Releases > August 2011 releases

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PADDY O’BRIEN & FRIENDS - The Sailor’s Cravat
New Folk Records
WCM0001, 17 tracks, 49 minutes,

Not to be confused with his composer namesake from Tipperary, Paddy O’Brien from Offaly is a button-box player with a long and varied musical career. After playing with Dublin’s famous Castle Céilí Band, he fell in with John Kelly Jr. and Daithí Sproule for a while, recording a couple of albums with them before settling in America. As the box-player with Chulrua, Paddy has toured widely in the USA and beyond. On this album he’s joined by Mid West musicians Tom Schaefer on fiddle, Paul Wehling on the ever-popular bouzouki, and Erin Hart who sings 3 songs here. This release is available through CIC in Ireland, and New Folk Records. The website has plenty of samples.

Squeezing seventeen tracks under fifty minutes, Paddy mostly pairs up the tunes. He’s chosen a number of Paddy Fahy’s and Sean Ryan’s compositions, better-known as fiddle tunes but given a great workout on the button box. The pair of Fahy reels is a fine example, box and fiddle working as one. Unusual tunes abound here: the title reel, closely related to The Humours of Ballyconnell, as well as The Maple Leaf, The Rose of Lough Gill, The Goat in the Garden, and three pugnacious polkas Paddy picked up in America. Along with a few familiar favourites, Paddy adds two of his own compositions: a quirky little jig, and a Fahy-style reel called The Gosling.

Erin Hart is an American with Irish roots, and happens to be married to Paddy. She sings three unaccompanied ballads with a strong voice and stateside accent. The Flower of Magherally and Molly Bawn are well-known, The Generous Lover less so, and all three come from the canon of 19th-century Irish minstrelsy.
Despite occasional florid language, these are dark songs in tone and content: forbidden love, death, betrayal, all the fun of the ballad tradition - and of Erin’s crime novels, for that matter.
Alex Monaghan

Life and Living Records LALR 09, 12 tracks, 36.52 mins

Leo O’Kelly is a seminally influential composer and performer who has ploughed a personalised furrow through his musical career. While four decades making music, Will is only Leo O’Kelly’s third solo album, closely following Glare (2000) and Proto (2003). This album is an unusual project being the first time he has collaborated with a lyricist. The songs are written around the poems of John McKeown, a Liverpool poet who now lives in Dublin. McKeown’s written work possesses a darkly romantic desolation which eloquently suits Leo O’Kelly’s musical style and delivery. It is a deliciously dark yet immensely hopeful collection, while dealing with obsession and dark desire thematically; the songs retain an immense accessibility and aural charm. The lilting title track sends in lilting waves of melody and a lightness of touch that is immediately attractive. The ethereal She Dances achieves a similar effect while the brooding Torch Song has a psychedelic Beatleseque atmosphere. Middle Eastern motifs employ themselves on The Day You Love Me and a pop sensibility cruises through The End of Love while A star in my palm captures the intimacy of vintage Tir Ná Nóg. Musically hints of folk, pop, world music, ambient and electronics permeate and seamlessly bedfellow to achieve a rare aural unity.

Will is a powerfully eloquent treatise on impassioned romanticism; Leo O’Kelly’s melodic gifts and soulful delivery prove to be the perfect conduit for John McKeown’s words.
John O’Regan

Live at the O2
Horslips Records MOOCD 028
2 CD set, 29 tracks

Horslips’ return to the live arena was initially tentative but their 2009 concerts in Dublin and Belfast heralded they were back to serious business. This double CD set is culled from the December 2009 concert at Dublin’s O2 arena finds the Celtic Rock pioneers restating their case for validation as a seminal Irish rock act. The repertoire spans the band’s career easily traversing generous sections from the epic albums like The Tain and The Book of Invasions to quotients from the latter-day emigrant themed Aliens and Man who built America sets with Rescue Me the sole occupant from their finale Short stories Tall Tales. Musically King of the Fairies kicks off confidently and The Power and the Glory takes no prisoners with Johnny Fean’s gravel voice and spiky guitar upfront. The addition of Ray Fean as drummer has anchored their sound more firmly in rock territory, while Charles O’Connor’s multi-instrumental fills on fiddle, concertina and mandolin meld with Jim Lockheart’s keyboards forming a melodic yet powerful front line and Barry Devlin’s voice has kept its strength and tuneful focus. Furniture shows their mettle with extended progressive rock structures and Faster than the Hound reworks a standard from The Tain days and Long Weekend exudes a bluesy sheen and by Charolais its full steam ahead while Trouble (with a capital T), Dearg Doom and Loneliness form a dynamic closing triumvirate.

Horslips’ return to live work was pre-empted by the statement ‘the band that defined a generation, they’re back’. Live at the O2 describes that explosive comeback.
John O’Regan

The Gathering, an Inter-Celtic Celebration.
Compilation CD of various groups
12 tracks.

