Releases > April 2008

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Penny Trumpets, flute and whistles,

Phaeton records, in association with Claddagh Records

Garry Walsh has a special claim to fame: he has music on both sides of the family, from his grandfathers, so he has a store of material unknown to anyone else. John Joe Fahy from Skibbereen gave him the Munster lilt and John Walsh from Drogheda both had tunes, which have not been recorded until now. If you’ve ever seen a craftsman at work, there’s a delight in noting the sure and deft use of tools and material, and then there’s a separate delight in appreciating the finished product. That’s the way it is here, a fine collection of material that you think you’ve known for ages. Principal guest artist is Maire Breathnach, and her fine tone is a perfect complement to the flute tone, and the varied array of whistles. Garry also shows he has a pleasant voice, and his own composition, Purple Lady, is a fine example of lyric love-song. It would be unfair not to credit the backing team: Jim Murray on guitars, Cyril O’Donoghue on Bouzouki, Colin Murphy on bodhrán and Garvan Gallagher on double bass, and bass guitar. There’s only 11 tracks, well ordered, and with playing of such unhurried strength and musicality, I’ll be looking for more.
John Brophy


On The Fly

12 tracks; 47 minutes, 9 seconds

Loftus Music, LM002

Patrick Street was one of the first of the Irish traditional supergroups, and one of the most enduring. One of the keys to its longevity might be its graceful approach to personnel changes: fiddler, Kevin Burke and singer/bouzouki whiz, Andy Irvine remain from the beginning, but the line-up has also included such world-class talents as fiddler, James Kelly (Irish Times), guitarist, Arty McGlynn (Patrick Street) and uilleann piper, Declan Masterson. On The Fly represents the swan song of accordion master, Jackie Daly, who has infused the Patrick Street sound so indelibly with the music of his native Sliabh Luachra; as well as the recording debut of fiddler, flutist, and banjo player John Carty.

This CD showcases the present band line-up beautifully in well-chosen medleys – in other words, this is a typical Patrick Street recording. While the songs of Andy Irvine – concerning losers and felons, or both – are featured on this CD, Ged Foley also takes a turn with the evocative The Galway Shawl. John Carty’s fiddle blends well with Kevin Burke’s. Carty reprises his outstanding jig Seanamhac Tube Station on this CD, in a somewhat slower and more meditative setting than in its previous incarnation on his 2001 solo effort. Burke, too, returns to familiar territory with his reel The Long Acre (previously featured on both the 1992 debut of his band Open House and on his recent duo release with Ged Foley, In Tandem), here played as a hornpipe. For all the personnel changes, a constant dimension of the Patrick Street sound has been Sliabh Luachra-flavoured accordion. Whether contributing the merry polkas The Return of Spring/The Mountain Path, or letting loose on The Boys of Malin/ John Stetson’s Reels, the distinctive playing of Jackie Daly is the most brilliant aspect of this recording.On The Fly is the second release from Kevin Burke’s new Label, Loftus Music. It marks at once a new dimension in the recording and distribution of traditional Irish music as well as the revival of this enduring supergroup. While Jackie Daly will be sorely missed, the moveable feast that is Patrick Street plays on.
Sally K Sommers Smith


A Song in Her Heart

Greentrax CDTRAX 321 2008

Born in Derry and immersed in music from a young age, Mary moved to Scotland at the age of sixteen to pursue a musical career. Like most singers she served an apprenticeship in the venues big and small and soon developed a song writing talent. This talent produced a first song, ‘My Scotsman and Thee’, that is included on this her first album release.

The CD is lovely mixture old and new material. It combines traditional with contemporary and the songs of well-known writers with her own. Opening with ‘Black is the Colour’ she gives her very distinctive treatment to a sometimes over represented song that makes it sound fresh and new.

One of my many favourites on here is ‘My True Love’. Again we may be familiar with a version by Kate Rusby but listen Ms Burke for a new rendition. Burke has a knack for finding a ‘new hook’ in the familiar. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘A Woman’s Heart’. Even the composer Eleanor McEvoy is quoted as finding this version “truly beautiful”.

