Releases > December 2008

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The Fluteplayers of Roscommon, Vol. 2
Feadóg Mór Music 002
23 tracks, 59 minutes

Roscommon has a fabulous legacy of flute music, and this second volume of recordings includes six archive tracks from the twenties to the seventies, as well as seventeen new takes. It’s quite instructive to hear the likes of Packie Duignan and Josie McDermott alongside present-day players such as James Carty and Bronagh Needham. The grand old players may have had better days, but today’s Roscommon fluters would certainly give them a run for their money. Aidan and Breda Shannon lead off with a set of lyrical jigs, James Carty follows with a pair of rhythmic reels, and then we have two older tracks from Duignan and Glynn which lack a little in recording quality but are otherwise clearly from the same stable. You get the idea: contemporary players, some who have not recorded before, garnished with the occasional old master.

There’s some great music here from youngsters: The Boys of Ballymote is delivered by Finbarr McGreevy with total control, a mini masterpiece, and Bonnie Prince Charlie is a Scots or Donegal march powerfully played by Bronagh Needham. Other highlights include Alexander’s Hornpipe, The Red-Haired Lass and the air Lament for Tom Hale. Tom is one of three whistle-players featured on this CD; his sparkling version of The Mason’s Apron was recorded only a couple of years before his untimely death, and like several players here his music has not been heard as widely as it deserves. Full marks to Jon Wynne and his team for remedying that, and for putting together a fine hour of flute music.
Alex Monaghan


East Meets West
Warner Music DVD 87872
12 tracks, 50 minutes
Kodo drummers, iconic Japanese musicians with a spectacular repertoire, Donal Lunny, Planxty and Bothy Band pedigree, surrounded by the best of current Irish traditional talent. How they got together is never adequately explained in this 50-minute docu-concert DVD, but Donal’s band Coolfin certainly makes the most of the world’s biggest rhythm section. The documentary parts concentrate on Kodo: the lifestyle, the training and the philosophy of what is basically a drummers’ commune on a small Japanese island. Some of this footage is fascinating and the visual content can be beautiful - Japanese rural scenes, drums and drum-making, mental and physical training sessions. In between are snatches of performance from Kodo’s annual Earth Celebration festival, and most of the set from a 1998 Dublin concert featuring Kodo and Coolfin.

At times it’s a bit like a typical pub session - one fiddle, one box, a few flutes, a couple of guitars, and two dozen drummers, except that the musicians are some of the best Ireland has to offer, and the drummers know when to keep out of the way. The core of Coolfin - Donal Lunny, Mairéad Ní Dhomnaill, Nollaig Casey and John McSherry - are augmented by Sharon Shannon on bijou box and by Jean Butler’s hard-shoe dancing. Kodo flute players join Coolfin on a couple of numbers, and Coolfin’s drummers swell the percussion sound. There are some spectacular scenes - a five-minute solo on the giant O-Daiko drum, six feet across - the sound of pipes and whistle in a beautiful Japanese air called Iridori - the awesome discipline of five Kodo drummers playing in unison, or passing a rhythm from drum to drum - and the haunting bamboo flute taking the melody on Siul a’Ruin. Drummers and world music fans will love this DVD, there’s enough good Irish music in it for me, and it’s also perfect for anyone who wants to see what Donal Lunny looked like ten years ago. Definitely worth a look.
Alex Monaghan


Blackthorn Band
Hobgoblin Music HOBCD 1009 2008

This lovely album classes itself as, “a collection of traditional tunes and songs from Britain and Ireland”, and it opens with John’s Reels which they credit as collected from John Brewins of Brighton. There’s a location for such a set you don’t often see. In fact it is great to have an album that shows that England can have a good influence on our music and that many good tunes originate in settings other than the Celtic fringe.

I love the pairing of Spailpín Fánach and Hamilton House on this album. The playing on both is superb and uplifting to the spirit. Great as the instrumentals are, I love a bit of the vocals and on The Neat Little Bunch of Rushes the band show that they are well capable of this as well as the playing. The song is little known but is well representative of the older euphemistic writing. The band members are also adept at a bit of composition and display this ability on the beautifully titled Starling on the Wall.

