Releases > July 2008

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Compass Records 7 4476 2 2008

From the opening chord you may feel confused with this album. Using the piano as the primary instrument on ‘Love is Pleasing’ it does not have the ‘feel’ of a folk album until Casey’s voice makes its entrance. The combination is pleasing as the familiar song gets a new life. Her rather plaintive voice is surprisingly suited to ‘Dunlavin Green’ a track more often recorded by males and giving a more sonorous rendition. Similarly, the less aggressive rendition of ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’ works very well.

Getting back to a guitar backing more familiar to the genre, Karan launches into ‘Town of Athlone’. This is one of the lesser-recorded tracks on offer and in my opinion is one of the strongest. The lyrics are excellent and are not overshadowed by the backing. Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Fiddle and the Drum’ is another favourite on offer here and Casey does it proud.

Is this a Robbie Burns year by any chance? Every second album I hear seems to have ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ on board. It’s a lovely song, so no wonder so many singers like to include it. Karan Casey gives it a lovely outing on this album with a very mellow backing. The CD closes all too soon with another song introduced with a piano, ‘I Once Loved a Lass’.

Casey has a voice that will not be ignored. Her gentle delivery and heartfelt renditions make this a worthy addition to any collection.
Nicky Rossiter


Kane O’Rourke, fiddle
Celtic Bulldog Records: cbr001

At first, this CD is a puzzlement: no liner notes nor biography. It’s only when you visit the web that you’ll be told how Kane is a London exile, back in Ireland since 2004. His father is from Leitrim, his grandfather was Michael O’Rourke, the Singing postman, and his mother’s roots are in the Gaeltacht in County Meath. Not only that, but he was taught in London by the famed Brendan Mulkere. That’s real cred.

The album was launched at the Ennis Tradfest, and he had a slot on TG4, Irish language television, on 21st November last. There were also launches in Amsterdam, Mulligan’s (where else) in early February and in London: The Mitre in Greenwich and the Kilkenny in South Wimbledon on New Year’s Eve.
As a first offering, it’s very much a showcase of a multiplicity of talents: Kane plays fiddle, flute, whistle, guitar, bodhrán and keyboards, and he also does a bit of singing in both Irish and English and lilting. Notwithstanding which, he has 11 guests listed, and the album has all the buzz and energy of a well-knit session. Kane also produced the CD, and sometimes he is a little self-indulgent, laying over synth effects where none are needed.

What comes through, probably from the Mulkere influence, is a wonderful steadiness in the playing. I don’t know if Kane has played for dancers, but it sounds like it. He’s steeped in the tradition and has the confidence to let it speak for itself, without having anything to prove. I don’t know what his favourite instrument is, but there is lovely bowing on fiddle in ‘Sean Ryan’s’. Even without all the instrumental talent, Kane has a powerful singing voice, which could prove his greatest asset. He has the gift of telling a story in song, and he could easily be the next Tommy Fleming. Be warned, though; the last two tracks belong to another world altogether. Is it Irish language rap, or what?
I think we can expect to hear a lot more from Kane, if he doesn’t spread his considerable talents in too many different directions.
John Brophy


Watercolour Music WCMCD033

I don’t know Scottish broadcaster and musician Mary Ann Kennedy personally, but I’ve just received her new CD, and I find that we have this much in common: besides our involvement in broadcasting, each of us has a great fondness for the Coen Brothers’ movie, ‘O Brother, where art thou?’ and of course, the film’s songs, which enjoyed a separate life as a hugely successful CD. I found out about our shared regard for the film and the music as I was listening to the CD and reading the notes when up comes ‘Sìos dhan an abhainn’. If you don’t know the Gaelic language, the title won’t mean a lot, but as soon as you hear it you’ll know it right away: it’s the traditional ‘Down to the River to Pray’, which was sung by Alison Krauss on the movie soundtrack.

“I heard a long-time musical friend, Kenny Thomson’s choir sing this”, Mary Ann said, “and asked my mother, who has a rare gift for translation into beautiful, singable Gaelic, to write a Gaelic version. The result sat on my desk for years - I believe it was waiting for Na Seóid”.

