Releases > July 2009

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The Leitrim Equation
No label at all!
21 tracks, 73 minutes
Spread across two CD’s and well over an hour, we find one of the world’s finest Irish quintets mingled with a generous double dozen Leitrim musicians. The Leitrim Equation resulted from Lúnasa’s year as resident musicians, and Leitrim County Council’s far-sighted funding. Only the poteen drinkers or similarly numbed souls can have missed the recent rise of Leitrim music: the McNamara family, the Lennon family, fluters Dave Sheridan and Noel Sweeney, fiddlers Brian Rooney and the Morrow brothers. Not that Leitrim music hasn’t previously been an important part of the Irish tradition; John McKenna, Charlie Lennon, Joe Liddy, Stockton’s Wing and Dervish are among the respected names with strong connections to this county, but their Midlands heritage has often been obscured by allegiances to musical styles such as South Sligo or East Galway. Here these masks are discarded, and Leitrim musicians step proudly forward: Liam Kelly, Ben Lennon, Mary McPartlan, Oliver Loughlin, Eleanor Shanley, Damian O’Brien, Tom Morrow, and many new names.

So what does this greatly extended Lúnasa sound like? In a word, brilliant. Just a touch of Paul Meehan’s magic lifts The Concert Reel, Kevin Crawford joins the McNamaras for The Edenderry and Maggie on the Shore, Sean Smyth follows three Lennon fiddlers on The Road to Garrison. Leitrim men (and women) can manage very well on their own too, as the McGoverns and McCartins show with a lovely lilting version of The Battering Ram, while Tom and Mossie Martin romp through a couple of Charlie Lennon reels on fiddle and moothie. There’s an occasional rough edge - Kilty Town and Maguire’s Welcome for example - but that just adds to the authenticity of these recordings. For seekers after new material, there are five tracks of fresh compositions forged in the furnaces of informal workshops: from the simplicity of Courthouse Reel, through the twists of In Walked Dalai, to the beautifully turned Stig Jig.

Lúnasa have resisted the lure of lyrics for a long time now, but I’m afraid there are two songs on this double CD. Not, I hasten to add, from messrs Vallely, Smyth, Meehan, Hutchinson and Crawford: thankfully they restrict themselves to the occasional “Hup!” as ever, and there aren’t even any of Kevin’s famous monologues here. No, the singing duties fall once again to the ladies, in the formidable shape of Eleanor Shanley and Mary McPartlan. My Only Trombone is delicately arranged for flute, guitars and bass, while Generous Lover stands well as a solo session ballad. I suppose two vocal tracks in twenty-one is acceptable, especially given the quality of all the music on The Leitrim Equation: top notch to the very end, appropriately wrapped up by a warm double pipes version of Snug in a Blanket. So with dozens more counties to choose from, and many more years left in the lads, I’m now dreaming of localised Lúnasa recordings for decades to come. Thank goodness the Chieftains never thought of this!
Alex Monaghan

RTE Lyric FM
Double CD, 42 Tracks

This is a compilation of 42 tracks recorded in Bantry House, Co Cork, between 2003 and 2007. It’s a fine and very representative illustration of the many facets of the music, as played for an audience of listeners - not always easy to obtain.

Lyric is still mainly a classical/jazz radio station, and at the very least the punters here would be expected to care about the music and how it’s played.

Outstanding is the track with Frank Harte singing Mickey McConnell’s song about The Lambeg Drummer. Tony MacMahon has a stalwart version of The Wounded Hussar. With some of the livelier tunes, you’d almost miss the buzz of the talk. But the compensation is that you really get to hear the softer instruments, like Cormac Breathnach’s low whistle. There are two tracks featuring the singing of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, and Gerry (Banjo) O’Connor shows why he’s justly famed for fabulous flat-picking - and good humour.

There’s a fine and unusual version of Roisín Dubh; more’s the pity that they don’t follow the lead of Cló Iar-Chonnachta and supply the words. The same is true for the fine macaronic song from Iarla Ó Lionáird. Other songs, like Andy Irivine’s My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland stand on their own merits - the tradition is alive and it will absorb and winnow what each generation brings.

And yet it keeps its head: Steve Cooney sets a lovely pace with Tony Mac Mahon on The Humours of Drinagh - classic steady jig-time. Jackie Daly, too, provides classic polka time.