The other vocal offering is The Banks of the Sweet Primroses that brings us back to the old days of the folk clubs when these story songs were in great vogue. The CD closes with a set the band say they brought from the United States and it is a beautiful closing set for a lovely album. Having greatly enjoyed this collection of fourteen songs and tunes I feel that this band would be even better in a live performance but failing that get the CD.
Nicky Rossiter


Wo Japen
Own label, 8 tracks, 40 minutes

I hesitate to dub these Galway boys, “the poor man’s Lúnasa”, but there aren’t that many whistle-led bands in Irish music and the similarities are numerous enough. Anyway, he who hesitates is late, so I won’t. Alalé combine Galician music and musicians with a modern approach to Irish traditional music. If I had to pigeonhole them (go on, go on!) I’d say this is jigging-about music, similar to MPE, Beoga, or the dance-music repertoire of Deiseal and indeed Lúnasa. I like it; it’s playful, energetic, engaging, and innovative if not entirely original. The Granny Bag could have stepped off a Lúnasa recording, except for the gaita part. High-octane whistling from Gabriel Wandelmer holds the reel-time melody while guitars and percussion do their stuff. The Forge Jigs are another set of Alalé compositions, Ciaran O’Donghaile adding flute to Wandelmer’s low whistle. We travel east to Greece for Bazaar Rumour and then it’s back to reels before a splendid Galician follada in festival mood.

Squealing Cats introduces Ciaran’s uilleann piping on a set of traditional reels, with first-rate playing on a couple of old favourites. Alalé are a four-piece, with the two front men supported by David Cardona on bodhrán and Fergal Walsh on strings and keyboards, plus a number of guests playing guitars and banging things. Although Wo Japen is quite short, they keep the excitement going to the end. A most unlikely waltz leads into the climactic Rumbas from Alcarria and Galicia. The music bursts forth from flutes and whistles, simply irresistible. Slightly off the wall, but highly enjoyable: check them out at or catch them live around Galway.
Alex Monaghan


Own label
12 tracks, 52 minutes

Based around the twin fiddles of Cath James and Martin Harwood, this trio plays Irish and Scottish music with flair and skill. They open with a powerful set of reels linking Ireland and Cape Breton: brooding rhythmic harmonies on the back strings, sparse guitar chords, and punchy melody lines on McIlhatton’s Retreat and Ciaran Tourish’s Reel. I’m impressed already. Cath James contributes a double handful of her own compositions, including the stately slow air Wedding at the Mill and the tender waltz Then and Now. Jerry Holland’s percussive jig Willie Joe’s is sandwiched between two more James tunes: I particularly like Moose Corner, not just because of its associations with Canadian games of hangman. Cath’s bittersweet air Away Again precedes a tasty double-guitar arrangement of a tune I know as Memories of Father Angus MacDonnell, charming by any name.

Skyhook can handle the big tunes too: The Cup of Tea and The Shetland Fiddler are fired off with gusto, and the penultimate set includes an inspired rendition of the strathspey Cutting Bracken before polishing off Jack Daniels as if it were a pint of Bud. The only place where the spark died for me was Green Grow the Rushes - but hey, 24 out of 25 ain’t bad! In contrast to the authentic Celtic instrumentals, the three songs here are quintessentially English. As well as playing guitar and bouzouki, Eoin Teather sings the Martin Carthy version of Arthur McBride in a rich Northern voice. The Father’s Song and Green Grass Grows Bonny are several shades darker: a Ewan MacColl lullaby of social ills and a ballad of unrequited love, intended as a duet. Cath shifts to viola for these tracks, and Martin moves onto bouzouki or piano, providing deep and textured accompaniment without extending the trio.

Skyhook’s only guest is Mike Fleming, who provides double bass on some of the instrumental tracks. There’s a touch of string-band on Huckleberry Hornipe, plenty of fun names like Beardy Face and Turbo Duck, and very little indeed to complain about. I’d definitely recommend this recording to anyone with a taste for twin fiddling: a very fine debut from Sheffield-based Skyhook. The notes and packaging are well above average too. You can find out more at
Alex Monaghan


Keep Her Lit
Own Label GQ CD-001
11 tracks 38 minutes 40 seconds.

This is an album with rich Galway roots or is it routes? You see Gary Quinn is well-travelled in two senses, as a highly respected box player from Briefield near Moylough in County Galway, and as a lorry driver. He’s been active in traditional music for over 20 years and this is his debut album. He cites the holy trinity of accordion maestros, Joe Burke, Finbar Dwyer and Joe Cooley as his inspiration, but leaves the biggest accolade (his style) to Mairtín O’Connor (especially on the pair of tunes Western/Rest Eastern Test). The eclecticism of O’Connor has certainly rubbed off in the nimble fingers and agile musical brain of Quinn.

