Releases > October 2009

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After the Morning
Own Label BBM004
12 tracks, 47 minutes

In relaxed mood, Roscommon accordionist Alan Kelly’s third solo CD is gentler than you might expect. A couple of his own laid-back jigs lead up to The Mountain Top and The Jolly Tinker, but even these toe-tapping reels don’t get Alan’s piano box out of third gear.

The first of two languid vocal tracks features Eddi Reader in a modern docu-ballad with a fascinating historical background, sung somewhere between Barlinnie and Baton Rouge. Skipping ahead, Kris Drever delivers the traditional Nova Scotian miner’s song, Caledonia, in dark dreaming tones while Alan mimics church organ and blues harp. In between lies a microcosm of After the Morning; Alan’s poignant air Eolann, a pair of old-time dance tunes reinforcing the Louisiana connection, another two Kelly compositions (a Tuscan-inspired waltz and a mildly sympathetic jig), and a second set of Irish reels.

By now the groove is established and you’re happily cruising through comforting and assured musical scenery, not worrying which country you’re in or whether the backdrop is flute’n'fiddle or bass’n'drums. The arrangements are world class, as are the guest musicians, and Ireland is always somewhere in the mix. The final four tracks of After the Morning are a breathtaking voyage up the west coast of Europe. First you’re in Asturias for the virtuoso fiesta dance Jota da Maia, then on to Brittany for the fiddle and accordion magic of Christian Le Maitre’s air Tana and Henri Léon’s swirling dance tune Son Ar Rost, before disembarking back in Roscommon as New Year’s Day ends this recording. Each of the dozen tracks here is a work of art, carefully crafted and polished: no fireworks, no grand gestures, and the accordion isn’t always centre stage, but Alan Kelly is in total control throughout, doing what he does best, and I love it.
You can find out more at
Alex Monaghan

Sailing Ships and Sailing Men
Gransha Records SK0015
19 tracks, 68 minutes

The Clown Prince of Irish music has come out with a very interesting album that centres on sailing, sailors, and the sea. It is dedicated to the late Tommy Makem, whose influence is palpable on this work. The album is tasked with the theme of songs of the sea. This isn’t an easy job to do, as too much of a good thing can be overwhelming. However, the Belfast native does a very good job of tacking into the winds on this. It mixes the familiar, (Paddy Lay Back, the Mary Ellen Carter), with the obscure, (The Boys of Killybegs) and gives all a good presentation.

The opening number, The Day of Clipper, is done in the style of Makem, to the point where it seems Kennedy is channelling him. South Australia comes across well played and sung. One nice surprise is the song, Báidín Fheidhlimidh, wherein Kennedy gives Billy McComiskey’s box playing great accompaniment. Roll the Old Chariot Along is a nicely done a cappella song, and the backing harmonies are pitch perfect.
Again, this is a work based on a theme, and even for the most diehard fans of sea songs, it may prove too much of a good thing in a one-time listen through. This doesn’t take away from the quality of the work though. Kennedy’s voice is on target, the backing players are first rate. In lesser hands, it might have proved to be too saccharine, but Kennedy has the panache and ability to pull this off.

This album is a great tribute to Makem, who did so much to preserve many of these songs. Kennedy has done an equal job in preserving the spirit of them.
Brian Witt

Songs I Grew Up To
Self produced
12 tracks, 48 minutes

Siobhan O’Brien has managed to bring back my youth in music. On Songs I Grew Up To, the Limerick singer crosses the spectrum of pop, rock, folk and traditional music to present a nice blend of songs that are done well.

O’Brien is the owner of a strong voice and a good sensibility for song selection. Her presentation of The Lakes of Ponchartrain is one of the best I have ever heard from anyone. The Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney’s backing on uilleann pipes gives the song a bit more poignancy than normal. The L & N Don’t Stop Here No More is an Appalachian tinged, bluegrass-based song that features O’Brien and Sara Petite in a grand duet. Moloney reappears on The Long Black Veil, and his playing pushes O’Brien’s signing to reach to its most soulful. The Fox is a traditional song that gets a good presentation here.

O’Brien has surrounded herself with a number of O’Briens on this recording with backing vocals. She also uses the talents of Paul Kelly on fiddle and mandolin, Martin O’Malley on guitar and banjo, and Declan Aungier on button box. The talent helps to keep this album centred, but O’Brien, with just her voice and guitar, might have been able to do the same.

