Releases > November 2007

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A Tribute to Andy McGann

Cló lar Chonnachta,17 tracks, 60 minutes

New York fiddler, Andy McGann died in 2004 after more than fifty years as a leading exponent of Irish music in America. He recorded two albums with box-player, Joe Burke and pianist, Felix Dolan, and was a great influence on Brian Conway’s fiddling. One of these albums, “A Tribute to Michael Coleman” released in 1965, was the inspiration for a memorial concert for Andy in 2006. Out of that grew this recording, which includes four live tracks from the Chicago concert.

The music of Coleman features strongly here. “Boys of the Lough”, “Lost and Found”, “Hand me Down the Tackle”, “Kid on the Mountain” and “Crowley’s Reels” are among the pieces recorded in the ’20s and ’30s by the man who was McGann’s occasional tutor. Some of them have adopted new names since then.

There are also tunes associated with other great New York fiddlers such as Lad O’Beirne, Paddy Killoran and James Morrison: “Miss Lyon’s Fancy”, “The Flogging Reel”, “The Luckpenny” and “The Maid in the Meadow”. With powerful up-tempo playing, this CD harks back to the dance-band style of the early 20th century. Joe Burke’s box leads most tracks, and his solos on “The Blackbird” and “The Cliff” are as impressive as ever. Brian Conway holds his own pretty well, shining through on “The New Mown Meadow” and “The House in the Glen” before taking the lead on “Carolan’s Draught”. The fiddle solos do justice to McGann’s memory, particularly “The Flogging Reel” and “The Old Grey Goose”.

Although most of this recording would have been familiar to Andy McGann from an early age, there are a few tunes he may not have heard often or at all. The opening jig “Molloy’s” is one example, and the Skinner composition “ Rosewood” is another, neither being widely played in Ireland before the sixties. The same is true of a pair of reels, which Joe learnt from Sean McGuire, “The Bunch of Currants” and “The Gossoon that Beat his Father”, both rarely recorded even now. By contrast, the final set was a classic even in Coleman’s day: a no-holds-barred version of “The Bucks” is coupled with “Reidy Johnson’s” from Coleman’s first 78. A fitting tribute, and a fine hour of music from some of today’s great players.
Alex Monaghan


Crossing Point

Greentrax CDTRAX316 12 tracks, 48 minutes

A very welcome third album from one of the most exhilarating acoustic bands on the Celtic map, “Crossing Point” is a little longer than Dàimh’s last album and marks their move to a major label. The band is now a six-piece with the addition of a singer, and can afford a few guests in the studio: whether these are plus or minus points is debatable.

Either way, with asses scarce along the Celtic rim, Dàimh kicks serious sheep from the off. Ross Martin’s guitar eases into the strathspey “Domhnaill Mor”, joined by Angus MacKenzie’s pipes, then Gabe McVarish jumps in on the third part with that driving Stateside fiddle. A pair of reels follow, and by the time James Bremner’s bodhrán gets going the lads are sucking deisel. Allan Mac Donald’s tasty “Buntat ’s Sgadan” crowns a cracking opener. Total change into the classic Gaelic song “Mo Nighean Chruinn Donn”, the first of four from freshman Calum Alex Mac Millan which leavens the instrumental brew without really integrating. Colm O’Rua’s banjo leads track 3, starting with his own jig “Trip to Glenfinnan” and shifting to reels with “Ann Mac Kechnie” composed by Iain MacDonald. Iain, brother of Allan, produced “Crossing Point” and adds a touch of Battlefield (and flute) to the Dàimh sound. The final reel in this set was also Iain’s idea, “The Four Courts”, an Irish modal monster twisted round the Scottish pipes with Dàimh’s trademark genius.

