Releases > November 2008

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For Love & Laughter
Compass Records 4490
12 tracks, 51 minutes
I have to say they’ve done it again: another great album from Solas. This unassuming bunch of Irish and Irish/American virtuosi has been consistently brilliant since their inception a dozen years ago. It’s fresh, it’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s still identifiably Irish. The instrumental genius of Séamus Egan, Mick McAuley and Winnie Horan offers up six tracks of tunes: Shannonesque goodtime music with Eoin Bear’s Reel, the gorgeous bittersweet air My Dream of You and everything in between. Vital Mental Medicine, Solo Double Oh, John Riordan’s Heels; there’s plenty of humour in the titles and the melodies. The Lisnagun Jig is a cracker, and The Rossa Reel is nearly as good.

Solas’ endless stream of excellent singers has washed down Máiréad Phelan from the rich ore-bearing seams of Kilkenny. Molly na gCuahc ni Chuilean is a clear highlight, the spine-tingling Gaelic melody beautifully sung. Gallant Hussar and The Sailor Song are similarly big ballads, ancient and modern, delivered with power and passion. Seven Curses belongs to that group of outlaw songs from the Irish migration westward across North America: it’s one of the briefer and more sordid stories of its type, with no punches pulled. Merry Go Round and There is a Time are altogether more civilized, gentle modern ditties of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

You are in for a treat with this commercially packaged album but bottom line is, the music speaks for itself.
Alex Monaghan


The Barley Grain
Celtic Music LK-CD-001
15 Tracks, 58:37 minutes
Larry Kinsella’s debut album is a breath of fresh air from the over the top experimentation with sound that has become a given with so many new traditional music albums. Low on ornamentation and high on skill, Larry Kinsella touches the heart with his simplistic beauty in such a way that one would be forgiven for thinking that this album was released in the 1930’s.

The concertina maestro draws his repertoire for the album from a wide range of legendary musicians - the spirits and styles of fiddle players Bobby Casey and Neillie Boyle and pipers Tommy Reck and Leo Rowsome can all be heard throughout. With these influences and Larry’s own Wexford style combined, the fifteen tracks are tinged with an almost maudlin and lonesome touch. Well-known tunes like The Green Mountain, The Stone in the field and My Love in the Morning are heard here in their truest form. The climax of the album is in Larry’s delivery of the Speed the Plough selection which is played with a grace and a softness that is hard to rival.

Larry is accompanied on four tracks by Dublin fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and very sensitively backed by Gavin Ralston on guitar for eight tracks. Kieran Munnelly lends a hand on the bodhrán and flute to cap off the accompaniment team to whom special praise must go for their performances on the album.

Completely devoid of any pretentiousness or pressure, The Barley Grain is a delightful rarity that comes highly recommended.
Pearse Ó Caoimhe


What’s The Rumpus?
Lost Again Records
Distributed by MRI/SonyRED
14 Tracks - running time 53.24 minutes
Gaelic Storm was first known as the dance band in the Irish steerage section in the movie Titanic. Since then, with a mixture of party music and festival travelling, they have become one of the most popular bands on the tour circuit. There have always been very good musicians in the group, but What’s the Rumpus is their best work yet.

Corkman, Patrick Murphy sets the tone of the album with the opening of the title track, when a bit of football stadium cheering starts out the piece with “Cad é an scéal á buachaill?” wherein a wild night at a party is described. Thus the tone of the album is set.

The giddiness continues with Darcy’s Donkey, a tale of a derby-running, cratur-drinking ass. Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way (Of A Good Story) covers the career of the group, from early days
in California to The Movie, and beyond. The Night I Punched Russell Crowe recounts Murphy’s time as a bartender when he made a request of ‘The Gladiator’ that ended up in a truncated fight.

Not all is cheeriness, however. Steve Twigger’s rendition of Lover’s Wreck brings out the serious side of the band in a song of love, loss and sadness. On Human to a God Murphy takes the lead on this ballad, a somewhat sardonic look at love, and request to the higher powers to help in matters of the heart. Twigger is also able to deliver the melancholy of living far from home on Faithful Land.

