Releases > June 2009

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Dublin Made Me

Na Píobairí Uilleann NPU CD017

15 tracks, 51 minutes

The idea of a Dublin style of music, a Dublin tradition and repertoire, has inspired this project by two of the city’s young prodigies. Fiddler, Liam O’Connor and piper, Seán McKeon both have impressive Dublin pedigrees, but for me the music of the capital has always been a melting pot - visitors from Clare and Donegal, collectors such as Breathnach and Ennis, and of course the enormous influence of the Pipers’ Club where generations of O’Connors and McKeons have absorbed the music of masters from all over Ireland on pipes, fiddles, flutes and other instruments. Be that as it may, the result is an astonishingly high level of skill and appreciation for Irish music, and Dublin Made Me is a distillation of that brew.

One thing which is definitely a characteristic of Dublin music is an emphasis on reels. There are seven tracks of ‘em here, and four sets of jigs. I’ll come to those later. The album starts with a muscular, intricate march, The Races at Ballyhouley, not often heard these days but a great vehicle for ornamentation and variation. The penultimate tune is another march, known by many names including The Boyne Water. Both these tracks have a touch of percussion, but otherwise this recording is pure pipes and fiddles.

Liam plays a stunning version of the slow air, Táimse i mo Chodladh, absolute magic, with high and low fiddle parts as well as some viola. The remaining selection is a pair of set dances, The Hunt and An Súisín Bán, lovely lilting tunes which lighten the tone. On two solo tracks, Seán makes a lovely job of The Lady’s Bonnet and wrings every nuance from The Pinch of Snuff, while Liam’s variations on The Duke of Leinster are just staggering; ornamentation and variation again.

The reels are exemplary, of course. The Stony Steps, The Leitrim Thrush, Murphy’s, Mrs Galvin’s, and The Merry Harriers to finish - all grand old tunes. A couple of jigs stand out too. Maids on the Green has been recorded a couple of times recently after a period of neglect, a deceptively simple tune. Leo Rowsome’s version of The Kerry Jig merits a track to itself, one of the big Munster piping tunes given a Dublin makeover.

Finally, I must mention two striking aspects of this album. Firstly, somewhat surprisingly, the duet playing is not as tight as on most recordings these days. I find this refreshing, and it’s fascinating to follow the interweaving of the instruments; it also gives the CD a more spontaneous feel. Secondly, the sleeve notes are absolutely magnificent: spontaneous or not, Liam O’Connor’s knowledge and ability to express himself in writing is almost as prodigious as his musical skill, and many older heads could learn from these notes. Seán and Liam clearly have strong opinions about their music, and are keen to share them: don’t miss the opportunity. Dublin Made Me is featured at and should be widely available.

Alex Monaghan


Claudine ‘Beanie’ Odell, Duncan Wickel and Vincent Fogarty

With special guest, Aaron Olwell

Own label

12 tracks, 49 mins

Here’s an album that immediately caught my attention upon a first listening. The Red Wellies, this instrumental group from North Carolina, has produced a powerful debut recording on duet fiddles, bouzouki and pipes. Claudine ‘Beanie’ Odell, Duncan Wickel and Vincent Fogarty make music with a great sense of ease and clarity that could only be achieved as a result of playing together on frequent occasion. They play with a very rich tone, something that will appeal to many fiddle fans across the globe. Their articulation is smooth; their rhythm is defined and extremely solid throughout.

The tune choices stem from a variety of tune types including hop jigs, a set dance, hornpipes and a waltz, as well as the usual jigs and reels. The choices are most conducive to fiddle playing featuring lots of cross-bowing in a wide variety of keys ranging from G minor to F and C. There’s also a great balance here between the old standard tunes such as The Foxhunters and The Humours of Westport, to more recently composed music stemming from many contemporary composers such as Liz Carroll, Charlie Lennon, Tommy Peoples, Frankie Gavin, Brendan McGlinchey and Billy McComiskey. The sets are well arranged including some lovely harmony lines, double octaves and variety in timbre. Certainly, there is a palpable sense of enjoyment of the music throughout this recording and quite a potent ‘live feel’ to the album that makes one want to listen to this recording over and over again.

A cracking debut - keep an eye out for these lads in the near future.