“Anxo’s” is a clear highlight, one of the nicest renditions I’ve heard of these well-known muñeiras by two Galician guests, skipping a beat as the twin pipes launch into “The Boys of Ballymote” with energy to rival Wolfstone. “Turbo Shandy” is another goodie for fans of the Cape Breton style, named after Ross Martin’s composition and ending in the reel “Michael Rankin” by the late John Morris. Missing the slower stuff? Try “Sealg a’s Sugradh”, a gentle Gaelic air on fiddle and low whistle, a lovely duet in the Bain/Cunningham genre. Dàimh delight in fitting tricky Irish tunes onto the poor wee Scottish war pipes. “Murdo’s” is a fine example, with a bit of help from Gordon Duncan, and “Polkas” provides a punchy finale. With the songs and guests, I’d say about half of “Crossing Point” is the old Dàimh sound, and it’s a great half. The rest is nice, and the next album will tell how well it mixes in. In the meantime, there’s plenty of good material to listen to here and it should be widely available.
Alex Monaghan


A Letter Home

With Liz Carroll, Natalie Haas,Billy McComiskey, Sharon Shannon, John Doyle, Chico Huff, and Ben Wittman. Produced by John Doyle.

14 tracks, 56 minutes, 31 seconds, Compass Records, 7-4463-2

Athena Tergis plays traditional fiddle and operates a vineyard in Italy. If the latter fact is surprising; the former ought to provoke the stronger reaction. She is among the best-known of the younger traditional fiddlers in North America. She is a current member of The Green Fields of America, and anyone familiar with Mick Moloney’s moveable feast of a line-up will immediately associate Athena with the highest standards of Irish traditional practice.

Athena, however, is conversant not only with Irish traditional music, but also with the related traditions of Scotland and Cape Breton. Her influences are broad and well-chosen, as a quick perusal of the liner notes will indicate: Buddy MacMaster, Tommy Peoples, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, and Harry Bradley all are cited as teachers and mentors. These influences are quite apparent in the tunes offered on “A Letter Home”, as is Athena’s own inventive, skilful fiddle technique.

Some tracks, such as the exhilarating” Miss Lyall/Paddy Ryan’s Dream/Con Cassidy’s Highland/Unknown Donegal Reel” recall the fastidious and passionate music of Scots fiddler, Paul Anderson, while her performances evince a very modern take on the tradition, Athena’s choice of tunes is refreshingly broad, and the tune titles and attributions found in the extensive notes are generally very well done.

This is a recording on the vanguard of twenty-first century traditional performance practice, and recommended for those who are interested in the evolution of a truly pan-Celtic performance sensibility.
Sally K Sommers Smith


Full Circle

Landwash Music DVD

This wonderful DVD does what it promises. Following on to his earlier release filmed in Ireland, “From an Island to an Island”, he invites us to visit Newfoundland and Labrador in a magical combination of music, interviews and stunning scenery. Collins has a beautiful sonorous voice making him an ideal host on this journey that has special significance for Irish people and in particular those from my own south east corner but it will enthral anyone who enjoys wild untamed lands and good country/folk music.

He opens with the title track and welcomes to his homeland. Some people will be familiar with this song already. Throughout the DVD he introduces new songs that are wonderful in their content and delivery. This is particularly true of ‘Will They Lie There Evermore?’ and ‘Far Side of the Jordan’.

He introduces a marvellous accordion player called Ray Walsh who whisks us over land and sea with a rollicking ‘Newfoundland and Labrador Medley’. Some of my favourite tracks are ‘The Photograph’ and ‘This Is My Home’. He ends the music section with a celebration or lament of the strolling player on ‘The Road that Never Ends’.

All of the musical treats are interspersed with very interesting short chats with people of this land from fisher folk through music shop owners to families whose ancestors left Ireland generations ago but they still retain the music.

Listening to those accents and the surnames you could be in Wexford or Waterford in Ireland because they ‘never lost it’.

