Releases > March 2013 Releases

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Ar Uair Bhig an Lae – The Small Hours
Own Label Muna 001

11 Tracks, 48 Minutes

This is the latest album from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh holder of a Gradam Ceoil, (Amhránaí na Bliana/Singer of the Year 2011) and rightly so as you will discover on this exquisitely recorded album. Muireann, also sings with Danú. Any band’s singer will tell you there’s always more tea in the pot and on this disc she makes a fine brew of a blend of Irish and English songs.
Techincally Muireann’s diction is crystal clear, her intonation always at ease with her backing musicians, whether it is on a sean–nós song or a contemporary ballad. In an era where far too much folk music is made by breathy girly voices barely in tune, Muireann is a strong and confident singer, her vocals are never strident or forced, for example her rich alto voice glows against Brian Rooney’s harp accompaniment of on An Buachaill Caol Dubh.
Her website shows her walking the strand, wind in her hair and directly below it the opening line of Bó na Leathadhairce (The one horned cow), code for a missing potion still.
Thíos cois na toinne ’sea beathaíodh mo chaora
(Down by the shore my sheep was nourished).
Muireann lives in the West Kerry Gaeltacht, where she told the local paper “I have returned to the source where I got all my music in the first place. It inspired me to record my new album, which is all songs, some of which I have been hanging onto for some time.” An Chiúrach Bhléinfhion she had from Cáit Ní Riain when Muireann and her young family moved to Baile Bhoithín. The bridge between the verses features Muireann on whistle, stunning stuff.
The capable hands of Donough Hennessy and Ivan O’Shea are responsible for the production and Muireann called on musicians Gerry O’Beirne, Michael Rooney, Mick Kinsella, Oisín McAuley, Liam Flanagan, and husband Billy on bodhrán to give a distinctive backdrop to her singing.
Of the 11 tracks, 5 are in Irish, the rest in English, the programme has 1 song in English on the first half of the album, one in Irish on the second half, it has the feeling of a well–worked out set, and would transfer easily to a live stage. The selection of modern songs includes Ger Wolfe’s A Single Thread, Gold Hills by Kate Burke, and Another Day by Tim O’Brien. There is as intriguing traditional ballad, The Leaving of Limerick. Was this the precursor
of the more famous Leaving of Liverpool? It’s a question Muireann asks and is sure to send folks off to Mudcat in search of an opinion or two. This is one of those albums that you have to sing along to and if you need the words they are all there on Muireann’s excellent website. If we gave stars this would be a galaxy.
Seán Laffey

At My Grandmother’s Knee, and Other Such Joints
Own Label SOB001
16 Tracks, 49 Minutes
Venerable Mayo fiddler, Mick O’Grady meets relative youngsters Smith and Blake in a musical reminiscence which has its rough edges but also moments of sweetness and delight. O’Grady’s repertoire includes marches, hornpipes and mazurkas as well as classic reels and jigs. Tell Her I Am, The Limerick Lasses, The Stoney Steps and Gillian’s Apples are among the old favourites here. Mick is accompanied by John Blake on piano and backed up strongly by the fiddling of Jesse Smith. The reel I know as The Green Fields of America is a definite highlight: Mick names it Molly Brannigan, and follows it with a tune he calls Corrie Hellie, a new one to me. I was also glad to renew my acquaintance with Jerry’s Beaver Hat, a lovely jig wonderfully played by Liverpool band Garva some years ago.
O’Grady’s versions cut across the expected beat in many cases. The Humours of Ballyconnell, The Flowers of Edinburgh and Off to California all have intriguing variations on the familiar timing of the notes – nothing jarring or irregular, just a different emphasis in the melody. Other pieces here follow the usual rhythm with verve: The Frost is All Over and Willie Duffy’s Mazurkas are powerful dance tunes, and the twin fiddle take on Dermot Grogan’s makes a gutsy finale. Mick O’Grady’s music is neither refined nor polished – it’s as gritty as you’d wish to hear in a country session – but he and the two lads have some lovely tunes between them. Mick also sings three songs, two Irish ballads of emigration and patriotism, plus one cheesy cowboy ditty of Philadelphia philandering, which I have not heard before.
The album notes are short on detail, but the music is full of heart. As the title makes plain, this recording is not to be taken too seriously.
Alex Monaghan

