Releases > December 2009

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Strawberry Town
Keltia Musique  KM 318

Orion’s latest album Strawberry Town has been five years in the making. Since their last release 1999’s Restless Home the line up has changed significantly. In come John Faulkner on vocals/bouzouki and young Breton guitarist Erwan Berernguer now plucks the steel strings. The core of founder members fiddler Rudy Velghe and accordionist Raquel Gigot remains unchanged and keyboardist Gwenael Micualt makes a welcome return.

Based in Brussels – Orion’s musical palate incorporates a wider span than most with Irish traditional forms combining with Classical European, Jazz and ambient strains. Their sound is a cosmopolitan one rather than brimming with rustic flourishes and the result is an eloquent musical statement that is uniquely personalised and sounds like nobody else on earth. This time elements of Flemish traditional idioms and purely classical strains such as a Mozart minute flow as easily as Scottish Gaelic mouth music and Irish flavoured jigs and reels. The addition of John Faulkner emphasizes the importance of a vocal quotient. Faulkner’s contributions are commendable including the title track Strawberry Town  an epic ballad of incest, lust and of course murder based on Bocaccio’s Decameron ) going all the way back to 1482)  and learnt from his mentor Ewan McColl. He also includes some Scottish Gaelic mouth music. His voice flows easily among the ensemble’s sonic throng.

The opening piece Ton ar Liestalegou hits an almost ambient soundtrack while the closing The Open Café mixes traditional jigging and classical poise crossed with crisp Musette accordion ripping the sidewalks.  Orion’s musical span is such that they incorporate a unique planet of sound that lifts them to a sophisticated stratosphere beyond their contemporaries. When superlatives are used as in this case they are deserved.

Where Orion and Strawberry Town is concerned the exclamation WOW seems appropriate.

John O’Regan


If It Wasn’t For The Irish And The Jews
Compass Records COM 4525, 14 Tracks
Well, this is just perfect. Mick Moloney is out with his brand new album on Compass Records. Entitled, If It Wasn’t For The Irish and the Jews, it is a continuation of the albums in which Mick is the supplier of the acknowledged best-turn of the 20th century Irish-American, Tin Pan Alley music. The previous album, McNally’s Row of Flats, was a hit, and won every award available in Irish music.
As usual, with a Moloney album, the liner notes are worth the price alone. There is such an education to be had here. No one has done more than Mick and The Ward Archives of Irish Music in Milwaukee to preserve this critical part of both American and Irish culture and music. It is truly Irish-American in the broadest context. And, oh, the history! Blanche Ring? Nora Bayes? William Jerome? Jean Schwartz? George M. Cohan? All here, all fab all the time. Don’t know who they are? You should. You will. The album title also gives us a real insight into one of the most important musical dynamics of the era, with the numerous collaborations between the Irish and the Jews, every one of the 14 tracks was a collaboration back in the days. This magical time was enhanced by great music created by the conjunction of two cultures so full of music, history and creativity. There are detailed notes on each of the 14 songs, and a marvellous overview of the music from Mick.
He is joined by so many wonderful musicians playing the original melodies and arrangements. Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks are perfect at providing the brass and other instruments so necessary in creating a ragtime elegance and sound. Perfect. Several well-known Irish musicians also join in. Collaboration. Just like back in the day.
The bar keeps getting raised higher and higher in the music, almost monthly. David Munnelly’s brand new, Tight Squeeze joins The Irish and The Jews in showing what can now be done with the music. No longer is it enough to simply record the 307th version of Pigeon at the Gate or Bucks of Orranmore. If you want to play ball at This level you need your “A Game”, and a fresh approach. What is that approach? Well, albums like The Irish and The Jews take a ton of prep time, no showing up at the studio, one practice, and away we go. There is another current, supposedly major album that tried this from a collection of really good Irish musicians, and it bombed. Awful. But, here’s what we know. It must be traditionally rounded. Deeply. It has to be fresh. It must have superior musicianship and arrangements. It must be finely honed. The Irish and The Jews joins the best in the business like The Brock-McGuire Band, Liz Carroll and Munnelly in being completely and truly trad, and completely new at the same time. Sound impossible? Of course, it does! This can’t be written about. It must be heard. So, go get it! This album will be around forever, as it should be. It is fun, gorgeous and moving all at the same time.
Bill Margeson