Considering the contribution of Scots Gaels to the music to the American South, this Gaelic ‘dressing’ of one the South’s great traditional numbers is indeed a delightful return gift. The air and words in Gaelic along with the group’s harmonious arrangement provide us one of the highlights of the album.
Na Seóid (The Heroes) - who first came to the public’s attention at the 2007 Blas festival - are Mary Ann Kennedy’s seven-strong ensemble showcasing the best of young male Gaelic talent. The band members are Mary Ann herself, of course, James Graham, 2004’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year, three Mod medallists - Calum Alex MacMillan (Daimh), Tormod MacArthur (Meantime) and Gillebrìde MacMillan - plus Norrie MacIver, of Young Folk Award winners Bodega. The instrumental talents of Griogair Lawrie (bagpipes) and Angus MacPhail (bagpipes/accordion) complete this talented line-up. Mary Ann sings and plays harp and harmonium. Individually and collectively they are among Gaeldom’s finest, and although they’ve only been together a relatively short time, their music and performances are already gaining the attention of the world of music. This new album represents a happy union of traditional Gaelic sounds and some other trad material (like Sìos dhan an abhainn) presented by a new generation of Gaelic singers and musicians. One of the delights is Norrie’s performance of a lovely song from Wester Ross called ‘Mo Chailìn Dìleas Donn’ (My Faithful Brown-haired Girl) which he sings to an up-tempo variant of the tune of ‘The Lakes of the Pontchartrain’ (the well-known version sung by Paul Brady). Mo Chailìn… was written by Hector MacKenzie (1817-1910) from Ullapool.

This is a class production from Watercolour Music, which is owned and run by Mary Ann and her husband, producer Nick Turner; included are useful CD notes, with words in Gaelic and English included.
Aidan O’Hara


Hand in hand : Singing from the Tunney Tradition.
14 tracks; 51 minutes. Own Label

For anyone interested in the singing tradition, this is both a find and a must. Brigid, as daughter of Paddy Tunney, is heir to a treasure-chest of tradition, and this CD is dedicated to his memory and to Brigid Tunney, her grandmother.
She has her own melody for the ‘Croppy Boy’. The collection starts with ‘Easter Snow’, the song so beloved of Seamus Ennis that he named his home after it. There are fine Irish songs like ‘An Mhaighdean Mhara’ and ‘Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire’. It’s an added bonus to have Paddy’s translation of An Mhaighdean as the Mermaid, recorded here for the first time. There are other great classics, for instance ‘As I Roved Out’, ‘Lovely Willie’ and ‘Highland Mary’, which should be on the to-learn list of all those interested in the singing.

The production is excellent, with the words of all the songs legibly printed in the liner notes. But besides the value of the songs, there’s the added bonus of hearing how they live through the generations, and stay as fresh as the day they were minted. It’s only appropriate that the proceeds of this album will go to help the Loreto mission in Darjeeling in India. Charity doesn’t come any easier than this.
John Brophy


Strange but True
18 tracks; 68 minutes
Own label TKCD-01

Mention Japan and fiddles, and most folk will think of the Suzuki teaching method. Those who know the tradition may think of Paddy and Brigid, and their friends who recorded a notable CD with them in county Clare a few years ago. Now there’s Tajuki who arrived in Ireland via a pub in Sheffield called Fagan’s, and then spent ten years in Galway learning about fiddles and fiddlers. He went home to Japan in 2005 and set up the Tokyo School of Traditional Irish Fiddling. He now has 70 pupils enrolled.

All this is by way of background, but it’s of little relevance to the music, except to show how thoroughly a supposed stranger has got inside the mindset. He gives us 18 tracks, with a mix of classics and some less well-known. Listen to the lovely unaccompanied playing in the old slow jig Paddy Whack with the double stopping to know just how good it is. There’s a particularly fine track, when the two lads duet on ‘The Broken Pledge’. And if you want to hear reel playing of quality, listen to the ‘London Lasses’ and ‘The Galway Rambler’. Takuji has really got inside the tunes, and he plays with a Connacht accent, like a real native speaker. This is a companion for both repertoire and enjoyment. And don’t lend it as it won’t come back.
John Brophy


Closer to You

There is a haunting, echoing quality to the voice of Ashley Davis. She introduces the dozen tracks on offer here as her ‘footprints’ over the past three years combining Ireland with Kansas and more exotic locations and modern folk with the seminal 1960’s beloved of her father.

