Releases > January 2014

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Songs of a Roving Blade
12 Tracks, 42 Minutes, Own Label DCRBCD0123

This for me is the goose–bump album of 2014. Mind you I had thrill of hearing a pre–release download just before Christmas, and what a welcome present it was.
Why the goose bumps? Liam Clancy is the answer. Back in the winter of 1995/96 I spent four months singing with Liam on the recording of a couple of his Helvic label albums. Dónal was on both of them, but as the recording process is fragmentary we never actually got it together as a band until we appeared on the Late Late Show with Gay Byrne.
Songs of a Roving Blade album was recorded in the very same setting of the family studio in An Rinn, this album being dedicated to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and rightly so. Dónal explains in the album notes that after his father died, there was a silence in the house but the ghosts of the songs were with him. Although until then he’d been happier to play the guitar, the songs had to be sung.
Sing them he does on this album. Fans of the Clancy’s will recognise almost every one of them, from Rosin The Bow, The Broom of the Cowdenknowes, Crúíscín Lán, Heave Away My Johnny, The Sean Bhan Bhoct and more. Mrs McGrath is an old family version, with a melody and chorus that were both new to me.
The goose bumps hit when Dónal sings. There are genetics at work here, he has the same vocal qualities as his father, that uncanny ability with timing, the clarity of diction, subtle storytelling, unhurried, unsullied singing. Is it nature or nurture? It has to be both of course.
So is this a tribute album? Yes and No. Dónal has been around the block enough times now to have his own career, with a long stint in Danú and collaborations with a huge number of players singers, he doesn’t have to rest on the family credentials. But, this is different, these are the family jewels, and why wouldn’t he want the world to share them again?
His guitar playing is of course of the highest quality, delicate finger picking on Sally Brown, a punchy chop on Roddy McCorley. The backing band he has put together for the album is top drawer too. It includes his wife Mary Rafferty on box and whistle, Martin Murray on mandolin, banjo and fiddle, Seán Ó Fearghail adds fiddle on The Limerick Rake. He is joined by Danú band mates Benny McCarthy on box and Donnchadh Gough on bodhrán. David Power guests on uilleann pipes, with Karan Casey on vocals and my old sparring partner from ‘96 Pat Sheridan on backing vocals on two shanties.
This might be called Songs Of A Roving Blade, but Dónal hasn’t strayed that far from his roots and the world has another Clancy to carry the torch for folk songs. I can see Dónal roving this album around the world in 2014, a great vintage already, and it has only just been bottled!
Seán Laffey

The Piper and the Púca
Hidden Tracks HTCD 0025

9 Tracks, 57 minutes
A well–named group, composed of Dubliner, Mick Fitzgerald and the Ralf Weihrauch Trio from Germany, their combination of Irish stories and songs draws on the 19th Century collecting of Thomas Crofton Croker and Douglas Hyde. The songs are mainly well–known Molly Bán, The Bonny Labouring Boy, and a version of the widespread Temptation Song. Ralf throws a couple of his own tunes around the words, accordion and fiddle–based dance music. Mick makes a fine storyteller, with the dry understated delivery you’d expect from the local sean–duine. His accent is well–travelled, well–beyond Douglas Hyde’s Donegal shores, and he manages a range of expression which carries the stories along.
Well over half of The Piper and the Púca is given over to four fairy stories, all involving the mischievous Irish elves known euphemistically as “the good people”. The title comes from a classic tale of a piper who is spirited away by a goblin to play in a fairy hill: there are a few twists to this telling, such as the fact that he’s not actually a very good piper, but you get the gist. The Elves in Scotland is a similar story, this time two emigrant Irish fiddlers who are invited to a fairy castle. Another piper features in The Wonderful Tune, a very fishy tale altogether. The final account concerns one Diarmid Bawn, not a musician at all, not even a drummer as far as I can tell, who seems to get the best of a bit of horse–trading with the little people.
The CD itself is tastefully designed, with pictures of well–known Irish landscapes and not even a hint of celtic knotwork.
Alex Monaghan

