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Tallaght Records
TACD 05, 15 Tracks
Running Time 48 Minutes, 38 Seconds

For such an energetic musician, Gavin Whelan’s latest offering, Homelands, gets off to a teasingly laid–back start, with the slow air Hector the Hero.
Although he has not forsaken his trademark pacy style, the album does dedicate a lot of time to the art of the slow air, indicating Gavin’s personal preference too with every second track being given over to such tunes, including Ae Fond Kiss played on low whistle, Lord Mayo as a piping tune, the timely and poignant Emigrant’s Farewell and Roisín Dubh, which is a must for any compilation of Irish airs, particularly after how Gavin tackles it here with such sensitivity and understanding. For Hector the Hero, he is joined on fiddle by Deirdre Smith and keyboards by Peter Eades; it is the combination of the piping and the drone of the keyboards in the background, which heighten the emotion of the air.
One of the quicker sets is Follow me Down/The Colliers, which showcases what may prove to be a lasting musical partnership between Gavin and Deirdre Smith, with Paul Doyle coming in on guitar to join the well–suited and executed combination of pipes and fiddle.
Homelands, the cover of which is designed with some wonderful evening panoramic shots of suburban Dublin by photographer Colm Keating, also includes in the liner notes the origins of the tunes and also how Gavin came to hear and play most of them, like Young Tom Ennis, which he heard from the playing of Paddy Glackin and Robbie Hannan. Some of the notes are rather sparing on detail, however, like Terry Bingham’s, which Gavin reveals is named, simply, after Terry Bingham, though to be fair he does follow up by informing us that Bingham is a Doolin concertina player.
Accompanied at different times by Gavin Ralston (guitar), Paul Doyle (guitar/bouzouki), Deirdre Smith (fiddle), Peter Eades (keyboards) and Daire Bracken (fiddle), Gavin Whelan has put together some fine collaborations for yet another fine release in his musical journey.
Derek Copley

Appel Rekords APR1339, 13 Tracks, 49 Minutes

When musicians of long standing experience and a combination of creative talent that is Andar decide to perform as a group the outcome is a fine display of maturity and professionalism. This promise is a reality with the new release Storms by the newly formed (2011) Andar. This might be a relatively new group yet Helen Flaherty (Shantalla), Philip Masure (Fling/Comas) and the delightful David Munnelly (The David Munnelly Band) have had the pleasure of playing music for over a decade together and the combination of box/piano, guitar/cittern and bodhrán has only been strengthened by the addition of Fons Vanhamel and Siard De Jong on double bass and mandolin/whistles/fiddle respectively.
With the album drawn from an array of influence Flaherty remains with her roots as she adeptly applies her distinctive Scots brogue to The Bonny Labouring Boy and the Dougie MacLean penned beauty She Loves Me, which is accompanied by a flawless instrumental that resonates. Another standout on the song front is The Storms are on the Ocean which blends vocal harmony with a delectable instrumental that delicately pays homage to the lyrics. Munnelly’s box playing is sensitively rendered with this song yet he gets a chance to drive the notes out in the Billy Mc Comiskey’s set which leaps off the track and sets a pacing rhythm for the follow on Joe Quigley’s and The Dawn. The lively lunacy is beset by sombre thoughtfulness when the group engage with a Munnelly composition named Doctor Piccard’s, which ebbs and flows with emotion that is again emulated in a tenderly rendered The Sunset.
It’s obvious that these guys know their business. Andar converts this storm into a tornado that sways into a frenetic execution and subsides into a thought provoking sensitivity and no matter which compelling track you listen to; the fascination remains the same throughout.
Eileen McCabe

Irish Tenor Banjo

So There You Go
Own Label
12 Tracks, 37 Minutes, 45 Seconds

The unique aspect of this release by the well–known banjo player from Cork, Seán O’Driscoll is the fact that the majority of the tunes on the twelve tracks are penned by the same said man. Interspersed with just a few traditionally arranged pieces, O’Driscoll gives us the opportunity to listen to fresh composition and the ambience of each reminds me of his previous offering The Kitchen Recordings where himself and the box player Larry Egan perform from the comfort of the kitchen. His banjo on these tracks emits that same heart–warming appeal and with a variety of collaborators Seán sets about to welcome each listener to his easy going, gladdening style of play.
Charming is a word that springs to mind, especially when eavesdropping on the vibrant self–penned jigs on The Smoke and Mirrors set played beside a deep piano accompaniment by Maurice Crumb. The suave sedateness is abandoned to make way for a fiery beat in O’Driscoll’s Well Now selection. Larry Egan ploughs into the tune with a purposeful push and Donncha Moynihan’s guitar and O’Driscoll’s banjo follow with abandon. A beautiful arrangement of the air My Dear Irish Boy settles the pace and O’Driscoll has full control of the string definition with both the banjo and the bouzouki overlay as the plaintive notes echo through the air.
So There You Go cannot be described as a polished performance by any means and there’s a purpose behind this. O’Driscoll has deliberately moved away from the sterility of a high-end production and instead has given us the rawness that is at the heart of the music. It brings the focus back to the tune and the energy it carries and that makes it something I would listen to again and again.
Eileen McCabe

