Releases > October 2008

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Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and Aidan O’Donnell

FID001CD, 15 tracks
The great French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson didn’t actually like the process of photography, for him the camera was an instant sketch machine; he left the mundane stuff of getting an image from the box to the printed page to lowly drones. How times change. Today any half-decent artist has also mastered the technology as well as craft off his trade. This has been evident in a whole series of own label music production over the past decade; younger artists are not only comfortable with the new ways but competent too.

So it is with the own label ‘Fidil’ from, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and Aidan O’Donnell. This is an album which luxuriates in the paradoxes of modern Ireland; at once connected to the twenty first century through its a masterful production using the latest technology and linked to ultra modern communications media with obligatory You Tube and My Space connections, yet within these hi-tech parameters, there sits one of the most challenging and beautifully austere albums of the past fifty years. Yes fifty years, I do not exaggerate on this point.

Both lads come from Donegal, but there were not close neighbours growing up; each was schooled in a particular regional style and repertoire. Sometimes the commonality of the bigger Donegal soundscape touches their music, yes you say to yourself we are in the country above Bundoran, but for the most part what we have here is, and I’ll use the word again - challenging. The challenge here is to hear the melodies afresh, to listen to what is a very raw bar at times with two fiddles handling all the dynamics of the music; no bodhrán or guitar to shore up the rhythm or to hide behind. Their fiddle playing is tight throughout but not always in unison, with subtle harmonies in the detail; as such it takes a lot of listening to really get into their style.

The tune selections show a wide mastery of the tradition with examples of barn dances, highlands, hornpipes, a slow air, a set piece, a mazurka - yes there are reels too, but only six sets of those which allow a great pace to be presented in the programming of the tracks.

They are obviously well-grounded in the tradition and schooled by an older generation of players. It takes phenomenal technique and huge understanding to produce something as good as this, and for that you have to make your way to the older players. They cite their mentors as Francie Mooney, The Campbells, The Dohertys, the Ó Beirnes, The Cassidys, Martin Wilson, Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh, Frankie Kennedy, Dermot McLaughlin, Neillidh Boyle, Con Cassidy and James Byrne.

In his Internet review of this album, the box player Rod Stradling commented that in these days, far too often the tradition is being passed on by “Children learning from Children”. That is not the case here. This is proper grown-up traditional music; one for adults of all ages.
Seán Laffey


Under the Counter

Greentrax CDTRAX325

10 tracks, 49 minutes
After their stunning 2006 debut CD, Bodega has put together a follow-up of the same quality. They’ve chosen well: songs from Runrig and Tim O’Brien, tunes from La Bottine Souriante and some great modern pipers, as well as traditional material and several of their own compositions. The opening set combines one of three tunes by guitarist Tia Files with a traditional Shetland reel, climaxing in a Quebecois classic. The Stamping Ground is the first of four songs delivered by Norrie MacIver; a strong and passionate singer who gets the best out of Lost Little Children and a pair of Gaelic standards. I particularly like Bodega’s up-beat treatment of the Lewis drinking song Balaich an Iasgaich. Norrie also makes a fine job of Puirt, Gaelic mouth-music for dancing, and the medley here includes flamboyant fiddling by Ross Couper and some tasty whistle from Gillian Chalmers.

With so many musicians to ring the changes, Bodega offer five powerful instrumentals. Drams pairs another of Tia’s tunes with one by Ross, adding June Naylor on clarsach. Tia contributes the first tune in a set of jigs, but Gillian steals the show on the pipes with a tune written for her by Ross Ainslie, and then romps home with Gordon Duncan’s 98 Jig. Norrie picks up the accordion on Helyinagro, a very pretty waltz by Ross. The final track puts it all together on a couple of bouncy reels by Tia and Gillian, a fitting end to an exciting and satisfying album. Not to be missed: get samples and info at The CD should be more widely available than its title suggests!
Alex Monaghan


Tommy on the Bridge

TCCD 06: 15 tracks: 54 mins
A well produced CD, advertising the strength of the music in Newcastle-on-Tyne (the college there offers degree courses in traditional music) so don’t be misled by the Sheffield address on the label. The Bridge is the famed landmark and the Tommy in the title refers to a famed blind mendicant who died in 1907 (but he hasn’t been forgotten). That’s tradition.