Then there is what is most likely the best song, Beidh Aonach Amárach (There is a Fair Tomorrow), with Murphy on vocals, singing about the pleadings of a young girl to go to meet a young man of her dreams. The piping of Pete Purvis gives the proper plaintive background, and Jessie Burns’ fiddle fills in the rest.

The addition of Scottish fiddler Burns helps to propel the group along on most numbers, be it in frenetic playing, or soft touches. She is the most recent in a series of very good fiddlers to grace the band. The Mechanical Bull, which starts slowly, is a fiery piece, and showcases her ability to good cause. Death Ride to Durango also gives her the chance to step out front, along with percussionist Ryan Lacey. Purvis’ piping shines on Floating the Flambeau; a rollicking set of reels that also gives Burns another chance to excel in a well played duet, with Lacey’s percussion setting the syncopation. The Samurai Set also features Burns, Lacey, and Purvis in an exhilarating display of their musicianship.

What’s the Rumpus? is a fun, well-played work. Gaelic Storm has come of age musically on this album.
Brian Witt


40th Anniversary Album
Disc 1: 21 tracks; 75 minutes
Disc 2: 20 tracks; 63 minutes
Anyone who denies the concept of parallel universes should take a trip to Armagh. On a summer weekend on the Mall you can hear the sound of Cricket ball on willow bat as the cathedral bells chime for Evensong; the cars passing by have the saffron colours of the county GAA team. And there is the storehouse of music called the Armagh Pipers Club, which has survived and prospered through decades of civil conflict, and kept alive traditions going all the way back to Queen Maeve in nearby Emhain Macha and the stories of the Red Branch Knights. So what we have here is a mighty monument to the survival of the music and to dedication of players and teachers. It started small but it just grew to two and a half hours of music.

Armagh has two core values with the music: first, no competitions. The teachers foster a nurturing environment based on cooperation, and as anyone involved in teaching knows, one of the worst dangers to be avoided is the Seething and Ambitious Parent. Second, there is a large emphasis on memory. Even before they get paws on an instrument, the children must learn a song by heart. It’s an essential part of the training.

Fintan Vallely contributes a closely argued 14-page essay in the liner notes; the Vallely involvement in the music and collecting goes back well over a century. There are lovely pieces and songs here from all generations and there are 12 groups named. But the sleeve - printed in the saffron of Armagh rather than the Orange of a certain ould flute - is very difficult to read, and I can’t discern the names of performers, who must include some big names of tomorrow. And I’d love the words of the songs, especially the ones in Irish.

Great local songs like The Lurgan Hare, and The Mountain Streams Where the Moorcocks Crow. A lovely harp solo too on The Wild Geese (Limerick’s Lamentation). You can’t exaggerate the influence of the pipers’ club in fostering the Irish language either. And even in the height of the Troubles there were folks prepared to drive from Derry and Donegal on winter nights because they believed in the music and community. Congratulations all round: go maire an cead.
John Brophy


Áthas CD 001
15 Tracks
Running Time 48.22
Áthas has become the band of choice for dancers in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas in a very short time. Their first album is self-titled: Irish for joy and happiness. It is an interesting and tuneful work, made up of old tunes and new compositions.
Áthas is made up of fiddler Heather Lewin-Tiarks, Jeff Ksiazek on guitar, whistles, and flute and Amy Richter on bodhrán, djiembe and whistles. Guest, Kathleen Bremer, joins them on flute. The fifteen pieces on the album cover a wide range of styles. It opens with a pair of tunes written by the trio, The Cheesehead Polka/ The $150 Boot polkas delivered in perfect dance rhythm. The old reliable, Boys of Tandagree is teamed up with a couple of other jigs, Tuesday Morning/Checkered Blanket, written by Heather.
Iníon ní Mhicheál is a sweet and sweeping waltz written by Jeff Ksiazek with the three blending in perfectly. His guitar leads into the tune, and is followed by Lewin-Tiarks fiddle, and then Richter’s drumming. Richter’s drumming is also prominently featured on the reels Drowsy Maggie/Mountain Road/Tam Lin. Lewin-Tiarks comes to the fore on Spootiskerry/Teatime with Seamus with nicely balanced delivery. Ksiazek and Richter collaborate on whistles on An Choisir/Micho Russell’s/Rejected Suitor with Lewin-Tiarks providing the backing rhythm on fiddle.
The only complaint I have is the freshman sensibility of trying to be too clever, which the band does by adding fake break endings on a couple of the tunes. Other than that, this is really a very well played and produced work. Áthas it is, joyful to hear.
Brian Witt


