehouse Set, and in Paddy Tutty’s solo spot The Humours of Westport. Colm contributes an exceptional guitar arrangement of harper Michael Rooney’s jig Gort Na Mona and The New Century Hornpipe. Solo City ends with Derek’s rendition of The Jolly Beggarman and Mayor Harrison’s Fedora, two of my favourites powerfully played. There’s no shortage of talent here, but the focus of this group is hard to find: maybe these young soloists haven’t quite finished coalescing into a band. Caladh Nua sign off with another couple of jigs followed by the Donegal classic Gravel Walks, and I reckon they’ll be back with more great tunes and maybe a bit more of their own character.

Alex Monaghan


Curious Things Given Wings

Lorimer Records LORRCD02 12 tracks, 48 minutes

A lot has changed since The Outside Track released their debut CD a couple of years ago. From a loose collection of Limerick music students, this quintet has evolved into a powerful focused group. Take the first track here: The Turkish Revery, an uncommon song learnt from Daithí Sproule who got it from Burl Ives, a clear combination of Irish and North American influences. Norah Rendell sings this and the other five songs on this recording in a strong voice, which reminds me of Touchstone’ s performances, another transatlantic collaboration. Norah is an Irish Canadian who drifted south, and she’s joined by the formidable firepower of fiddler Mairi Rankin from Nova Scotia, forming the New World side of The Outside Track. The other three members are from Edinburgh, Easter Ross and Limerick, giving this group their rather broad focus on Irish, Scottish and North American Celtic music.

That focus is stretched slightly for the first of six instrumental tracks, but it’s a justified departure: Eric St-Pierre is a box-player from Quebec, and his swirling reel Le Voyage is worth bending a few rules. Norah’s flute is joined by the piano box of Fiona Black and the versatile harp of Ailie Robertson, while guitarist Cillian O’Dálaigh strums solidly behind. This track like many others shows the arranging skills of the band, weaving instruments tightly together. The second song Silvy Silvy is a New Brunswick version of a well-known ballad, and in traditional Canadian fashion it’s paired with a complementary melody on fiddle. The next set brings us back to Europe with three splendid jigs: a lovely inventive version of Frankie Gavin’s tune Doberman’s Wallet which hasn’t had too many outings since he recorded it on A Jacket of Batteries, then the flowing Peter Byrne’s Jig, and Ailie’s soaring composition Swerving for Bunnies.

And so it continues. A stirring set of Sliabh Luachra polkas shows off those great arranging skills again. Caroline of Edinburgh Town sees the band in sad and gentle mood. The following two medleys are back to the core of Celtic dance music old and new, with melodies by Jerry Holland and James Kelly. The traditional songs Hares on the Mountain and Madam Madam are paired with a fabulous version of The Maids of Galway and Fiona’s interpretation of Lauren MacColl’s reel The Dealer. Cillian’s tune Crusty the Clown starts a distinctly funky pre-final track. The album finishes with the haunting Farewell Song, written by Missouri’s Julie Henigan and introduced by a charming fiddle air.

Curious Things Given Wings - an intriguing title for an enthralling CD, which sets The Outside Track on a very promising course, highly recommended.

Alex Monaghan


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 1960’s 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’t Sit on my Jimmy Shands.

Nicky Rossiter


Maidean Dubh’ an Donais-The Black Sticks of the Devil

Macmeanmna SKYECD 50

In the informative notes for his new CD, Maidean Dubh’ an Donais, piper Dr Angus MacDonald recalls that when growing up he was greatly influence by the song and fiddle music traditions of his native Glenuig in Modart and the piping traditions of South Uist when he went on visits there to his mother’s people. He was later influenced by the music and Gaelic song of Cape Breton when he lived there. In the Fiddle music, especially in the strathspey playing, Angus recognised the rhythms he was brought up listening to in the songs his father sang and in Gaelic music in general. “The words of a song associated with a tune,” he observes incisively, “provide a template which preserves the inherent rhythm and character of that tune over the generations.”

Angus acknowledges that while “a healthy culture will undergo changes, traditional music as played today in Scotland has been infuenced by patronage by aristocracy and has been sanitised and made more genteel”. He notes that the older Scottish and the Gaelic names have been replaced by labels such as Lady so and so’s favourite. He adds, “This did not happen in Cape Breton or to “puirt a beul”, the Gaelic song, dance tunes in Scotland.” It is from this platform that Dr Angus’s arrangements and expression of the music comes. And what we hear on his CD is commendation enough for his approach. The terse Gaelic saying of approval, “Tá sé molta dá mbeinnse im thost,” says it all.

Most of the seventeen tracks on this recording are largely traditional with several new compositions of his own and his brothers Allan and Iain. He has added fiddle, cello, piano, guitar, bodhrán, and clarsach accompaniment to some tracks, and all very effectively arranged and presented. The background notes to the tunes are a delight and included is staff notation for seven of them.

