Releases > November 2011 releases

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12 Tracks, running time 66 minutes.
Own Label

Lyrical, melodic and melancholy by turns.  This is a solo album of often time complex and always enchanting finger-style guitar music.
Range is the best word to describe the McGrath experience, that range covers his command of tone, timing and a constantly rich emotional engagement with the nylon-strung guitar.
Be amazed by his application of classical techniques on the opening track, Champagne and Onions, at over seven minutes he uses the expanded time to explore the nuances and tributaries around a simple melodic theme, which he embellishes with runs, fills, arpeggios, harmonic pinches and deft almost inaudible slides.
Big pieces are a feature of this album, Lyric Epiphany coming in at over ten minutes is a tour de force of classical guitar playing with a modern neo-jazz sensibility, this was commissioned by RTÉ Lyric FM’s ‘Blue Of The Night’ programme, they just have to be delighted with it.
Track two sees McGrath working his magic on the traditional tune Limerick Junction, firstly played as a fairly standard hornpipe (with a generous bass line from an opposing thumb strum). Half way through he pauses to develop a bridge, which he then grows back into the hornpipe, this time fuller than before.
Musically surprising and thoughtful, brilliantly percussive on the Scottish Drummond Castle, tender and soulful on Neil Gow’s Lament for this second Wife, but never predictable, I found myself looking at the liner notes with anticipation. “Aidan  O’Rourke’s The Quiet Place, how will he approach that?”
I’ve argued for years that the guitar is the natural successor to Carolan’s harp and on this album McGrath shows us how suited it is to the blind harper’s compositions, for example with its lute like quality enhancing Eleanor Plunket  (he opens the piece with a harmonic exploration of the guitar’s fret board before he layers on the melody).
The album closes with O’ Carolans’ Dream, introduced by a questioning riff that the well-known tune almost answers until the question is asked again at the end of the piece. It is finally resolved by fading single high notes that finish the album on an echo of resonance.
A past pupil of John Feeley at Dublin’s DIT, McGrath has made a masterpiece in this magnificent album.
Seán Laffey

Own Label AFLCD 201101, 10 tracks, 47 minutes

A few years after their debut CD Tripswitch, AFL are back with a more contemplative release. The fireworks of that first recording are toned down, the arrangements are stripped back, and the whole feel is more relaxed. The core line-up of John McSherry on pipes and whistles, Dónal O’Connor on fiddle and keyboards, and Francis McIlduff swapping between pipes and drums, is supplemented by a bunch of the usual suspects on guitars and bouzoukis, plus a new departure: Cara McCrickard is featured as a vocalist on a slow version of Courting is a Pleasure and the well-known Ulster Gaelic song Ard Uí Chuain, and she also plays fiddle. The three lads are, of course, all in the very top flight of Irish musicians, and pretty to varying degrees.
Delicious slow airs without vocals here include the traditional Máire an Chúil Ór Bhuí and Finbar Furey’s piping tour de force Roy’s Hands. In slightly quicker tempo, Song of the Chanter is eerily played on harmonising whistles, and Finbar Furey was the source for the ancient Southern European dance tune La Volta. Both tunes are followed by complementary melodies: Bethan’s Dance by Francis, a swirling pipe jig reminiscent of Riverdance, and El Garrotin which is an Asturian piping favourite. That leaves four faster tracks. The Magnificent Six is a combination of triple-time tunes: a Breton Ridée, a 9/8 version of Fintan McManus’ reel Guns of the Magnificent Seven, and another McIlduff tune. Dónal takes over the composing duties for Ar Thóir na Donn, inspired by the Táin, which links to a couple of fine Clare reels. Rolling in Rosemount is a saucy little polka written for Dónal and John’s excellent Six Days in Down album, followed by a couple of traditional jigs and another catchy McSherry/O’Connor tune. The final Pipers of Roguery selection pairs one of John’s jigs with the well-known Hag at the Spinning Wheel for a powerful finale.
At First Light have produced another excellent CD with Idir, and can give anyone a run for their money when it comes to live performance.
Alex Monaghan