Out of the Wind, Into the Sun
Mulligan Records LUNCD 3013
10 tracks, 49 minutes
Another ’70’s re-release on the Mulligan label by Compass Records, this classic Bothy Band album was their last studio recording. The songs are not particularly remarkable; three English ballads, all sung by Tríona, but there are some smashing instrumentals featuring Paddy Keenan on pipes, Matt Molloy on flute, and Kevin Burke on flddle. The Fisherman’s Lilt is a great wee tune, finishing the opening set of reels. The Pipe on the Hob was one of Paddy Keenan’s trademark pieces, an earthy piping jig with bags of character. Not to be outdone, Kevin Burke bows a beautiful version of The Strayaway Child. The set of Kerry slides starting with The Priest has always been one of my favourite Bothy Band tracks, and of course A Jig and Five Reels has set the standard for three decades of Irish album content.

There are several innovative and adventurous touches on this album. The Leitrim Fancy leads into a reel version of the same melody. The Blackbird starts off as an air, then shifts to a set dance, and finally becomes a reel. The Maids of Mitchelstown joins Julia Delaney as one of the great slow reels. The Factory Girl, The Streets of Derry and The Sailor Boy are all well known songs now, but that wasn’t so thirty years ago.

Dónal Lunny and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill knew a thing or two about accompaniment, too.
Perhaps today’s recordings are more polished, perhaps today’s musicians are more accomplished, but very few groups have measured up to the sheer musicality and energy of The Bothy Band. It’s good to have them back.
Alex Monaghan


Consider the Source
Cló Iar Chonnachta CICD 173
15 tracks, 65 minutes

This is a powerful, mature recording and like a well-aged cheese, this CD pervades the senses and leaves you yearning for another morsel. Of course, this may come as no surprise if you’ve followed Brian Conway’s career: he’s been rubbing shoulders with such greats as Joe Burke and Felix Dolan, and absorbed more than a little flavour from the late great Andy McGann’s music.

As an Irish American fiddler, he could hardly have wished for a better environment. Grand old reels a plenty grace this album: Trim the Velvet, Lord Gordon’s, Larry Redican’s, The Peeler’s Jacket and Lucy Campbell among them. No surprise again; as a youngster Brian benefited from the teaching of Martin Mulvihill, Martin Wynne and Lad O’Beirne, so his Sligo fiddling roots are as deep as any and his connections to Coleman beyond reproach. There’s a longish essay setting out Brian’s background in the sleeve notes: the bottom line is, given where he comes from he should be good. And he is, turning his hand to slow airs and waltzes as well as showpieces like Madam Maxwell with a lovely tone throughout from his Degani violin. The only weakness I detect is on the jigs, three sets of them, and all short of lift and swagger until Brian is joined by Billy McComiskey on button box.

In fact, Brian is joined by eleven musical friends here, accompanists and melody instruments, with a song each from Niamh Parsons and Dan Milner. Highland Mary is a fascinating voice and fiddle duet, putting old words to this slow air. Matt Hyland is more of a band setting for a romantic ballad. Other highlights include a captivating set of hornpipes and a gutsy performance of the oft neglected Jackson’s Reels. After over an hour of music, Consider the Source finishes with a blast of perennial favourites: Bonnie Kate, Jenny’s Chickens, The Mason’s Apron and Peter Street refreshingly played. A fitting end to a fine CD.
Alex Monaghan


Arty McGlynn, Nollaig Casey, Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris Newman
Old Bridge Music OBMCD18
14 tracks. 45minutes and 13 seconds
I must have heard this a hundred time or more, enough to get to really like it. My verdict? It is a wonderfully diverse album from four musicians who have been around for a long time. How long? Well I recall booking Chris Newman when he was playing with Fred Wedlock back in the 1970’s, so I suppose three decades of professional music making is going to show its pedigree, and you wouldn’t be wrong to go looking for it here. If it doesn’t get hours of radio air time, there is no justice in this world.