Angus relates the most interesting story behind the CD title track, Maidean Dubha’ an Donais, a jig he composed to commemorate an incident that occurred in the historic Raasay House. “A MacRae piper from Portree was in service there and was playing one day when the gardener, a MacInnes, a Free Church elder, came by and asked, ‘Cuin a tha thu a dol a chur bhuad maidean dubh’ an donais sin?’ (When are you going to get rid of these black sticks of the devil?) The piper asked in return, ‘Cuin a tha thu fhein a dol a chur bhuad ràcan dubh an diabhail sin?’ When are you going to get rid of that black rake of the devil?) In finishing the note Angus says about the tune that follows, “On a similar theme the last old tune is called, Will the Minister not Dance?

The Maidean Dubh’… CD is a feast of music and piping from a master piper and includes marches, jigs, strathspeys, airs, and reels. Mindful of the harpers and pipers of old, Angus includes a few tunes from his brother and sister Gaels of Ireland and North America. It is a presentation of the highest production values, and a joy from start to finish. The accompanying booklet would be worth the price of the CD all on its own.

Aidan O’Hara



My life in an Irish orphanage

Own label; 16 tracks.

You’d be excused for approaching this with caution. Songs about orphanages aren’t exactly a big bunch of laughs, especially after all the revelations of what went on. And to this day, it’s the Artane Boys’ Band that plays at All-Ireland finals in Croke Park, even though nowadays the band is an amateur local group.

I know fellow musicians who have been through the industrial school/orphanage system – the most notable example is Bobby Houlihan, now a famed European-based conductor, who carved a career through the Army band. At its best, the system provided abandoned boys with a trade, notably tailoring and boot-making, and a means of survival. But we all know the system was far from its best, and senior figures like archbishops and government ministers knew about abuses and did nothing effective to stop them.

First, this is a very honest collection – and that’s the most important thing. And it fits squarely in the tradition of disaster records and accounts of hardship, back to songs like the Cumberland Mine. The people don’t forget, even the bad times, and through songs they know they can survive. It was a rough life, like a barracks or prison camp, and emotionally damaging. But Danny faces it square on, especially constant fear and hunger, hob-nail boots, and beatings. In the poverty of the 50’s and onwards, it’s easy to see how the system evolved. But even the brothers were badly served: their only recreation was drink. The official culture was dead at heart, and the power of the music was that it overcame officialdom and achieved a re-birth. So well done, Danny. It took great courage to get this together. It will probably do best as a special night on the club circuit. And it provides an insight into a world that more commercially based productions might prefer to forget.

John Brophy


Own Label DEAS002

Irish flute and accordion, American old-time fiddle and banjo - several things could have happened, and Buffalo In The Castle is not what you might have expected. Desi Wilkinson and Martín O’Connor have joined forces with Frank Hall and Lena Ullman to explore some neglected areas of mountain music: this is not your bluegrass standards or country hoedown tunes. Much of the material here is modal, with unfamiliar cadences. Some of it is influenced by native American music: until I read the notes, I thought these might be Asian immigrant melodies. John Riley the Shepherd and Indian Two Step are clear examples of this non-Western sound, quite striking to my ears. Other melodies are more typical of the fiddle-led old-time dance music at the heart of bluegrass and country styles: Breakin’ Up Christmas, Late for the Dance, Durang’s Hornpipe, and the popular Big Eyed Rabbit. The rabbit has a Hare’s Paw attached, one of several medleys here combining American and Irish tunes. Lucy Farr’s, Castle Kelly, Jackson’s Craggy Jig and Jimmy Kelly’s Reel all cosy up happily to their New World cousins, and add a modal note or two of their own.

There are several songs too, powerfully backed by front porch instrumentals. Desi sings Courting is a Pleasure in Len Graham’s version, and the old American song The Frog’s Wedding. Lena’s rendition of Forty Four Gun is pure backwoods, while Frank sings along to fiddle tunes such as Breakin’ Up Christmas and that darned rabbit. The American approach of combining songs with instrumental breaks is an instant winner for this all-star line-up. This music is fascinating and highly enjoyable. The sound is full, the playing is of course excellent, and the mood is full of infectious fun. Watch out for those modal tunes, though - they might just grab you.

Alex Monaghan



River Rollick Records,

16 tracks Running Time 53.52 Minutes

Girsa is a collection of young female musicians from the New York City area. Their first effort is a worthy one. The sixteen tracks are a nice mix of songs and tunes, and are well-played.

Kristen McShane is an outstanding fiddler, and she excels on a number of instrumentals: Eleanor Plunkett/Polkas, which features an amazing tempo change; St. Patrick’s Night/The Ashplant, Bruach Na Carraige Bann is a slow air, and shows off Maeve Flanagan in a whistle solo. It is paired with “The Longford Tinker,” with Emily McShane backing on bodhrán.