Buy this as a musical treat and get the scenery for free or buy it as a travelogue and get the songs as bonuses. Either way you win and I bet Newfoundland and Labrador will win also with increased tourism.
Nicky Rossiter


Goin Home, Compass Records, 11 tracks, 41.39

When Gibb Todd was a child there was talk of the family emigrating to Australia but they ventured to Coventry instead That dream of Gibb’s finally became reality when he moved down under to Queensland four years ago and this album “Goin Home” truly reflects that want that was in the legendary folk singer, but what is beautiful in his thoughtful album are all the pieces that make up the boy, born and bred in Scotland.

From the opening ‘Belle of Byron Bay’ and it’s John Doyle penned reel sitting perfectly in the middle the album oozes traditional music, bluegrass, old timey and folk, the vocal is deep, lived in and full of personality, fun and passion. One of his self penned pieces is ‘Canada’ which is gripping in both story and melody, that Scottish accent making the song all the more poignant, the historical facts Gibb says gleamed from John Pebble’s book ‘The Highland Clearances’. His version of ‘Fair and Tender ladies’ Gibb informs us is Appalachian, his own banjo accompaniment sets off the song but also the strings take it back to it’s haunting origins which derive from an Gaelic song ‘The Eriskay Love Lilt’ from the Outer Hebrides, with it’s hint of ‘Grádh geal mo Chridh’ or ‘Bheir mi Ó’.

You can’t help but join him on the songs ‘Goin Home’ and ‘Cape Cod Girls’, he even has his own chorus of singers namely ‘The Nashville Shanty Men’ including Garry West and John Doyle. You can picture the very ploughing and tilling of the Clydesdale in the marvellously crafted ‘The Last Trip Home’ a collaboration of the late great Davy Steele and the fiddle virtuoso, John McCusker. ‘Where the Bangelows Are’ sums up the all round musicality in this artist a song that makes you simply smile.

Gibb is joined at the Nashville studio by the cream of musicians, a harmony of continents in Alison Brown, Danny Thompson, Stuart Duncan, Kenny Malone, Andrea Zonn, Andy Hall, Tim O’Brien, John Doyle and Garry West. An album that makes you listen.
Josephine Mulvenna


The Merry Love To Play

Cló Iar-Chonnachta 16 tracks; 51 minutes

One of the great things about our music is that it’s meant for sharing among friends. No finer example could be found than this collection. It’s a follow-up to the first CD, Fortune favours the merry. It is also a powerful argument for having at least some tunes played unaccompanied, especially when the players have such good rhythm and understanding. And the solos are very fine. Listen to Peter Horan at the age of 81, giving a masterly account of the “High Level” hornpipe, not an easy tune at any age. And he also has a lovely waltz, the “Killavil Waltz”, that came from his own mother.

There’s sometimes a complaint that traditional players don’t achieve great tone. Gerry’s playing on the slow air “Her Mantle So Green” will easily give the lie to that. Full praise to CIC for the detailed bi-lingual notes, including background on each tune. Listen to the instinctively good playing on an old war-horse like “The old grey goose”. Gerry shows his Kerry roots with a couple of fine polkas, including the showpiece “Primrose”, once made famous by Jimmy Shand.

Above all, this is happy and contented music, no shapes to throw, nothing to prove, except that when you love the music as much as this, the sharing is wonderful.
John Brophy


The Singing Kettle

Paddy O’Brien, Accordion; Patrick Ourceau, Fiddle; Pat Egan, Guitar and Vocals. 17 tracks; 54 minutes, Shanachie Records

Paddy O’Brien has long been known and celebrated for his encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish traditional repertoire. He is adept at finding unusual tunes and variants, and in celebrating the individual voice in the flow of traditional practice. On this, his newest recording, he offers a tasty mélange of carefully chosen gems from a wide variety of sources. Tipperary fiddler, Séan Ryan, is recalled in the title track, a duo of the reels “The Singing Kettle/Gooseberry Fair”.