There’s a mature confidence in everything the two duos touch on this album, evident from the opening Wild Goose Chase which started life as slow air but you’d hardly guess that from listening to the result. Some tunes are simple, but when given the masterly touch by producer, Chris Newman they breath a different sort of complexity. Take Tom Cronin’s Homework, it’s a bit of an Old Timey Appalachian number, not much more than a mandolin-led song melody, but I can see this appearing as a backing tune to a TV ad or two, it’s as infectious as say Sharon Shannon’s Galway Girl.

The album reflects the diverse musical roots of the four players, with the two sisters playing the strong Irish traditional cards, firstly on the gentle air Song of the Harp (from the Petrie Collection of 1855). What is pleasing about this track and indeed about the whole album is that each instrument is given its own voice within the arrangements and allowed to run with the melody, something not always present on albums featuring the guitar. But there are few albums with two world class guitarists as McGlynn and Newman. Catch their reworking of the 1959 Merle Travis number Saturday Night Shuffle, with Newman flat picking an acoustic guitar and McGlynn adding just the right amount of electric licks.

It’s not all tunes as there are two songs (Among the Heather and A Mháire Ban Óg) and the surprise here is that it is Nollaig not Máire who is singing them and what a good job she does, in a low sensuous voice.

If I had to make one overriding comment about the album is its sense of pace, dance tunes are fast but not frenetic, the American and euro-jazz influenced tunes are hummable and captivating, (El Vals Argentino is a stunner, and McGlynn’s Reminiscing has a classical Spanish feel abut it with one gorgeous minor moment at its end). The mix of other acoustic traditions sits comfortably with Irish jigs and reels. It has fourteen tracks but holds your interest form start to finish that you are surprised when it all ends. That because of the variety which sits you down in a comfy chair, makes you a cuppa and entertains you without shouting at you to have another biscuit.

One of the top drawer albums from one of the best independent labels in Celtic music.
Seán Laffey


Islands of the Moon
CDTRAX 307 2008
Mark Dunlop may be familiar as part of the group Malinky but now we get to experience him as a solo artiste on this great collection of songs, old and not so old. He returns to his Antrim roots to source some of the tracks on offer here and also shows his talent as a composer on a few tracks.

He opens the album with The Nightingale, which he tells us in the excellent booklet accompanying the album relates to a townland near Ballycastle. He stays in the province as he relates the tale of The Breaking of Omagh Jail. It is sung without accompaniment, giving it a lovely authentic feel. One of the more familiar songs on offer is The Black Velvet Band, attributed in the notes to “every single bloody pub singer”. This is a rather different rendition and it gives the old song a bit more heart, as it is delivered in a more narrative rather than bellowing, boisterous version.

He cites Luke Kelly as an inspiration for his vocals-only rendition of Ewan McColl’s The Lag’s Song, retelling the lament of a prisoner. A song I particularly enjoyed was The Quaker’s Song. It is a strong story song with a bit of humour and as such is the epitome of a good folk song. I was also impressed by the instrumental A 98 March performed on tin whistle and bodhrán to show us how, even with just those simple instruments, the Bargy Men could have still provided stirring march music.

He closes the session with the dark narrative of The Banks of Newfoundland. This album is revelatory in the new arrangements (or is it revived authentic arrangements?), of familiar songs as well as well-written instrumental pieces from Mark.
Nicky Rossiter


Navigator Records 12,
11 tracks, 46 minutes
Continuing their valiant efforts to drag rustic English music before a wider audience, John and Jon have parcelled up six songs from Shakespeare to Sidmouth, along with five sets of fine tunes, for their fifth or sixth album depending how you count them. This is definitely the acceptable face of English traditional vocals: no strained harmonies, no long drawn-out choruses, and no stumbling repetitive melodies.

Tom Puget is an entertaining variation on the begging ballad which lends this CD its name. The Birth of Robin Hood is a Child ballad with typical suspension of disbelief, full of colour and allegory. Captain Ward provides an excellent example of the pirate song, powerfully arranged on fiddle and melodeon. The instrumentals are a joy, from the Umps & Dumps favourite, Up the Sides and Down the Middle, to the haunting air Roslin Chapel given a Welsh twist here. There’s a rollicking version of Princess Royal and the gently charming Vignette to finish.