Ark of Tides
13 Tracks
Dinny McLaughlin has devoted his life to music, both as a musician and a teacher. He has given a legacy of traditional music to the world and has pioneered the establishment of Inishowen as a core of cultural excellence in Irish traditional music. Ark of Tides is both a CD and a DVD telling the story of his life through music and shows how his enthusiasm for music has inspired countless musicians in Inishowen and transformed the cultural landscape of the peninsula in Donegal.
The CD is an amazing collection of Dinny’s current compositions and features some of the finest musicians currently playing traditional music. Guests on the CD include: Roisin McGrory, Clodagh Warnock and Melanie Houton (fiddles), Louise McKinney (flute), Edel McLaughlin (piano), Ciaran Tourish (fiddle) and the Henry Girls.
This collection comprises a selection of McLaughlin’s recent compositions, including songs, tunes and airs. McLaughlin, from Shandrum near Buncrana in County Donegal, now in his late 70’s, is responsible for teaching several generations of well–known Donegal musicians. Karen from The Henry Girls told me ‘We sing 3 songs with Dinny that he composed on this recording, Bronnie Arms; King and Queen of Barna and Daddy will you buy me a fiddle. Dinny taught us music and dancing from an early age in our school and we have stayed in touch with him and played with him often over the years.’
The title track, Arc of Tides is an air and highland written by McLaughlin and performed by him on piano with Martin Tourish on piano accordion. Like the accompanying tracks, it’s truly captivating. The DVD is a joy to watch, beautifully shot and full of musical insights, that build up a picture of the nature of Dinny and his music.
Ark of Tides is definitely worth getting/putting in your Christmas stocking!
Grainne McCool

The Crooked Mountain Road
Own Label CCCD002
9 Tracks, 45 Minutes
A second CD from this Belfast fiddler. His first one passed me by, but The Crooked Mountain Road stopped me dead in my tracks. How to describe it? Irish, yet almost classical. The sort of thing Micheál Ó Súilleabháin might have produced if he had been a fiddler, perhaps. Corrigan’s own style is smooth, assured, not the stilted perfection of some violinists, yet more polished than your average fiddler. He’s joined by several musical associates, some from the Queens University Sonic Arts department where he languishes during the day, others from around the various music scenes Chris frequents.
The music is fiddle–led but complex, with a little more piano than I’m used to, as well as sax, flute, percussion, and trombone. Each track tells a story – this is descriptive more than dance music. Steppin’ puts me in mind of a stroll in the woods, dappled shade and sunlit glades, far–off landscapes glimpsed through the trees. Agein’ is more urban, not a big city, maybe a market town, a bustling square, people meeting, bustle and bright colours. Nine five–minute vignettes, all ending in N for some reason: the soothing Haven, the waltz Chillin’ with piper Ivan Goff, the hypnotic rhythms of Diggin’ somewhere around 15/8, and the rest. There’s no wildness, no earth wind and fire in the fiddle, but there is beauty in a more controlled way. The Crooked Mountain Road reminds me of Máire Breatnach, Nightnoise, the better end of the Celtic New Age spectrum: Chris Corrigan has put new life into that genre, and it’ll be interesting to see where his music goes.
Alex Monaghan

