Releases > November 2006

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Inné Amárach

Gael-Linn CEFCD188 11 tracks, 46 minutes,
plus a 26 minute DVD

Inné Amárach is a delight from start to finish. It won’t blow your socks off, but it will open your mind and refresh your soul. Why? Because here is a quintet of brilliant young musicians who have decided to present Irish music as it really is: the joy of it, the full breadth and depth of it, and sometimes (but not always) the power and pace of it.

Yes, there are reels here: it’s mainly Sligo dance music, so there would have to be reels. But when was the last time a Sligo album included marches, slip-jigs, barn dances, polkas, slides, planxties, and even a rare descriptive piece? In many ways this CD takes us back to the heyday of céilí band recordings, before Planxty and The Bothy Band changed perceptions of Irish music. The medley of Jamesy Gannon’s, McDermott’s and Over the Moor to Peggy strings together a march, a barn dance and a reel: you’d swear you were listening to an exquisitely restored recording of the old Glenside or Castle band at their best. New recruit, Damien Stenson does an equally splendid job on The Shelf, a driving polka learnt from Harry Bradley and played as a rousing flute and bodhrán duet here. Even the reels are exceptional: Sarah’s Delight, Paddy Sean Nancy’s, The Ireland We Knew, and The Ewe Reel are all a little out of the ordinary but their provenance is second to none: Paddy O’Brien, Johnny Henry, Ed Reavy and Packie Dolan respectively. Téada show enormous respect for the music of their forebears, and this comes through in their inspired choice of material and their success in recreating the sounds of a former era.

The inclusion of the complex descriptive piece Nóra Críona is a rarity indeed. I don’t remember a band doing this since The Chieftains recorded Bonaparte’s Retreat, but it works beautifully here and adds a special grace and depth to the album. Contrast that with the light and easy touch on the single jigs Port Aitheantais na gCaipíní and Johnny’s So Long at the Fair, a real kitchen session feel with barely a hint of accompaniment behind the melody. Then the full band sound returns for the final track, three big reels on overdrive: Bonnie Ann, John Kelly’s and The Boy in the Boat ending a glorious album. With full and informative sleeve notes, and a bonus half-hour DVD featuring more tunes and talk from the likes of Peter Horan and Paddy Ryan, Inné Amárach is a marvelous tribute to musicians of the past and a veritable beacon for Irish music of the future. One of this year’s highlights.

Alex Monaghan

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A Decade of Solas

Compass Records 4431

Oh, can it be a whole decade since box player John Williams told me that he was releasing a “really good record with all sorts of great players on it”? And the name they chose was Solas. The original group, with Seamus Egan on almost every instrument known to man, Winifred Horan on fiddle, John Doyle on guitar, and newcomer Karan Casey on vocals rounding out the line-up, was to be changed in a few years. Every line-up change maintained the strength of the previous, even if it brought a different flavour, and a different sound, with each iteration. The constants in this are Winnie Horan and Seamus Egan. As the cast changes, they are still the essentials. The current line-up features Mick McAuley, Deirdre Scanlan, and Eamonn McElholm.

As a ten year celebration, all of the former members gathered to record a concert featuring every lineup doing a live “best of” album, filmed and recorded in Philadelphia, PA on September 13th, 2005. From the first line-up, Karan Casey’s voice is stronger than ever, and her delivery on songs such as “Nil Na La” and “Pastures of Plenty” are better than the originals. Hearing John Doyle’s guitar enhancing John Williams box again, with Horan’s backing fiddle, brings back fond memories of the early days.

The current ensemble shows off their stuff in equally high fashion. Deirdre Scanlan’s singing has never been better, as is shown in “A Silver Dagger” and “On a Bed of Fleur De Lis”. Mick McCauley’s on box and Eamonn McElhom on guitar show the same adept ability as their predecessors. And Casey’s backing vocals on Scanlan’s songs, and vice versa, allows a chance to compare the two singers styles in a complementary fashion. Former guitarist, Donal Clancy is also on hand. Rounding out the lineup of players are Philadelphia musicians, Ben Wittman, Chico Huff, John Anthony and Michael Aharon, as well as Antje Duvekot. The blending of all the players on some tracks goes beyond just sessioning on stage, as the intense rehearsals paid off in tight playing.

There is a DVD of the concert in the package, with extra cuts, as well as the CD. For what was originally a one-off album, the band become a force in music in America and Ireland. Let us see what the next decade brings.

Brian Witt

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Compass Records 4416 51 Minutes, 12 Tracks

Serenade is a work that took about a decade to complete, with both Mick McCauley and Winifred Horan busy with other recording projects and constant touring taking precedence over studio time for this work. First meeting at sessions in New York, and now long time members of Solas, they have a sense of blending of styles that complements and enhances and makes this a very pleasant album.

One favourite is “The Joyous Waltz”, which is just what it purports to be, a sweet, softly moving French-Canadian influenced piece. On “The Ballygar Jigs” and “Jug of Punch Set”, the two of them play so tightly that they merge box and fiddle into a single sound, seamless in many ways.
Mick’s singing is a pleasant surprise. His rendition of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” is colourful, understated, and well delivered, and Winnie’s deeply resonant fiddling makes the song sound as though it was written to be sung in the folk tradition. “Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy” is sung with the right amount of what might be called the F factor (F for folk that is).

Mick’s contributions beyond the accordion include whistles, bodhrán, keyboards, and guitars. Old comrade, Donal Clancy also adds his guitar to a number of tracks, and Winnie also provides background vocals. Time was stolen over the course of many months to complete the album, often with weeks going by between recording different tracks. All in all, it is the familiarity of two old friends making music together that brings it all together.

