Releases > December 2013 Releases

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On the Offbeat
Own Label, LC0001, 12 Tracks, 52 Minutes

Liz Carroll’s fans will be pleased to know this is another fine example of finesse on the fiddle, from Chicago’s first lady of Irish Music. We’ve come to expect that as the norm, albeit an exceptional norm and she does not disappoint on this her first solo studio album in eleven years.
Liz began recording this album about a year ago, starting in November 2012, in Glasgow. Produced by Seamus Egan, she is joined by Winifred Horan, Seán Óg Graham, Trevor Hutchinson, Keith Murphy, Natalie Haas, Chico Huff and the harpist Catriona McKay with whom she built up a big musical relationship during the album’s genesis on Clydeside. They act as perfect foils for Carroll’s mastery over the fiddle and her tune writing talents.
Liz has a playful way with titles and as reviewer I had to say something about Barbra Streisand’s Trip to Saginaw, could it be a more American title? The tune is pure Carroll, inhabiting a land somewhere between Michigan and Miltown Malbay. It begins by setting up a choppy beat from a short drawn bow, plays around with a broken melody, before it runs away with a generous guitar fill from Sean Óg Graham, stopping for a second to pick up the hitch hiking bass of Trevor Hutchinson.
Yes she has collaborators, but On the Offbeat is predominantly her album, with Óg Graham and Hutchinson forming the central core, indeed Carroll performed at Celtic Colours this past October with the two boys. On the album the trio are joined by Haas, Horan and McKay in the multifarious The Fruit and the Snoot set; a 7/8 layered body of complex strings executed over dramatically sweeping backdrop, which escalates into a powerfully harmonious crescendo. The differentiation of the bow work on Tinsel highlights the diversity of Carroll’s playing as the tune is sensitively rendered with the tenderest of touches.
Many reviewers conclude that Liz Carroll is an emotional player, and I found this to be especially true on Liam Childs,
it was a goose bump moment for me as the piece gathered momentum to close on the jocular pairing of Balkin’ Balkan and The E–B–E Reel. Here each musician free–wheels their own interpretive dance around the tunes yet it is seamlessly together.
Nothing has more impact than the tandem of tunes on the duet of Carroll and McKay, where the intricate layer upon layer of notes in the W.T’s 97th set both intrigues and beguiles. The detailed web of sound combines clever pauses with off–the–beat syncopation to deliver a mini–master–class. For introspective poignancy look no further than Never Far Away, where Carroll again produces a sweeping softness enhanced by a sophisticated, almost symphonic backdrop, then take pleasure in the rich simplicity of Liz and her fiddle connecting with a striking rawness on the traditional favourite The Yellow Tinker.
On the Offbeat is a sublime ensemble of players at the height of their powers, but it is Carroll’s fiddling that brings the best out in every one of them, and it is certainly one of the best albums of the decade so far.
Eileen McCabe