Six musicians in the group of friends, including a double bass, which gives a great depth of sound and a foil to the light and airy Sligo style of Tom. Contrariwise, there’s no mistaking the Geordie accent in the vocals.
Tommy has a formidable bowing technique and can show off with double stopping way above the normal range of trad fiddle, but the virtuoso style has a long and established history in the music, especially in America.

I loved the razor sharp playing on Colonel Fraser with the sneaky triplets. There’s also a fine version of the Scott Skinner tune, Bovaglie’s Plaid (it’s not unlike Ashokan Farewell).

Even at its brightest, the playing is never harsh. And there’s also a tribute waltz track to Jerry Holland of Cape Breton; Tommy certainly scans broad horizons. This has to be heartily recommended to all fiddle players, and indeed, to all musicians as an example of a rock steady technique being used to make enjoyable and committed music.
John Brophy


Far From Home

15 tracks 63 mins
There’s a famous tune composed by Francis O’Neill, called Far from home. He records that he wrote it while working as a cowboy in Nevada (or was it Nebraska?) before he went to Chicago and ended up police chief and music collector. I was looking forward to hearing it as a title track, but it’s not to be found on this collection.

I was similarly confused by the name of the group. Nobody in Ireland calls it ‘peat’: it’s turf, and in Kerry, it’s not pitched (the word is breenshing and there are new EU rules to stop a lot of turf-cutting). The group comprises Patrick Custy on flute and vocals, Nikki Custy on fiddle and vocals, with Ruairí Hurley on guitar and Brendan Carr on bodhrán and percussion.

What the notes don’t tell you is that the group is based in Cleveland, Ohio, with an address at the aptly-named Cooley Avenue. And yes, that is a fair way from the Custy roots in Dysart, Co. Clare. Special praise to Nikki for a fine sweet fiddle tone, and fair play for any Stateside group that includes original Irish-language material. There is a fine selection of old tunes like A Fig for a Kiss and The Graf Spee (named after the German warship) and Banish Misfortune. A good showcase album and proof that the pure drop is readily available along the banks of the Ohio.
John Brophy


Outside the Box

Compass Records 4882

13 Tracks
Earle Hitchner, writing in the Wall Street Journal said “Billy Mc Comiskey is the finest and most influential B/C box player ever to emerge from the US. In that sense, Billy McComiskey place within the transatlantic pantheon of Irish button accordionists is both high and secure, and Outside The Box will only strengthen that judgment”.

Anyone who knows Earle and his writing will tell you he knows what he is talking about and there’s no doubt if Earle likes it, well it’s got to be a good.

Billy McComiskey plays the B/C button box, a past All-Ireland Champion (1986) which is an honour that is statistically very difficult to achieve if you are an Irish American. (Go check the CCE archives and notice a real dearth of great American winners).

McComiskey is joined on this album, (the first from the Bronx native in 25 years), by his pals from the Green Fields of America, Matthew Bell, Myron Bretholz, Liz Carroll, Brendan Dolan, John Doyle, Joannie Madden, Sean McComiskey, Mick Moloney, and Athena Tergis.

McComiskey’s musical roots lie in the Galway sound which he learned as a pupil of the late Sean McGlynn. You can hear those influences on the driving, almost relentless sets of reels on this album, certainly on track three The Rainy Day/the Man of the House, with due acknowledgement to Paddy O’Brien and Joe Burke for the tunes.