An unusual setting of “Drowsy Maggie”, credited to Mrs. Crotty but also known as “The Reel With the Birl”, appears alongside a resurrection of a fine old tune that was a favourite of Clare fiddler, John Kelly.

Paddy O’Brien’s fondness for the music of one of the most original of traditional musicians, Dublin fiddler, Tommie Potts, is evident in his six-part version of” The Drunken Sailor”. The inclusion of “Wellington’s Advance”, a fine jig associated with the playing of the other Paddy O’Brien (from Tipperary), is a welcome addition to this collection.

Although Paddy’s splendid playing and deep immersion in the tradition form the sturdy backbone of Chulrua, Patrick Ourceau contributes soulful, stylish fiddling, and Pat Egan’s excellent guitar accompaniment capably supports their melodies. Pat also possesses a wonderful singing voice, but it is shown to less advantage than it could be by the choice of almost uniformly doleful songs, which strike a somewhat lugubrious note in contrast to the exuberance of the dance tunes. The pace of the playing is relaxed enough to underscore the trio’s masterful variations and ornamentations, and serves as a graceful reminder that we often move too fast to appreciate the measured, cyclic passage of time. In its recalling of past masters, in its thoughtful and well-crafted performances, this recording is at once a wakeup call and a reminder of the things that matter in Irish traditional music.
Sally K. Sommers Smith


Memories Embrace

Starting out supporting Andy Irvine in 1985 Peter McCune has since travelled extensively building his reputation and repertoire.

He opens this collection with a beautiful version of a song by Eamon Friel called ‘Farewell Mayo’. His soft, gentle and very warm voice is eminently suited to the song and I particularly liked the arrangement with a wonderful musical burst between verses. The sentiments of the song, giving the “Eden” of the countryside to children of the city are universal.

McCune is a mean instrumentalist as well as a singer and he demonstrates this to great effect on the second track combining ‘The Cartwheel’ and ‘Cooleys’.
‘Innishvaddys Annie’ is combined with ‘Dark Island’ again to great effect. I love an album like this. It takes well-known tunes, it offers new arrangements of existing songs and then it slams you with lesser-known songs like this one. I loved the song and the delivery. The button melodeon is neglected instrument outside Scotland but if enough radios take up this track, Peter could revive it.

He is not afraid to tackle the hackneyed songs of the folk canon and make them his own as he succeeds in doing with that old piece ‘Slieve Gallon Braes’.
Instrumental tracks are always very hard for a non-playing reviewer like me to assess. As it happens, I review then simply as a listener, ignorant of the styles or techniques and on this album I was mesmerised by the simple but effective playing. I’ll display my ignorance now. I was aware of ‘Merrily Danced the Quaker’ but never knew his wife danced too as in ‘Merrily Danced the Quaker’s Wife’. McCune had them both up and dancing with ease.

‘Bonnywood Green’ is probably not too familiar. Not many singers have attempted it in recent times but it is a classic song that deserves wider attention. It is one of those wonderful story songs of war and love and loss. McCune delivers it with heart.
As well as collecting Peter does turn his hand to writing. On ‘The Clock of Life’ he gives us his heartfelt rendition of a song he started writing two decades ago. It is a bittersweet song of life and loss inspired by the loss of his sister to cancer. It is a beautifully sad song that will give inspiration to anyone suffering early loss. It should be played loud and often on our radio stations but sadly there does not seem to be the imagination to give airplay to new music like this.
Nicky Rossiter


Plying my Trade

Greentrax CDTRAX 312

Here is a man I have reviewed a number of times - backing Eric Bogle, writing The Eureka Suite and as a member of Colcannon, also as a live performer in pub in south Wexford with said Mr Bogle.