Edel Mc Laughlin


Pure Banjo

Gael Linn CEFCD 192

12 tracks, 43 minutes

‘Pure Banjo’ is a bit of a misnomer as this Fermanagh musician also displays his considerable talents on guitars and keyboards with a long overdue solo recording, and is joined by a few friends; only three quarters of the dozen tracks feature Brian’s brilliant old-style plunking. The ’20’s and ’30’s sound which Brian champions with the band At The Racket is expertly exemplified by the opening pair of barndances, but most of this album concentrates on timeless classic reels and jigs: The Liffey Banks, The Shaskeen, Scatter the Mud, The Mist Covered Mountain, The Stony Steps and Fasten the Legging, to name a few. Maids of Mount Cisco and Killarney Boys of Pleasure are reels currently in vogue, but you’d struggle to find a better recording.

The three banjo-free tracks are a delight and a surprise. The charming Carolan air, Planxty Davis is not often recorded but handled with sensitivity and skill here. The Morning Thrush, popular since the posthumous release of Seamus Ennis’ Return to Fingal, works beautifully on guitar. Mick O’Connor’s Reels are new to me; they started life as banjo tunes, but transfer surprisingly well to a tenor guitar arrangement at a restrained pace. Indeed, there’s a sense of controlled energy on much of ‘Pure Banjo’ which adds to the excitement, recalling players like Kieran Hanrahan or Mick Moloney. As well as providing some of the best banjo playing around, this album also helps to dispel one or two old banjo myths. The liner notes feature the uncommon claim that, “Brian started playing piano … and later progressed to the accordion and banjo.” Brian himself uses the term ‘banjoist’ to describe the player not the jokes, and the back cover clearly shows the tuning pegs from Brian’s banjo, proving that there isn’t such a big difference between a banjo and a Harley after all. If you like your banjo pure, or with a slight twist, and you’re in the mood for some great tunes in the style of the mid-twentieth century, be sure to pick up this CD: it should be readily available.

Alex Monaghan


The First Turn


10 tracks

Born in Crumlin, Dublin, Daoirí Farrell has been a familiar face around the Dublin session scene for the past few years, both collecting songs and performing at the Góilín singers’ club, Phoenix folk club, The Cherry Tree in Walkinstown, as well as being a participant in the renowned traditional music course in Ballyfermot College for Further Education, Dublin.

His debut offering, ‘The First Turn’, offers a sample of those songs he has sourced, opening with the bold McShane. This song is prefaced with a subtle, almost cautious introduction. But this reserved beginning quickly gives way to the natural story-telling ability of this bright new singer. In the well-designed liner notes, he tells of how he follows the story in his head anytime he sings, an element which shines through in his presentation of the story.

His collection includes the biting denigration, The Pool Song, lambasting the billiards game played in so many pubs. A brave choice, indeed! The Micky Dam, which he heard from the singing of Frank Harte, is a tale which, like that of McShane, tells of a fighting Irishman defending his honour on the building sites of Britain. Both the “honest Irish labourer” on the Mickey Dam, and “bold McShane” fetch their nemesis’ a belt in the throat, sorting them out good and proper!

But it’s not all violence. The gentle, soothing John O’ Dreams follows the Creggan White Hare, a favourite of Daoirí’s, as it reminds him of his childhood days out hunting with his dogs.

Accompanied by Nabac’s, James Ryan (guitar, mandola and backing vocals) and Grada’s Alan Doherty (flutes, whistles, backing vocals), the album was produced by all three at Áras Chrónáin just in time for Daoiri’s tour with the Irish Spring Tour in Germany this year.

The overall production slips slightly in some of the arrangements, like the weak instrumental and heavy bass drone on John O’ Dreams, the static rhythm drive on the Micky Dam and the underuse of a funky, experimental electric guitar riff on Tippin’ it up to Nancy.

‘The First Turn’, in hunting parlance, is used when a dog makes the hare turn in a chase, the first turn being the winner. What a coincidence, then, that this album, The First Turn, could well prove to be a winner for Daoirí Farrell.

Derek Copley


At Last

Own Label

10 Tracks

Derry’s, Maranna McCloskey is out with her new album, ‘At Last’. Recorded in San Diego, the album contains nine songs and one tune, The Cashel Air, penned by Maranna for her home townland. This former lead singer in the well-remembered Northern Ireland group, Óige, brings her warm alto to the fore in both traditional classics such as, Lonely Irish Maid and The Home I Left Behind, and four of her own songs, including the title track. The album has debuted to rave reviews (include this one among them) and major Awards including Vocal Album of the Year for both in Dublin, and Chicago’s Irish-American News. She is already set to appear at this year’s Milwaukee Irish Fest. Coming from a highly musical family, as is often the case, she has been at work as a laboratory clinical trials technician for the University of Ulster.