The opening and title track is a slow melodic piece that does justice to her vocal ability. She found inspiration in a myriad of cultures with Wales giving birth to ‘Rhiannon’s Lullaby’ and the singing of a lady from Uzbekistan leading us on to ‘The Silk Road’. Her song ‘Fields’ recalls her time in Limerick, while ‘Voyage’ has a land locked, landlubber writing a very perceptive tale of the sailors that draws work pictures to haunt the imagination.

Davis has a knack for evoking many lands and cultures. She does this flawlessly again like a true Scot on ‘Come With Me’. Marie Egan’s fiddle playing and backing vocals helps the mood on the track. ‘Only in my Mind’ is one of my favourite offerings of the dozen excellent songs. This is a well-produced album of new work that deserves a wide audience. It is greatly enhanced by an insert booklet that not only gives us the lyrics, credits and background to the songs, it also features quotes relating to the songs from such diverse characters as Thomas Wolfe and Plato. Seek out this album and any live performances by Ms Davis.
Nicky Rossiter


Waters Rising
Own Label

I hope I got the surname right, the insert is printed in a rather difficult font. The music on the CD is clarity itself. The album opens with a lovely bit of guitar playing by Mark that sets a wonderful mellow mood for the CD.

On track two ‘The Rolling Waves/Jimmy Wards’ he is joined by pipes and percussion that give a beautiful depth to the music. By track three ‘Nothing Stops the River Rising’ it is time for a bit of human voice and we are not disappointed when he finally expresses himself vocally. He has a voice and a delivery well-suited to the material and ably complemented by the musical backing.
One of my personal favourites on offer is the beautifully rendered and titled ‘Miss Eleanor Plunkett’s’ coupled with ‘Tess’s Tune’. The latter is from his own pen. One of the better-known tracks on offer is ‘The Newry Highwayman’. Not being a big fan of instrumental music I was nevertheless fascinated and captivated by his set, ‘Hebridean Air/March of the King of Laois’.

The closing track is a revelation. Most often sung by a rousing choral group in full fanatical nationalistic flight it is amazing to hear ‘Jerusalem’ played on acoustic guitar. The funny thing is that it works, showing us the talent of the original composer and enduring quality of a great tune. This album will inspire guitarists and delight those who like a few surprises in their musical diet.
Nicky Rossiter



Loftus Music LM003
11 tracks, 47 minutes

If memory serves, ‘Equinoxe’ is the fifth recording from this triple-fiddle super-group, and the second since Quebec’s Andre Brunet stepped into the shoes of the late Johnny Cunningham. Kevin Burke and Christian Lemaitre represent Irish and Breton music, and Ged Foley’s guitar covers all the bases from Canada to County Durham. Along with four all-in tracks, each fiddler takes two solos to showcase his own tradition. Kevin Burke chooses a set of well-worn reels and some shiny new jigs by Vincent McGrath. ‘The Sligo Maid - The Killavil Fancy’ and ‘The Sailor on the Rock’ fairly jog along in his hands. ‘Maureen’s Fancy - The Céilí Jig’ and ‘The Swinging Jig’ are all new tunes to me, and I’m delighted to make their acquaintance.

I’ve never been a particular fan of Breton dance music, but the air ‘Disput’ and the march which follows it are gorgeously played by Christian and equal to Irish or Scottish melodies. ‘Twilight in Portroe’ is a superb Sean Ryan reel to open proceedings. The ensemble pieces have a slight Canadian bias, possibly an indication of Brunet’s youthful input on fiddle and foot percussion. ‘Reel de Napoleon’ kicks up the dust alright, and the expressively named ‘Reel en Sol’ is the first of two powerful triple reels. ‘Louis Waltz’, exported by Aly Bain on his 1983 album, sits beautifully on three fiddles. Andre’s solos include a set of pulsating reels and a medley of ‘Jig de Valcartier’ and ‘Reel de Maisonneuve’ with an intriguing Italian tune slipped in between. Apart from Andre’s feet, Ged Foley provides the only accompaniment and also treats us to a solo guitar version of ‘Sir Sidney Smith’s March’. There are times when the tight sound slips slightly, when the music drags just a little, but mostly this is gripping stuff.

‘Equinoxe’ lives up to the reputation of Celtic Fiddle Festival, and cements a hat trick on Kevin Burke’s Loftus label. See the website, for more info.
Alex Monaghan


Wooed and Married
CDTRAX 9023 2008

The sub-title on this collection of 41 tracks is ‘Songs, tunes and customs’. It may never be up there in the ‘hit parade’ or ‘number three with a bullet’ but it is certainly a must have for anyone remotely interested in Scottish music and/or history.