Remembering Des Donnelly
Private Label RNR001, 17 Tracks, 34 Minutes
There’s character in the sweep of the bow that ignites the strings in the seventeen re–mastered tracks of the playing of the late Des Donnelly who tragically passed away at the young age of 40 in 1973.The Fintona native who settled in Manchester in the North of England fired the Irish scene there with his passion for playing and in doing so ensured that his inimitable style would be passed through the Donnelly generations and extend to the network of budding players who were enticed by his musicianship. In fact you can hear it through his version of the hornpipes The Star and The Sunshine where the ability to lift the tune out of the fiddle so it echoes around the room and bursts into a dance can now be heard in the style of younger fiddle players everywhere.
I have to confess I have listened to this album before many years ago when it was released on vinyl. Where it is now; I don’t know, but as his 40th anniversary appears on the horizon I am delighted that his family have decided to release it on CD as his vitality and flair for the unexpected made him one of the most exciting players of his time and it is right that everyone should get a chance to experience that. Listen to his version of Last Night’s Fun or The Spey in a Spate and you’ll see what I mean.
This album is must on all levels. Enjoyment can be found in the style and delivery and the passion for the music and as well as that, it documents a period in time that was vitally important to the legacy of Irish music outside the island of Ireland. Through his incomparable style of play, the magic of Des Donnelly undoubtedly leaves us with a historical treasure trove of gold.
Eileen McCabe

The Anvil – A Dedication to Michael Reilly
Own Label, 18 Tracks, 46 Minutes
This album has sentimentality written all over it, but in a great way. A set of eighteen tracks dedicated to the Leitrim/Longford style of playing through the guiding legacy of the late Michael Reilly. It is by his daughter Marie. She lovingly portrays her father’s technique as she incorporates the slur–and–cut bowing style preserved through the generations with tunes that document the historic relevance of the tradition through eight generations of instrumentalists. To add to the authenticity she has added three tracks of the playing of Michael Reilly himself.
I loved hearing the story behind the title, The Anvil, taken from memories of, as a young girl, helping Michael in his trade as a blacksmith and lilting and whistling tunes together until on the final note he struck the anvil with his hammer. The tale echoes the reflective, almost whimsical tone of the album and with tunes such as The Low Level, taken from the recently discovered manuscripts of Alex Sutherland, gliding languidly into Floods Hornpipe; we are enriched with an archival listening pleasure. Sutherland’s collection gives us a taste of another distinctive style as Greg’s Pipes and The London Lasses reels embody the scordatura fiddle tuning EAEA to emulate a bagpipe drone effect. The piano of Gabriel Donohue provides a baseline for the fiddle to traverse through the high notes in complementary fashion and his accompaniment throughout the album serves to enhance the overall quality.
There’s more than just the music in The Anvil. It is a fitting tribute to both the instrumentalist and the regional style from which these archival tunes derived and that sourcing of tunes and the historical research behind it is an added bonus to a lovely array of well executed tunes.
Eileen McCabe

Home Sweet Home
Fairewood Studios FW051, 2012
11 Tracks, 51 Minutes,

The subtitle Songs of Love, Loss and Belonging tells us what to expect on this album from Amy White with Al Petteway and the beautiful voice of the performer delivers. She opens gently with the title track inspired by her route from her adopted home to her old home and it will resonate with listeners regardless of the scenery on their journeys home. Salt of The Earth is a sort of protest song a la Dylan or Baez but for the 21st century. As she so confidently lets us know the security of all nations hinges on the real life well–being of its citizens. Listen closely to her gentle delivery of a strong sentiment. If you like the theme of that skip on to American Dream and listen to the expression the oh so real worries of the ordinary people. She may sing about her native USA but it will resonate in any “developed” country.
Lovers throughout the world should listen to You Already Know which is her beautiful expression of love. In a similar vein we might pay close attention to How Can You Love Me.Another social conscience song in the best possible sense is Love Across The Boundaries.
There is a sadness but also a strong resolution on the two final tracks on offer Dying on the Vine and When You Were Here With Me. The latter is her voice with piano accompaniment and reminds us not just of love in our lives but of the all too real probability of loss.White is certainly one to watch in the writing and performing stakes and of course in showing us that protest about our problems may not always need strident pounding anthems.
Nicky Rossiter

