Releases > Jan/Feb 2007

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Close To Home

Compass Records 4438 12 Tracks
Running Time 39 minutes 54 seconds

Donal Clancy is one of those players whose was almost born into Irish music royalty. After spending years honing his abilities with his father Liam and cousin Robbie O’Connell, and then with Solas and Danu, Clancy has released a solo album of Irish tunes played on acoustic guitar. “Close to Home” is a work that is as influential as the playing of Arty McGlynn and Micheal O’Domhnaill in its presentation. Most are familiar tunes, and while he may not be plowing new fields here, he has planted some fine seeds.

This album is reminiscent of Matt Molloy’s “Heathery Breeze”, in its approach to work various tunes into guitar tunings, as Molloy did with the flute. Some work extremely well, especially “Sean O’Duibhar a Ghleanna” and “An Buachaill Caol Dubh”, slow airs that seem suited for his arrangements. With “Lord Inchiquin”, others before have played the O’Carolan tune on the guitar, but Clancy’s version is one of the best I have ever heard. “The Monaghan /Old Hag” are great showcases for Clancy’s range on the guitar.

Clancy starts out of the box with “Tommy Coen’s Memories/ Callaghans”, a couple of spirited pieces that show he can run with this music. The slower “Garrett Barry’s/The Humours of Trim” and “The Nomad” follow, full of colour and heart and technically well played. Occasionally, the pale ghost of new age stylisations pass over Clancy’s playing, but that is to be expected, as anyone who had a guitar tried to put many of these tunes down before under the term “Celtic”.

Clancy’s playing is clean, straightforward, and often simple, but with great ornamentation, and avoids the excesses of a lesser player. “Close to Home” is Donal Clancy’s opening solo effort, but with any luck it is going to be the start of a great library of his work.

Brian Witt

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The Fairy Bridges

Own label 44 minutes

There’s a strange irony in the work and reputation of Josephine Keegan, gold medal Oireachtas winner in 1955, long time accompanist with Sean McGuire and influenced by one of the greats of Irish music Raymond Roland: due fame however, has somehow eluded her outside of the knowing fraternity of discerning players. There are no references to her in Fintan Vallely’s book on Irish music, nothing in either the Walton’s guide or in The Rough Guide To Irish Music. Maybe it’s because for many years she was seen as an accompanist, maybe living in Armagh Northern Ireland she is somehow cut off from the main media movers in Dublin and Belfast, maybe it’s because her most sustained and prolific recording output is just now emerging; but more should be written about her and her music.

Now aged 70, it looks like Josephine has finally taken the bull by the horns and decided to leave the world some wonderful Irish music for posterity. She’s also brought in accompanists to fill out the sound; in the past she has always double tracked her own playing. On this, her first solo album in 25 years she is joined by Niall Ó Callanáin on Bouzouki and Kathleen Gavin on Piano and Fiddle.

Known primarily in recent years from her work as a composer, due in no small measure to her book the Keegan’s Tunes, paradoxically not everything on this album is Irish and therefore not all of the selections chosen are her own tunes. She does have an ear for good music and selects some lovely pieces from the wider repertoire.

There is indeed a wide selection of tune styles here, with hornpipes, waltzes, slow airs (the Resting Chair from Shetland), double jigs (her own Fairy Bridges opens the album and provides the title is a fine example, it is named after a bit of Geology in Bundoran Co. Donegal), reels are represented by St.Anne’s and Dillon Brown. A certain Nicholas Carolan has a planxty hornpipe named after him and there’s a set dance: the popular Three Sea Captains. The music is confidently played and works best in the older style with the piano backing, somehow the fiddle and bouzouki don’t work as well together, perhaps it’s because in many respect the aesthetics are 20 years apart.

Those players who don’t know Josephine’s music will be well advised to get hold of a copy of this album; it’s a wonderful introduction to her command of the tradition and a lasting legacy of the breadth of her musical imagination. Time to re-write those reference books I think.

Seán Laffey

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Between Words

Self Produced 12 Tracks running Time 42 minutes 10 seconds

Veterans of the Midwestern Irish music scene, Cé belies their age with outstanding playing and musical ability. Led by flute player, Asher Gray, the trio has produced one heck of a great work in “Between Words”. It is one of those albums that is just track after track of well played, robust music, almost a throwback to the days before players had to stretch the envelopes of convention in order to get noticed. This work lets the musicians say all they need to, with fiddle, whistle, flute and banjo.