The recordings are from the archives of The School of Scottish Studies and draws together tunes, songs and customs relating to marriage. This one-dimensional approach may seem strange to modern ears, but anyone who was brought into the tradition by reading folk song books in the 1960’s will recognize the song collector’s habit of lumping stuff together into easily accessed themes.
Here you can experience the traditional sounds from weddings of fishermen, farmers and factory workers. These show that there is a lot more to it than the piper preceding the couple to the reception. In addition to the music and songs we get stories about sorts of ‘pre-nuptial agreements’ and traditions of the islanders. Apart from learning about the past, many performers may pick up new material from the album to be arranged and adapted. Maybe the ‘wedding singers’ of the world will listen to this CD and add a bit more to the post wedding celebrations.

The accompanying booklet is beautifully illustrated with old photos and contains the lyrics of the songs featured. All in all it is a wonderful production as a historical research tool or an album of music and fun to dip into.
Nicky Rossiter


Own Label TROLLEY-04
12 tracks, 68 minutes

This Nova Scotian fiddler has already won ECMA album of the year with his fourth recording, no mean feat in Atlantic Canada. ‘Live at the Music Room’, to give it its full title, is well over an hour of dance music in the driving Cape Breton style: energetic reels, jigs and strathspeys, a couple of clogs and polkas, and a captivating performance of the air ‘Neil Gow’s Lament for his Second Wife’.
The ten-minute opener sets out Troy’s wares: a Skinner strathspey ‘Davie Taylor’s’, the traditional ‘Braes of Tullymet’ and ‘Duke of Gordon’, Cape Breton favourite ‘Hughie Shortie’s Reel’ leading into ‘Paddy on the Turnpike’ and ‘Miss MacLeod’s’ in the Irish style, then ‘St Kilda’s Wedding’ (I didn’t even know she was engaged) and ‘Rod Alexander’s’ by Father Angus Morris, before the final fireworks of ‘Pointe Au Pic’ from French Canada. Splendid stuff.

Current favourites and fiddle classics jostle for space throughout this CD. ‘The Marquis of Huntly, Kohler’s Hornpipe, Pottinger’s Reel’ and ‘ Gladstone’s’ all show slightly different aspects of Scottish music. ‘North of the Grampians’ starts another ten-minute monster medley of strathspeys and reels, ending with some very fancy bowing on ‘The Irish American’. ‘The Magnet’, ‘The CBC Reel’, ‘The Road to Errogie’ and a couple of catchy Dave Greenburg jigs are the modern face of fiddle music, and Troy’s own compositions fit in well. The only slight disappointment is Gordon Duncan’s ‘Pressed for Time’, an extremely challenging pipe tune which hasn’t transferred too well to the fiddle.

Troy is also one of Nova Scotia’s finest pianists, and the ‘Piano Reels’ set here shows off his considerable talent. ‘The Bird’s Nest’ is a lovely old reel, and ‘The Devil & The Dirk’ flows beautifully. Troy stays on the ivories for the slow air. Allan Dewar plays back-up piano elsewhere, and Dave MacIsaac shares the guitar credits with Brad Davidge. The final member of Troy’s crew is his sister Sabra who provides gentle bodhrán and bits of foot percussion as well as a step-dance showcase track, to the big ‘King George IV’ strathspey and ‘John MacNeil’s Reel’. The final march, strathspey and reel combination draws deserved applause as Troy thanks his accompanists, and there you have it: another outstanding recording from those talented Canadians. Google it.
Alex Monaghan


Clarsach na Banrighe
Own Label
22 tracks, 63 minutes

Played on a replica of the 15th-century harp which belonged to Mary Queen of Scots, this music is perhaps as close to renaissance luting as to the modern clarsach repertoire. The sound is quite different, though: Simon Chadwick plays a metal-strung instrument with bell-like tone and sustain, far removed from gut-strung lutes and harps. This recording is in three parts: mediaeval sacred music, mediaeval and renaissance airs from various sources, and nine pieces from the documented repertoire of one of the last players of the original Queen Mary harp.