Picking the album to pieces tune by tune wouldn’t do justice to the record. There’s a great range of music here, from dance music, a lullaby (Grainne’s Grace), to a lovely pair of Carolan tunes and a stunning happy closer in the Frances Keegan and The Ring Finger. Underpinning many of the tracks is the solid guitar work of John Doyle (who also produced the album); there are a few times when I wished he was a little deeper into the mix, (his guitar and bouzouki on Planxty Burke and Lady Gethin are inspired); there are times on the dance tunes where I wished he would cut away from the syncopation to add a few more bass line runs. Doyle’s contribution on The Way to Shercock hits the spot for me, he leaves down the guitar and picks up the mandola and to my ear this gives McComiskey more room to breathe.

One of the outstanding aspects about the album is the detail in the liner notes, each tune has its own short paragraph and there is an extensive essay on Billy by Mick Moloney.
Seán Laffey



LCC Benbecula

12 tracks, 51 minutes

A collaboration between students and staff at Lews Castle College on the Hebridean island of Benbecula, this album is a mixed bag but the overall standard is high with several excellent tracks. ‘Sia’ opens with a slightly new-age low whistle air, giving way to traditional jigs on whistle and fiddle. The old Ossian favourite Thornton Jig is powerfully played. Track 2 is the first of three piping treats, Grey Larsen’s Thunderhead and Gordon Duncan’s Panda given a thorough work-out. Bean a’ Chotain Ruaidhis the first of four songs, and is sung in a deep rich voice by Archie Maclean. This heavyweight Gaelic lament is followed by a modern singer-songwriter number in English, a Gaelic close-harmony arrangement, and a very pleasant folky interpretation of Mo Nighean Donn Is Toil Leam Thu” by the intriguingly named young singer Somerled Smith. Something for everyone indeed.

The strength of Sia is in the instrumental music, particularly the pipes and fiddles of James Mackenzie, Angus Nicholson, Iain MacGillivray and Coll MacDonald. Eight of the twelve tracks are instrumental, three or four of them are crackers. The set of pipe tunes starting with Kantara to El Arish is one such; The Glencoe March set is another, enhanced by flute and whistle. The Witches’ Coven Set is an interesting novelty, four women whistlers weaving Welsh tunes. The final track from multi-instrumentalist and programmer Matheu Watson (another intriguing name) is a wee gem - studio-crafted and great fun. If Sia is anything to go by, the Lews Castle College 1-year course is well worth checking out: has more information.
Alex Monaghan


Cape Breton Live - Take 02

Own Label CBL 02

14 tracks, 72 minutes

Anyone who has not yet visited is missing a treat. The site presents recordings of Cape Breton concerts, mainly fiddle music as you’d expect, but with a fair helping of pipers, singers and piano players. There’s a dozen or so programmes accessible at any one time, all good music and all free to stream. Now nearing its 50th programme, CBL has released its second CD of tracks from previous webcasts. This selection includes performances by old and young stars of Cape Breton music: Buddy MacMaster, Brenda Stubbert, Carl MacKenzie, Jerry Holland, Troy MacGillivray, Kimberley Fraser, Ryan MacNeill and many more. Amongst the marches, strathspeys, reels and jigs are a couple of superb slow airs and a Gaelic song featuring Jeff MacDonald and Mary Jane Lamond.

Mostly though, this CD is full-on dance music. Devil in the Kitchen, Old Man Dillon, Jenny Dang the Weaver, Muilleann Dubh and Lucy Campbell fly off the fiddles. There’s a touch of the Irish with Sheehan’s, The Foxhunter’s and The Star of Munster. I particularly enjoyed Kinnon Beaton’s set of jigs, Jerry Holland’s rendition of the popular air Hector the Hero, Betty Beaton’s piano march Bonnie Lass of Headlake, and of course the irrepressible Howie MacDonald. The accompaniment is also of the highest calibre: Mac Morin, Dave MacIsaac and others. All the music here was recorded during small concerts, so there’s plenty of atmosphere and asides. There’s also a wide range of soundscapes, from kitchen recordings to concert halls, but the overall quality is very high. Sample tracks and mail order are available online - check it out! Highly recommended.
Alex Monaghan


Various Artists

Compass Records 4480

15 tracks
The various artists are (As seen on public television): Mick Moloney, Susan McKeown, John Doyle, Séamus Egan, Eileen Ivers, Karan Casey, Liz Carroll, Joanie Madden, Athena Tergis, Robbie O’Connell, Niall O’Leary, Darrah Carr, Jerry O’Sullivan, Billy McComiskey, Brendan Dolan, Rhys Jones, Tim Collins, Mac Benford, Mike Rafferty and Jo McNamara.