No offence to the many I haven’t mentioned. They all have a secure place in what will probably be a milestone - or rather a pair - in the progress of our music as a cultured and enjoyable listening activity.
John Brophy

The Tempest, uileann pipes
Na Piobraí Uilleann: The ace and deuce of piping, Vol. 3
11 tracks

It’s a feature of the music that its players take pride in transmitting it accurately and unchanged over generations. It’s not a restriction on self-expression: quite the opposite, and there’s real pride in being acknowledged as providing the Pure Drop. The difference from former times is that much of the music is learned from recordings, but they’re only part of the story.

Robbie Hannon, who deservedly features in this third volume in the NPU series, started learning from recordings, but progressed to having lessons with Liam O’Flynn and Ronan Browne at the Willie Clancy summer school. The first collection of the series was Eliot Grasso from Baltimore, Maryland, Up against the Flatirons; the second collection was from Emmett Gill from London, The Mountain Groves.

Even the choice of tunes in this Volume 3 reflects the importance of passing on the tradition. Most of them are classics recorded long before this by Seamus Ennis and Willie Clancy: The Flax in Bloom, Sergeant Early’s, Kitty Got a Clinking Coming from the Races, Old Hag You Have Killed Me; you get the idea.
The title track is a reel which features close playing and fine ornamentation. Robbie also has a deft wrist on the regulators - listen to The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

For those of you who want to learn the tunes from this album, be warned - Robbie’s playing a Kenna set in B, with the chanter made by Andreas Rogge. Fancy playing in five sharps? One result from this is that pipers play solo. In some of the tunes there’s a feeling of haste due to nerves. It can happen with any musician - but if you play for dancers, they’ll soon cure you of it.

A fine and very classic collection. If this were the French Academy, Robbie would now be classed as one of the Immortals. With us, he’s known as a fierce handy piper. Congratulations all round.
John Brophy


Irish Pirate Ballads and Other Songs of the Sea
40 page booklet, 13 tracks, 58 Minutes

Dan specialises in songs of the sea but he doesn’t restrict himself to that narrow genre; thus he is respected by the balladeers as much as the maritime music community. Readers of this magazine will know him for his series on the Story Behind the Song, where he gives us succinctly written introductions to many classic ballads. Others know him from his long time partnership with banjo player, Bob Conroy, or his regular visits to Inishowen for their winter singer’s weekends and summer trips to the Cork Maritime Festival. New York’s Time Out got it right when they called Dan Milner “a folksinger’s folksinger”.

What we have here is a tour de force from the boy from Birmingham via Ballybunion and Brooklyn. That journey is told in the excellent liner notes which places Dan in his adopted milieu of New York City and finds him always at the epicentre of folk music, as collector, writer, teacher, singer and club organiser. Those liner notes deserve a special mention; where else would you get a bibliography encouraging a trip to the library to hunt out printed source material? You can read those liner notes for free on the Smithsonian website? Five stars for that one Dan.

Supporting him on this album are some of the best Irish musicians and singers currently working stateside, Susan McKeown, Joanie Madden, Mick Moloney, Brian Conway, Robbie O’Connell, Tim Collins, Bob Conroy, The Johnson Girls and Gabriel Donohue (who also recorded the album with Dan Milner).

The music is first class, the choice of material varied from the jaunty piano-backed Get Up Jack John Sit Down, to the sombre Flying Cloud (the words of which we reprint in this issue). I’ve been a long-time fan of Alba’s rendition of Ward the Pirate but I loved Dan’s stripped down version which he calls Saucy Ward (the accompaniment is modally menacing from John Doyle here). Tim Collins adds a sprightly concertina to Larry Marr and Joanie Madden’s atmospheric whistle soars on the jig Out on the Ocean, which closes the Ballad of Ó Bruadiar. The guitar backing and the melodic treatment on Captain Coulston is far more lyrical than the one popularised by Andy Irvine.

If I had to pick a favourite track it would be a toss-up between the big ballad The Flying Cloud, which Dan sings a capella, or P.J. McCall’s Lowlands Low, (one I played with Tony Canniffe and John Wall when we supported Dan Milner and Bob Conroy at the Brest Maritime Festival some years ago. Maybe that’s because the song holds memories of a mad weekend in Brittany with the two groups packed like sardines in the one car as we hunted for a late lunch. Oh the joy of ham and frites in a restaurant with Formica tables - but that’s another story).

In short, this is intelligent, accessible, impeccably researched folk music with a big Irish heart, but what else would you expect from Dan Milner? A classic in the makin, and a real legacy recording.
Seán Laffey

On the One Road
Ceol music
Double CD, 74 minutes each

Ireland has lately been full of compliments to our Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, who has just celebrated his 70th birthday. Lyric poetry is a grace, said Famous Seamus, who hails from Derry. Quite so. But there are other kinds of poetry and when a national identity is challenged, all poetry becomes political. As you might expect, there’s no lack of it here, and since Derek has got this fine professional group together, it’s proof there’s no lack of an audience.

