Releases > April 2007

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North Cregg

Greentrax CDTRAX 308 2007

What is the magic ingredient that can be inserted into an album so that as soon as you hear it you are mesmerised, toe tapping and wanting more? I have no idea but I think North Cregg may have found it for this release.

Maybe that’s what saw them as ‘Best Traditional Newcomers’ in the IMM Millennium Poll. From picking up the beautifully produced gatefold package with its design and cover picture you are entering an experience. As usual they kick-off with a spirited instrumental, in this case ‘Sliabh Luachra Polkas’. Then the tempo slows and Claire-Anne Lynch will grab you by the heart with a magnificent delivery of ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’ that has just the exact amount of musical backing from the other group members. That voice would drown any sailor. The title track lives up to its name as it invites you on the floor for a nice gentle dance and then gradually increases the tempo as you toes tap, head swims and heart beats faster. It is wonderful to hear a new version of an old song that makes it new without destroying the original. North Cregg achieves this on the perennial favourite ‘Barbara Allen’. The gentle, almost lullaby rendition, is given great depth with a lovely instrumental bridge. The lovely tinkling piano on the first of the set ‘Earl Mitten’s’ will put you in good humour no matter how down you feel. Then you will be whisked out of your chair for the second section adapted from a French Canadian reel.

The mixture of vocal and instrumental is just right on this album and I love the title of track nine ‘I’d rather be Married than Left’ a set of four slides. Annie Briggs has had some exposure in recent months with television histories of British and Irish folk music. In her short performing career she wrote some lovely songs and one of them is featured her called ‘Go Your Way’. ‘Crehan’s Reels’ close the barndance is style and will ’send them home sweatin’ better than any showband.

This is a great album out of Ireland on a Scottish Label for an international audience.

Nicky Rossiter

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Oisín McAuley

Compass Records 4446

Oisin McAuley’s debut solo is a real treat from start to finish. The fiddler revels in the opportunity to play above and beyond the more traditional confines of Danú although there is plenty to stir the hearts of traditionalists.

His apprenticeship on the fiddle took him from Donegal to Brittany and many of the formative influences from his rambles are on show here. He opens with the Quebec Reels, a feisty pair of melodies from the playing of Bernard Simard. McAuley makes the most of the dramatic pauses and shifts. Tune for Gillian features some delightful cello and guitar accompaniment. McAuley has a ball with Breton Giles Le Bigot’s Swing and Tears, wheeling and whirling through the melodies.

Two of the more unusual tunes are Souvenir of Venice and Belle of the Stage sourced from Cole’s collection which included tunes from vaudeville fiddle players. Mary’s Waltz is a brisk ramble, a piece composed to explore the improvisational possibilities between McAuley, Shane McGowan on guitar and Peter Browne on button accordion.

On John Doherty’s Highand, Neil Gow’s Wife and Frank Cassidy’s he strides masterfully into Altan and Donegal territory, his homeground, of course, until a recent relocation to that famous parish to the west, Boston. His playing soars and swoops on Moneymusk and Spey in Spate.

Lover’s Ghost, another of the great slow airs, is a tune McAuley learned while playing with the band Cran. He plays it like a musical mirage and then bursts out into Maud Miller. The Capelhouse is a rare recording of a James Kelly composition paired with Molloy’s in a classic fiddle & flute combo.

On Ask my Father & Pat Ward’s, two great single jigs, McAuley brings in Ronan Browne on the pipes. Browne also joins in on the final track, a spine-tingling version of Port na Puchai. McAuley plays it through first getting an uncanny piping sound from the fiddle before Browne enters with the real thing and, third time around, they play off into the sunset together, another remarkable benchmark performance of this majestic air.

Gerry O’Connor and Liz Carroll have set a high bar for fiddle recordings in recent times with albums like Journeyman and Lost in the Loop. Oisín McAuley vaults up to that bar with ease on his new album, showing a mastery of styles from trad to jazz to bluegrass. He may have left Donegal but the hills are still alive in his spirited playing.