‘The Home I Left Behind’ has her taking a song familiar at wakes and weddings in Ireland of the 1950’s and bringing it very deservedly to a wider audience. Intriguingly the title track by Tim O’Connor is noted as written after reading Mary’s biography. The result is a very strong and emotional song. Bridging the heady Sixties scene and the 21st century is ‘Catch the Wind’ originally a hit for Donovan but revitalised here. It’s a pity Robbie Burns couldn’t arrange some class of posthumous royalty cheque. So many of his songs are as fresh today as when he wrote them and with singers like Burke breathing new life into ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ they will go on forever.

Longing for home is a common theme in folk music and on this album it is epitomised by ‘My Scotsman & Thee’ with the tale of longing for home, visiting home but loving someone from another land. Sung here almost three decades after it was written by a 19-year-old Burke it sounds “hot off the presses”. This is an outstanding first album, even if she waited about 30 years to burst on the scene, and I look forward to many more.
Nicky Rossiter



Dunach Records DUN0701


Pride of place, or mórtas cine, is the sentiment very much to the fore in this new CD of Griogair Labhruidh’s. He is a singer, piper, and a songwriter in Gáidhlig, and very talented in all three. Indeed, he is a fine guitar player, too, and it must be pointed out that as well as playing the Highland pipes he also performs on the D small pipes. Griogair’s own songs and his choice of traditional songs are full of feeling and sentiment for the Gaelic tradition, and he has the voice and delivery exactly right for putting them across. His clear enunciation of the language is a delight to hear and very helpful to learners of Gaelic.

Griogair’s roots are in Argyll, the south-western area of Scotland closest to Ireland, and in acknowledging those who helped him with the album, he thanks “All those who through the years, fought to preserve the Gaelic culture of Argyll in order that it could be passed on to my generation” Throughout his excellent CD notes to the tunes and songs, Griogair shows his deep interest in his family and cultural heritage and he displays a wide knowledge of his people and the past. It’s all very central to his life and his creative drive and is reflected in his compositions; these lines are from his translation of his song, “Briathran Dail-riata” (Dail-riata song lyrics about the region of that name):

Although many mistreated you in the times of hardship,
And some of your young went over the seas,
The language I love still lives protected by the waves
Of the precious islands and she is still not scarce,
But look in your vision your young forsaking you –
Consorting with a sworn enemy,
Like the children of Ireland will you not rise?
Your arms being the opinion of the people.

The CD notes are an example of how it should be done: they are bilingual and include the English language translation of the songs alongside the Gaelic words. The background notes on the various tracks are full of fascinating information on people and places, and his choice of photographic material add hugely to the atmosphere and ‘feel’ for a rich linguistic legacy and cultural heritage. But in case one might get the impression that it’s all a bit too serious, there is much fun and delight in other songs: there’s one about a ball that was held in Oban, and another about a pair of dancing shoes that looked great but fell apart with use.

The excellent musical arrangements are by Griogair himself and Iain MacDonald, but they owe much to his fellow musicians (flute, whistle, trumb (jaws harp) uilleann pipes, cello, bouzouki and guitar). It is an altogether enjoyable and rewarding album and one to treasure.
Aidan O’Hara


Togaidh mi mo Sheolta

Greentrax CDTRAX311 2008

The title of this CD translates, at least on the cover, as Along the Road Less Travelled. It brings us a variety of songs from Gaelic Scotland including lullabies, ballads and humour.

While the Gaelic renditions may sound less than familiar the lovely voice will mesmerise. The album opens with a haunting song that translates as ‘Little Sister, Oh Sister’ and in a way it reminds me of Clannad in those days when they could bring Gaelic into the British charts although the majority of those listening didn’t have a clue what they sang about. Margaret Stewart helps us in this by providing translations not just into English but also into Irish Gaelic.
‘That Little Drop Went to My Head’ has a lovely lilting sound ideally suited to a track devoted to the water of life. A song dating from the late 1700s, ‘I Am weary of This Exile’ is one of my favourite tracks. It has just voice and piano but emotionally it fills the space. She lifts the spirit again when she sings ‘The Bachelor’s Song’. Ranging through heartfelt love songs like ‘They Took You From Me’ and more upbeat tracks such as ‘Clan Donald in the Civil War’ featuring the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band this album inspired by a love of Gaelic Scotland will in turn inspire the listener.