Own Label RRCD004
, 6 Tracks, 41 Minutes

Concertina maestro Jack Talty and multi–instrumentalist Neil O’Loghlen have collected a group of like–minded friends to play minimalist jazz in an Irish style. It’s not as strange as it sounds, if you take my meaning! Concertina, flute, and the fine fiddling of Jeremy Spencer (remember him?) deliver traditional melodies, while clarinets, trombone and percussion weave around them. Jurna builds from basic cadences into a relaxed reel. April’s Fool starts with a simple beat which Jack cuts across, his concertina jig jarring gently against the underlying straight four. The jig wins, of course – musicians beat drummers every time – and Jack is joined by flute, fiddle, guitar, and bass clarinet for a big ensemble sound, which gradually fades away again.
What next? A hornpipe, of course, on whistle with chimes and concertina drone, jaunty rhythm sinking gently to a clarinet ground. 3 College Square brings us back to more traditional territory, fiddle and concertina duetting on a dotted reel while the marimba tinkles in the background. Add flute and y cymbal effects, more strings and bass, and suddenly we have moved from a familiar Clare session to an alien lunar landscape: Burren to barren in a couple of minutes.
The standard of performance by Ensemble Ériu is very high. Several pieces are over seven minutes long, and the constant changes of rhythm and instrumentation suffice to keep things interesting. I could have handled a bit more variety in tempo, slow tunes predominate, but playing slowly does bring out more colour and nuances in the music and it allows the necessary space for the accompanists. Within a minimalist agenda, Talty and O’Loghlen have been able strike a delicate balance between simplicity and sameness. Caoineadh Do Leanbh Marbh is a case in point, just enough arrangement and no more. The final track throws vocals into the mix, with a liturgical quality, as if they were recorded in an empty church. Gently moving organ notes reinforce this impression, and bring the track to a very understated end.
The whole experience of Ensemble Ériu’s music is a complex and provocative one, leaving many gaps to be filled in by the listener. I think even more could be made of silence and contrast on their next outing. This is their first foray into the unknown: who knows what will emerge from this group in the future?
Alex Monaghan

Own Label Slide 005, 11 Tracks, 47 Minutes

The album opens with Dáire Bracken’s fiddle playing a lonesome polka, sparse and edgy, the band slowly fill in the spaces behind with a big surprise a Breton Plinn, and how well its modality works against the preceding brightness of the Kerry tune. Having set out their stall, the track explores The Listowel Polka, Shéamuis Ui Chaoimh’s and mingles them with another Breton plinn from the pen of Daniel Le Féon.
If you like your fiddling Old Timey then the Sliabh Luachra Mule will put a smile on your face. Slide take The Bob Tailed Mule and pair it with Connie O’Connell’s Dan Cronin’s, great bouzouki work here filling the voids on the old timey intro. Curley and Eamonn De Barra have a rollicking time on Former Lasses, with Curley leading it out on the banjo and DeBarra adding his sumptuous flute.
Songs are from Dave Curley, who has a distinctive and very clear voice. They include Roger the Miller, Slide’s version is one of the best I’ve heard for many years with the vocals at the front of the mix and the accompaniment simple and complex by turns, with a break half through for the fiddle to bring in a repeated motif that reminds me of Planxty at their very best. Curley shows his contemporary sensibilities on Martin Denning’s The Bird. He adds a lyrical presence to Song for A Winter’s Night and closes the album with the traditional folk song The Shores of Lough Bran sung to the drone of Peter Eades’ bass and synthesiser. That final track is about three second short, I would have loved to hear the drone fade away as a delicious after taste.
This album has been crowd sourced, hence its title, and the lads pay due respect to their benefactors with a page of the liner’s notes dedicated to recording the names of those who gave so generously.
This is one of the best crafted and most thoughtful albums of 2013. Slide don’t make many albums, but when they do, they come out with something original and of lasting value. If you like your Sliabh Luachra with more than a handful of surprises, a generous dash of imagination, buckets full of flair and accessible songs, then Mendicity is one for the top drawer.
An album I’ll listen to time and again.
Seán Laffey