Tom Clancy

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Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh

Own Label MOR CD 002 14 tracks, 54 minutes

The title could refer to Mícheal’s mastery of the concertina, or his knowledge of the Irish repertoire: either way it’d be spot on! One of County Meath’s best kept secrets, Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh deserves wider recognition and “Inside Out” could get it for him. The fourteen tracks here contain over forty tunes: favourites like “Connaught Heifers” or “The Pinch of Snuff”, heavyweights like “Colonel Fraser” and “Ryan’s Rant”, old chestnuts like “Shandon Bells” roasted ’til they’re piping hot and tasty, and a whole rake of rarer tunes whose names at least were new to me. “Cleaning the Henhouse” is a great wee reel which I can identify with. “Peter O’Byrne’s Fancy” slipped on to “The Storm” in the eighties but hasn’t been heard much since. “Jim Donoghue’s, O’Reilly’s Greyhound, Lawson’s Favourite” and “Dunboyne Strawplatter” are all dug out of the archives (and O’Neill’s in one case), but are still as fresh as ever.

Mícheál plays a couple of big beefy Anglo concertinas, and gets and amazing sound out of them. There’s no jerkiness, plenty of bass, and the neatest rolls and triplets. The final four tracks return to well-known material, allowing comparisons with other musicians. There’s a pair of silky smooth minor hornpipes, fancy fingerwork aplenty on “Lord MacDonald’s”, a lovely swagger to “The Sporting Pitchfork”, and a rousing finish with “Ambrose Moloney’s”. Mícheál is sparingly accompanied by Michael Rooney on harp, Eoghan O’Brien on guitar, and a still youthful Tríona Ní Dhómhnaill on piano. What better backers could you want?

Alex Monaghan

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Eamonn Coyne & Kris Drever

Compass Records 4448

There was a time, not too long ago either, when recordings of banjo playing were rarer than hen’s teeth. Eamonn Coyne now has two of them on his resumé, the delightful debut Through the Round Window in 2002 and now this classy and engaging new album with singer and guitar player Kris Drever.

The fun starts with the first track, a vibrant grouping called the House Jigs-Liam Doyle’s, The Rolling Waves, and Cailin an Ti Mhoir. Lucy’s Swamp follows, a set that curves along the road from Lucy Farr to Bela Fleck. The Peninsula Set opens with Ger the Rigger, veers left into Brittany for An Dro and sails north to Scotland for Simon Bradley’s The Peninsula Man. It’s an invigorating trip.

The Lakeside Barndances are all swing and the Roscommon Reels are all swirl. Glencoe to Gort incorporates a fine lament followed by Cooley’s Jig and a rollicking Toss the Feathers. The Twenty Quid set includes Paddy Fahey’s, a rousing Pretty Girls of Mayo, and slips out with Sean Reid’s.

Coyne has a great ear for old or unusual songs. The selction on this album work beautifully with Drever’s smoky, sweet voice. Walking in the Dew gets a strong performance and Viking Bride comes from the pen of the Orcadian singer-songwriter, Ivan Drever, who is Kris’ father. And, for pure fun, it would be hard to beat an oldie, early pop song Cock-a-Doodle. Originally recorded by the Harry Reser Band in 1926. Reser was one of the earliest and most recorded banjo virtuosos.

The tenor guitar features on a number of tracks: Twenty Quid and The Peninsula Set. Coyne has never met a banjo or stringed instument he he didn’t like and has been known to play tenor banjo, mandolin, tenor guitar, 6-string guitar and tenor national steel guitar.

This album would sit very nicely in the CD rotation with other recent gems: Alison Brown’s Stolen Moments, Donal Clancy’s Close to Home and John Williams & Dean McGraw’s Raven. Eamonn Coyne now lives in Edinburgh and has been playing with the Scottish international band Salsa Celtica.

His wide-ranging musical interests (country, old-timey music, and jazz) are evident on this record. But, most of all, the sheer delight infused into his playing shines through on every note. If brilliant banjo music doesn’t improve your mood, stay on the Prozac: otherwise take this album twice a day and call Coyne with your thanks.

Tom Clancy

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Celtic Women - From Scotland

Various CDGMP 8012 2006

Subtitled ‘Songs of Love and Reflection’ this compilation of 14 tracks from the Celtic Collections series is a great introduction to the talent in singing and writing on offer from the ladies of Scotland. The tracks range from the haunting to the rousing with all shades in between. There are songs in the Gaelic alongside those in English.