The highlight of the group’s singing is Rod Stewart’s Rhythm of My Heart, the song that was originally sung to Loch Lomond. It is an interesting and enjoyable take on the song. Deirdre Brennan and Margaret Dudasik share the vocals on I Live Not Where I Love. However, Brennan’s amazingly strong and clear voice almost overpowers the lyrics. It is a case where a little less would have been good. The duo has a better showing on Immigrant Eyes, which also features Pamela Geraghty and Emily McShane. Mary and the Soldier finds new life in Dudasik’s singing, as does I Courted a Wee Girl as sung by Brennan.

The band does a good job on a number of the instrumental sets. My favourite is Paddy Ryan’s Dream/Blue Britches/Gan Ainm, a set of reels with Blaithin Loughran’s highly animated box playing. The Box Set, is almost a duel between Loughran on box and Geraghty on accordion.

The group grew out of Comhaltas, and in many ways, it sounds like a Comhaltas recording – strictly and tightly played. This is not a bad thing, as the women are crisp in their presentation. There is also a bit of originality here, especially in the song selection. Their teachers include the pantheon of Irish and Irish-American players, and they obviously learned their lessons well. Gabriel Donohue did a good job in producing, and joined in on guitar on a few of the sets. A little tweaking might have made a good album a great one, but the end result is an enjoyable recording. Girsa’s maiden voyage overall is a success.

Pam Sullivan-Whebi


Own Label

With an already well-established reputation on the live circuit as a virtuoso of diatonic and chromatic harmonica, Tom Byrne finally gets the chance to lay-down his “stuff” in this debut recording. The eponymous record, which sells with a quite opulent companion booklet, rolls with a selection of high powered dance tunes played with authority, passion and panache featuring Tom, and guests such as Frankie Gavin, Carl Hession on piano, Paul O’Driscoll on double bass and Laurence Doherty.

This album is damn-sharp for a debut and has a fabulous production value. My highlight of the experience is Byrne’s original tune Caoineadh na Neamh-Chiontach (The Cry Of The Innocent) - which surely belongs on a soundtrack somewhere. It’s a powerful tune, in D-minor, where Byrne attempts to create a picture through the sound of “the cry of the lone voice which struggles to be heard”, Byrne cites that “the single note symbolises truth which cannot be silenced and the tune is dedicated to victims of conflict and abuse”.

Another particularly nice moment is where Tom delves into his own roots, with a version of the charming Sliabh Ban Waltz. The original tune was composed by Byrne’s father and also “commemorates his ancestral townland at Malin Head, celebrating the beauty of the landscape”.

All-in all I have had this disk running in the car for a few weeks now, and it’s certainly put a stride in my step, and helped lift those obnoxious January Blues. The album includes a list of guest artists, with the aforementioned Frankie Gavin mentioned in the production credits. I’d certainly look forward to Byrne’s follow up record, where I think the Buncrana based musician is well positioned to go it alone.

Martin Roddy


Bridging the Gap

Own Label Coolathuma 002

15 tracks, 52 minutes

A second album from this London born and reared fluter, respected in the UK and Ireland as a fine exponent of the Leitrim style. Mick soaked up the music of Roger Sherlock, Brian Rooney and others from the vibrant London Irish music scene, adopting a broad Sligo/Roscommon repertoire. After a period of neglecting the flute, he moved over to Leitrim and is now an established part of the music scene there.

Bridging the Gap is partly about this return to Ireland and Irish music, but mainly about good tunes well played. In contrast to Mick’s first album, reels take a back seat here - less than half the tracks. Jigs, slip jigs, hornpipes and barndances account for most of this recording, along with a charming version of the air An Cailín Rua. The slip jig Dever the Dancer harks back to John McKenna’s music. Thormond Bridge and The Smell of the Bog are among many fine hornpipes on this CD, and the barndance set Casey’s Pig is a rousing tribute to the musicians who left Ireland but continued their music in New York.

There’s a nice mix of true solo tracks, accompanied and ensemble selections. The pair of unaccompanied reels Drumlion Loop and Tom Mulvey’s Blessing on Eb flute give a good impression of Mick’s playing at its best, and are two of five Mulvey compositions here. Mick is joined by Jackie Wynne and Liam Cryan on guitar and drum respectively, and by fiddlers Dermot Burke and Mossie Martin.

Pete Quinn abandoned the London Lasses temporarily to add sympathetic piano. The flute and fiddle tracks are probably my favourites: a pair of vintage hornpipes including The Quarrelsome Piper (surely not!), equally venerable jigs ending with Father O’Flynn, and the final romping reels with Packie Duignan’s stamp on Lucy Campbell’s. Grand stuff, full of lift and drive.

Find Bridging the Gap in specialist shops, or contact Mick for more details via

Alex Monaghan