The album is on the folksy side of music, but it is a cleverly arranged and produced, clever in its placement of songs, not in artifice. O’Brien’s Songs I Grew Up To might make many wish to go back to their youth.
Brian Witt

Own Label MCRCD001
13 tracks, 61 minutes
Partners in Edinburgh band Ceolbeg in the nineties, harpist Wendy Stewart and piper Gary West share a taste for authentic Scottish music and exciting arrangements, and that’s pretty much what Hinterlands delivers. The core of clarsach and smallpipes is swelled by highland pipes, whistle, concertina, and occasional guests. Starting with Gordon Duncan’s air, Full Moon Down Under, this recording spans five centuries of Scottish music: Port and Canaries from the renaissance, through Burns and Bobby MacLeod, to new compositions by Matt Seattle, Gordon Duncan, and a tune Gary composed with his brother Niall.

The Ceolbeg sound is still evident on many tracks, a combination of driving pipes and deep throbbing harp with some fine drumming from the band’s drummer Jim Walker. Murdo Mackenzie of Torridon has a strong pipe-band swagger to it, and Miss Proud caps a set of steaming pipe reels. Other tracks are more stately: Lancashire Hornpipes is a pair of old English dance tunes in 3/2, and Port Set chains three ancient harp tunes in a powerful solo from Wendy. Gary takes the lead on another cross-border piece, the recently composed waltz, Goodwife of Morpeth, by Matt Seattle, which also features Christine Hanson on cello.
Although Wendy and Gary were not particularly known for their singing with Ceolbeg, Hinterlands includes six vocal pieces - four sung by Wendy, and two from Gary. Don’t expect solo vocal careers from either of these guys just yet, but there’s plenty to recommend the songs here. Of the two Burns numbers Wendy sings, Ae Fond Kiss is the better known but it is set here to an unfamiliar Gaelic melody. The Slave’s Lament is paired with a Cuban tango - dark and eerie on harp and cello. There’s a darker side to Wendy’s unusual setting of Marie Hamilton too, a traditional tale of scandal and death in the royal household and Gary’s choice of The Twa’ Sisters isn’t much cheerier. Hinterlands finishes with a short six-minute piobaireachd on highland pipes and harp, a beautiful piece which only deepens the controversy over which of these noble instruments spawned this highest form of Scottish music. Check it out at - well worth a look!
Alex Monaghan


Strewn with Ribbons
Own Label MBR2CD
11 tracks, 51 minutes
For her second recording, this BBC award-winning highland fiddler has gone back to early 19th century manuscripts for most of the material. There are six of Lauren’s own compositions here but the rest come from four recently republished collections of East Highlands music.

Anyone who thinks there are no great old tunes left to discover should revise their opinion after hearing this CD: forgotten reels, strathspeys, airs and jigs come alive in Lauren’s hands. There’s that same sweetness of fiddle tone which has always been her hallmark, and a supremely delicate touch on the bow, backed by Barry Reid’s guitar and Mhairi Hall on keyboards. If Lauren MacColl’s debut recording was a revelation, this follow-up CD underlines her growing reputation as one of today’s finest fiddlers.

It’s hard to think of a better young slow air player than Lauren. Inspired by Aly Bain, she has the same firm but gentle control, the same emphasis on tone and tunefulness. Oigfhear a’Chuil Duinn opens this album, the first of five haunting airs here: two from Gaelic songs, two fiddle laments, and Lauren’s own Honesty, named for the plant. There are a couple of charming dance tunes played at almost slow-air speed too: Fair an’ Lucky and Hard to the Bone, both instant winners. Lauren picks up the pace on other melodies, but never loses her assured touch. William’s Love and Miss Nicholson are fine driving reels, Mr Sinclair Younger and Strathbogie have that characteristic Northeast bounce, and there’s plenty of snap in the strathspeys and jigs too. I’ll definitely put Strewn with Ribbons on my 2009 top ten list! There’s more I could mention, but you can find out all about this beautifully presented CD at including samples and mail order.
Alex Monaghan

Laughing Girl
Foot Stompin’ Records FSR1738
11 tracks, 41minutes

Jenna Reid’s second solo album, The Laughing Girl, is a good mix of fiddling tunes from Scotland and Ireland, as well as a couple of songs that showcases this Shetland player’s talents. Reid opens the recording with The Laughing Girl, a jumping series of reels, including two of her own composition. She wisely follows this with The Hams of Muckle Roe, a song written by her mother, Joyce Reid, in which the younger Reid demonstrates a sweet and light singing style.