The album is full of great tunes, the sort of material that seems deceptively easy to play; good solid melodies, whether they be Irish jigs and reels, a French Canadian Quadrille or self-penned numbers such as The Children’s Carousel (his evocative homage to the old steam organs of Edwardian Merry-Go-Rounds). The album rounds out on a high note with a three minute trip along a Route 66 of Americana mixing rags to rock as it heads for the western sunset.

How good is he? Well he’s an All-Ireland box champion and if you judge a man by the company he keeps, then when you see he has Sean de Burca (keyboards), Sean Regan (fiddle), Mike McGoldrick (whistles and flutes), Steve Simmonds (guitars), Kieran Quinn (banjo), Tom Giblin (guitar), Bruno Staehelin (percussion) and Sinead Deely (tin whistles) stacked up behind him on the album, you know from reading the label he’s going to be making good music. And he does so with a lovely appreciation of depth, thanks in no small measure to the underpinning bass lines of Sean De Burcas’ piano and his droning on the electric keyboards. Add to that Bruno Staehelin’s legendary ears for a great recording and that is what you get; a great record.

The title tune Keep Her Lit naturally opens the album; it comes from lorry drivers’ slang for what us mere mortals call the “pedal to the metal” - the effect is to keep the diesel burning. Another tune recalling his love of the big rigs is Scammel Wheel Nuts, but don’t be fooled, the album is far more agile than a lumbering lorry or a wearisome wagon; it’s an articulated expansive trip around the potential of the button box. This is an open top tourer, just the thing for the long road. The album is a warm wind in your hair on a sunny afternoon, cruise with the soft top down from Moycullen to Roundstone, and where the road allows put the shoe down and keep her lit!
Seán Laffey


Cnoc Buí
Own label
15 tracks, 46 minutes

Eighteen years after his solo debut album The Top of Coom, this Cork fluter is back with a clean and compelling sound. Conal Ó Gráda has guested on a few recordings since 1990, but Cnoc Buí is the first recent opportunity to appreciate the full range of his playing. There’s a definite Munster flavour, with plenty of polkas, although reels are still in the majority: The Fisherman’s Lilt, The Green Mountain, The Old Copperplate, The Old Bush, Cuz Teahan’s, Come West Along the Road and The Graf Spee are all familiar and strongly played here. Vincent Broderick’s tune, The Rookery, much recorded recently, gets another airing from Conal, as does a catchy polka version of the strathspey Cutting Bracken.

From the first notes of Church Street Polka to the last breath of reels some three quarters of an hour later, this is powerful fluting. While many of the tunes are simple, they are delivered with deliberation: Maurice O’Keeffe’s Polka has something of a military quickstep about it, and the Gold & Silver Marches fit into the same mood. The jig version of Greensleeves is new to me, and I’m sure I would have remembered Lesbia Hath a Beaming Eye. Conal includes two slow airs in these fifteen tracks: Lament for the Death of Staker Wallace, a rather formal piece, and Cuan Bhéil Inse also known as Amhrán na Leabhar which is achingly rendered here. Cnoc Buí is pure flute throughout, not technically perfect but passionately played, stirring stuff indeed.
Alex Monaghan


10 Years
Own Label
12 tracks, 49 minutes

If you come across an uilleann piper with a pony-tail, a cheeky grin and a Brummie accent, this might be your man. Be warned - he can play; he can play fast or slow, and he has broad tastes. Not that these are bad things. Aidan is open about his influences: Planxty, Moving Hearts, Mark Knopfler and Woody Guthrie among them - from the sublime to the rebellious. Brummie life added the Reggae and Bhangra to his Anthem 4 Birmingham, a Hearts-like arrangement of “The Old Bush”, and the jigs that follow have similar origins. Romeo and Juliet is the first of several songs, none of which would be out of place or outclassed at a good Irish pub gig. Star of the County Down and Hard Ain’t It Hard are fronted by Aidan, while Lindsey Butler steps in on vocals for Room in a Basement.

There are a couple of reels, including O’Brien’s, and then the unusual stratagem of three slow tracks to finish this album. Slow airs seem to be something of an O’Brien speciality. Táimse ina Chodladh, The South Wind, Sí Beag Sí Mór, She Moved Through The Fair and Ar Éirinn are all sweetly played on pipes and whistles, and Aidan turns his hand to strings and keyboards too. He gets a little help from his friends, as usual, but most of the music on this CD is O’Brien enough.