John Spiers and Jon Boden are supremely good at what they do: strong dramatic arrangements of folk songs, good clear vocals and pleasing harmonies, supplemented by dance music and airs on fiddle and melodeon. You won’t find many acoustic duos with a fuller sound. The Englishness is clear and inescapable with modal tunes, simple but effective chords, and timeless lines like “The salt fish in the brook” or, “Our ship was sailing from the east and going to the west”. Still, no worse than Lyle Lovett’s “Me upon my pony on my boat”, and Spiers & Boden’s delivery is exemplary. Vagabond is one of the best English folk recordings I’ve heard in years, fresh and energetic, expertly played and just that little bit different. Worth checking out, I’d say.
Alex Monaghan



To the Light

This is the third album of the work of Johnny Duhan I have reviewed in as many years and each one shows a more matured writer/ performer. On this album we get 15 tracks but he is cheating a little because some are revised versions of songs from older albums.

He opens the current offering with Don Quixote and takes on the persona of that old literary knight for the duration of the album. As usual he opens his heart and his life and experiences to the listener with that very distinctive voice and delivery. This revelatory exploration continues on tracks like My Gravity as he reminds us of the people we see without seeing on a daily basis.
The Beggar is one of the most heartfelt and saddening songs that one can hear. Listen closely to the lyrics and the sentiments and you will experience the humanity of the writer and gain insights into his take on what the beggar refers to, it’s not that straightforward. As usual we get tales of love. We hear of the joy of finding it and the even stronger songs about losing it. We have all experienced sentiments like those expressed on The Night You Left Me but we do not have the facility to express them as Duhan does so we can appropriate his words.

Following The Voyage and Just Another Town this album provides a rich vein of music and song that will not only be enjoyed by the casual or the dedicated listener, but will also provide material for other singers just like the earlier albums did.
Nicky Rossiter


Tráthnóna Beag Aréir
Gael Linn CEFCD 193
It seems like only yesterday - as the song puts it - that I first heard Belfast singer, Albert Fry, performing his Donegal songs in Irish. I had recently returned home from Canada and joined RTÉ, and some time later was invited, along with my wife Joyce, to sing on his TV series on TV. He was one of the few performers in the Irish language at the time that used the guitar for accompaniment and he enjoyed considerable success with his distinctive voice and style of singing.

In 1968 he began recording with Gael Linn, Ireland’s leading publishers of material in the Irish language then and since, and to mark the fortieth anniversary, they have reissued twenty-two of his songs on a CD entitled Tráthnóna Beag Aréir. They are all Ulster songs that Albert got from Aodh Ó Duibheannaigh, Seán Bán Mac Grianna and other musicians on his many visits to the Donegal Gaeltacht. The title track is by Séamus Ó Grianna.

If my memory serves me correctly, the title of that TV series of Albert’s nearly forty years ago was Caidé Sin Don Té Sin, taken from a song of that name that’s included on the CD. Its theme is not an uncommon one in the world of traditional songs: What’s it to any man whether or no… The writer figures that if he wants to spend the money he gets for the sale of his cow on drink, or go for a dander in the woods, or go carousing when he likes, well, it’s nobody’s business but his own. Take your choice of how he might be described: a free spirit or a waster!

Most of the songs are from Donegal, but a few are from the other side of Ulster, and include the well-known Antrim song, Ard Tí Chuain, and Peadar Ó Doirnín’s, Úrchnoc Chein Mhic Cainte, which Albert sang at the Dundalk commemoration of that poet in June 1969. There are two songs of Seán Bán Mac Grianna’s: Mheall Sí Lena A Glórthaí Mé, and Síos An Sliabh, which I think is his translation of the song in English, Down the Moor.

This is a little treasure of songs that will be welcomed by people who recall with pleasure Albert Fry’s performances all those years ago, and I’m told he still performs with the same spirit and enthusiasm today. Gael Linn has provided a booklet that comes with the CD, and it contains the words of all 22 songs.
Aidan O’Hara