Joey Abarta
12 Tracks, 51 Minutes, Own Label

Not long ago in Manhattan, Tony White hosted a party at beautiful townhouse for the launch of Joey Abarta’s solo debut, Swimming Against the Falls. According to Lillie’s session leader and Irish Echo writer Dan Neely, White, who often comes to Lillie’s, heard Joey was issuing a CD and immediately said he wanted to host it and invite all his friends. This would be less remarkable if Tony were a singer and guitar player, or even a fiddler.
But Joey is an uilleann piper who plays with Green Fields of America, generally dressed a la the turn of the 20th century, with a vest and sometimes a hat. Yet he has fans.
Once you dive into Swimming Against the Falls you understand White’s enthusiasm: with graceful turns, Joey delivers each tune with passion and heart, and driving rhythm too. Joey’s CD will appeal to all who love Irish trad, not just to other pipers. He’s drawing on a rooted tradition. Dr. Mick Moloney, who leads Green Fields, writes on the liner notes that Joey’s “Victorian garb” is complemented by recordings of legendary uilleann pipers of the past: Leo Rowsome, Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, and Patrick J. Tuohy. In his essay, Joey describes his “terrible love of old piping.”
The album includes reels, hop jigs, jigs, airs, hornpipes and even a waltz, and Joey displays virtuosity and a true musician’s touch throughout. The jauntiness of the jig set Miners of Wicklow/My Former Wife raises a smile. The soulfulness of the song air Dear Irish Boy inspires a tear. There’s an aural portrayal of despondent love in his notes. Wicklow Hornpipe, a favourite in the city, comes off with aplomb, followed by Sean–Bhean Bhoct and the set dance Garden of Daises. The Pipe on the Hob is one of the most sprightly I’ve heard, and as it goes into The Battering Ram it’s an uplifting way to end a terrific debut.
Gwen Orel

Goat Island Music GIMCD003
10 Tracks, 51 Minutes
With a its slightly revamped international line–up, Hebrides–based Dàimh return some three years after their well–received Diversions album with an exciting and entertaining new piece of work in their fifth album, Tuneship.
In turns, this album is delicate and daring. The delicacy of Scot newcomer Damian Helliwell’s mandolin playing is a joy to hear. The daring of having only their own tunes is, as Cape Breton–born co–founder Angus MacKenzie admits, a real step forward for both the band who are attempting to add new material to the traditional canon. In fact, were you not to know that these were new tunes, you might wonder where they had found them. That in itself is a high compliment, for the new melodies on Tuneship have a strength and vitality that all the great tunes have. That sense of timelessness which reaches into the heart and pulls all the right strings.
Tuneship, named after a Viking longship found in Norway, also features three Scottish Gaelic songs sung by another new addition, Griogair Labhruidh, who sings in beautiful deep tones with a gravitas and a conviction. His pronunciation is stunning.
Dàimh also win best tune titles of 2013, with Helliwell’s The Pesky Neutrino and Jimmy the Rabbit’s Green Banjo being among the most entertaining. And who could blame piper MacKenzie and Californian fiddler Gabe McVarish for failing to resist the pun of Daimh in the Bed?
Good fun, on a seriously great album.
Conor O’Hara

The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill Vol 3
BrechinAllRecords CDBAR017, 21 Tracks, 58 Minutes
Taking a new CD out of its container never becomes quite routine, but occasionally one experiences a frisson of anticipation at what’s in store. It happened when I received Volume 3 of The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill, and if you have read my remarks on those earlier volumes you will know my feelings on the matter: that there are goodies in store, and great value for money, so to speak, in what’s on offer.
Volume 3 has a total of 21 songs, a booklet full of background information plus song words, exquisite arrangements, and a line–up of singers and musicians nonpareil. And that’s to say nothing at all about the songs themselves by one of the greatest songsmiths in the English and Scots languages, Robert Tannhill. I nearly said ‘one of our greatest songsmiths’ because Tannahill, like Robert Burns, is so universally regarded and so gifted in exploring emotions and the human condition, that we relate to them totally. Besides, those of us from Donegal and Ulster regard our neigbours across the way as the closest of relations anyway.
My own regard for this master songwriter has been considerably enhanced from having met the great authority on Tannahill and all things Scots, Dr Fred Freeman, producer and musical director of the CD series and supplier of fascinating notes on the songwriter’s life and times. He’s a mine of information on all things Scots, not least matters musical and linguistic. “Tannahill, like Hamish Henderson, was a multiculturalist,” Fred will tell you, “who recognized the strength of the hybrid in Scotland’s diverse social mix and seized the opportunity to put his ideas into practice.”
Robert had genuine sympathy for the Highlander after the Jacobite Rebellions as they poured into Glasgow looking for work and meeting with discrimination. Competing with the Gaelic speaking Highlander for work were their Irish–speaking cousins from over the way who were also despised and discriminated against. In one of his songs Tannahill has an Irish farmer say ‘some folks may still underrate us’ but ‘The man that won’t feel for another’ really ‘lives without knowing a brother’.
Space prevents me from extolling at length the qualities of the fine singers and musicians on this CD, but you have a treat in store, believe me, and I heartily recommend this album to you.
Aidan O’Hara