Live From the 33rd County
Completely Stone Mad Music MC004, 11 Tracks, 48 Minutes
No stranger to album releases the Castlegregory native, now firmly ensconced on the East Coast of America, with her band Morning Star (which comprises of John Redmond on accordion and Tipperary native, Donie Ryan on banjo), they are a regular on the music scene in the USA and this latest release Live from the 33rd County is a reflection of their entertainingly raw depiction of the genre.
The track choice on the album has a wealth of songs designed to connect with the imagery of the homeland they departed. Mary intersperses these classics with songs of social conscience. The likes of Danny Hannon’s soulful Mandela ,which he wrote after travelling to the Yankee Stadium in New York to be inspired by the man himself, is performed with an emotive passion and this same passion stirs through the Tommy Makem penned Four Green Fields.
The bodhrán adds a haunting pulse to As I Stand On This Land where the vocal becomes moody and pensive and the lyrics dig to the very core of the intensity of song that seems firmly embedded in Courtney’s character.
The box and banjo of Morning Star create a voluminous sound as they plough into The Flowing Star set. Yet it’s the rousing lift in Sheila Coyles that brings their instrumental expertise to the fore as they swiftly flow into The Floggin’ and end with a highly excitable version of Sporting Paddy.
This album is most certainly live. It has that unique, edgy rawness that typifies the all–round experience of a gig. So instead of leaving the home for a listen, just put your feet up and enjoy.
Eileen McCabe

Own Label 12 Tracks, 33 Minutes
With his last recording, Road Map of Ireland having been released by, the then Belfast based, Outlet Records in 1981, Robbie MacGowran has most definitely taken time to bring out his latest offering entitled Basically. An exponent of the whistle for over thirty years and citing the legendary Planxty, Noel Hill and The Bothy Band as influences, he has produced a recording of clarity and precision that encompasses tunes that are familiar to all traditional music lovers. With the guitarist Ruairí Kelly he takes his first step into The Cottage in the Grove reel that skips into McDonaghs and The Humours of Loughrea. What stands out immediately is his almost staccato style on the whistle where the rhythm and phrasing are prominent yet the tune still flows in a methodical pace. The pace is moderate throughout the album yet this enhances the definition of note and simulates an almost percussive whistle sound, none more so than in the Banish Misfortunes jig set where the closing tune Nora Crionna showcases the clear, sweet tone of the whistle in sprightly style. A long standing favourite of mine Toss the Feathers comes into its own in the second part and is preceded by another great choice in Lafferty’s .
With an array of reels, jigs, hornpipes and slip jigs on display what truly shines is MacGowran’s respect for each tune as it is played. Each note is carefully considered and delivered in a way that is savoured by the instrumentalist. Kelly’s guitar accompaniment displays sensitivity throughout and the focus remains on the tune itself. A great album of raw whistle playing that can be used as a learning tool or thoroughly enjoyed on its own merit.
Eileen McCabe

The Lights of Lasnaskay
Crashed RecordsCARCD8014 2012
7 Tracks, 21 Minutes

The best stuff comes in small packages according to the general saying. This short CD of a mere 21 minutes and seven tracks appears to prove this adage. Based on a book of poetry by a postman from County Fermanagh one would naturally expect a mixture of nostalgia, social comment a good English and one is not disappointed. This especially so when the lyrics are put to music and delivered with passion and feeling by James Cramer.
The title track is a beautiful opener setting a scene that will permeate the album with its heartfelt words reflecting the emigrants dreams and worries. Mullyneeny Hill is a lovely evocation of time and place set to a jaunty tune that will have live audiences tapping along and hopefully singing along as it gains popularity. We get drawn into history of a more widely known event on Civil War (The Town of Broken Hearts). The subtitle tells it all and Cramer performs it with understated feeling.
It’s back to a more light hearted style on Oul Joe and it will again have the toes tapping. We get some of the singer’s own lyrics on The Road to Kinawley and this track bodes well for when he runs out of poems and gets into his own compositions.
This short album makes up in quality what some may see as a deficit of quantity and does what it sets out to do in bringing poetry to a wider audience to great effect.
Nicky Rossiter