There are well known singers mingled with new voices. A beautiful lullaby from Lynn Morrison is called simply ‘Hush, Hush’ and epitomises the wonderful gentle of an excellent singer. Karine Polwart gives us one of the most powerful anti-war songs of recent years on the dialect titled ‘Whaur Dae Ye Lie’ written for the dead of Bosnia in 1995. From the new compositions Karen Matheson along with a pipe band brings us the perennial ‘Amazing Grace’. Listen to this familiar song in the very unfamiliar Gaelic version.

Other classics on offer on this budget priced CD include the powerful Sheena Wellington singing Burns as only she can on his ‘ Ae Fond Kiss’. Not to be outdone on the Burns interpretation Gill Bowman gives us a beautiful ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Another Scottish legendary composer, Dick Gaughan is covered by Mairi Campbell on ‘Both Sides the Tweed’ a modern folk classic. The Scots are renowned for being ‘canny’ with the cash so grab this absolute bargain while you can but be warned, listen to the fourteen tracks and I guarantee you will want to spend much more getting the full albums with samples featured her.

Nicky Rossiter

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Various Artists

Greentrax CDTRAX 310 2006

This is a welcome re-issue of an album first brought out in 2002. It includes works by pupils and some tutors at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Many of the pupils have since excelled in music and featured on their own albums. This is very much a team effort and this is obvious from track one ‘The Tag Team Set’ with eight performers on pipes, percussion and guitar.

‘Jamie Come Try Me’ is another beautiful tune brilliantly rendered by a group of five musicians featuring fiddles, clarsachs and low whistle. The ensemble playing is fascinating to experience and there is no better track for this than on the wonderfully titled ‘Brides and Tartars Set’.

One of the solo pieces on offer has Emily Smith singing the traditional ‘The Dowie Dens O’ Yarrow’. Not to be outdone by the ladies James Graham has a marvellous rendition of ‘A Mhairead Og’. Then we get a duo. Fiona Hunter and Fraya Thomsen arranged and deliver a beautiful son ‘Sailin’s A Wearie Life’. Many of the tracks on offer here may be less than familiar but then every song you know was unknown to you at some point so give this album a listen and broaden your musical horizons.

Nicky Rossiter

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Macdara O’Conaola

Own Label MD001 13 Tracks

Macdara O’Conaola is steeped in the sean nós singing tradition of the Aran islands. Firstly let’s be clear about it, this isn’t your father’s sean nós on this album, although he might be able to recognise some of the older melodies and songs. The nature of true sean nós is its purity and complexity, it has its own rules and rituals, context and also conundrums, essentially a solo art form, it loses its spontaneity when corralled into a musical form where instruments provide a constant over which the typical shifting parameters of key, tone and rhythm must remain static. As Macdara is joined by a crew of some of the finest traditional instrumentalists in the country, he is very much tied down to their framework, that he carries off the album so well is a testament to the rapport he has established with the band, many of whom he has worked with on his sister Lasairfhíona’s albums. There’s an inherent bounce and lift to the music like a hull catching the first spumes of surf on a turning tide.

Now I’m not one for sibling comparisons and if I were looking to help you decide which musical landscape MacDara is carving out for himself, I’d best to contrast this album with the work of Iarla O’Lionaird. Both take a modernist approach to the music, whereas O’Lionaird (with the Afro Celts) has tended to explore the emotional depths of the songs within a framework of experimental and techno music, Macdara concentrates on marrying the melodic and rhythmic potential that lies within the genre in a folk band dynamic. He’s been at this sean nós material a long time as there’s a track of a three-year-old Macdara singing in the field on “Ag Caint Liom Fhéin”.

It is obvious he has strong musical ideas and the album is co-produced by himself and Máire Breatnach. The musical accompaniment is supplied by Máire Brennan on vocals, Fiddle, Viola & Piano, Danny Byrt on Drums & Percussion, Paul Gunning on Accordion, his sister, Lasairfhiona on vocals, Johnny McDonagh on Bodhrán, Bones & Triangle, Mick O’Brien on Whistles & Uilleann Pipes and Bill Shanley on Guitars, Bass & Mandolin. Working with this band he has produced a very attractive, acoustic album, there’s a wind of Planxty and Na Casaidigh blowing here that buoys up the songs like a currach drifting into Rossaveal on a warm summer’s day. He might come from Inishere, the smallest of the Aran Islands, but his musical imagination is large as an Atlantic horizon. His command of the text of the songs and his ability to give them life within what is an essentially a non-traditional format will surely single him out as a distinctive talent to watch out for in the coming years.

Séan Laffey

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