Take Me Home
Mizen Head Music MH497CD
12 Tracks, 46 Minutes,
Orange County’s The Fenians have been distilling a brand of Pogues inspired jiggery pokery for over two decades now. Their latest album Take Me Home shows no major changes to the battle plan. From the get–go its 90mph Irish American folk rock balladry infused with subtle Jazz, Reggae and Hispanic inflections. The sledgehammer attack kicks–off with the manic On the road to Ballybrack its contagious chorus possessing the cranium.
Carl Corcoran’s Malachy is revisited in strident folk rock fashion with some from Terry Casey. Banshee under My Bed occupies a curious Irish/Jewish whack and cool AOR strains cruise through the title track. Odes to lost and found love, alcohol, high times and hooleys all abound fuelled by Terry Casey’s Mike Scott styled vocals, frantic mandolin and searing lead guitar. Sax/whistle player Tadu Yergin adds a welcome jazz flavour accentuated by Byron Holly’s shuffling drum style.
The Fenians propel a serious bonhomic brew that thrills for its subtleties as ferocious Clancy Brothers on speed.
John O’Regan

Another Day of Life
Extended EP, 5 Tracks, 14 Minutes
Erect Records ERCD003

This latest work from Dublin based singer Adrian Mannering was recorded by Stefan Ffrench at the Church of Saint Nahi in the Dublin suburb of Dundrum. Mannering is joined on the album by the Larkfield Quartet who play violins and cello.
All but one of the compositions is by Mannering himself, Why Love? is the erstwhile stray from the pen of Aodghainn Ó Broinn and Nick Kelly. The musical arrangements are by Stefan French and show a regard for the complex over the melodic, this is not written to appeal to either pop sensibilities or folksy camaraderie, it’s a very long way from a Come All Ye. Yet there is something in Mannering’s writings and deliver remind me of Morrissey of The Smiths. They are direct, honest, brutally frank, dealing with the disappointments that haunt the adult urban zeitgeist.
Perhaps Mannering will always be judged against his own On Leighlin Road, a fine ballad and an engaging tune on the death of Philip Lynott. Is there anything here to equal its intensity and musical sweep? The most accessible, most easily transferable track is 3 Lovers. I hear a country ballad at its heart and its references to Shakespearean tragedies is truly clever.
Why is Love opens with the sound of children playing outdoors, like a half remembered echo of days gone by. This sets a melancholic tone for the rest of the album, with Mannering delivering unvarnished words over the gorgeous back cloth from the Larkfield Quartet. Poetry set–to music, sincerely felt and delivered with aching passion.
Seán Laffey

Own Label GWR002CD
9 Tracks, 48 Minutes
They’re back! Older, and maybe wiser, these two paramount pipers perform their magic on a second album. When I reviewed their first collaboration Partners in Crime, I was looking forward to solo albums from both these boys: four years later, the boys are now men (albeit plastic kit–form versions), Ross has only just brought out his Wide Open solo CD, and I believe we’re still waiting for Jarlath’s. (No pressure!) So it’s great to get another duo recording, basically more of the same brilliant music on Irish and Scottish pipes and whistles.
There are some differences. Air–Fix is a little more eclectic, with the inclusion of the Bulgarian classic Smeceno Horo popularised by Andy Irvine, and the Spanish jig Chorin el Llagareru which is new to me, as well as treasures from the Irish and Scots piping repertoires and several of the lads’ own tunes. Oh, and Jarlath sings two songs, breaking my rule for gentleman pipers: Gerry Rafferty’s Look Over the Hills and Far Away and Paddy Casey’s Anyone Who’s Yet to Come. The backing band includes Ali Hutton and James Mackintosh from the previous album, and adds Innes Watson on fiddle, Duncan Lyall on bass, that man Hamish Napier on keys, and Jarlath’s sister Alana on vocals.
The seven sets of tunes are mainly joyous up–tempo romps through great dance music. Air–Fix starts with the beautifully understated Gordon Duncan tune Full Moon Down Under – the title says it all, from a man in a kilt – but things soon move into quick–fire piping territory with the likes of Dolina Mackay, The Eavesdropper, Darby Gallagher’s, The Hawk, Connie from Constantinople and plenty of rousing originals from Ross and Jarlath. Something for Gordon provides another quiet moment, an Ainslie/Henderson tribute on double whistles to the late great Gordon Duncan, but it’s soon back to the skirlie beat with Ne’er Shall Wean Her.
This is a beautifully crafted CD, nicely arranged and packaged: it might not be exactly how Ross and Jarlath imagined the start of their new career as male models, but it’s perfect for piping fans!
Alex Monaghan