All that may well be about to change. The well-deserved response to this gem is spreading throughout Ireland and England with the respected Copperplate organisation representing her, and in America through a number of outlets featuring her music. An outstanding album receiving plenty of radio airplay, the future is bright for Miss M. The secret? This is an incredibly warm and beautiful voice from a woman who truly understands the tradition. A massive winner. Her fans have been waiting a long time for this album, and it is here - At Last.

Bill Margeson


The Lucky Smile

Own Label MHRCD002

10 tracks, 46 minutes

The second CD from this Glasgow-based harpist is as refreshing and enjoyable as her debut. With a firm core of harp, guitar and bass, ‘The Lucky Smile’ includes a generous helping of percussion, keyboards and fiddle cameos from Angus Lyon and Graham McGeoch, and two Gaelic vocal tracks featuring Joy Dunlop. About half of the material here is composed by Rachel, the rest coming from Scottish and Irish traditions and from other young composers. There’s something unique about Rachel’s playing, on straight traditional pieces like The Blue Hills of Antrim and The Lochaber Gathering, or on her own composition such as Kilmartin Sky; it may not be as precise as some players, but it has a warmth and spirit which is particularly appealing. Even though this is a studio album, there’s a closeness and intimacy which gives ‘The Lucky Smile’ an almost live feel.

To the details: I love the uplifting change into Karen Tweed’s Back Home reel, the missed half-beats in Flora MacDonald’s, which add a twist to this traditional tune, and the touches of humour behind both the title track and the Mediterranean musical tantrum, I Lost My Harp. On the one hand, Rachel can do totally traditional harp, solo or for the song Leis an Lurgainn, without getting an attack of the runs. On the other, this recording contains more than enough jazzy bits to keep her contemporaries happy: Tsunami Jack, with its swing fiddle, strong ‘cajun’ on Francie’s Jig, and the guitar-bass backing from Paul Tracey and Andy Sharkey. There’s innovation here, but on a solid foundation; ten relatively long tracks, plenty of new tunes, without being self-indulgent. I like it, and I’m hoping to catch the trio live.

CD details and gig schedule are at, along with a couple of sample tracks: highly recommended.

Alex Monaghan


The Maker’s Mark

Greentrax CDTRAX331

15 tracks, 54 minutes

A few minutes spent listening to Tony McManus ply his wares can be an emotionally draining experience for even the most seasoned guitarists. With a few movements of his talented mitts, McManus is able to produce sounds from a six-string that have the capacity to leave his contemporaries contemplating a career in small engine repair.

His latest release, ‘The Maker’s Mark’, reinforces that which anyone who has had the pleasure (and the pain of inadequacy in the face of genius) to hear him perform already knows: McManus is one of the finest traditional musicians of his generation or any other. Drawing from the Celtic Diaspora’s Scottish, Irish, Galician, Quebecois and Cape Breton traditions for both material and inspiration, each of the recording’s 15 tracks offers a unique flavour to the listener.

While McManus’ typical virtuosity is reason enough on its own to add the recording to your collection, it is the kid in a candy store feel of his access to some of the finest guitars in the world that truly pushes ‘The Maker’s Mark’ over the top. Thanks in no small part to North Carolina’s Dream Guitars’ (, McManus’ uncompromising musical vision is buttressed by the use of a different guitar made by a different luthier on each track. The result is a surprisingly lush soundscape as varied as the instruments themselves; the personalities of each guitar lending credence to McManus’ ability and a unique texture to each tune. As an added bonus, the album’s liner notes detail both the history of the tune and the instrument upon which it was played. The joy and passion taken in the playing of each piece is palpable - With so much care put into the making of the album, it should stand as favourite for both McManus’ fans and critics for years to come.

Séamus Bellamy


Seanchairde: Old Friends

3 Scones Music,
15 tracks, 51 minutes

Fiddle, flute and guitar, a classic line-up, and these three friends have produced a charmingly unpretentious old-style recording of classic Irish tunes. Belfast fiddler Dermy Diamond and his flute-playing wife Tara (née Bingham), from County Down, roamed the country playing music before becoming stalwarts of the Dublin scene. Tara has taught many of today’s finest young fluters, and Dermy is probably best known for his outrageous musical antics with Frankie Lane: I’m guessing Donegal connections introduced him to Derry guitarist Dáithí Sproule, whose name has been well known (if not well pronounced) since his days with Skara Brae. The three of them gel nicely here on thirteen tracks of lively and spontaneous dance music, mainly fiddle-led with the flute coming up strongly on the outside, and the guitar staying mainly in the background. There’s also a driving planxty, Madame Maxwell, and an intricate fiddle solo version of the air The Parting Glass.