Where Reid excels in her playing is on the slow airs. Her William and Eileen Reid is a touching piece she composed for her grandparents. Niel Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife is evocative and moving, and she manages to find all the sentiment that this old air is supposed to have. Equally impressive is Simon Thoumire’s The Skye Diving Waltz.

On The Laughing Girl, Reid has surrounded herself with a good group of musicians to make this album good, including her sister, Bethany Reid, Kevin Mackenzie, Duncan Lyall and James Thomson, and Martin O’Neill.

It is good to see that Reid is coming into her own as a composer. Equally impressive is the fact that Reid is a great translator of others tunes. She takes the tunes to herself, and claims ownership of them. She plays with a vibrancy and passion that is impressive in its presentation. Reid’s sophomore work has earned honours, and is well worth the listen.
Brian Witt

Between Wick and Flame
Run Wild Records 07
12 tracks, 62 Minutes

Between Wick and Flame is the fifth offering from the Williamsburg, Virginia band. They have in the past used a liberal mixture of Irish and Scottish music with a good dash of literature tossed in. Founder, Dave Doersch, once taught English Literature at university level and he still brings about a good serving of it to the band’s sound. There is a wonderful blending of voices in a cappella singing, literary allusions, and musical blending in a sweeping work. It traverses this world and the other world, joy of life and the sadness of war.

Finnean’s Dance is a trip to faery land, a robust piece that highlights Doersch’s writing. Doug Bischoff’s version of the story of the faery knight Tam Lin is given a good go. William Blake’s poem, The Tiger opens to didgeridoo and some hard percussion by Catherine Hauke, and a recitation that is true to Blake’s meaning.
The tone of the album tends towards the dark in many of the songs. One set of three songs, presented separately, ‘In Service to the Crown’, includes The King’s Proud Dragoons, We Be Soldiers Three/Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye and Falcon’s Mouth, uses three differing styles of music to showcase the futility of war.
The first uses Hauke’s vocals in a languid delivery. We Be is given a martial beat and great harmonies are seamlessly married to stress the often unseen cost of loss of limb in battle. Falcon’s Mouth is almost anthem-like, with pipes and percussion. La Pucelle tells of the life of a soldier in the army of Joan of Arc.
This is a very musical, well written, well played work. Coyote Run weaves its way with tunes and songs into intricate patterns to good form.
Brian Witt


The Harpers Connellan
Irish Music of the late 17th Century
Own label, 12 tracks.

A special welcome for Kathleen’s fifth solo album. ‘Tis said that the three aims of journalism are to inform, to educate and to entertain but it takes a special gift to get hold of dots written with a quill pen by fingers long gone to dust, and resurrect them into full singing glory. Special brownie points for those who unearth lute tablature.

This CD hunts down the relationship between Molly McAlpin and Poll Ha’penny, (not to mention its affinity to O’Carolan’s, Farewell to Music, and Moore’s, Remember the Glories of Brian the Brave) and the various incarnations of Limerick’s Lmentation/Lochaber No More. A lot of the work involved in this kind of research is peeling back the wrong-headed notions of the 19th century, from Matthrew Arnold’s Celtic Twilight to Lady Sidney’s memorial tablet to O’Carolan in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, describing him as the last of the bards - which he wasn’t.

In the mid-1700’s, Irish musicians had a high status. Handel is recorded as saying he would have exchanged half his output if he could have written Eibhlín a Rún. But then he was a diplomat and a businessman. Listening to this CD, I felt that all involved should be very proud of evoking the whole-sound world, a stately mix of love and learning, which resurrects the world of the Connellan brothers. They were two brothers from Cloonmahon Co. Sligo, and they appear to have ended up in Scotland, where one of them, Thomas, was made a burgomaster of Edinburgh in 1717.

Most of the work preserved was gathered at the Belfast Harper’s Meeting in 1792 by Edward Bunting. Fine singing too from Sean Garvey (there’s an opera singer lost in him) and Éamon Ó Bróithe. There’s a little note to say the tunes are available in book form.