Bare Foot Folk
Story Records
859709918952, 2013
14 Tracks, 38 Minutes

This is mesmerising album and all the more so for being the reviewers nightmare – a new artiste with a set of self–penned tracks that are unfamiliar.
Hardy has a voice that captivates from the first syllable and when this is combined with a sure footed performance of well–crafted story songs she is on a winner. I spent the first few tracks trying to pin down her sound. It reminded me of both Adrienne Johnston and the female members of the wonderful Artisan.
She can combine genres skilfully, make us smile and then feel heartbreak while all the while entrancing us in what are basically short, short stories set to music.
White as Snow is one of the many tracks on this CD that in a century from now will have singers recording it as “traditional”. On a lighter note she entertains us with Crafty Father John which she tells us on the liner notes was inspired by postings on Facebook.
Ange Hardy is a worthy standard bearer of the true soul of folk music as we knew it in the 1960s. She tells stories but she also awakens the conscience. Forlorn Land will resonate with anyone looking at war torn lands and the injustices perpetrated by often well meaning people. Away with You Lassie and The Old Maiden are both inspired by that great inspiration of folk songs, the sea. She keeps us at sea on the more upbeat The Storm has Now Begun with a simple bodhran accompaniment in the shanty style.
There as a sort of country lilt on My Old Man that will lift your spirits. Then she haunts you with The Ghost on the Moors.
Many parents will learn Stop Your Crying Son off by heart in the hope that its sentiments will send that child off to sleep. She closes the all too short album with two beautiful philosophical songs about our need to accept and by accepting triumph over our worries. It may sound deep but believe me it is just beautiful in sentiment and delivery.
This is a gem of an album from a lady with the voice and the vocal skills to regain the truth of folk music in telling tales, opening minds and making us laugh.
Nicky Rossiter

Best Case Scenario
Appel Rekords 1349, 12 Tracks, 50 Minutes
You know straight away from the opening bars of this album that this band will be a great listen live: In fact I don’t think that a recording will bring the individuality of the each instrumental to the fore. No matter, I am commentating on what I am listening to and from the start, I like and I want to go and see them live.
The band certainly fits the name as Moragh, the Gaelic for ‘big’, they are a six–piece and they produce wave of sound that has found its way into their latest release Best Case Scenario. Formed in 2007, the line–up is Wim Moons, Peter Ceulemans, Marnix Polflict, Gunnar van hove, Dirk Naessens, Gert Meulemans with regular guest Philip Masure (the go–to guitarist in European Irish Music) have combined a crescendo of tunes with a combination full harmonies the songs.
That vocal tone is most definitely enhanced in the song Stand Up as the intro creates a compelling entre that when combining fluidly with the rhythmic background of percussion and strings then resonates with the lyricism of songs lyric.
The poignancy of Hand to Hold combined with the emotive instrumental strikes an emotional chord and there is a wealth of detail that is involved in the arrangement of both tune and song within the album that could be missed in a live setting. The Guns provides a musical lift that picks up the pace and creates an energy that epitomises that this is the band to be fully appreciated in a live setting.
Go see them, I want to!
Eileen McCabe