There’s plenty of variety in the twelve tracks here, even if the reels and jigs are a bit scarce by Irish standards. They say it takes over two decades to become a piper, but maybe Aidan O’Brien has managed it in “10 Years”.
Alex Monaghan


Flower & Iron
Greentrax CDTRAX330 2008

An odd name, maybe, but you know the old street rhyme about Skinny Malinky Long Legs surely? This young Scottish band have done it again: “producing great music”, was my initial jotted note about Malinky’s latest CD.
The dozen tracks on offer here give full vent to this talented quintet and allow each to excel in the rendition of songs old and new. They have a beautiful gentle delivery that is evident from the first bars of the first song, Pad the Road Wi Me through to the final note of The Road tae Drumleman but the album is not all about highways.

The vocals of Fiona Hunter are to the fore on the lovely old ballad The Broomfield Hill with some very clever backing streaming in and out in a weave of magic. Next up we get a lovely anti-war song from the pen of the prolific Pete St John. This is the haunting When Margaret was Eleven taking a child’s eye view of fathers going away to war and even more poignantly coming home. The Shipyard Apprentice gives us another excellent slice of real life, this time in peacetime but just as powerful.

We get a musical epic of more than seven minutes on the wonderful story song of Sweet Willie and Fair Annie, which marries lyrics from 18th century Scotland with 20th century music from New England. Another lovely folk tale emerges on The Ploughboy and the Maid giving us that old story common to the tradition but given new life in the Malinky rendition. The set Why Should I? is unusual in that it combines two instrumentals but with a song in the middle.

The band lull us gently to the end with a beautiful song that although it sounds ancient is actually a product of the 20th century - The Road tae Drumleman. Malinky have produced another gem of Scottish folk with this CD complemented as it is with a well-produced insert giving lyrics and background notes to the songs.
Nicky Rossiter


Opening with the rather obvious choice given the name of the band, this album gets off to a heart lifting start with The Outlaw Rapparee, giving us good music, great singing and diction that lets us hear every word clearly. They continue in the traditional vein although at a slower pace on the lovely, James Raeburn, displaying in two tracks a competent versatility. This essential ability is expanded upon when we hit track three, The Grass Grows Greener. Here we get a great rollicking delivery similar to Black 47 on a song penned by band member Gerard McNeill.

The creative ability of the members continues to be showcased with tracks like 70 cl, Hey Johnny and The White Line. These are interspersed with some wonderful versions of traditional pieces like Bonnie Prince Charlie and Tins in the House. The traditional canon is very well served by a beautiful rendition of The Lowlands of Holland that opens with a fabulous instrumental intro. The arrangement of the song gives new life to an old favourite. One of my favourite tracks on the CD is The Fisherman’s Day. The closing with Bonnie Prince Charlie leaves the listener wishing this were a much longer album.

There is very little information on offer in the insert booklet concerning this band but on this outing they certainly seem to be a band to watch as they straddle the line between the traditional and contemporary with ease and should appeal to all camps. One minor quibble is the lack of lyrics on offer especially on the new material. Here’s to the next one.
Nicky Rossiter


Accidental Death of an Accordionist
Brechin All Records CDBAR005
8 tracks, 26 minutes

Short, sweet, and utterly brilliant. Although this CD is only a selection of extracts from a stage play, a soundtrack or incidental music album, there are enough little gems here to decorate minor royalty.

Not that Sandy Brechin or Annie Grace qualify for that title, but together they provide the best tongue-in-cheek ceilidh music I’ve heard in a long time. The combination of Gay Gordons, Canadian Barn Dance and Strip the Willow is the classic Highland recipe for a village hall dance, played with oodles of skill and more than a little irreverence on box and pipes, banjo and jaw harp, and of course the great Scottish stylophone; Marvellous stuff. Kate Martin’s Waltz is the closest thing here to serious music, flawlessly played by Sandy, good enough to make Blair Douglas jealous.

Annie Grace sings two of the four songs here. Only You is perhaps the low point of this recording, but it’s still highly entertaining. The Scottish Tradition is an update of the Corries’ Scottish Holiday, a biting attack on Caledonian courtesies, and I’m very pleased to hear that moth-eaten melody Road to the Isles being re-used for The Pochlin’ o’ the Nyochles.