“It’s a fantastic celebration of some of the wonderful music and performances that make Yn Chruinnaght so special,” says Breesha Maddrell, Manx Music Development Officer, of ‘The Gathering’, a new compilation CD from Yn Chruinnaght (meaning ‘the gathering’). The Yn Chruinnaght Festival is held in the Isle of Man in July each year and celebrates Manx culture and the relationship between that island and the other Celtic countries (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany and Cornwall).

‘The Gathering’ is an excellent representation of the richness and diversity of music from the Celtic countries and features twelve tracks donated by artists who have played at the festival in the Isle of Man over the years. There’s the traditional sound of the harp, fiddle, bagpipe, with many other instruments, as well as songs in the Celtic languages.

The featured artists are Leski (Cornwall), Trio Froger (Brittany), Sheear (Isle of Man), Never Mind The Bocs (Wales), Leo McCann (Scotland), Pipedown (Scotland), Staa (Isle of Man), Scoot (Cornwall), Imrama (Ireland), Rachel Hair (Scotland), Mabon (Wales), and ChAI hA DichAI, with vocals by Lors Landat (Brittany).
Although he represents Scotland on this CD, the accomplished accordionist Leo McCann is from Co. Tyrone and has been based in Scotland for over ten years. He has performed with many groups, including, Corner House, Drop The Box and Iron Horse, and is now a member of Malinky, the fast rising stars of the Scottish and international music scene.

It’s hard to choose between the many fine presentations on ‘The Gathering’, but I particularly enjoyed the Irish group, Imrama’s rendition of one of my favourite of all Scottish songs, Bonny Broom. I am always partial to Manx music and song, both the old and the new, whether in their native Gaelic or English, and our sister isle is ably represented by Staa’s performance of the new song, Kishtey Ny Yindyssyn, and Shear’s instrumental rendition of Manx trad tunes, Our ship did sail/If young men could swim.

Aidan O’Hara

Various artists
RTE Lyric FM (Radio Station), 16 tracks

The harp has been going in and out of fashion since the time of King David, and it’s very much in at the moment. This well-crafted anthology will tell you why. Harps are coming back into the mainstream, and styles and ornamentation are reflecting this. After the Act of Union, there was a fashion for young ladies to flaunt their charms by playing harp – bare arms were ok (bare legs not), and menfolk were in short supply after Napoleonic wars. This may explain why is became a parlour instrument. Indeed, all the players on this collection except for two are women.

Right from the start, you can hear that the instruments are bigger, the bass notes are better, and the tunes can float on the harmonics. If there were any doubt left that the era of cozy cabaret for tourists has been overtaken, just listen to Anne Marie O’Farrell playing the prelude to a Bach lute suite, and point is fully proved: it’s as powerful and musically persuasive as an organ.

Equally, it can be a lifting as any other session instrument: there’s a great track called the Hearty Bucks of Oranmoe, and it is truly hearty.

If there’s anyone thinking of incorporating harp into a new group sound, this will be very useful. And it does mark a magic moment in the rejuvenation of the national symbol. Equally, anyone with a radio show will find it a great companion, and so will the rest of us.
John Brophy

Songs from Before
Irish World Music Licensing CACD1901
10 Tracks

Dublin born violinist, Fionnuala Sherry has traversed both the classical, folk and new age worlds through her work with Secret Garden. Prior to that she was lead violinist with the RTE Symphony Orchestra and has crossed over musically often – this album is no exception. Songs from Before offered a personal odyssey into rediscovering family secrets and re interpreting familiar Irish airs in her own distinctive style. The style and approach here is formal and not session fare by any means and it would be too easy to describe this music as merely ambient or new age Celtic alone. While it does inhabit these shores it also shakes a few tail feathers at convention. An Cuilfhionn with trip hop betas will probably shock the conservatives – meanwhile Our Wedding Day uses subtle ambient vocal backdrops atop a straight rendition of the air. The Lark in the Clear Air learned from Geraldine O’Grady and The Norwegian Minstrel Boy continue the personalised odyssey, the latter mixing ethnic styles appropriately, while the former keeps its melodic line over an ambient backing.

Songs from Before is a contemporary classically based ambient take on classic Irish airs and for open minded listeners is a work of tranquil reflection and immense beauty
John O’Regan

The Mighty Box
24 Tracks – Double CD
WRCD2011, Wren Records Ireland

There’s so much to absorb in the latest release from the highly accomplished box player Luke Daniels. The Mighty Box encompasses a staggering seventy one tunes in its double CD format that are an amalgamation of his own compositions, session derivatives and tunes sourced from traditional music archives. His Doug Briggs crafted accordion tuned to A/Bb explores intricate fingering structures that toy with the traditional in a fresh and invigorating manner.