Forget the list; file under: The cream of the Irish American crop and oft members of Mick Moloney’s moveable feast which is the Greenfields of America.

The album was recorded in April 2007 at the Irish Arts Center in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City. It was a dual project; CD recording by Moloney and a TV show by film maker, Paul Wagner. It looked a winner from curtain up, as some of the best Irish musician Stateside hit the boards with their party pieces. We haven’t seen the broadcast over in Ireland yet, but from the CD it sure sounds a whole lot of fun. The recording quality is absolutely excellent, each instrument well balanced and with enough off mic asides, little yelps of encouragement from the musicians and the like, to give it a truly live colour.

It has a grand mix of songs, not always absolutely Irish themselves mind you, the Scottish King’s Shilling (sung by Karen Casey), Harrigan and Hart’s 19th century comic Broadway song, McNally’s Row of Flats (from Moloney) even some old timey fiddle and banjo on June Apple (performed by Mac Benford and Rhys Jones). Robbie O’Connell sings the Flower of Kilkenny; he is on top form here. Susan McKeown adds her special magic, (an uncanny ability to find the darkness in songs) with her Fair London Town, although at times I did find her voice a little hesitant and somewhat nervous.

The album closes with the old chestnut the Leaving of Liverpool when the singers get a verse each as a final showcase, but the penultimate track is the one to savour. This is the “Fiddle Extravaganza”. Here the cast let their hair down on Ed Reavy’s Never was Piping so Gay. You can spend hours wondering just who is laying down the lovely deep tone on Liz Carroll’s The Chandelier (maybe the great Liz herself) before they all pitch back in for a double-dose of Paddy Fahey tunes.

Great album. A bag full of fun and I for one can’t wait to see the DVD.
Seán Laffey



Own Label SKELPCD001

12 tracks, 58 minutes
This fiddle and pipes/flute combo out of Glasgow is an instant triumph with their take-no-prisoners approach to Scottish music. The opening set of strathspeys and reels is big enough to kick sand in most people’s faces: after two traditional heavyweights, Malt on the Optics shifts into overdrive, and The Stone Frigate cranks things right up to eleven, while Dancing Feet is simply off the scale. The set of jigs that follows would be quick for most bands, but seems leisurely by comparison. Kenny MacDonald’s Jig shows a lovely touch on the fiddle, which slips a little when the pipes come in on The Kitchen Maid . The fiddle and whistle are totally in step for Up and Doon the Lift , one of about a dozen tunes here by fiddler Katherine Liley.

After a couple of pleasing slower numbers, David Adam picks up the whistle again for two of his own jigs; Up the Hill to Bolshan is a lovely composition, reminding me of fiestas in Vigo. A couple more hefty strathspeys bring us to Neil’s Wee Tune, a dreamy solo lullaby by Katherine. She follows this with a large patch of her own reels and jigs, introduced by Michael Ferry’s Farewell to Chernobyl and including such memorable titles as The Brechin Strum and Fiona Beaton, Rock Fiddler Extraordinaire. Then it’s finale time, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s fast, furious and full of fiddly bits: Andy De Jarlis, The Tipsy Sailor, Bog an Lochan and three reels, with flute for starters and the pipes for the final dash, plus a wee sting in the tail.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. There are several occasions where youthful enthusiasm triumphs over good taste and good time-keeping, but what Skelpaig lack in discipline is more than redressed by their bite and bounce. So who are these guys anyway? Katherine Liley plays fiddle, David Adam flits from pipes to flute to whistle, while David Sutherland covers guitar and bass. There’s some slightly dodgy mandolin from Peter Hunter, and that’s it.