First Sighting
Navigator Records 28
10 tracks, 49 minutes

Innovative, experimental, and fun;. Martin Green, piano accordion demon with Lau, has produced a genre-defying album which combines humour, electronic effects, good old-fashioned music, and weirdness. A lot of weirdness. Skip track 1 - we’ll come back to it - and go straight to 23A, a lovely piece of Scottish accordion music which wanders into a Tapas bar and ends up paying protection money to Argentine gangsters. Mac the Nerd eventually re-emerges, a couple of tequilas short of the gutter, and wanders off to catch the last bus home, I assume. The horn section sticks around for Quayle Paint, topping and tailing a song about love and art from Inge Thomson, before Horse, a long and complex piece with more female vocals and a catchy little musical helter-skelter.

Give Up the Body is a bit of fun with hints of Madness in the Ska sense, very entertaining. Rory is altogether weird, but PSP gets back to the Green Machine core groove of funky accordion, blaring brass and female vocals. I wrote that with a straight face until I heard the kindergarten choir bit. Can’t Use A Map starts from a false premise, and kind of gets lost up a few blind alleys, not surprisingly. Shudder is a fascinating experiment gone right, and The Disappearing Platelayer ends this recording in suitably surreal fashion.
Now you’re ready for track 1, Repetition, the place where all Martin’s crazier ideas ended up, perhaps the product of too much genius, perhaps just a whole lot of fun. It seems to celebrate the status of the accordion as the Inspector Clouseau of instruments: not glamorous or sophisticated, but somehow it gets the job done, and ends up a hero surrounded by adoring women. Something like that anyway. Try it and see! Appealing artwork, a healthy dose of self-knowledge, and a built-in bedtime story make this CD an intriguing experience, almost irresistible for accordion aficionados.
Alex Monaghan

Naked with Friends
Sugar Hill Records SUG-CD-4018
13 tracks, 38mins 12secs

Hurray for the Singer! Hurray for the Song! Hurray for the Voice! This is a celebration of voice and song, a call on one and all to sit back and enjoy, and let’s have ’silence for the singer’. It’s shut-eyed a cappella singing at its most gloriously laid back. On this new CD, Maura O’Connell Naked with Friends, the Clare-born singer asserts, “Yeah, I’m just a singer,” and invites her friends to join her in sharing her delight in what matters to her most of all: the voice and the song.
There is no instrumental accompaniment on the recording but then, with friends like Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Kate Rusby, and Paul Brady - to name just a few - who needs stringed, wind, or other such-like instruments?

“I have often wondered why singing is not considered by many to be a skill unto itself,” Maura says. Her new CD proves her point. When she was growing up she just sang out for the sheer joy of it and she didn’t feel the need of any backing instrument at all. “I always found that if the song was worth its salt, it could stand on its own”. Maura grew up singing, thanks to her mother, Amby Costello O’Connell, who encouraged her and her sisters to sing. “She loved singing and singers, and passed on that love to all our family.”
And so, she has selected a total of thirteen songs which she believes have proven their worth over time. There are nine in English, three in the Irish language, and one in Spanish. “When I finally started to work on - and not just talk about - this record, these songs and many others came to mind.” In the studio she discovered that some of the songs she had in mind simply didn’t work, “…and some I wasn’t sure about came out well.”

The disc opens with Jimmy McCarthy’s perennial favourite, The Bright Blue Rose, with harmony vocals by Kate Rusby and Dolly Parton, and a glorious backing supplied by The Settles Connection choir that seems ideally suited to the almost hymn-like quality of the song. Maura’s voice has matured wonderfully and it has acquired an appealingly low alto quality so that her use of the lower register blends beautifully with Kate’s and Dolly’s higher harmonies. This quality is heard throughout the recording and used to great effect - in Mo Sheamuseen, where Jerry Douglas sings with her in Gaelic throughout the song; in Some People’s Lives where she’s joined by Alison Krauss; in Tim O’Brien harmonies in The Blacksmith; and in Paul Brady’s singing with her, Anach Cuain. There are other friends there too, of course, including Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Dugas, Darrell Scott, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Moya Brennan, and Mary Black. When one is blessed with a voice as glorious as hers, Maura’s solo ‘naked’ singing in two songs proves her own point that singers need not feel they must always be accompanied. Her view is emphasized in the parting line of her CD notes: “The joy of singing for its own sake is what makes you a singer. Sing out, sing often!”
Aidan O’Hara