New Road
Own Label LB002
14 Tracks, 53 Minutes
Hardcore piping from a man who’s been off the scene for a while. Leonard Barry released an album Mind the Pipes over a decade ago. Since then he’s moved from his native Kerry to Dublin and spent his time rambling round sessions collecting tunes and collaborators. He’s joined here by John Carty on banjo, Andy Morrow on fiddle, Tony O’Connell on concertina, Conor Byrne on flute, and several other well–known names. Leonard’s choice of material is straight from the heart of the tradition, with a bias towards Munster tunes: slides and jigs, tunes associated with Johnny O’Leary, Padraig O’Keeffe, Julia Clifford and many more Sliabh Luachra players. Some are well–known, like Tom Billy’s, The Peeler and the Goat, or The Bog Carrot. Others are new to me, at least the names: Dan Jeremiah’s, A Tailor I Am, and the evocatively titled Shaving the Baby with a Spoon.
There’s a lovely rounded sound from Barry’s new set of Mullaly pipes, best appreciated on the two slow airs. Iníon an Fhaoit’ Ón Ngleann is a powerful plaintive melody, showing very tasty ornamentation as well as haunting held notes and plenty of right–hand tremolo. New Road finishes with the great lament O’Rahilly’s Grave, played quite simply but with wonderful expression. The drones are quite prominent on this recording, with a rich bass note, but Barry’s chanter is well able to handle that. He puts the regulators to work now and then too, on the airs of course, but also on the dance tunes: The Pride of Cloonsha, The Maid in the Meadow, A Tailor I Am, The Laurel Tree and other melodies benefit from smooth or rhythmic regulator harmonies. Elsewhere, accompaniment is provided by the likes of Rick Epping, Seamie O’Dowd and Cathy Jordan from the north west, Cyril O’ Donoghue from the south west, and Tony Byrne from the east. There’s plenty more to enjoy here, from Carty tearing into Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine to Epping’s harmonica duetting with the pipes on Planxty Davis.
This CD gives every indication of a long and successful road ahead for Leonard Barry.
Alex Monaghan

The Space Between the Notes
Own Label CNCD995
13 Tracks, 50 Minutes

This man loves his music. On listening to the style and verve of the banjo as it wheels through the instrumental, it is clear that there is a long standing passion for the pure pleasure of playing a tune.
There’s richness in the tone to The Galway Reel set that showcases the quality of both his playing and his banjo. Even better, Orlaith’s Waltz holds a beautiful string arrangement that melts in with the box playing of Cathal Kerins. The tune was written by Naughton whilst his wife Orlaith was away on her hen weekend and Colm wrote it for her to walk down the aisle to. With an ethereal sweep to the melody, it sounds like it did justice to the occasion. On the Asturian tune set Muneiras he takes the instrumental to a new level, Loved the tune, the build–up and the lift and energy the banjo brought to the track.
A thought provoking song If You’d Ever Met contemplates the passing of Naughton’s mother and the camaraderie she might have shared with of those who she never had chance to meet. The lyrics combine images of settings and personality that bring warmth to the characters involved. Whilst Shady Grove did not stand out as a showcase, When I’m Gone did, as the mix of tone and lyricism combined with a plaintive instrumental mirrored the mood of the emotion to epitomise the musical message within.
Colm Naughton comes across through his playing as one of the good guys of the genre; a man that is in it for none other than the pure enjoyment the music brings. If this is the case he transmits this with a passion and technique for the music that is second to none. A thoroughly enjoyable listen.
Eileen McCabe