The accompanying booklet with the triple translations and stunning photographs adds extra value to a very important release.
Nicky Rossiter



Own Label FGCD022, 13 tracks, 56 minutes

Previously known as “Lazy Boy Chair”, this Orkney band decided to shorten the name and increase the confusion for their debut recording. After winning the open stage competition at last year’s Celtic Connections, The Chair have polished up eleven tracks for a studio recording. Two live bonus tracks show what they can do with an audience. Like many bands from the Northern Isles, The Chair is big - eight members on this recording, and the sound is satisfyingly full. Twin fiddles, accordion, banjo, guitar, bass, drums and percussion feature on most tracks of this album, with vocals on only two tracks.

Fast and furious modern reels are The Chair’s staple fare: “The High Drive”, “Hogties Reel”, “Maverick Angels” and several of the band’s own compositions. Unlike some young thrash folk bands, The Chair can do slow also. “Lily’s March” is a lovely air by fiddler Douglas Montgomery. “El Dodium” starts with a Klezmer-style slow drag before that pumping Balkan beat kicks in, and there’s a pair of slow reels with all the charm of Lúnasa. Both halves of the dynamic duo Saltfishforty are involved in The Chair, together with Gavin Firth and Bob Gibbon from the Orkney scene. Young Fionn McArthur may also be familiar from Glasgow student recordings.

All the band members are outrageously misrepresented on which also provides samples and pictures. My favourite set is the final studio track “Beef”, three great tunes finishing with another roof-raising Balkan number. The bonus sets come from a concert at the Shetland Folk Festival, and comprise the band’s signature song “Lazy Boy” and a reprise of the opening “Folky Gibbon”. As Brian exhorts the audience, “Have a bit of a boogie”: “Huinka” is good-time music with that Celtic edge, perfect for long winter nights or cold summer days.
Alex Monaghan


Six Musical Meccas, Six Irish Artists, Double DVD,


As I write this, Ceolchuairt, the TG4 series of six half-hour programmes is being broadcast, and while the concept is simple, the results are truly magnificent. The makers of the series came up with the idea of bringing ‘the cream of Irish musical talent on a personal pilgrimage to their very own musical Mecca’. They inform us further: “In each programme of the series, we hit the road with an Irish traditional musical artist as they undertake a voyage of discovery to a far-flung musical heartland, to find common ground, jam with the locals and unearth bizarre styles.”

By way of highlighting something of what’s in store for the viewer, they declare in their promotion material: “Bodhrán Beats under the hot Indian Sun… Sean-nós Steps at a Harlem Tap Jam…Donegal Mazourkas at the mouth of a Norwegian Fjord.” Just ‘samplers’, so to speak, of what the individual Irish musicians experience on their musical journeys. The sean-nós dancer is Seosamh Ó Neachtain from Conamara spends time with the homeboys in New York’s Harlem exploring links between tap and sean-nós dancing. When Irish immigrants started arriving in New York in numbers over a hundred and fifty years ago, they found themselves living cheek by jowl with freed African Americans, and since both groups knew well how to entertain themselves, aspects of each others musical traditions began rubbing off on one another. As Seosamh discovered, this was particularly evident in dance, and in his visit to the Big Apple, he was intrigued to find a common appreciation of nifty footwork among descendants of both groups.

The destination of Altan fiddle player and singer, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, is the majestic scenery of Norway’s mountains and valley-fjords, a fitting backdrop to the Hardanger fiddle music of that country. The distinctive Norwegian eight-stringed Hardanger fiddle had mesmerised her for years, but as she watches them perform, Mairéad notices that the players observe a strict formality in their group performance that contrasted markedly with the more relaxed individualistic style of the Irish. Kerry singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh travels to Bulgaria, a country whose music has long intrigued her. And what sounds the Bulgarians produce in their singing! Strange, luscious harmonies and vocal callisthenics the like of which is heard nowhere else. A mother and daughter singing together held hands just as they do in the west of Ireland and in parts of Newfoundland. But the Bulgarian women do not do the ‘winding’ hand motion we are familiar with here.