Tight, powerful, with strong highland roots, and enough rough edges to keep things interesting: an impressive debut CD. Get yourself skelped at, worth checking out before they hit the big time!
Alex Monaghan



Copperfish Records CPFCD003

10 tracks, 40 minutes
If you only know Duncan Chisholm as the fiddler from Wolfstone, you only know half the story. Duncan has a gentler side, shown in his work with Ivan Drever and his three previous solo albums. I’m not saying Wolfstone are rougher than a highlander’s underwear, but the delicacy and sweetness of the fiddle rarely cuts through the rock band sound. ‘Farrar’, on the other hand, contains none of the brash loud energy of Wolfstone: it is slow, gentle, contemplative, a truly magical fiddle album. You have to be in the right frame of mind - I have put this CD on a couple of times, and found myself missing the fire and fury of Wolfstone - but if you’re in the mood for a softer touch you could do a lot worse than ‘Farrar’.

Starting with a traditional Gaelic air, the album is full of beautiful melodies; understated piano and guitar intensifies the emotion. Duncan’s own Farley Bridge is a super slow reel, feeding into Lorient Mornings, the first of two Gordon Duncan tunes. The overlaid reading on Mallaí Chroch Shlí is reminiscent of Blair Douglas or Paul Mounsey recordings, but there’s no hint of over-production here. An old Galician air sets the scene for Shooglenifty’s hit 2:50 to Vigo later on, and in between is another lovely Chisholm composition and the classic A’ Mhairead Óg. The album finishes with the soulful Alasdair’s Tune by Charlie McKerron, and the truly great Gaelic air Beinn a’ Cheathaich, achingly played.

It’s not all misty morning music: Fred Morrison and Michael McGoldrick contribute a couple of driving tunes with Farewell to Uist and Glenuig Bay, and the 303 set of reels fairly rattles along. But make no mistake, this isn’t Blazing Fiddles. It isn’t even Slightly Smouldering Fiddles. There’s no fire, and anything which looks like smoke is actually Scotch mist. But there is plenty of power and passion in this recording. ‘Farrar’ will move you quite differently from Wolfstone, but just as deeply. Seek it out if you’ve a mind: is the place to find out more.
Alex Monaghan


Music in the Glen

Own Label
As all you Gaelic scholars will be aware, Fuar means cold. I gather from the track listing here this may refer to the season to which many of the songs and tunes relate. What it most definitely does not describe is the playing this ensemble. They have a lovely style and vibrancy as they take on some lovely traditional songs and tunes and mix in a few of their own.

On The Verdant Braes of Skreen, the female vocalist reminds me very much of The Johnstons and, on a more local Wexford level, Shades of McMurrough. They give us the familiar song with just enough extras to sound old and new at the same time. They bring that same love of the music to the beautiful Air Tune and combine it with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I know that’s Christmas music and this is summer but good music crosses seasons as well as borders so don’t be so ’seasonist’. The winter theme continues with the wonderful Christmas Day, a song new to me but one that I really enjoyed. The song Star of the County Down was almost ‘done to death’ for my generation as one of the songs you had to learn in primary school with ‘the brothers’. It is refreshing to hear it years later and especially with the nice light fresh arrangement on offer here.

Another delight was to hear The Wexford Carol performed so beautifully from their haunting introduction and on to the vocal.

This is a CD that could be the ideal Christmas present for a lover of Irish music - maybe yourself - but why wait for the cold weather? Remember it can be ‘fuar’ in Ireland all the time.
Nicky Rossiter


Best of Scottish Fiddle

ARC Music EUCD 2098

15 tracks, 64 minutes
This compilation concentrates on the playing of Gavin Marwick, definitely in my top ten current Scottish fiddlers, and three others who would probably make the top fifty: Jonny Hardie, Archie Mc Allister, and Alistair McCulloch. It includes tracks by groups such as Iron Horse, Old Blind Dogs, JCB and Coila which feature these same fiddlers, plus an air from the Hudson Swan Band which doesn’t really belong here. ‘Best of’ is a slight exaggeration, but there are fourteen well-chosen tracks on this CD giving almost an hour of fine Scottish fiddling.