I assume the male vocals are provided by Aly Macrae - he makes a great job of this mock Doric drivel, and his plummy parody of These are My Mountains is simply priceless. Allan Henderson has surpassed himself with the lyrics, but he probably won’t get an OBE. Accidental Death of an Accordionist is definitely not to be missed by any devotee of Scottish culture.
Alex Monaghan


Today Tomorrow & on Sunday Helen Hayes
CDHHG 001 2008

With backing by Martin Hayes on fiddle & viola, Dennis Cahill on guitar and John Williams on accordion, Helen Hayes starts with a major advantage. Her choice of tracks adds greatly to the mix and from that mixture you get an album that grows on you. On first listening her delivery may sound unsuited to some of the sentiment but give it a few listens.
Helen sounds like a singer more used to sean nós and on Donal Óg this comes to the fore and we hear her at her best. Hearing a new version of an old favourite always makes it hard on the singer and this is what I found with the excellent Where Are You Tonight I Wonder? If this were heard as your first version of the song it would be heard as a definitive rendition but if you are familiar with other versions you will need to “wipe the memory banks” to give it the hearing it deserves.

Robbie Burns makes his seemingly obligatory appearance on A Fond Kiss and I found it one of my favourites on this CD. Helen Hayes is probably best heard on songs where we have few preconceptions. This is well borne out on tracks like Lone Shanakyle and Kilnamatrya Exile. It was on these heartfelt tracks that I found the absence of lyrics and background material lessened our possible enjoyment of the songs. She closes this album with A Stór Mo Chroí.

I am sure we will hear plenty more from Helen Hayes in the future.
Nicky Rossiter


Celtic Cargo
Sid Norris Recordings SNRCD001 2008

The full title of this band is Joe O’Donnell’s Shkayla but other than that the album gives little information. They let the music speak for them and it does so very eloquently. Opening with a pair of marches, Brian Ború and O’Neill’s Cavalcade, we realise from the outset that we are dealing with a vigorous and sprightly band of excellent musicians. This is borne out as we move on to the next track.

Sullivan’s John gets a new interpretation on this album, making it that little more upbeat. Like all re-interpretations it may take getting used to if you are more familiar with Christy Moore’s rendition. My advice is to give it a few listens. They continue this theme of renewing well-known songs with a lovely version of P is for Paddy that may be unfamiliar but again it will grow on you. This theme continues through the album in that they give new, 21st century spins to already familiar tunes. As always, these will need to ‘grow on you’ a bit like the early days of Horslips when folk met electricity. From this album I would imagine that Shkayla would be a force to be reckoned with in a live setting (check some electric gigs out on You Tube – Ed).

Meanwhile these eleven tracks will allow to listener a new experience of the old and perhaps bring a new audience to the traditional.
Nicky Rossiter


The Best Of, Volume 1
16 tracks, 48 minutes

Where would you start choosing a compilation of Aly Bain’s music? His early days as a Shetland fiddler, playing with his mentor Tom Anderson? His folk club gigs with Billy Connolly and others? His decades with Boys of the Lough, or his more recent partnership with Phil Cunningham? Or perhaps his many forays into overseas traditions? In fact, more than half of the sixteen tracks here come from Aly’s TV series: ‘The Downhome Sessions’ and ‘The Transatlantic Sessions’, with musicians from North America, and ‘The Shetland Sessions’ with his fellow islanders, as well as his original series ‘Aly Bain Meets the Cajuns.

There’s a full range of Aly’s music here. The Barmaid Set and The Spey in Spate come from Scottish and Irish sessions, while Margaret Anne Robertson and Jeanna’s Tune justify Aly Bain’s reputation as a master of slow airs. The Shetland tradition is well represented by All Da Ships, Da Scalloway Lasses, Da day Dawn and the adopted Margaret’s Waltz. Moving North and East from Shetland, we find the beautiful tune Til Far and a pair of bear waltzes, all from Sweden.

Aly is joined by the Savoy-Doucet Cajun band for the foot-stomping Midland Two-Step, by Tommy Jarrel for The Arkansas Traveller, and by Junior Daugherty for Lily Dale. Aly’s solo CD’s have been harvested for Terry Rasmussen’s charming tune Aly’s Waltz, and for the unforgettable track Waiting for the Federals. This fine selection finishes with a fiery fiddle duel between Aly Bain and Mark O’Connor on The Teatotaller’s. There’s always something missing from Best-Of albums. For me, this recording misses The Hanged Man’s Reel, a fabulous Quebecois showpiece which Aly recorded on his first album. The good news is that this is only Volume 1 - presumably my favourite, and some of yours, will be included in Volume 2. I’m already looking forward to it.
Alex Monaghan