Home and Beauty
Greentrax CDTRAX 340

Here we have a wonderful collection of tunes with a few – all too few – songs added. Anderson is an accomplished fiddler who imbues that special magic through his fingers and bow. The tracks range from the familiar to the more obscure but each and every one is a mini masterpiece in his hands.
Tracks meld and mix into each other making it sound almost like a concept album.
There are few “stand out” tracks but the overall offering will reward careful listening and no doubt add a few new tunes to some fiddler’s repertoire.
‘Hungarian Dance’ breaks out of the Scottish mould and will be a more familiar track that shows Anderson as a violinist as well as a fiddler.You can break out the dancing shoes for ‘A Waltz for Alice’ coupled with ‘Ann Anderson’s Waltz’.
Jim Reid adds his vocals on the only two songs here – ‘By The Mountain Streams’ and ‘The Black Velvet Band’. The latter is a lovely rendition opening with the fiddle and drum.
A great and welcome surprise is a spirited version of the great bluegrass ‘Orange Blossom Special’.
Through the 22 tracks on offer here Paul certainly showcases his versatility and masters each genre he attempts and that is no mean feat.
Nicky Rossiter

A Good Suit of Clothes/Deagh Dheis Aodaich
Songs of the Emigrant Gael
Greentrax CDTRAX339

There is great poignancy in the title and cover of this new CD from Fiona J. Mackenzie, a native of Morayshire in Scotland. The graphic artist’s creative design shows a pair of wide-eyed young emigrants, Kenneth Mackenzie and his sister Jessie from Rosehall, Sutherland, who emigrated to New Zealand in 1919, and a New York type yellow taxi speeding through a busy city street. While the juxtaposition of the handsome young Gaels dressed to the nines looking out on a busy street scene speaks of hope and expectation it also fairly throbs with feelings of unspoken loss and heartbreak.
The words, A Good Suit of Clothes/Deagh Dheis Aodaich in the album title is from the song of a homesick South Uist emigrant in Canada who longs to return home, if only, he says, “I had a good suit of clothes…” Well, he did return home to his native island, and died there.
The emigrant poems of the Scots Gael are among the finest of farewell songs where words and melody are so well married. Fiona’s selection is a superb choice of traditional and contemporary songs presented in a variety of styles, and depicting the experiences of Highland emigrants over the past 300 years – both happy and nostalgic. They are all expertly and imaginatively arranged by the CD’s producer, Irvin Duguid, and he and the singer are fortunate in their choice of musicians, some of Scotland’s finest: John Goldie, Mary Ann Kennedy, Anna Massie, Ian Muir, Fraser Fifield, James Mackintosh, Guy Nicolson, Simone Welsh, Mr McFall’s Chamber, Ed McFarlane and singers Darren MacLean, Katie Mackenzie and Sineag Macintyre. Special guest Cathy Ann MacPhee, is herself an emigrant.
The songs include the well-known O Mo Dhùthaich from South Uist and Cuir Cùlaibh Ri Asainte from Sutherland, as well as more unusual songs such as Òran Cuantireach (written in New Zealand to the tune of Robert Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss) and Òran Chianalais, The Homesickness Song, written in Australia. Tilleadh An Eilthirich also features an archive recording of the composer Archie Mackenzie from Halifax, Nova Scotia, singing his newly composed song at a cèilidh on Eriskay in 1975, his first visit to the land of his forefathers. Fiona and the CD’s publishers point out that this album is a valuable resource in 2009 (the year of Homecoming Scotland) for those wishing to research their own genealogy as well as those with an interest in Scottish emigration history. It is also a gem of musical delights in song and melody that will reward any listener, Gael or Gall, regardless of their proficiency – or lack of it – in Gàidhlig. CD notes come with full background information, and song words are supplied with English translations.
Aidan O’Hara

Timeless Traditions
RMC Music
RMCCD1 2008

The title says it all, or rather it says most of it. Malachi performs a dozen tracks on this album and he performs them with heart and soul.
He opens with the truly timeless ‘Matt Hyland’ before giving us a beautiful version of ‘Lover’s Heart’ one of the best tracks on offer here, perhaps because it is less often recorded than some others. Deirdre Bonner adds greatly to the song ‘Ned of the Hill’ with her very distinctive voice. Among my personal favourites are ‘The Donaghmore Exile’ and ‘The Soldier’s Farewell’. Malachi has a wonderful voice ideally suited to the songs on offer. It is warm, re-assuring and simple. This is aided greatly by the class backing and arrangements on offer.
Nicky Rossiter