An interesting audience too: very few of them drink lattes round Grafton Street, or talk post-modernism. The only deconstruction is with a Kango hammer, and since the depression hit, many are unemployed and facing emigration - except there isn’t anywhere to go. That’s one good reason why the first song, Over Here, Over There, is a campaigning one on behalf of the undocumented Irish in America.

There is no doubt that the history of the past 30 years must include a chapter on censorship. From the time that Maggie Thatcher said she would deprive terrorists of “the oxygen of publicity”, songs like those in this collection faced a thin time on official airwaves. Singers like Derek were portrayed by the chattering classes as some sort of Celtic neo-Nazis, stirring up hatreds and motivating young men to committing atrocities, all the while making a fat whack for themselves.

Having interviewed Derek myself, I can only say that I found him very well read in history and very clear about the English colonial project of the past four centuries. It’s an unrevised version, which mightn’t please those in centres of power, but it certainly resonates with those who have family memories of eviction and emigration. There was little to choose between slave ships and coffin ships. And as he said, when we had nothing else, we had the songs of Thomas Davis and his companions, and they sustained Irish nationalism for a century.

Musically, this is a very tight outfit. I was particularly enthused by the banjo playing of Damaris Woods. She comes from Luton and, with her brother Jim on accordion, they certainly provide an edge; I’d love to hear an instrumental CD from them. (There’s one in my collection - Ed). The same goes for Padraig McGovern on pipes and whistle.

Padraig Allen is singer-songwriter and a nephew of Tony (of Foster and Allen fame). There’s no use complaining that the material lacks subtlety (or apostrophes), that it aboundeth in cliché and sudden key-changes or that some rhymes are crimes against poesy - it goes with the territory and nobody became poor though underestimating the good taste of Joe Public. Equally, not everyone will cavil at the exploitation of the memory of dead patriots and poets.

Then again, there are other songs that came from the Music Hall/ Stage Irish tradition of shillelagh and begorrah, but now they’re accepted. Interestingly, the Irish language is conspicuous by its absence (except tabhair dom do lámh). The heartland of support seems to be counties Cavan and Leitrim, with a bit of Sligo and Westmeath included.
John Brophy


Tunes for Practice
2 CD’s, Own label, 38 tracks

A double album, this recording was issued by the late and highly esteemed fiddler, Seamus Creagh - Mullingar by birth, Cork by inclination. What makes this CD so unique is that it is acts as a tutor for learners to pick up a tune by outlining the basic tune firstly at a slow speed, before increasing the tempo, ornamentation and delivery of the tune in a typical traditional manner. Cork-based academic and performer, Tomás Ó Canainn, gives a glowing account of the project in his introduction to the album. The idea is a wonderful concept which allows learners to return to the CD’s over and over again in order to absorb and embrace the subtle nuances that make Irish Traditional Music so distinct. The album is not unlike the project delivered by Ossian publications a few years back entitled Irish Session Tunes, featuring fiddler, Sheila Garry accompanied by Bríd Cranitch.

The introductions provided by Seamus himself on each track adds a personal touch to the tunes and the sets will help learners to group the tunes together in sets. A wide variety of tunes and tune types are in abundance on both CD’s, ranging from jigs, reels and hornpipes to slides, polkas and set dances, as well as a beautiful O’Carolan piece. Seamus introduces each tune, allowing listeners to become familiar with the personality behind the music. In addition to many standard tunes such as The Ships are Sailing, there are many other tunes from known composers such as Junior Crehan, Sean Ryan, Finbarr Dwyer and Hammy Hamilton. On a more poignant note, I was shocked and saddened to hear that Seamus passed away on Sunday, the 15th March. His passing marks the loss of one of the great Cork fiddlers and torchbearers of the tradition. His music, however, lives on and will continue to inspire many musicians to come via this excellent contribution to the body of recorded traditional music.
Edel Mc Laughlin

Lost in the Day
Singer, songwriter and guitar player, Ewan Wilkinson, is from Peebles in the Scottish Borders and has performed widely on the British Folk Club and Festival scene. On his new CD, Lost in the Day, he is accompanied mainly by Sandy Brechin, with a help-out here and there from Alison Smith, fiddle, Wendy Wheatherby, cello, John Currie, whistle, and Ronan Martin, fiddle. Sandy is also the recording’s publisher, and John did the engineering. I don’t know who made the tea, but I’ll bet he/she offered a choice between something like Scottish oatcakes or that country’s famous shortbread.