DDT, as they style themselves, play quite a range of less common forms as well as the usual reels and jigs. Tara takes her solo on two hornpipes with unusual names, Paul Ha’penny and a tune which Mairtín O’Connor introduced to me as Trans-Roscommon Airlines. She also leads off on a set of highlands starting with Maggie Pickens, followed by an intriguing tune known as Barny Bhríanaí’s. One of my favourite tracks is a pair of Fermanagh polkas, the beautiful Return of Spring and The Mountain Path, Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is the two barndances Belle of the Ball and If There Weren’t Any Women in the World: I suppose the titles cancel each other out, and they’re certainly worth the risk.

Much of the music on Seanchairde was learnt in the ’70s, from older players who often had a story to tell. In some cases the tunes have become well known over the past thirty-odd years, but in others they are as fresh as when Dermy and Tara learnt them. Either way, the music and stories are both faithfully represented on this CD. Danny O’Donnell’s is a rare version of a well known reel, followed by The Cedars of Lebanon and The Milliner’s Daughter which are both popular session tunes. The Humours of Glynn and The Cordal Jig are quite widely played now, while the version of Paddy Taylor’s here deserves to be better known. There is also an uncommon version of Miss McGuinness, before the more familiar Lady On the Island and Sailor on the Rock. Tara switches to the whistle for Shandon Bells and Condon’s Frolics, a tune I’ve played for years without a name for it. The final Three Scones of Boxty set brings back the Donegal flavour and explains the choice of as a website, ending a spirited and uplifting album. Fine music beautifully presented, straight from the source with no artificial anything: you won’t get purer than DDT!

Alex Monaghan


Coming Home

Greentrax CDTRAX 336 2009

What is better than a new album by the excellent McCalmans? A live album by the McCalmans is of course. Although maybe that live should be ‘live’ because it is not strictly speaking a recording of a single performance but rather live recordings made across Scottish and Danish performances. On offer are fourteen top class tracks ranging over a variety of writers but with the majority from the prolific pen of Ian McCalman.

They commence proceedings with Coming Home and set the tone of true folk music with a song welcoming refugees. Ian’s, The Moor Road, is a song of another sort of coming home as they sing of a pocket of Scotland close to his father’s birthplace.

The McCalmans are never far from a bit of fun but at the same time reflecting on wider issues. On this album, Let’s Recycle is the track to watch out for.

Recent history gets mulled over on the wonderfully titled When the Risk of Frost is Over, recalling the persistent repercussions of the miner’s strike. They move across the Atlantic for Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage, (often misread as a maritime ballad when it is in fact a commentary on job loss and industrial collapse topical enough in these hardened times). They pick up the briny atmosphere on the evocative fishing song, Five O’Clock in the Morning.

The album closes with the heart-rending version of Only Remember as only The McCalmans can perform. As ever, an insert booklet with lyrics and some background accompanies the album to the songs, making this an excellent package.

Nicky Rossiter


Original Transatlantic Sessions 1

Whirlie CD 15 (DVD version available)

18 tracks, 60 minutes

1995 is back! How’s that for an instant recession-cure? The first of three CD’s from Series 1 of this pioneering music project, ‘The Original Transatlantic Sessions’ includes such big names as John Martyn, Mary Black, Davy Spillane, Cathal McConnell and Iris Dement, as well as session leaders Aly Bain and Jay Ungar. Aly leads the way with Far From Home and Big John McNeil, joined by several other luminaries from the 1995 folk and country scenes. Jay Ungar later treats us to a master’s performance of his trademark Ashokan Farewell, with a dreamy intro from Aly. About half the album is solo showpieces, and half is impromptu group arrangements. It’s also roughly 50/50 between songs and tunes. There’s a real session feel to many of the ensemble tracks - timing, styles, and even tuning is not always universally agreed, but with this all-star line-up and sidemen such as Donal Lunny, Phil Cunningham, Danny Thompson and Russ Barenberg, the results are reliably superb.