The Way Home
Own Label GRRCD001
12 tracks, 51 minutes
This West Highland fiddler is well-known in Scotland, and his solo debut includes many friends: Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, Seamus Egan, Fionán de Barra, Catriona McKay, James MacIntosh and others. Almost all of The Way Home is Donald’s own tunes, with just a few older Scottish melodies and a couple of songs. There are one or two tracks which didn’t immediately appeal to me, but generally this is a very fine CD of powerful and varied fiddle music, well worth hearing.
The opening track is one of several jaunty jigs here. Red Skies is followed by Braeroy Road, both nice little numbers, and then a pair of Donald’s reels which are slightly over-arranged for my taste but highly entertaining. The unusual rhythms of To the West and NZ 2004 recall compositions by Whelan and Lunny. Donald’s father wrote the words to Tha Thu Daonnan Nam Smuain, a beautiful Gaelic song with a very traditional melody and an unusually optimistic message. An Gille Ban, played as a haunting air here, has more miserable lyrics which are not sung on this recording. The second vocal track is a Mexican song, unrequited love again, smokily sung by Sally Doherty.
Hope Valley is a clear highlight, a slow reel which easily straddles the gulf between dance music and airs. Rollerblade Reels starts with a cracking old highland tune, and slips into the atmospheric Battle of Malroy before a composition which owes much to Sharon Shannon. The final track is another delicious air, redolent of summer days. Donald Grant’s music is very close to his local Lochaber tradition, yet clearly influenced by modern phenomena such as Moving Hearts, Capercaillie, Riverdance, and even Para Handy. At times it’s hard to tell where snatches of melody have come from, but this young fiddler certainly knows how to string them together.
Alex Monaghan

Celtic Love Songs

EUCD 2244

This is beautifully produced and presented album of Celtic love songs with fairly equal representation of Irish and Scottish material – are they the most romantic nations
It opens with ‘I Love My Love’ featuring two very sweet female vocalists and an unobtrusive backing. ‘The Galway Shawl’ sounds a bit odd when sung so sweetly and with rather precise diction but it is an interesting rendition.
One of my favourite tracks is the wonderful Scottish song ‘Loch Tay Boat Song’. Robbie Burns is well represented with ‘Green Grow the Rushes’ and of course ‘Red Is The Rose’. Other tracks on offer include ‘Black is the Colour’; ‘Dainty Davy’ and ‘Sweet Carnlough Bay’ among the thirteen.
The album is well-packaged with interesting liner notes in the accompanying booklet.
The renditions may prove a little too sweet for many listeners. The same may be said for the intonation on some of the tracks where “rushes” tends to sound like “rashes” as if a more refined person was singing an old ballad.
One of my bugbears on such albums is that some tracks are given as “trad” although they are far from it.
Nicky Rossiter

On a Meadowlark Night

Dance music from New England, Ireland, Scotland, Quebec and Cape Breton
Own Label
17 tracks, 70 minutes
In the state of Maine each August there happens the Meadowlark music camp. It’s 750 bucks all in, fed and found, for a week of classes, jamming and companionship. It’s also the inspiration for this CD, where the line-up is piano, two fiddles, hammered dulcimer, flute, clarinet and bass. Eric plays piano. All too often that’s an ugly heap of Victorian furniture masquerading as a musical instrument. Even when it’s something much better, as here, the player usually insists on inserting jazz rhythms, riffs and harmonies. And if you try this with the dancers I know, you risk a cuff on the ear and having your parentage traduced.
Similarly, I would dispute whether the clarinet belongs in dance music. Slow airs OK, but that missing second harmonic is woeful in fast tempos. There are three other CD’s of the clan Reiner having fun, but there is the danger that an album like this works far better once you’ve shared the crab-claws at the barbeque. The sheer strength of piano tone is like having a Ferrari to explore a few boreens. Eric lives in Lexington, Mass so if you want a fair idea of what’s doing in them parts, apply here.
John Brophy