Masters of the Irish Harp
RTÉ Lyric FM CD132
16 Tracks, 48 Minutes</strong>
Occasionally on reading the CD notes one learns a thing or two that surprises and delights. Cairde na Cruite (Friends of the Harp), was founded in 1960 by a visionary group of harp enthusiasts including Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (later to become President of Ireland). So harper, Áine Ní Dhubhghaill tells us, and I didn’t know that. Áine goes on to say that the society has played a major role in the resurgence of the harp, and this CD is surely testimony to that.
In the CD notes the performers are referred to as harper and harpist; but harper is used mostly. This is a quality production featuring sixteen pieces performed by the finest exponents of the art of Irish harp playing. For the record, of the sixteen harpers, just two are men, and all but one – as far as I can see are Irish-born. Helen Davies is Welsh. The two men are Paul Dooley and Cormac de Barra. Paul has studied the construction of medieval Irish harps and has built several instruments. He performs two slip jigs, Port an DeoraíÌ and An Phis Fhliuch, on the wire–strung harp and plays with the fingernails as the ancient harpers did. Cormac is the third generation harper in a family of outstanding traditional Irish musicians and singers. His grandmother was Róisín Ní Shé. He plays The Monaghan Jig. Cormac has recorded with Anne–Marie O’Farrell who performs Bach’s Prelude from Lute BWV 1006a on this CD.
In the notes we’re told that Siobhán Armstrong’s early Irish harp is a copy of the medieval Trinity College harp – the national emblem of Ireland – strung in brass and 18-carat gold! She plays Tabhair dom do Lámh (Give me your hand) by Ruairí Dall Ó Catháin (c.1570-1650). Listening to Siobhán and the other harpers performing with such brilliance and flawless technique, I recall what Giraldus Cambrensis, the 12 century Welsh/Norman scholar said of the musicianship of the Irish harpers he had heard: They glide so subtly from one mode to another, and the grace notes so freely sport with such abandon and bewitching charm around the steady note of the heavier sound, that the perfection of their art seems to lie in their concealing it, as if it were the better for being hidden. Thanks to Ellen Cranitch for reminding us of those lines which she quotes in her informative CD notes.
This CD is a wonderful showcase for the players and the notes helpfully supply us with titles of their recordings each has made. The list of performers is too long for listing here, but I should like to mention just a few that I’ve heard in person: Gráinne Hambly, Máire Ní Chathasaigh, Janet Harbison and Gráinne Yeats. Superlatives come to mind when listening to them and the others, and I can honestly say that I haven’t enjoyed a CD so much in a long time.
Aidan O’Hara

Own Label DMGB 003

I have never seen Doimnic MacGiolla Bhríde in person, but I have heard him singing on CD and had the impression that I was listening to an older man who was long immersed in the distinctive singing style of his native Gaoth Dóbhair in Co. Donegal. I suppose I should have checked him out online a bit sooner and it would have become obvious from seeing him on YouTube that here was a young man with a talent and a feel for the sean-nós that is bred in the bone, atá go smior ann. This is hardly surprisingly since the main influences from his earliest years were Caitlín Ní Dhomhnaill, Lillis Ó Laoire, Áine Bean Uí Laoi, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and his mother Nellie Nic Giolla Bhríde.
Doimnic is happy singing solo and a cappella, but on this his new CD Smúitghealach, he sings sean–nós songs in a new setting with string instruments, clarinet, and Doimnic himself on uilleann pipes and accordion. On the Claddagh Records website where the CD is featured
it states that he sings with a string quartet and clarinet. But in fact the quartet adds up to more than four: there are three violinists – one of whom also plays viola – a cello player, bass player, clarinetist, and then Doimnic’s own playing. I have heard the word smúitghealach used in the term oíche smúitghealach, which means a dim moonlight night. On its own, I suppose the word means dark and cloudy, or a mood evoked by at least one of the songs, Is Cianach Corrach (heavy– hearted and troubled). But I’m not sure.
Happily his unique singing style and presentation is not made to fit the accompaniment so that the sean-nós element of the performance is retained and the impact of the song story is impressively enhanced by arrangements that are imaginative and at times inspired.
The CD notes provide us with the words of the songs, all in Gaelic and with English language translations. Very useful and most commendable; however, I think that Doimnic was being a wee bit sparing in his notes, because background information on himself and the songs would have been helpful. There are twelve songs in all, and among the more familiar titles are Seán Ó Duibhir a’ Ghleanna, Máire Bhruinneall, An Clár Bog Deal, A Neansaí Mhíle Grá, and Seachrán Chairn tSiail.
Friends and admirers will be pleased with his latest production.
Aidan O’Hara

Own Label CDDM002, 13 Tracks, 46 Minutes

I’m writing this in Nashville, Tennessee where you can’t swing a proverbial cat without hitting a banjo. And here in music city, the banjo is as easy a target for jokes and derision as it seems to be everywhere else in the world. But that’s just because the jokers haven’t heard Cavan’s Darren Maloney play.
Following up on his acclaimed self–released debut Who? (2004), Complicated available from Claddagh Records is just that; a collection of increasingly diverse and complex tunes ranging from originals and traditionals, to Bach (yes, Bach unaccompanied on a banjo. The track selection gives an interesting glimpse into Maloney’s diverse abilities and musical interests. The opening set is comprised of tunes he played during a 2006 workshop/concert at the famed Carnegie Hall, which earned him a standing ovation. Just to mix it up, its followed by an original set accompanied by Shane MacGowan on guitar.
Many of the tracks capture the tunes and musicians that Maloney played and played with during his time living in New York City. Singer/songwriter Johnny Cuomo, a staple at Manhattan’s O’Neil’s sessions amongst others, makes a couple of appearances both on guitar and vocals and most of the tracks seem to have a New York connection. While Maloney’s playing is, as always, impeccable, I was a bit sad not to hear anything that stood up to Kandy Girls from Who? which is the track I direct people to when they go off on a banjo safaris. And which has, to a person, won over every single doubter. There is, however, a maturity to this collection, a sense of finesse and a thoughtfulness that displays Maloneys growth as an artist. Together, with his first fiery release, it forms a mighty collection, guaranteed to win over doubters as well as banjo, and indeed aficionados of all music alike.
Helene Dunbar