The Buzzard, a slow reel from Jonny, sets the rather dark and brooding tone for many tracks. Davy Cattenach’s excellent percussion accompanies this, as well as the eerie march Hills of Glenorchy and the downright chilling air Margaret Cromar. Gavin joins Jonny and Davy for three big stomping medleys: MacNeill of Ugadale, The Quiet Man and the final Rob Roy MacGregor. The Iron Horse tracks are among my favourites, as Gavin lashes into The West End Reel (named for the famous Edinburgh session) or conjures sweetness from Lynn Morrison’s air The Sleeping Warrior.

Coila and JCB have more of a ceilidh feel to their sets: The Eavesdropper and Lady in a Bottle are familiar names, but The Heather Ale Jig and Ewan Mackenzie’s Free Bass Accordion may not be. Alistair McCulloch plays a delightful version of Skinner’s air Herr Roloff’s Farewell, and Archie McAllister finishes a very fine set with Feadan Glan A’Phiobair. Other familiar names include The Lads of Laois, The Silver Spire and The Curlew. Grey Larsen’s great jig Thunderhead makes an unscheduled appearance, but generally the notes are spot on in four languages. A nice selection and a good introduction to Scottish fiddle music: as usual with ARC, all these tracks come from KRL albums so there’s plenty to follow up if you like what you hear.
Alex Monaghan


Live at St James Church Dingle

Various Artists

TRA CD 4022, 15 Tracks
About a month or slightly more ago, I was sitting in front of the computer in my normal half-conscious, somnambulant state. The phone rang; it was Alan O’Leary from London and the fab Copperplate Distribution calling. “Have you heard Béal Tuinne yet?” It is the most amazing album I’ve heard in my years in the business. Have you heard it?” No. But, suddenly, excitement was in the air. Says Alan, “I’ll mp3 you one of the songs immediately”. True to his word, he sent me the cut of Ciúmhais Charraig Aonair. To say I was bolted to my office chair through all 20 immediately repeated playings would be an understatement. Stunned. Immobile. Shattered.

Shaun Davey is Ireland’s greatest composer. How many years ago did we first hear the iconic Brendan Voyage? The Pilgrim - Granuaile - The Relief of Derry Symphony? A symphonic composer employing Irish instruments, themes and melodies of such exquisite taste and genius I have been a fan for ages. Decades, really. And, his wife! Rita Connolly first transfixed us with her voice in Granuaile. A voice from heaven.
On with the story. He and wife Rita bought a summer home on the Dingle Peninsula a few years ago. Shaun and Rita, like every one of us who has ever been there, had fallen in love with the place. Once settled in the inspiration took hold, and Shaun started writing music.

Songs were needed, or at least lyrics to do justice to the music, and this is where Éilis Kennedy steps in. Her late father was Caoimhín Ó Cinneide (Kennedy) of the Blasket Islands, he was, in a way of thinking about it, perhaps, the poet laureate of Dingle. After he passed away his poems were collected in a small volume. Now that had been out of print for some time by the time Shaun and Rita arrived on the Peninsula, fortunately for Irish music, someone brought the volume to Shaun, and it inspired him.

Rehearsals. Meetings. Notes. More rehearsals, re-workings, changes - and then, more rehearsal. And, then, it all came together almost a year ago on a magic evening in September of 2007 at the small St. James Church in the town of Dingle itself.

If I could own only one Irish album, this would be it. Don’t screw this up. Get it. It will touch your ears with a gentleness equalled only by its caress of your heart and memory. It is a masterpiece, and all the poems (lyrics) can be found in the English translations online at the Béal Tuinne website. Just Google it. It has never, and will never, be done better than this.
Bill Margeson