Trails for Celtic Harp

Stefano Corsi is the harp player with the group Whiskey Trail, and that’s a group whose inspiration is Giula Lorimer. A lot of the Irish angle comes from Melita Cataldi, professor of Irish Literature at the University of Turin. Certainly, one of the aims seems to be to strip back all the formalities and let people enjoy themselves. I’ve seen a video of a New Year’s concert which was verily, a fine bit of ’scleip’ and head banging, and none the worse for that. But they also set medieval Irish lyrics to their own music, and that’s a bit like doing a delta blues version of Chaucer. Sure, not to worry. Wasn’t Dante a typical Celtic seanchaí?
“Behave yourself and pay up or I’ll put you in my big poem and ’twill be remembered to you with many years down.” We understand this. Get past this conceptual framework and hey, Stefano is a very fine player on Celtic harp, wire strung (good lad!), with mouth organ on top, like a bardic Bob Dylan. Times, they are a changing. There’s even a bit of double track Port a’ Bheal, and a reference to fairies. Now fairies were not nice people. They were generally malevolent capricious ‘gowans’. Look into the background of a tune like The Nine Points of Roguery and you’ll get the idea. And we know the area where there happened the burning of Bridget Cleary.

Standards here are Mná na hÉireann and Sliabh na mBan. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to set music to poems by WB Yeats. Except for The Sally Gardens, there doesn’t appear to have been acceptance of him. Obviously his own use of Celtic Mythology, like the curious New Israelites who trashed the Hill of Tara, is a side-boreen in our history.

None of which should divert us from the central point that Stefano is a very fine player who is helping take the wire-strung harp out of museum land and back into playing areas where it belongs.
John Brophy



Sony Music Entertainment

11 tracks 44 minutes 21 seconds

Two pure voices from Dingle rediscovering almost a dozen folk classics is how I’d briefly sum up this new album from Éilis Kennedy and Pauline Scanlon.

The material is beautifully arranged and impeccably presented by the duo whose voices combine so well you’d think they were siblings. The duo is backed by a set of luminaries that includes Donogh Hennessey, Sean Regan and James O’Grady on the more traditional instruments with Claire Kenny, and Kevin Armstrong bringing in their portion from the rock world. There are more players on the album too and Seamus Begley weighs in with some harmony singing on Óro Mo Bháiidín, Damien Dempsey is brought into the vocal mix on The West’s’ Awake where he give an assured but low key performance, something which will comes a pleasant surprise to his many fans.

Knowing the provenance of Lumiere we might have expected the album to be heavy with songs from South West Munster, not to be limited by locality their material is wide ranging as the ladies delve into the song traditions of England (Spencer the Rover) America (Way Fairing Stranger) and the old Martin Wyndham Reed classic from New South Wales, The Streets of Forbes.

This album is best played loud, a turn of the volume knob brings out the complexities of the accompaniment which is a joy to listen to. Sony look to have a hit on their hands here. Lumiere ticks all the boxes, familiar folk with a new twist, laid back enough for a general audience, voices that are pleasing and clear without ever being strident or hectoring, backing that is never repetitive or stale. Live they have the potential to fill folk clubs and concert halls and if there is justice in the world Éilis and Pauline ought to become household names.

The booklet is superbly presented and the photography is high class and the design a joy, and admirably the words of the songs and some personal background about each of them are included.

Check out our interview with Lumiere in the next issue of Irish Music Magazine.

Seán Laffey


Music from Ireland and Scotland
Mill Records, MRCD 020
12 Tracks, 47 minutes

This is an album with an obvious title but it’s so much more besides. Most of us will know Gráinne as a harp and concertina player. Mr Jackson come from Glasgow and was a founding member of the group Ossian. It’s like a grand re-union to hear them together, each contributing bits from their respective traditions that were lost.

I particularly liked the track Ge Do Theid Mi Do M’Leabaidh (’Though I go to my Bed’) / Drunk at Night and Dry in the Morning) The usual pains of l’amour - sure, you know yerself). Overall, the speeds are sprightly, but it doesn’t muddy the harmonies. Certainly it goes a long way to dispel notions that the harp is a safe if thin-toned instrument whereby well-bred convent schoolgirls can display their accomplishments (and bare arms).

You might say that a track of more than five minutes is self-indulgent, but it’s so obvious that they love making music together. Grainne, too, has some fine concertina playing, with a fine sense of style and no forcing on the high notes. Incidentally, they have the tune Celia Connellan, which also features on Kathleen Loughnane’s collection. It’s a persuasive argument that the harp belongs foursquare among traditional instruments, and the more we discover who we were and really are, the more important it’s going to be.
John Brophy