Brian Witt

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Pauline Scanlon

Compass Records 11 tracks 44 min 12 sec

A new wave of Irish musicians is currently making their presence known, and this Kerry singer is among the best of them. There’s a beguiling blend of tenderness and conviction to Pauline Scanlon voice, and she uses it well to reach out to the listener on her second solo album, Hush, her most engaging work yet.

Ms Scanlon likes a rich melody, and she’s big on strong lyrics and a good story, keen observations and thoughtful reflections too. There are themes of lost love, love abandoned, shame tragically confronted, the fear of losing a brother to war, warm reflections on the departed from one left behind. An emigrant’s heart rending sorrow, the surging spirits of love, and a wicked sense of triumph in the tale of just who is wearing the britches after all. Nine tracks are traditional, with two more recent compositions from John Spillane and Seán McCarthy.

The production on this release is top drawer too, the sure hand of Donogh Hennessey guiding subtle but superb accompaniments. Among the excellent backing crew the fiddle of Stuart Duncan stands out, and a duet with Darrell Scott works a treat.

Pauline has already garnered respect for her performances and recordings in recent years, and she’ll earn lots more with the release of Hush, a winner all the way. Quiet now, and slip this one under the beam.

David Ingram

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McNally’s Row of Flats
Irish American Songs of Old New York by Harrigan and Braham

Compass Records 4426,14 tracks

For Mick Moloney, the move to the United States brought him to the find that there were hundreds of songs and tunes he never had never know yet they existed during his life as a folksinger in Ireland. In particular, the vaudeville and music hall variety songs that had grown up from the earliest Broadway theatres and had infiltrated their way into Irish-American songbooks and bar bands intrigued him in ways he never realized they could. His move to teach at New York University found him coming closer to the sources of the material.

Edward Harrigan, he of the title of the George M Cohan song, “Harrigan!”, was a prolific lyricist and playwright. His father-in-law, David Braham, wrote the music. Together, they helped to create Broadway musical theatre. In McNally’s Row of Flats, Moloney accomplishes what on the surface may seem to be the impossible “ bringing to life a style of songs and music that are anachronistic and in many ways difficult to play or appreciate. The 14 tracks feature some incredible musicianship, and the presentation is overall quite good. Some of the best are “I Never Drink Behind the Bar”, an homage to McSorley’s Ale House in Greenwich Village the oldest pub in New York), “Maggie Murphy’s Home”, the last of Harrigan’s successful songs, and “The Regular Army O”. Patrick’s Day Parade” utilizes the talents of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, a jazz band that here supplies the brass for the tune.

Overall, the album is well balanced, with some wonderful playing by the likes of John Doyle, Billy McComiskey, piper Ivan Goff, Athena O’Lochlainn on fiddle and Brendan Dolan on piano, amongst many. The use of the Nighthawks on a number of pieces brings about a sound of authenticity to these many dated works. Robbie O’Connell’s backing vocals work in good contrast to Mick’s voice. Of course, with the age of the songs and the music, some pieces may sound grating and too ancient to have credence today.

A special thank you also to Compass for the 30-page booklet that is included. Remember the days when liner notes were more comprehensive and had enough historical background to allow listeners to have an understanding of what the artist was doing. There is a history of Harrigan, Braham, and Tony Hart, and the notes include all sorts of information about plays, the persons who originally sang the songs, and the year that they were first presented. If one would like to see how Irish America developed, both socially and musically, McNally’s is a place to buy into.

Brian Witt

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Sheridan’s Guesthouse

Own Label 15 tracks, 57 minutes

Leitrim flute-player and button boxer, Dave Sheridan has crammed an impressive line-up into his caravan: Seamie O’Dowd and Brian McDonagh of Dervish provide the backing for fiddles, accordion, pipes, and Dave’s flute and whistle. The bodhrán is represented by Junior Davey and Neil Lyons among others, and there are keyboards and bouzoukis scattered through the album. The overall sound is excellent. There’s a wide range of textures: simple flute and fiddle on The Hag with the Money, a full session sound on Christy Barry’s, and plenty of sparkling duets and trios.

The opening pair of reels Mulhaire’s and Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel shows the impromptu, slightly hectic side of Sheridan’s Guesthouse: not everything is polished, and the timing isn’t always perfect, but there’s the freshness and spontaneity of a good session here. When it comes together, it’s magic: Father Kelly’s Jig and Muñeira de Ourense is a good example, Sheridan’s flute and Padraig McGovern’s pipes blending enchantingly through these Irish and Galician tunes. It’s jigs and reels from start to finish, with a waltz and a song thrown in as token relief. The final track adds a polka and a reel of Sheridan’s own in a carefully-named medley: Enjoy Your Stay, In Sheridan’s Guesthouse, and Safe Home.

Dave Sheridan is a very fine fluter, and obviously well connected. About half the fifteen tracks here are flute-led over a strings and drums accompaniment, and they’re all good. The Maids of Castlebar set is a straight trio of reels played in fine Sligo style. The Big House and Fred Finn’s are slightly unusual versions of more well-known tunes.

Sheridan’s flute is enchanting on The Jewels of the Ocean, confirming his consummate musicianship: he’s well able to front a recording, but seems equally happy to share the limelight and there’s no shortage of other stars in Sheridan’s Guesthouse.

With a good fifty minutes of fine music here, and some nice surprises along the way, I’d advise you to email: sheridans and book early to avoid the rush!

Alex Monaghan

Visit Dave Sheridan’s web site