This successful experimentation is strengthened by the able accompaniment of guitar stalwarts, Seamie O’Dowd and Dennis Cahill, Junior Davey on bodhrán, bass player Rick Foot, percussionist, Gigi Bioclati and Victor Nicholls on tuba.

Each a master in their field, the album illustrates their ability to enunciate with precision whilst ensuring each tune flows to its own pace. A great example of this being the Australian Waters set where strings, percussion and box merge together with rhythmic clarity. Style and range are a standout in the Doodley Dank set where slip jigs surge into a slide taken from the playing of Sliabh Luachra box player Johnny O’Leary. I’m drawn to the variation in tracks ranging from the use of harmonica which, along with all the instruments, provides a funky introduction to the Rainy Day set contrasted with the subtleness of instrumentals partnering Daniels expertise on a lovely set entitled Patsy Geary’s Doberman’s Wallet.
The standout of this double CD is the fact that with so many tunes to immerse yourself in, with one instrument as the common thread, your attention could dissipate yet Daniels engages with a variety of style, ornamentation and contrasting instrumental accompaniment whilst showcasing his obvious expertise on the box throughout.

The Mighty Box is the work of a mighty box player. Enough said!

Eileen McCabe

Far Away in Australia
18 Tracks, Warfield Music 2011

A master in relaying the history of the Irish through ballad and song, Derek Warfield is a name synonymous with the stories of Irish patriotism. Firmly established in countries far and wide with his band, The Young Wolfe Tones they have documented the theme of Irish Diaspora in such albums as Slan Abhaile, the Irish in Glasgow with Songs from the Bhoys and the role of the Irish in the American Civil War. Now they move on to their historical interpretation of the Irish down under with the latest release entitled Far Away in Australia.
Established traditional songs are interspersed with lesser known ballads that provide an Irish slant on Australian History. Take Care of your Fenians as the Yankees will steal them Away highlights the daring plan of escape hatched by members of Clan na Gael in America in 1876 to rescue six Fenian convicts from Freemantle Prison on the Catalpa whaler (which was operated for months commercially before the daring escape was carried out). Ned Kelly tells the tale of the Australian outlaw who’s father, Red, had been transported to Australia having reportedly stolen two pigs in County Tipperary. The popular The Band Played Waltzing Matilda from the pen of Eric Bogle provides vivid imagery of the ill-starred British and ANZAC expedition to the Dardanelles and Suvla Bay (the main force at Suvla were not Australian but the Irish IX division formed by the Kerryman Lord Horatio Kitchener in 1914). These songs are broken up by the old favourites Black velvet Band and Fields of Athenry. All sung with a passion and backed by instrumental arrangements that sweeten the stories of hardship and doom.

The ‘young’ members of the Wolfe Tones prove their worth with a captivating Castle Jig set that combines pipes and strings in a duelling fashion separated by a strong bodhrán rhythm and a special mention has to go to Fintan Warfield for a heartfelt and poignant The Flight of the Earls.

Far Away in Australia provides vocal documentation of Ireland’s place in history where soccer terrace sing along songs are combined with tales of the pensive reality of hardship. Warfield and his Young Wolfe Tones educate through entertainment and there’s no better way to learn.
Eileen McCabe

Geosound GSCD002
15 tracks, 57 minutes

Twin sisters Jennifer and Hazel have been recording and performing together for more than twenty years. Now in their mid thirties, ten years since their last album Skyran, they’ve released a sixth duo CD: almost an hour of music from their native Orkney on fiddle, guitar and piano. The Orkney style combines classic Scots fiddle music with Scandinavian influences and a dash of traditional jazz. This recording is mainly in the Scots vein, but there are a couple of American-influenced tracks and one or two Nordic numbers. The sisters also throw in a pair of Irish reels learnt from the group Ash Plant: Solus Lillis and The Dublin Lasses.

Idiom is a good representation of Orcadian fiddle music, particularly when Jennifer and Hazel are joined by a handful of their fellow islanders for some of the brisker tracks here: Partans, Iris Nicolson’s Favourite, and a pair of Orkney Polkas. The addition of accordion, banjo, drums and electric guitars gives a typical Northern Isles dance band feel to the music. There’s also a very personal aspect to this album in the many Wrigley compositions, from the slow airs Erika and Luca to the strathspey and reels For Eric & Gayle. Some of these tunes are instantly memorable: the syncopated reel Fiddlan Aboot and the understated air James & Emilie Kirkness are good examples. Others take time to absorb.