Meeting Point,
Whirlie CD34, 12 Tracks, 55 Minutes
Aly Bain is a man of many parts, most of them fiddler. In addition to his reputation as an outstanding Shetland and Scottish fiddler, he’s become well–known in the English speaking world as the host of the Celtic–American TV series Transatlantic Sessions, and in the Scandinavian world for his work with Sweden’s multi–talented Ale Möller. On this project Aly has combined both angles, touring and recording with Bruce Molsky from the TV series and with Ale too, creating a trio which spans the North Atlantic fiddle traditions of America, Shetland, Scotland and Scandinavia.
Kicking–off – and I mean kicking – with a pair of Shetland tunes, followed by a medley which spans all three traditions, Meeting Point is a rich mix of styles and sounds. Bain’s plaintive or playful fiddling, Molsky’s old–time strings and songs, and Möller’s multi– instrumental gift for arrangement and accompaniment, together produce a wide–ranging and entertaining album. Double fiddles for the classic American Boll Weevil, the first of five songs, but Molsky switches to guitar for the well–known folksong Lovin’ Hannah, and to banjo for The Hills of Mexico. Some of the vocal numbers are combined with instrumentals in the Quebec style: the Finnish 3 Mark Polska is expertly paired with Down the Road, and that ornery old Boll Weevil is followed by an Illinois fiddle tune called Yell in the Shoats. Molsky’s voice has the raw earthy quality of Appalachian archive recordings, and the crucial ability to sing lines such as Her lips were like some rosy pear or She is quite good–looking without a flicker.
Ale plays the Swedish air Venjan on a Scandinavian wooden whistle – made of birch I think – and throws in some fine harmonica on Down the Road.
Elsewhere he provides turbocharged accompaniment on his mandola GTI, a specially modified beast which rumbles and growls behind the dance tunes. Hjaltadans, Lilla Långdansen, Hunter’s Grove and others are drawn from the dance repertoires of half a dozen countries. There’s also a glorious version of one of Aly’s party pieces, the French Canadian Reel du Pendu. Not forgetting the slower tunes: Freedie’s Tune from a 19th century Shetland fiddler, and Ale’s wonderful Summerwaltz. This live recording, from Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall, ends with two more grand old Shetland tunes rarely heard, Da Smuggler’s Gaen ta Holland and Da Maut. If you missed this trio’s UK tour, or if you want to remember it, Meeting Point is an excellent way to enjoy the happy combination of Bain, Möller and Molsky on CD.
Alex Monaghan

Acoustically Irish
RNM 00001, 2013, 11 Tracks, 49 Minutes

If you want a good trot through some of the best of Irish songs of recent times that will lift your spirits this is the album you have been looking for. Byrne and Kelly have a nice delivery and accompaniment on some classic songs and they start us with Don’t Go and having listened you will not leave the album.
They do not go in for radically re–interpreting the well known fare and this is to their credit when dealing with such strong material as The Rose of Allendale and Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl. They let the songs speak for themselves with a nice understated accompaniment that will encourage you sing along to add to your enjoyment.
Okay I said the best of Irish songs and we cannot claim Eric Bogle even on the granny rule but his No Man’s Land has been adopted by the Irish over the years and this duo give it a lovely rendition that retains the thoughtful lyrics for all to hear clearly and appreciate. Other well–known tracks include The Fields of Athenry and On Raglan Road.
They close proceedings with Saints and Sinners and leave the listener feeling more than satisfied with a CD to hear over and over again. One can imagine the magic of their acoustic live shows.
Nicky Rossiter


The Ecstacy of St. Cecelia
11 Tracks, 42 Minutes

I dare any listener not to be transfixed as Hanley opens this album with Bodenstown Churchyard. Here we get the full impact of the sentiments of a song so often dismissed or simply allowed to pass unnoticed in a pub rendition. Listen to what is noted as piano accompaniment. For those new to Liz, she is a young Boston based singer and fiddle player and a cast member of Mick Moloney’s An Irish Christmas A Musical Solstice Celebration, that’s credentials for you.
Liz Hanley has that uncanny knack and the distinctive voice to reawaken our interest in the familiar. My Son Tim is more usually performed as Mrs McGrath but her rendition take it out of the raucous and just slightly into the more serious. Her rendition of Robbie O’Connell’s Keg of Brandy is in a similar vein with a well known song reinterpreted through writer and performer.
Her voice is hard to classify and at times I felt she was a sort of folk version of Nanci Griffith with her delivery giving a poignancy not often found on our folk canon. This is best demonstrated on Bonny Light Horseman.
The same era is recollected on Isle of St. Helena and this album is worth the price for resurrecting the song that is so often over– looked. I am not familiar with Johnston but I was delighted to hear this fascinating song and was hooked on the story for the full four minutes. I will not spoil the outcome, have a listen.
Sanctuary is a tour de force of her performance with wonderful accompaniment and arrangement. The CD closes with a fantastic performance of Southwind with her solitary voice segueing into a beautiful instrumental section that makes us proud of our musical heritage and then moves in poetic recitation to round off a brilliant album.
Nicky Rossiter