CLAIRE KEVILLE - The Daisy Field

Own Label CKCD002,
15 tracks, 49 minutes

Another young multi-instrumentalist, Claire Keville plays concertina and harpsichord here. The material is all broadly traditional, with discerning accompaniment from Geraldine Cotter on piano and Terence O’Reilly on guitar. There’s nothing startling about The Daisy Field, just good old-fashioned tunes prettily played. A dozen sets of jigs and reels are interspersed with three harpsichord tracks: two Carolan airs elaborately arranged in the style of O Riada, and a pair of brooding modal melodies with a more modern feel.
Claire’s Galway concertina style is smooth and melodic, well suited to the music of Paddy Fahey who penned five of the reels on this album. The title tune follows two of Fahey’s in a charming set. Breda Keville joins Claire on fiddle for a couple of tracks, including the classic Dogs Among the Bushes and The Garden of Daisies, one of three set dances here. Solo concertina sparkles on The Pigeon on the Gate, and on the final Maid in the Cherry Tree selection, but I was most impressed by Claire’s duets with fiddler Liam Lewis: Tommy Coen’s and Paddy Kelly’s are beautifully played, and there’s an excellent version of The Bunch of Keys too.
Claire Keville is one to watch, I’d say, and certainly one to listen to!
Alex Monaghan

The Baltic tae Byzantium
Greentrax CDTRAX 341
This album subtitled “Tales of the Scots in Europe” is a revelation not just about the spread of Scottish culture throughout Europe but also in the range of tracks on offer. As can only be expected from Brian McNeill each and every tale is told with gusto and with feeling.
The title track recounts the gamut of Scottish enterprise in Europe in the 18th century with some top class piping in the process. It could be a lesson plan for a geography or economics class.
‘A Far North Land’ pits Mary Queen of Scots against John Knox and as McNeill reminds us in the notes the people were the collateral damages before the term was coined. Who could resist a song entitled “Auld Man By the Fire” as an old man reflects on his eventful life. I particularly enjoyed the lovely song ‘Back Tae Berwick Johnny’.
He moves from earlier national history to a more recent and personal theme on ‘Bring the Lassie Home’ recalling his father, war and love. He performs the song with the expected heartfelt passion. He closes the album with an instrumental ‘Tue to the Forest’ a title that is a translation of his mother’s name and the tune evokes her Styrian homeland.
Listening to this album reminds us of the rich history of Europe and its constituent lands and McNeill brings it to life all the more with his wonderful insert notes on the songs. It also reminds us that Ireland appears to be falling far behind in the writing and recording of new songs that bring that past to life.
Nicky Rossiter

Thran Records THR 1006

I reckon that I have reviewed every album release by this singer and each time I am delighted at the progress in his song-writing ability but saddened that more is not heard of him or his material. Thankfully this is changing with more and more established artistes discovering the talent.
With the new album he continues to plough the fertile land of personal experience. His songs are rooted in the ordinary, the everyday, in what you and I can and do experience.
He opens with what is almost an invitation ‘I Hope You Sing’.
As I stated above, his songs reflect the ordinary and the real. ‘Across’ is a simple song about something we have all done – skimming stones on water – but he finds its beauty and expresses it in song. ‘In For the Day’ is a duet with Mary Dillon and reflects on a visit to the city. He returns to an earlier time on ‘Put the Past Away’ as he sings of the media and ‘The Troubles’.
He maintains a strong output over the eleven tracks on offer and proves the adage that to appeal to the world you should keep it local.
Nicky Rossiter

Estren (Stranger)

Music from Cornwall for Celtic harp and voice
FPCD 010; 12 tracks; 64 mins
Sarah is a classically trained player – she worked for a while in the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast – who moved to Cornwall in 2001 and set up the Cornwall Harp Centre. She has a good website with plenty of historical illustrations on it, and live on-line lessons are available. Her husband, Phil Williams, plays guitar, small pipes and concertina on this recording, which was launched last July at a festival in Montana. Of all the Celtic lands, Cornwall is the most inscrutable. We’re told that the last native speaker died in the 1770s. Near Land’s End, King Aethelstan (Saxon name, that) founded the college of St Burien in memory of the Irish St. Buriana;. Likewise St Karentoc was built in memory of Carantocus, a disciple of St. Patrick. They do have mummers and the Floral Dance, but I get a sense that much is irretrievably lost. But I do know that harpers are always on the look-out for new material, and there’s a fine selection here, from lullabies to jigs and reels, and it puts the land of the stanneries (tin mines) on the map.
John Brophy