The Scandinavian side of Orkney music comes through in the grand old air Sigurds, and also in Jennifer’s composition Magnus’ Polska. Whether it’s the dark brooding modes of mainland Europe, the feisty fiddling of the Celtic fringe, or that swing sound from stateside radio, the Wrigley sisters have once again shown themselves to be mistresses of a wide range of styles, and worthy musical ambassadors for Orkney.
No better women for the job.
Alex Monaghan

Traditional Spirits
Own Label LORRCD03
11 tracks, 46 minutes

A suite of music composed in honour of malt whisky: I can’t think of many more appealing subjects. This Edinburgh harpist certainly seems to be familiar with the art and products of distillation, and already has a reputation for innovative composition from her excellent 2008 CD. Here Ailie is joined by other noted Scottish musicians: Fraser Fifield on sax and whistle, Patsy Reid and Adam Sutherland on fiddles, pianist James Ross, and a discreet back line of guitar, bass and drums. There are a couple of themes running through the whole album, particularly the Gaelic slip-jig The Favourite Dram and Ailie’s own tune 10,000 Days which recalls traditional songs and is actually enough time to produce one hell of a good whisky.
Traditional Spirits is split into three movements for performance, each with several distinct pieces. Some of these are short, musical links more than anything else, but still enjoyable: Head, Heart and Tail refers to the process of separating the feints and fore-shots from the middle cut of freshly-distilled spirit - what wee doctors call MSW and revisits the Favourite Dram theme. Boiling Point is a combination of gentle harp ripples with freer atonal passages, until the whole becomes as chaotic as a bubbling still-pot. The third movement starts with a brief return to The Favourite Dram before tackling two of the meatiest tunes here.

And meat there is in plenty. The busy Cooperage is a swirling 7/8 stunner on sax and harp with a solid Balkan backing. The musical pun Brandy Wines starts in the Quebec 12/8 rhythm, a very demanding melody on the whistle (although it doesn’t seem to bother the fiddlers), then shifts into 7/8 again. Solera is probably my favourite track on this recording, sax-led sultry Spanish colours with a definite Eastern flavour, evoking the rich sherry wines which influence the maturing whisky. The suite finishes with a more obviously Scottish piece, the Céilídh-style exuberance of Amber Gold: the fiddlers have obviously had a few drams by this stage, and the after-party is about to kick-off.

One thing I didn’t find here is the harp holding its end up as a modern lead instrument. There are pieces where the harp is carrying the melody - the gorgeous opening Islay Dawn, the start of 10,000 Days, and others - but these tend to cast it in its traditional role of gentle tinkling prettiness. The fiddles and sax are the strongest voices on this album, providing most of the dynamics and drive in Ailie’s music. The only real exception is the brief musical maelstrom of Boiling Point.

So if you’re expecting lots of loud, proud, modern harp, you should try Ailie’s previous album. On the other hand, if you just enjoy modern acoustic Celtic-based music with plenty of bite and a long smoky finish, Traditional Spirits should tickle your palate nicely.
Alex Monaghan

1891 – 1945
2 CD & Book, Gael Linn CEFCD 161
Two CDs 149 minutes, 80 page booklet

In 1991 Harry Bradshaw brought out an LP of the music of Michael Coleman, it was on the Via Voce label and in 1992 it was awarded Best Research in the Field of the Recorded Folk or Ethnic Music by the American Association for Recorded Sound Collection. Twenty years later and Harry has re-mastered the work for the digital age, packaged it with a superb 80 page booklet and this time it is on the excellent Gael Linn label.
Michael Coleman is without doubt the giant of 20th century Irish fiddling. That he came from a family steeped in music and a locality rich in tradition has been well-documented. His influence on the tradition has been immeasurable, his style and above all the fluidity and feeling in his playing has been captivating generations of players since his 78rpm discs began appearing in Ireland in the 1920’s.

Some have said that Coleman’s music was to influence taste for too long, Harry Bradshaw hints that it might have led to a decline in genuine local styles. That is a controversial point and one that could be challenged on some of the evidence, for example Clare music continued to have a distinctive voice and an active céilí band scene for many years in parallel to the popularity of Coleman’s recordings and Sliabh Luachra remained intact as it wasn’t discovered by a wider public until it was released on vinyl in the 1960’s.
The booklet is as important as the two CD themselves. Here Harry Bradshaw pieces together the life of Coleman which would end tragically early at the age of 54 in Manhattan. Bradshaw builds the story from printed sources, newspapers articles and firsthand accounts, through these we get a sense of the man Coleman was. He often played like an angel but his private life was bedevilled with darkness.

The Coleman Centre in Sligo has this to say about him on their website “Although he has had many imitators, Coleman’s combination of superb technical ability and deeply expressive playing has had few, if any equals.”

Harry Bradshaw’s magnificent work for Gael Linn will leave you in no doubt that The Coleman Centre’s words are right on the money. This is the benchmark for every recording of Irish music, essential is too flippant a word for its importance, it should be in your collection, no excuses.
Seán Laffey