Various Artists
Brechin All Records CDBAR019, 10 Tracks, 37 Minutes
This new CD, Fonn Ratharsair – Sounds of Raasay, features fourteen of Scotland’s finest musicians playing original music and song inspired by the Island of Raasay which is located between the Isle of Skye and the mainland of Scotland. The island is most famous for being the birthplace of the poet, Somhairle MacGill– Eain, also known as Sorley MacLean. Although they were Protestant, the MacLeods of Raasay supported the Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. After the defeat at the Battle of Culloden, the Prince spent some time in hiding on Raasay.
The island is also famous for its scenic beauty and its music, and so its people will be happy that the original material on offer on this CD is worthy of their island’s heritage: there are eight instrumental compositions, some hauntingly beautiful, others stirring and lively, and two songs, one dealing with the good times on Friday nights on the island (Blair Douglas), and the other about a Raasay emigrant who returns (Brian Ó hEadhra).
Brian (guitar) is a member of a well–known trio who perform all over Scotland when their ‘day jobs’ allow the luxury of high–tailing it off to gigs and doing what they like to do best; the other two are Bruce MacGregor (fiddle) and Sandy Brechin (accordion). They open proceedings with Raasay Rant, the first part of which is a march by the late Jerry Holland, a fiddler who was rooted in the Cape Breton, Scottish and Irish fiddle music traditions, and it’s followed by a jig and a reel written by Bruce “whilst sitting in the new Raasay hall during a sound check”.
Four tracks, collectively called Raasay Suite, consist of tunes composed by Jonny Hardie (fiddle & guitar) and Ronan Martin (fiddle). The opening tune Churchton Bay by Jonny is a wonderfully evocative air on fiddles (Jonny & Martin) and piano (Brian McAlpine). It then moves into a lively dance tune, Sadie’s Garden, named after Sadie McLeod who is “one of the island’s keenest gardeners”.) Following that is a tune “inspired by a visit to the ruins of the McLeod fortress” Brochel Castle. To round of the suite Jonny and Martin are joined my Angus MacKenzie (border pipes & whistles) in a medley of tunes called, The Road to Arnish “written while waiting for a herd of cows to move off the road”.
There’s music on harp from Aoife MacLeod (Temptation Hill), Angus is joined by – along with some of the aforementioned, Gabe McVarish (fiddle), Ross Martin (guitar), Colm O’Rua (mandola), and James Bremner (bodhrán), in Tommy Darkie’s Welcome to Raasay. The album finishes with the wistful and reflective Loch na Mná – Loch of the Women by Blair Douglas, who plays all the instruments. The people of Raasay will, I’m sure, be gratified to be the recipients of so excellent a musical bouquet, and music lovers generally will enjoy in its melodic gems.
Aidan O’Hara

Own Label (no number), 14 Tracks, 54 minutes
Children need music because it serves as a great vehicle not only for enjoyment but also for learning. So the children of St Patrick’s National School, Kilnaleck, Co. Cavan, are truly fortunate in having a young woman teacher who is not only an award–winning singer, but a multi–instrumentalist, as well. She’s Aoife Murray from Clifferna near Stradone in that same county. For someone who is so obviously steeped in traditional music, it is totally charming to learn that she confesses to having wanted to be a pop singer as a child.
“Over time I realized… that it is good to be different and at least you have your own corner of the market. That is why I got into traditional singing because that is what lended itself to my voice.” But what strikes one immediately on perusing the list of songs on the cover is that she includes a couple of contemporary songs, one of which has enjoyed what amounted to pop status in the 1970’s. It’s John O’Dreams, which is widely regarded as a traditional Irish song, but was in fact written by singer/songwriter Bill Caddick from Wolverhampton in England. And the melody he uses, far from being traditional or even contemporary, was composed by the Russian classical composer Tchaikovsky. Aoife’s interpretation is most appealing and shows her versatility in this and a wide variety of songs in Irish and English on her CD.
As I listened, there was another pleasant little surprise for me when she came to sing Blackwaterside, track 9 on the album. I wondered what version it would be; the well–known version sung by Liam Clancy in the 1960s, perhaps, or might she sing her rendition of another version – very different from Liam’s – that I recorded from the singing of the remarkable Mrs Caroline Brennan of Ship Cove on the Cape Shore of Newfoundland in 1975. Well, neither, because Aoife’s song of that name is also widely known as The Bonny Irish Maid, a tale of two lovers about to separate.
Aoife is a gifted singer and on this recording she is lucky in having that fine musician, Fintan McManus, as her co–producer and one of her accompanists. Her selection of songs ranges over the great themes of the song tradition and in this her first solo CD she shows why she is held in such high regard as a singer and the holder of several All–Ireland awards for singing in English and in Irish.
Aidan O’Hara