The forms and styles of the church music are stately, with ringing harmonies, quite unlike dance music. ‘Vir Iste, Salve Splendor’ and ‘Pater Columba’ are more like pieces of the liturgy. Even ‘Ex Te Lux Oritur’, which seems to be set to a Scottish jig, is slow and dramatic rather than the even rhythm required by dancers. There’s more than a hint of pipe music in ‘The Battle of Harlaw’, and again in the several airs attributed to Fingal. ‘Da Mihi Manum’ strikes a very different note, not the smooth polished air of Planxty’s 1973 ‘Tabhair Dom Do Lamh’ but a rough-hewn melody with harsh polyphonic ornamentation.
Other relatively well-known pieces are ‘Port Lennox, Port Athol, Rory Dall’s Port’ and ‘Lude’s Supper’, all previously recorded on metal and gut harps, but here in slightly different versions. Whether or not you believe that pibroch grew out of harp variations, the showpiece ‘Lament for the Bishop of Argyll’ is an impressive and intricate work. There are more piping infuences in the final ‘Flowers of the Forest’, a little known version of this classic Scottish lament.
With over an hour of music, there’s plenty to interest harp fans on ‘Clarsach na Banrighe’. As entertainment it’s pretty heavy at times, but as a store of new and inspiring sounds it comes close to the seminal recordings by Ann Heymann. Well worth a listen. will track it down.
Alex Monaghan


The Dove’s Perch
Fleagull Records FR0101 2007

‘Welcome Poor Paddy Home’ opens this collection of twelve tracks from Jeff Moore. He appears to be resident in Austin Texas but there is a very definite flavour of the ‘ould sod’ in his performing blood. The intonation of his voice, which sounds particularly southern English may seem strange initially, given the material on show here, but a few lines in you will be loving it.
He shows his instrumental credentials on ‘Song of the Isles’ where his wonderful guitar playing is complemented by John Williams on concertina, an instrument not too often featured in that combination. The title track is self-composed and is beautifully combined with other tunes to give a lovely set. ‘Only a Miner’ is a great story song from the pen of Andy Irvine, not just about the life of the miner but also about families following in father’s footsteps. This is one of my favourite tracks on offer on this album of minor gems

Another great offering is ‘Roslyn Castle’ featuring just Moore on guitar. He excels at the story song and shows this ability to great effect on ‘the death of Queen Jane’. He continues with ‘P Stands for Paddy’ and gives it a new spin with an a capella introduction that works very well.

He closes his album with another of his own tunes and follows it with one from the 18th century, ‘Miss Hamilton’ showing his mastery of many centuries of music styles and tastes.
Nicky Rossiter


WHCM 346
13 tracks

It was only with a few weeks ago, and I was listening to orchestral arrangements of ‘British Sea Shanties’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Wonderful tunes from our gallant lads (two hundred thousand Irishmen in Nelson’s Navy no less), and no mention of rum, sodomy and the lash. And suddenly there comes out of me boom box a tune which they would call the Arethusa, but we all know as the Princess Royal, composer one Toirdealbhach O’Carolan. Other navies it seems, less piratical than the Britannic fleet-fingered, will acknowledge our great harper.

With this album, sponsored by the government of Aragon, we have six Spanish musicians collectively adopting the composer’s name and showing once more how Irish music has become an international language. They have harp, uilleann pipes, fiddle, bodhrán (tastily played), bouzouki, with guest spots on accordion and cello. Five of the tracks are based on O’Carolan tunes, and they’re all four-square in the idiom. The playing is fluent with fine tone, and good technique, but I’m left wondering what the material actually means to the players. Can’t say for definite, because all the notes are in Spanish. The title means ‘The Secret Clock’ and there’s a bit about the stars having their own secret music in their celestial wanderings. Myself, I prefer the pub clock that stops five minutes before closing when the music is going well.

For instance, there’s a very respectful version of O’Carolan’s quarrel with the landlady and the original was not intended thus. O’Carolan was friends with Jonathan Swift, and there’s one story of how they ordered Swift’s manservant to dance in a puddle during a rainstorm, so they could get the correct words to imitate the splashing. Cross-grained critters we are and Dustin the Turkey will have proven it in the Eurovision by the time you read this.

Contrarwise, this album does show how Irish music fits into the great European mainstream, and finds a natural welcome there. Meanwhile, fellow Celts, look to your laurels; this is fair powerful playing, and worth a live hearing if you come across them.
John Brophy