Own Label FID002CD 13 Tracks

Aidan O’Donnell, Ciaran O’Maonaigh, Damien McGeehan are three young lads playing like a trio of old fells, and I can think of no higher accolade than that to describe the effect these musicians conjure up from just three fiddles.
This is solid traditional music, earthy and authentic, lively and loaded with history. You’ve probably never heard anything like it, (unless you’ve already picked up their debut album or listened to one of the older generation play a tune in the quite time between tune mayhem in a late night session). To describe the sound might put many folks off, because terms such as smooth, easy listening, complex crossover combinations, well they don’t apply here. No, this is extremely difficult to capture in words, it’s the real thing, three fiddles sounding like fiddles, there’s no aural airbrushing from some engineer with a trigger finger on pro-tools, this is as raw bar as you can get. No pals on boxes or banjos to round out the sound, because the lads realise there is enough musical latitude from a humble fiddle to create a complex sound without recourse to the standard band formula, as long as you keep it clean and simple and of course they do just that.
But. The caveat is of course this is clever impeccably played music. It is well-researched too, the liner notes alone will tell you that, with source musicians named and CD’s cross referenced and it’s all in a perfectly legible typeface.
The tunes themselves have the stamp of Donegal running through their very souls, and what deceptively simple and tuneful melodies are chosen by the trio, Pigeon on the Gate his here of course, but this is a pedigree bird for sure. Another feature very seldom heard in traditional music is the pizzicato, the opening track, the modal Hudí’s Jigs for example has two fiddles leading the tune with a percussive undertow plucked on another one. Then track 7, The Low Highland which is paired with Farewell to Erin, you’ll recognise this second part from the Bothy Band back catalogue perhaps, but what a sound it is here, the old Teelin tune the Low Highland is plucked before the second reel blazes in.
Track 11 the Postman’s Knock, is under a minute and a half but is a real virtuoso test piece, almost classical in its execution, the lads bring it off with a big smile and a final flourish, the story about the tune in the booklet is fascinating too, I won’ spoil it by telling you it here, you could dine out for a week on it! Talking of smiles set 5 The Laddie with the Pladdie which ends up with Kafoozalum will have your toes tapping.
This is unashamedly a fiddle payer’s album and will be eagerly snapped up by devotees of the folk violin whether or not they are students of the Donegal style. For the rest of us, this is a reminder of how magnificent the fiddle can be, especially when these instruments are in the hands of such young masters. Let me say that track 13 does what all traditional music should do, it makes the listener listen, I defy anyone not to stop what they are doing when the lads start up with Francie Mooney’s Barndance.
Another timeless album & a truly essential addition to your collection.
Seán Laffey

KARL NESBITT - Vista Point

Own Label KN002, 14 tracks, 49 minutes

A multi-instrumentalist from Tipperary, Karl Nesbitt’s main performance input on this recording is on low whistle and flute, but the most impressive feature of Vista Point is the dozen or so compositions which Karl has collected together here. Starting off with the slow reel Rough Ruby, much of this material draws on the recent stream of flute-led music from McGoldrick, Crawford, Finnegan and others. There’s more than a touch of Riverdance about some of Karl’s own pieces: Dreaming on Ice and Downtown are probably the clearest examples, while The Sweet Surprise recalls Lúnasa and there’s a strong Breton flavour to Thinktank. William Marshalll’s strathspey Craigellachie Bridge is a bit of a surprise, a tune from the grand era of Scottish East Coast fiddling, but even more surprising is Karl’s own strathspey New Beginnings, a powerful and evocative melody beautifully played by Mairead.
Many of the arrangements on this recording are rich and complex, and Karl makes good use of guest musicians. The core band includes Marien Collins on fiddle, Donncha Moynihan on guitars and Edel McLaughlin on piano box, with a backline of keyboards, drums and bass. Add to that the tenor sax of Karl Rooney, the button box of brother, Sean Nesbitt, and some fabulous fiddling from sister, Mairead Nesbitt, and the sound is full indeed. Mairead has been largely absent from the recording scene since her debut CD a few years back, so her appearance here is particularly welcome. There are also two songs on Vista Point: Niall Connolly sings his hard-hitting Don’t Be Blue, and John Spillane croons the gentle Gaelic Ag an gCoisir with a violin arrangement by Blaithin Milne. Sean Nesbitt, Marien Collins and Edel McLaughlin contribute their own fine compositions, and for contrast there’s a trio of Josie McDermott reels on solo flute. Lots to enjoy, plenty of new tunes, and a fresh new talent to watch.
Alex Monaghan