Back Lane Records BLANE PR003
10 Tracks
If this is a marker for the year then 2013 looks like being a classic vintage. Mary Dillon from Dungiven in Derry brings a warm sensitive voice and a passion for traditional songs to this album of 11 tracks. The last song on the album is in Irish, Ard Ti Chiuan, the rest in English Hard to say where and when she picked up the material as the liner notes on my pre–production promo–copy are sparse, reduced to one page, they give little more than the names of the musicians on each track. Mind you they are top class players,and Mary co–produced the work with her nephew Odhrán Mullan. It features contributions from an array of talented traditional musicians, including composer Neil Martin, Eamon McElholm (Solas), and her younger sister Cara Dillon.
Mary has been off the folk radar for 15 years, now she is back and is surely to be in demand and the CD is destined to impress booking agents and festival organisers as much as it will delight folk–song fans. This album has been a long time in the making, it is her debut solo work, after 20 years or more and she brings a maturity and gravitas to the work.
Her style is dramatic, light, shade and emotional tension works it’s way into each track, most of which have Northern roots, you might already be familiar with The Banks of Claudy,(paired here with the air to the Rocks of Bawn) When Man’s In Love and Edward on Lough Erne’s Shore, these are no mere pastiches of other version but she definitely puts her own stamp on the tracks. Her interpretation of The Bleacher Boy was new to me and one to put on the learning list.
However, the stand out track has to be John Condon, it belongs to the same genre as Willy MacBride and the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. All songs of the wasted youth of World War One, this gives a particular Irish perspective. Dark and sombre, it punches, and brings Mary’s best qualities to the fore, the voice, the presentation, the engagement with the story. I suspect when performed live it will be followed by a long moment of silence, no wonder it was the first single from the album.
Seán Laffey

Sweeney Records
12 Tracks, 48 Minutes, 18 Seconds

Now here is something different, something special, and something to surprise you. Emma Sweeney is a fiddle player from Manchester, a past pupil of Mike McGoldrick, who joins the ensemble here, and what a team it is, too many musicians to name, but when you have John Doyle, Manus Lunny and Donald Shaw on board you can see you are in the premier league.
Emma begins the album with a triple selection, Jimmy McHugh’s Flooded Road to Glenties, Sean Ryan’s The Singing Kettle and Tony Sullivan’s Marian’s Favourite. Fast furious, driven fiddle over a throbbing guitar riff. She continues this high energy on the second track with a medley of the Shaskeen, Anthony Frawley’s and The Star of Munster. Then track three and the first surprise, a blue grass waltz called the Golden Fiddle underpinned by Duncan Lyle on double bass and Mike McGoldrick on mandolin. Right in the middle of the album, Emma takes hold of a Nick Drake song, A Place to Be, which shows she has a fine contemporary, voice, nice slide dobro here and some clarinet both from that man McGoldrick again.
Track nine the Wheels of the World, is pushed along by Matheu Watson, this is hearty Donegal style fiddling with some great twists in the rhythm and explosive little slurs adding even more interest. The final track Pangea is a combination of two of her own compositions, it opens with what can only be described as a Raga, a duet between guitar and fiddle, deft vibrato used sparingly as the instruments gently spar with each other. Emma dedicated this track to her friends in Kolkata, and when you think you’ve heard everything she adds an upbeat tune called The Artist with the full, band. Think Capercailie goes to Bollywood. The track fades, the album is over? Wait around for a moment and we get an out–take, perhaps recorded in the 1990’s. It is Emma playing whistle, the Britches Full of Stitches, a charming end and a testament to how far you can come along the road if you have the talent, the dedication and the instrument to bring out the music in you.
Seán Laffey