It is joy to now have an album of the man himself to enjoy. The Glaswegian ‘exile’ to Australia opens with his wonderful tribute to the adopted land called ‘Spirit of the Land’, which was part of the Eureka Suite. He follows this with one of his best compositions and renditions. ‘The Ballad of Charles Devenport’ is a beautiful biography set to sweet music and has a barb in the tail to draw your tears.
I suppose ‘Journeyman’ is a sort of title track to an album of this name. Co-written with Pete Titchener it recalls a time of apprentices and journeymen when people learned their trade at the feet and hands of experts rather than from books, courses and degrees.

‘The Border’ is a tale of longing for a place that afflicts anyone who does not live where they were born. An unusual subject for a song is ‘Sisters’ taking as it does the tale of conjoined twins.’ Thunder On’ reminds us of the need to write and perform songs that question the status quo.

The album is a heady mixture of personal and more universal songs but all arrest our attention up to and including number twelve as Munro gives his rendition of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.

This is a great addition to the Scottish and Australian, indeed world, folk music collection.
Nicky Rossiter



Claddagh Records 16 tracks; 48 minutes

In one sense, it’s superfluous to review an album like this except to commend it as a great reference point. It’s excellently produced; with photos going back all the way to the 1940’s. Barry Taylor in his fine liner notes, remarks that more than 50 musicians have passed through the Tulla ranks over the 60 years. I’ve always maintained that you could tell a musician who had played for dancers. There’s an innate sense of rhythm and polish, and even in the fastest reels, there is an unhurried grace. You have it here, along with the immaculate changes, and a common understanding, born of countless hours of playing together. It is interesting to see that in the early days, piper Sean Reid was in the line-up: thereafter the line-up was fiddle; flute and accordion with rhythm provided by piano vamp and drum kit. This was the established formula for a score of years until the arrival of Ceoltoirí Laighean and then Sean O’ Riada (who didn’t like accordions). This will stand as a monument to founder, PJ Hayes, and many other great names who have been in the band: Joe Cooley, Paddy Canny, and here PJ’s son, Martin, who features in a fine duet with Mark Donlan.
There were many other bands before the Tulla. Right from the start of broadcasting, 2RN (later Radio Eireann) had a group including string bass. What makes the Tulla special is that there is nothing learned about their music: it lives and breathes naturally, and it’s a joy.
John Brophy


In Between Times

Artes Records

12 Tracks, 64 minutes On Compass Records in the USA

Being narrow-minded is a trait that can cause us to miss out on some of the best things in life. Upon reflection perhaps I’ve been guilty of possessing this trait myself on occasions – much to my detriment. I have been involved with the Irish folk scene for a number of years and normally have avoided the German bands who proclaim to be “Irish folk musicians”. My interest was always more directed at the Irish and Scottish musicians, who for me represented “the real thing”. But in hindsight with this sort of narrow-minded thinking I believe some good, if not very good bands have passed me by.

Cara is an example of one of these bands who prove that Irish music can also be played on a very high level beyond the shores of the Emerald Isle. Then again Cara have just finished a US tour including the Boston ICONS and by all accounts they were well-received by enthusiastic and also very knowledgeable audiences.

Their second album titled “In Between Times” offers a good demonstration of Irish music played at its best by those who have not been brought up on it from the cradle. Of course, musical techniques can be learnt but technical perfection doesn’t make a song authentic – in other words you can hear if this song is sung from the heart with passion or if it’s just another song. You can hear and feel that the members of Cara, Jürgen Treyz, Sandra Steinort, Claus Steinort, Gudrun Walther and Rolf Wagels (no stranger to Huidi Beag’s in Gweedore), play with this genuine passion, two flutes and a fiddle provide the tunes and there’s plenty of power in the backing of guitar and bodhrán to drive a small trawler.. Although their music style is not pure Irish, there are some other influences to be heard, on the whole the Celtic tone is very much present. There are 12 pieces on the album, songs and instrumentals.

Traditional songs alongside new songs. Gudrun Walther’s own song “Please Be Peter Tonight” is especially remarkable and it was inspired by a situation she had experienced herself in Donegal.

An album definitely which is in between times worth listening to.
Markus Dehm