Friends For Life
Sony Music 88883746842
12 Tracks, 41 Minutes

When the name the High Kings comes to the fore, immediate thoughts turn to the guys who sing songs of Ireland with perfect and pleasing harmonic voices that appeal to the Irish Diaspora. As Dylan might say, well the times they are a changing as the Kings move to an edgy originality interspersed with their trademark traditional and it works really well. The harmonies are still there, the pleasure of listening is still there and the thread of the traditional is still as vibrant; however the Kings have turned it up a notch when it comes to new musical direction and have introduced their own songs and a contemporary vibe to their latest release Friends for Life.
A collaborative work with the trademark names of success in Irish music, this new album has been produced by the multi– instrumentalist Sharon Shannon and her musical cohort John Dunford who, as well as applying their expert production techniques, have also brought Shannon’s big band regulars into the High King fold in the form of Sean Regan on fiddle and Jack Maher on electric and acoustic guitar amongst others. It’s the talents of the Kings themselves that predominantly shine here as they bring their pedigree to the fore by way of their original compositions. There’s a dangerous edge to Gucci in both the lyrics and execution and it adds a new dimension to the flavours that the Kings can produce with an underground, subversive ambience permeating through the instrumental. Compare this to their trademark rendition of appealing harmony in MacAlpines Fusiliers and the true meaning of diversity is revealed.
The title track Friends for Life is a standout both lyrically and instrumentally as the passion of the moment is projected through emotive words and emphatic vocal that is simultaneously evocative and contemplative; in fact the whole album is a tribute to the range of depth and diversity within the musical spectrum that has emerged from the group.
Friends for Life proves that with talent there are no boundaries and the High Kings have pushed their trademark performance to a new dimension that will be a revelation to all who listen.
Eileen McCabe

An Irish Homecoming
Own Label
16 Tracks, 64 Minutes

These Irish American musicians are still going strong after many years on the scene, with a few line–up changes of course. The balance has shifted from second–generation emigrants to first– generation Irish–born girls: Mirella Murray on accordion, Grainne Murphy on fiddle, and Kathleen Boyle on keys are all recent exports. Joanie Madden fronts the band, and her larger– than–life personality is particularly evident on this live recording from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Mary Coogan’s guitar is the other remaining link to previous American–born personnel. You might expect An Irish Homecoming to be the opposite of an American Wake, but no: Cherish the Ladies are performing at that most mystifying of US events, the homecoming celebration.
There’s a good mix of tunes and songs here, the vocals handled with aplomb by the great Maura O’Connell who is a special guest on this album, and she sings six numbers ranging from the William Butler Yeats classic Sally Gardens to the Trouble in the Fields by Nanci Griffith. Mostly Maura sticks to her trademark Irish music hall repertoire: Maggie, Teddy O’Neill and the like. On the instrumental side there’s a great alternation of old and new, fast and slow. Joanie leads on some of her own compositions, and on traditional favourites such as The Woods of Limerick and The Old Maids of Galway. A bit of nicely arranged O’Carolan, a couple of solo slow airs, a small string orchestra which pops up occasionally, all adds to the variety on a very entertaining CD.
The ladies are joined by champion dancers Michael Holland and John Pilatzke, as well as a chorus line including the hugely talented Cara Butler (sister of Jean). One of the highlights of An Irish Homecoming for me is Joanie’s playing for Michael to dance a hornpipe: her light delicate touch on The Hunt keeps the beat perfectly, but pares the melody back to the bone, leaving the limelight to the twinkling toes and battering heels of the dancer. I also loved the opening Boat to Bofin, and The Cat’s Meow put me in mind of the wonderful feline selection by Joe and Antoinette McKenna. Cherish the Ladies finish on a high, with Neil Fee’s Polka and a dancers’ finale. On this evidence, I’d say these homecoming queens went down very well at Bucknell.
Alex Monaghan