It’s easy to see why dobro man Jerry Douglas took over as co-presenter for the next series. Jerry is into all styles, and adds so much: to Mary Black’s Farewell, Farewell, to instrumental numbers like Daire’s Dream and Goodbye Liza Jane, to Dougie MacLean’s Turning Away, and even to John Martyn’s seminal May You Never (the inspiration behind Jock Tamson’s album, I’m told). Jerry’s solo track is a stunner too.

Other highlights of Volume 1 include Iris Dement’s wonderfully pragmatic Let the Mystery Be, Mark O’Connor’s fiddle solo, Grey Eagle, and the party version of Jay Ungar’s Cajun-style anthem, You Low Down Dirty Dog. With two more CD’s to come from ‘The Original Transatlantic Sessions’, there’s a lot more great music to look forward to - and of course a whole DVD for those who like their entertainment visual!

Alex Monaghan


Tree Baatyn Beggey

K&K001 (own label)


I came across the Isle of Man fiddler, Katie Lawrence, at that island’s Cooish Festival last October. I was later to learn that we shared something worthy of at least a small claim to fame. Both of us were thrown out of school - she when she was in playschool, I when I was four and in Miss Duffy’s class at Hollybush Public Elementary school in Co. Derry, just across the border near Muff in Inishowen, Co. Donegal where we lived. My twin brother and I were not sent away by Miss Duffy but by the school principal, and all I’ve ever been able to learn the cause of the peremptory dismissal is that it might have had to do with the fact that my older sister, Mona, won first prize for singing at the Derry Feis one year. The principal’s daughter was in the same competition. Now, let’s deal with Katie and her sister Kirsty’s CD, Tree Baatyn Beggey (Three Wee Boats).

The Lawrence sisters were born in the Isle of Man and have been playing music from their earliest years. They were both classically trained but have grown up immersed in traditional music. They played in the school folk group and during their time with them, they played at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Youth Proms. Both are teachers: Kirsty in Aberdeen teaching primary music, and Katie in a primary school on the island. Katie also has an MA in Irish Traditional Music Performance from Limerick University, and her performance on the fiddle reflects the fruit of that experience in that fine centre for music studies.

In a CD note, Robin Boyle who recorded, mixed and edited the tracks on Tree Baatyn Beggey, described the experience the sisters had in recording the CD as “a distillation of their musical creativity” and he invites the listener to “bask in the consummate musicianship” of his two friends. His words are well chosen, because both are enormously talented performers of their native Manx music and also of Irish and Scottish music. Along with some compositions of Katie’s and one by Mike Sharp, all the music is traditional, and for me one of the particularly pleasing aspects of the CD is hearing native Manx tunes and one song.

Katie plays fiddle and keyboard and Kirsty plays whistles and cello and sings. They are accompanied here and there by - amongst others - the noted guitarist Malcolm Stitt, formerly of the group Deaf Shepherd, and latterly a member of the legendary Boys of the Lough. He and his fellow musicians do justice in their accompaniment to Katie and Kirsty, and the effect is to make Tree Baatyn Beggey a most enjoyable celebration of the Manx and Gaelic music culture and tradition.

Aidan O’Hara


The Crooked Picture

Own label

12 tracks, 38 mins

Reelan are a youthful, energetic band who play lively music and sweet harmonies interspersed with strong vocals on this album - their debut commercial recording. Formed in December 2007, the band comprises five members; they are Sharon O’Leary on concertina, Rossagh Purcell on vocals, Aoife Mullen on fiddle, Andy Meaney on guitar and Sandie Purcell on fiddle and backing vocals.

One of the most unique aspects of this recording is that Sandie actually composed all the tunes and song lyrics featured on the album. Back in August 2007, Sandie published her first collection of original music, which was assisted financially by the Arts Council of Ireland, and this recording is the first opportunity for many of these pieces to be heard on audio recording. The album features a variety of tune types including two airs, double jigs, reels and slip jigs. There are also three vocal tracks on the recording. The tunes are well-crafted, sounding not unlike those in the modal or traditional vein. Similarly, the songs are well structured with hints of Western harmony in their sonic constructs.

The group have arranged their sets well allowing for each individual instrument to be heard at different stages, building up in musical intensity throughout. The musicians are all fine players expressing their musicality, which is firmly augmented by a driving, pulsating accompaniment on guitar. Harmonies weave in and out effectively adding a further dimension to the overall sound.

A lovely debut recording, one presumes that we can expect to hear much more from this talented outfit in the future.

Edel McLaughlin