Devin McCabe and Gray team up on “The Old Man Rocking the Cradle”, a Leo Rowsome piece, in which McCabe’s fiddling pulls up all the melancholy a good slow air should, and is punctuated by a slightly more sprightly playing on whistle by Gray of the same tune. “Waltz Harry Lane/The Steampacket/Crowleys” highlights Randy Gosa’s guitar playing, as he switches from lead to rhythm seamlessly. “Maverick Angels/Wing Commander Donald MacKenzie’s” has Gray playing full bore, matched note for note by Gosa.

McCabe steps back into the forefront with the “Salamanca”, a well nuanced version of a long travelled session tune. On “Un Ivrogne a Table/Boules et Guirlandes/Mrs Crehan’s”, they start as a slow waltz, building to a faster dance, with all three of the band members adding their own layers to the cake.

The album ends with the Huey Lewis Reel”, recorded and written in three pieces, with Gray starting, Gosa putting in the second, and McCabe the final. Sounding nothing like a Huey Lewis tune, it was named in his honour, and it a perfect collaborative way to complete the album.

The tunes are well noted as to where they were found. This is an album that will be playable in ten, or thirty years time. I would dare say this is one for the ages. It may be “Between Words”, but sometimes words aren’t needed as on albums like this the music does all the talking.

Brian Witt


If I Told You

SPINCD100915 Tracks Running Time 57 minutes 10 seconds

“If I Told You” is the fourth CD recording of singer, Aoife Ní Fhearraigh from Gweedore; most of the 15 songs are in the English language. The production was arranged and produced by Paul Gardiner and Brendan Monaghan, and they certainly didn’t spare on the spondulicks in hiring a host of session musicians. They include the usual instruments, with Paul on keyboard, vocals and bass, and Brendan on uilleann pipes, whistles, bodhran, vocals, bones, and guitar. A busy pair indeed – and multi-talented. But also in addition, there are the Highland pipes (Lee Lawson), and a string quartet (Avalon)! Anyone for trumpets?

Aoife says in her CD notes that she won her “first Oireachtas Medal” when she sang the song, “Táimse im Chodhladh” which is on this CD. So it will surprise some people to learn that she also includes songs in English by people like Andy M. Stewart (“Where are you tonight”), Liam Lawton (“If I told you”), and Mick Hanly (“If this be love”). The song entitled “The Parting Glass” that she sings is not the well-known farewell song with the familiar lines, “So fill to me the parting glass, Good night and joy be with you all …” No, the song on the CD is perhaps better known under the title given it by its composer, Alan A. Bell, “So here’s to you”, and it was recorded by The Black Family among others.

Set those alongside songs such as Gabhaim Molta Bhríghde (I Chant Brigid’s Praises – the saint of that name, by the way), and “An Seanduine Dóite” (The Withered Old Man), and you can see what an unexpected mix of material is on this recording. It’s hard to know at whom it is aimed, although Aoife does say in her CD notes that it is an album she has wanted to record for a long time. But she doesn’t give any particular reason other than to add that it has songs in Irish and in English, and that the former are “a selection of songs that I have known for some years and now have the opportunity to record”. The words of the songs in Irish only are supplied in the notes along with the translations.

Other traditional numbers include “Siúl a Rún” (Walk with me, Love), “Crann Úll” (Apple Tree), “An Buachaillín Donn” (The Brown-haired Boy), and “The Maid that sold her Barley”. The album is dedicated to Aoife’s friend and singer, the late Caitlín Uí Dhomhnaill, who was always generous in sharing her wealth of songs with her.

Aidan O’Hara

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Live at Vicar Street

Celtic Airs CACD0102 Double CD & DVD

I fully intended being there for The Dubliners’ ‘homecoming’ at Vicar Street in Dublin last July, but fate intervened and I couldn’t make it. It would have been a sort of revisiting of their Gaiety concert in 2002 for their 40th anniversary, or indeed, their first live concert which was released as ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ in 1966. The line-up then was different, of course, and only Barney McKenna and John Sheahan are still there; with them now are Sean Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, and Patsy Watchorn. In the sixties, they were Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Ciarán Burke, and, of course, John and Barney. But those who were there at Vicar Street assure me that the group still retains all the old verve and gusto of earlier days.