India, Senegal, and the Basque country are featured in the other three programmes: Rossa & Rónán Ó Snodaigh from the Dublin band Kíla blaze a musical trail to India which takes them from Varanasi, India’s spiritual home on the banks of the Ganges, to Mumbai, where they realise a life-long dream of playing with musical guru, Zakir Hussain. Cork troubadour John Spillane heads upriver in Senegal in pursuit of the African Griots or praise singers, who inspire him to dedicate his new African composition to the father of Senegalese music, Baaba Maal. And whistle player Cormac Breatnach, returns to his mother’s homeland, the Basque country, to discover politics and music to be inseparable. This series has everything: great music, beautiful pictures, and presenter- musicians whose obvious joy and pleasure mixing it musically with their own kind in ‘foreign parts’ is infectious. A DVD for sharing with your friends anytime.
Aidan O’Hara


Partners in Crime

Vertical Records VERTCD 085

11 tracks, 46 minutes

Two frighteningly young pipers who have already won prizes and international acclaim, Ross and Jarlath come from the Irish and Scottish piping traditions respectively. The combination of uilleann pipes and Border pipes is pure alchemy: there’s a risk it could blow up in your face, but on this occasion the result is rare and precious. “The Old Bush” kicks off with Jarlath’s solo skills, but soon shifts into a dazzling duet. The two instruments meld on “The Jolly Tinker”, and “Richard Dwyer’s” packs more punch than a boxing-glove factory. “Jock Brown’s 70th”, “Good Drying” and “Maverick Angels” represent some of the finest recent tunes from both piping traditions, and they’re rattled off flawlessly here. Ainslie and Henderson compositions can hold their heads up in such company; “Dirty Bee” and “ Absynthe” from Ross, “The Crackin Fiddle” and “Dudley Drive” from Jarlath, are outstanding tunes. The lads shift to whistles for a few slower numbers, in particular the very pretty air “Jenna Drever of Kirkwall” and the “Delboy” set of slow jigs. More variety comes from guests such as Donald Shaw and James Mackintosh, with juicy guitar cameos from Ali Hutton (I think, Paul Meehan is also credited on guitar).

The final couple of tracks return to traditional ground, Scots and Irish. Whistles and pipes combine on “Timmy Clifford’s”and “Rev Bros”, a pair of relaxed modal jigs bent slightly for the Border pipes. The last track is back to reels, a lovely slow opening to “Return to Milltown” and then full speed ahead on “The Bird’s Nest”, ending with a rapid-fire swagger through the piping reel “Miss Girdle”. This album starts good and gets better, the new tunes grow on you and the old ones dust off very nicely. “Partners in Crime” is well worth seeking out, at or elsewhere. Roll on the solo albums from both these excellent young players.
Alex Monaghan


Dans Les Airs

Borealis BCD189

13 tracks, 49 minutes

Another generous dozen tracks from this captivating Quebecois quartet who seem set to succeed La Bottine Souriante as ambassadors of French Canadian music. “Dans Les Airs” is their third album, and will delight existing fans and newbies alike. Pulsing box and demonic fiddle, kicking aces with foot percussion, and close-harmony vocals - all the ingredients of the classic Quebec musical stew, and there’s plenty of meat in this one. Opening with “Rosette”, a jaunty romantic ballad of jealousy and betrayal, the feel-good factor is increased by a bouncy little tune from fiddler Olivier Demers. Next up is another medley of song and reel, a story of good company, wine and women, shared or not. Seven more songs span styles from Hot Club to humble kitchen session: unaccompanied traditional choruses, richly arranged introspections, and the occasional snatch of humour.