Ewan is deeply rooted in the Scottish folk tradition and in his performances presents a mixture of traditional and contemporary folk songs. The title track, Lost in the Day, is one of four songs he composed; there are eleven tracks altogether, and include a Robert Burns love song, Ay Waulkin O, a homesick lament poem called Borderland by the Border poet Roger Quinn, music for it composed by Archie Fisher, and Beeswing, the saga of a love affair by Richard Thompson. That song has the girl give a grrofff retort to the lad’s suggestion that “we might settle down, Get a few acres dug, Fire burning in the hearth, Babies on the rug.” She said, “Young man, you’re a foolish man, It surely sounds like hell, You might be lord of half the world, You’ll not own me as well.” So much for romance!

One song Ewan performs is not likely to be included in too many folkies’ repertoires; it’s called Pills of White Mercury, which he says is, “A Traditional song for a traditional remedy,” nudge-nudge, wink-wink! It’s a more explicit version of the better-known The Streets of Laredo, and compared with Ewan’s version, almost tender and charming in its more familiar variant. The last verse in Pills… invites six lads to carry his coffin, six lassies to pray for his soul, “And give each of them a bunch of red roses, So when they pass by me they won’t know the smell.” Pungent lyrics, too, eh?

Another trad number is the well-known The Broom O’ the Cowdenowes, yet another Border ballad and one of the first traditional songs Ewan learned. He rounds off his selection with a ‘Sailor and Nancy’ ballad, a variant of the many such songs entitled Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy. Sandy Brechin is one of the greatest exponents of the Scottish accordion. He toured far and wide with Burach, Seelyhoo, The Sandy Brechin Band and his popular ceilidh band, “The Sensational Jimi Shandrix Experience” - once heard never forgotten.
Aidan O’Hara

Live at the Stoneyfell Winery Eric Bogle

DVTRAX 2022 2009

Eric Bogle is a singer ideally suited to the live show and to the DVD market. His show is not all ‘bells and whistles’, needing forty camera angles and state of the art surround sound to enjoy it. He stands, he sings, he plays, he chats and he has a brilliant team of musicians backing him.

Add to this the stature as one of the finest songwriters of modern times - people all too often forget this attribute, thinking his songs are traditional - and that his repertoire spans comic through historical and personal to tragic and you have the ingredients for a great show. On the DVD he performs 21 songs and gives a running commentary on the back-story for each. He runs through his back catalogue and gives us new arrangements on some of his classics like Leaving Nancy, a song few people realise is about a mother rather than a lover, Shelter, a hymn to Australia, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, not a traditional song from the Great War and ‘No Man’s Land’ probably one of the most recorded and sung folk songs of the 20th century.

He also reminds us of a lifetime in music and of being capable of more than the genre most associated with him on a funny track, Them Old Song Writing Blues. His song writing skills are most evident in the simple songs like The Dalai Lama’s Candle, where his thoughts flood out and connect diverse subjects into a coherent whole that is a lovely song with great sentiment, never mawkish, but often unheard.

Few can listen to the beautiful Rosie without have a tear trickle and fall, or hear If Wishes Were Fishes without humming or singing along to the infectious chorus.

The backing is superb almost without being noticed, a true sign of greatness. We hear the gushing reviews and plaudits for Christy Moore, Bob Dylan etc but very few for Bogle who just gets out there, does the business and uses words and music to make us think more than any other performer but in a much more subtle fashion.
Nicky Rossiter

Music from the reeds, mouth organ
15 tracks CCE - M - 001

In the kingdom of Oriel around Dundalk they sometimes speak of a strange instrument call the French fiddle. Most places, it’s known as a mouth organ, and this is the first album of a most accomplished exponent. Noel Battle is long-time chairman of the Mullingar branch of Comhaltas and he has 11 All-Ireland medals on his chosen instrument.

It’s delightful playing - rhythmic, sparkling and light, and not a hint of the difficulties which ordinary players have with things like triplets. Listen to the Greencastle Hornpipe, and weep with envy. And remember, this isn’t a light-toned accordion; the breath here is from well-tutored human lungs.