I can recall my first ever encounter with The Dubliners phenomenon was during a bus strike in Dublin, May 1963. I was heading into town in my Morris Minor for my first appearance on Radio Éireann as it was called then. Standing at the bus stop on the Swords Road across from the Viscount Bar was a red-haired lad my own age, looking for a lift into town. It was Luke Kelly. I asked him where he was headed and he said the Gate Theatre. “And I’m very nervous,” he said, “because it’s my first gig on stage there.” I had been to see Ronnie Drew some time earlier when he was performing solo, and also actor/comedian John Molloy was another act. “Yes,” says Luke, “I’m on stage with Ronnie.” I told Luke where I was going, added that I was a bit edgy, as well, and we wished each other luck. “I’ll see you afterwards in O’Donoghue’s on Merrion Row,” Luke said when he was exiting the car. I didn’t actually make it, but I did meet him a month or so later at the Fleadh Ceoil in Mullingar. Great days, great memories.

The Celtic Airs DVD features the entire concert spanning 28 tracks, interspersed with banter and craic, and the same tracks run through the double album. They include Black Velvet Band, The Rare Auld Times, I’ll Tell Me Ma, Rocky Road To Dublin, and Dirty Old Town. And most appropriately, they were introduced to the Vicar Street audience by Jim McCann, who used to tread the boards with The Dubliners, and a roar went up when they came on stage. It never let up after that. The number of young faces in the crowd surprised everyone. “It’s liberating,” Barney was quoted as saying. “It says that music is a family celebration. There should be no boundaries.”

There are so many stories about The Dubliners, both individually and collectively, but it’s worth quoting the following from Michael Feeney Callan’s DVD & CD liner notes: “The great Peggy Seeger, theorist and re-animator of traditional music, observed that the folk revival in these islands, as witnessed on the floor of the legendary Singers Club, was bogus. All the singers wanted to sound like Americans. ‘They failed to see the power of authenticity,’ said Seeger.

The Dubliners had no such problem. In 1960 they were a ramshackle gang of working-class lads, an electrician, a labourer, a fisherman, a telephonist and an agricultural student and their musical voices were as varied and authentic as their day jobs. When they became The Dubliners and started gigging regularly in Howth in 1962, the fusion of interests, musical and personal, created a profoundly original phenomenon.”

Nicky Rossiter

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BMCD001 16 Tracks

Objective. Cool. Classy. Dispassionate. Professional. Knowledgeable. After reviewing thousands of albums over the years, we really try to be that way. Even for the great ones. Then, Paul Brock, Enda Scahill and Ryan Molloy team up and release “Humdinger”. Out goes the objectivity. If you start out with the proposition that you are going to make a purely traditional album featuring melodeon, banjo and piano, there is going to have to be something very special about the project.

There are three things special here. Paul Brock, Enda Scahill and Ryan Molloy. Quite arguably, each is the best there is on his respective instrument. Many of the tunes have not been heard in years. Listen to the solo work on the melodeon from Brock in John Kimmel’s Accordion

Fantasy, or Scahill’s unbelievable playing on Jackson’s Polka, and you know you are hearing something unique. Molloy’s wonderfully tasteful piano accompaniment simply finishes the picture. We must not be afraid of the word. Perfect.

The production values are superb, beginning with one of the best album covers we have seen in years, going through the sound engineering (it was all recorded at the Performing Arts Centre at the University of Limerick to the post production work; it is just as you would want it. The album has drawn universal raves, and everyone from Paddy Moloney to The Irish Times has recognised something wonderful and, dare we say it important. Often in real Irish music, we have thought to ourselves, “Well, this is it. It cannot be done better. Period.” So it is here. It has also occurred to us that, over the years, several of those transformative, magical moments have come to us through Paul Brock. Moving Cloud, The Brock-McGuire Band, and now, this bit o’ brill. And, this repertoire ! Many of the tunes not heard in a long time, or certainly not this way. It makes no difference to know that Brock is playing a 10-key Castagnari or Scahill is using a Clareen banjo, made in Galway. What makes a difference is the years and years, thousands of tunes, hundreds of sessions and concerts, talent, ability and soul, all leading to this. And, we get to fall in love with the music all over again.

A Christmas gift, to be sure, and a blessing. Think the music has lost its way? Wait ’till you hear this! Were we to get only one album this year, Humdinger would be it. An instant classic.

Bill Margeson

Visit Paul & Enda’s web site