In between are moments of instrumental brilliance: crazy piano on “La Piastre des Etats”, a version of “Roxburgh Castle” apparently learned from Shona Mooney, deep grinding hurdy-gurdy from Nicolas Boulerice on “Les Larmes aux Yeux”, with Demers’ fiddle and Rejean Brunet’s box on several saucy reels and jigs. The sombre song “Le Vieux Cheval” starts something of a blue period, including “Petit Reve 3” and ending with Demers’ poignant “L’Heure Bleue”. “La Fille et les Dragons” finishes this recording in fine old style, providing a happy ending where most traditional ballads would have had suffering and death. Full of surprises, Le Vent Du Nord have pulled another rabbit out of the hat with “Dans les Airs”, find it locally, or at the website
Alex Monaghan



Own Label BRCD2007

10 tracks, 53 minutes

Opening with a Quebecois tune, this fiddle supergroup departs from its Scottish and Irish roots to give a dynamic virtuoso performance of “Reel du Forgeron”. On their fourth album, Blazin’ Fiddles have bravely taken some well-known show-stoppers and adapted them for six fiddles: “I Hae Laid a Herrin’ in Saut”, “John Morris Rankin”, and of course “The Appropriate Dipstick” are all driven dangerously fast, but with due care and attention. The slower tempos are also well-represented with airs and strathspeys. “ Smirisary” can only be an Allan MacDonald tune, a spine-tingling blend of Gaelic melody and modern slow air, from the same mould as his “Cilpheadair”.

Mike McGoldrick contributes “Glenuig Bay”, a stunning slow reel. “The Miller of Drone” and “Highland Plaid” maintain the high standard of strathspeys which you’d expect from the highland fiddlers here. There’s plenty of eclecticism in the material chosen for this recording. “San Rock” is certainly familiar from Scottish sessions, but usually played at blistering speed: here it slows down enough for its Asturian roots to be discerned. “Miss Jena” comes from American fiddler Hanneke Cassel. The Jewish reel “Shepherd’s Dream” is the only disappointment on this CD: it just doesn’t strike sparks like the tunes around it. Another slow set starts with Johnny Cunningham’s “Murdo of the Moon” given a lovely clean and simple treatment. “The Eagle’s Whistle” picks up the pace a little, but there’s still a languid swagger in the bows and a gentle sweetness in the arrangement. The final race to the bar is everything you’d expect of a live album: fast, furious, fiery and full of fun, right up to the final flaky chord.
Definitely worth a listen, try for more info.
Alex Monaghan


Pathway to the Well

Racket Records RR007

14 tracks, 55 minutes

John Carty has made quite a name for himself in the last few years, since he switched from banjo to fiddle, but it’s still a surprise to see him sparring with a true giant of traditional music. Matt Molloy’s flute hasn’t been recorded so much in recent years: he built his reputation with Planxty and The Bothy Band, a couple of fabulous solo albums with Donal Lunny, and about twenty years with The Chieftains. Whether John dragged Matt out of the pub, or Matt decided to see what this local whippersnapper could do, this duet recording is a riproaring success and a work of equals.

The light-footed grace of “Johnny Gorman’s Barndance” leads into a set of classic reels, and we get our first impression of power. “The Galway Rambler, The Crosses of Annagh” and “McFadden’s Handsome Daughter” are dispatched at a tempo reminiscent of Bothy Band pyrotechnics. What would you follow that with but another trio of reels, ending with the rarer “Conlon’s Dream”. The title track is a great set of jigs, finishing with an uncommon version of the great piping tune “The Gold Ring”. A couple more reels lead us into the only slow air here: “Easter Snow” on solo flute is an absolute treasure, and like many tracks on this CD it comes with fascinating written notes. It’s followed by a solo flute canter through “Lord MacDonald’s Reel”, recalling Cheiftains solo spots from their 1980s concerts. John gets his solo later on, a medley of fling, jig and reel inspired by Coleman and Blessing. “Clarke’s, Cherish the Ladies” and “Edenderry Reel” provide plenty of scope for this fiddler to demonstrate his mastery.

A few high points stand out from the flow of jigs and reels, polkas and hornpipes. “Fred Finn’s Reel” is handled stylishly, as is “The Hare in the Heather”. Matt and John’s sparkling version of “Tom Ward’s Downfall” ends this recording as it began, with world class grace and power. “Pathway to the Well” is one of those must-have flute and fiddle albums, and adds a new gloss to the reputation of both Matt Molloy and John Carty. Check it out on the website
Alex Monaghan