The accompaniments are on piano and guitar, and are credited to Brian McGrath, Shauna Davey and Joe Meehan. Oh the joyful luxury of having a piano in tune with good fresh tone in the bass. (Like mouth organs, pianos wear out - sadly, unlike mouth organs, they don’t get replaced half often enough.) What comes across from Noel himself is that he really knows his music and enjoys playing it. For any beginner, listen to the Three Sea Captains Elegant and unrushed, it a model of good taste and control.

The country around Mullingar has a reputation for Ceol Tire is Iarthair (Country and Western). It’s an extra plus to find proof that the trad is in such excellent hands there.
John Brophy


From the rising spring: Cloch Fhuarain
Coolnacran Records 13 tracks

Geraldine come from Bessbrook in Co Armagh - not the first place you’d associate with the Irish language but, as she says, her father played cornet in a local band and knew every townland in South Armagh. And there are a lot of us who know her brother, Paul Bradley of fiddling fame. So, as they say in Irish language, heredity will show, even in the eyes of a cat.

The recording was made in Hollywood, Co. Down, so it’s an Ulster production, but the songs are from all over, especially from Bess Cronin of Ballyvourney.

Geraldine has a fine voice, true and unaffected, and the diction is excellent. All the song words are on the sleeve notes, so it’s ideal for anyone learning songs in Irish. What’s interesting is that she has, for me, a new take on two songs. Na Gamhna Geala she says, is about herding geese, not calves. And I’m wondering about A Bhean Udai Thall. Is it a separate song, or a variant about the song of the curse and the changeling, A Bhean Úd Thíos? With the song tradition, you learn to take nothing for granted. Is the Lisburn Lass just a song of a lover boy enlisting, or could it refer to the ‘98 rising? The accounts of that were heavily censored for years afterwards.

Anyhow, it’s a fine collection and special thanks to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for support. This is a happy part of the peace dividend and long may we enjoy it.
John Brophy

Casadh Na Taoide
Turning the Tide
Own label LN002, 12 tracks,

Líadan is Irish for Grey lady. Whether we take this to be a ghostly spirit or a girl of a certain age is unclear, but she has a poetical nature. On this the second album by the ladies called Líadan I can assure you they are lyrical, far from grey and they make spirited music.

As I listened to the album I began scribbling on day-glow post it notes, one circled word that is looking at me is ‘Presence’. What does that imply? Well it’s in the recording, the delivery, the impeccable choice of tunes, the making of sets and the fill of new compositions between older melodies. There’s something really remarkable about this album, it has an ambition, clarity of purpose and an ambiance that exudes confidence.

The band has large palette of vocal and instrumental sounds to play with, but chooses them wisely, often sparingly, it’s not a headlong rush where everyone lashes away at the same time, it is more disciplined. The girls realise that certain tunes work better on some instruments then others, slower airs lend themselves to the vibrato and legato only the flute and fiddle can deliver, whereas if you need a bit of deep resonance then the ringing strings of the harp are the tones to paint with.

Líadan have produced an album that is far from a high octane in your face drag race fuelled by some rhythm doctor injecting nitro to go faster at every turn of a reel. Neither is it a warm lazy day in hammock. Like the baby bear’s porridge this is just right.

A few details: I loved the a cappella Ócum an Phríosúin, steadily upbeat, something which the purgatory of picking the rope to bits mustn’t have been at all. I can also recommend the tune selection, much of which comes from Munster, with Limerick naturally featuring as a source of the big numbers. Track four begins with Bualadh an Chasúir a darkly modal pulsating reel composed by the by the band’s fiddler Valerie Casey. The tune moves lightly into a major keyed concertina led number before rounding out with The Eel in the Sink/The High Road to Glin, where Brian Morrissey’s bodhrán anchors the work with a fluid bass. Catherine Clohessy does a wonderful job on Samuel Lover’s The Angels Whisper; this has every right to filter into singings sessions up and down the country within the next two years.

There are new tunes too, including the Trip to Blackpool from IMM’s Donegal correspondent Edel McLaughlin. Modern slants on the music in Claire Dolan’s Bold Atlantic Ocean, a song which reminded me of Solas at their best. They close the album with The Mist Covered Mountain, I wrote on the post it note, “a bit safe” (having been weaned on De Dannan’s wildness) then I had to cross that out as the final selection in is the Shetland tune Da Lass Dat Made Da Bed for Me. Only one word for that: Wow!

In Juliet Marilliers’s Celtic fantasy novel, ‘Son of the Shadows’, Líadan is the young woman who discovers that fate cannot be planned, but is a gift of magic, as the tide turns in this band’s favour look out for Líadan, the magical daughters of the light.
Seán Laffey