Great Wings in Flight
Own label, 12 tracks

A young American woman called Ginny Preston dropped into my office in School Broadcasts, St. John’s, Newfoundland, one day in 1976; she was there to ask a favour: an introduction to an 85-year-old woman, Caroline Brennan (known as Aunt Carrie), whom she wanted to consult with for a paper she was planning to write for her folklore studies course at the university. I had made many recordings of Carrie during my own studies in the same department at Memorial University of Newfoundland and was happy to provide the young woman with an introduction to one of the great repositories of traditional song and lore on the island of Newfoundland.
That same Ginny who has released her new CD, Great Wings in Flight, married a son of Newfoundland, John Ryan, and I must say I am delighted to make her acquaintance once again through her fine album of traditional songs and some of her own composition. Ginny has a very true and musical voice that adds considerably to her treatment of the trad numbers she sings, not least the two Appalachian songs, The Blackest Crow and Bright Morning Stars. Instrumental and vocal accompaniments are provided by a number of prominent Newfoundland musicians that include Billy Sutton, Graham Wells, Rick Hollett, and Pam Morgan who also acted as producer of the album. “She has touched the songs at their hearts, Ginny said of her, “and given them wings.”
Space doesn’t allow me to deal at any length at all with Ginny’s own compositions, but I cannot pass up the opportunity of mentioning one of them in particular. It’s called Talamh and Éisc/Marion’s Song (the Irish language words in the title mean, The Fishing Ground, the Gaelic name for Newfoundland). Aunt Carrie had made a big impression on the young Ginny Preston, sharing with her songs and stories and some words in Gaelic she recalled hearing from the old people in the late 1800s. “I wanted the song to be at least part in Irish in memory of Aunt Carrie,” Ginny told me. A thoughtful and fitting tribute to a woman we both loved and admired.
Aidan O’Hara

Ceol Sidhe
Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 186, 19 tracks, 70 minutes,

A well-known Galway musician, piano accordionist in his youth and later switching to the concertina to save his back, Micheál Ó hEidhin has a sureness of touch and a fondness for the nuances of slower tunes which comes with a certain maturity. He also acquired a strong interest in more unusual traditional dance forms - clogs, strathspeys, flings, clan marches and the like - from his Clare and Galway parents. Many of these are to be heard on Ceol Sidhe along with more familiar reels and jigs such as Bunker Hill, Brennan’s, Rakish Paddy and Munster Bacon. Micheál is joined on this impressive recording debut by adopted Galwayman, Charlie Lennon on fiddle and the well-travelled Steve Cooney on guitar. There are two of Charlie’s compositions here, and four of Micheál’s own: the rest are broadly traditional. The pace is restrained, but that only enhances the quality of this music. Like a fine malt whiskey, this album reveals more with time. And after all, as the title of Micheál’s delightful jig says, What’s the Hurry?
Ceol Sidhe, music of the magical and mischievous Irish faery folk, doesn’t actually include any of the numerous tunes attributed to fairy musicians - with one possible exception. The slow air The Enchanted Valley may be such a tune, ancient, modal, haunting on solo concertina. Much of Micheál’s music is similarly magical, particularly his slow airs: Easter Snow, The Wild Geese, Da Auld Resting Chair by the late Tom Anderson from Shetland, and a spellbinding version of Limerick’s Lamentation which progresses from march to jig to air. Green Grow the Rushes and Jimmy Lyons’ Highland are familiar as flings in Donegal, and continue the Scottish strand here, which culminates in as fine a pair of strathspeys as I’ve heard from Irish players. There’s also a great selection of hornpipes and clogs: The Tailor’s Twist, City of Savannah, The Locomotive and Charlie Lennon’s Salthill. Charlie features prominently on a superb pair of reels, Micheál’s Welcome to Charlie and his own composition The Twelve Pins - named after the pub in Finsbury Park, no doubt.
Grace and charm, musicality, and plenty of expression: that’s the music of Micheál Ó hEidhin.
Alex Monaghan

10 tracks Appel Rekords APR 1333

Third albums are usually where an accomplished act spreads its wings and aims to attract new listeners. In Shantalla’s case it’s a return from the dead as the Belgium based group of expat-Irish and Scots musicians disbanded in 2005 exhausted, road raged and wrecked. Now in 2011 they are a revitalised band and to prove this they have produced a third album Turas. The five piece that blazed trails in the noughties across Belgium, Holland and beyond, scorching stages in their wake has now become a sextet with the addition of guitarist/bouzouki player Simon Donnelly.
Initially I found Turas appeal in its new found mellow fruitfulness overtaking (so I initially thought) the Blitzkrieg attack of the previous two albums. However on repeated listening the dynamic power is still evident, whilst Shantalla has managed to temper that early bravado with a new maturity and melodic poise. This is particularly evident on Johnny Doherty’s, Marching in Jig Time and The Donkey Ride in the Sky where the balance between languid ambling and all out jiggery-pokery is captured and extended. Their complex arrangements allow for leisurely and almost an organily spontaneous development between tempos.
The front line of piper Michael Horgan, fiddler Kieran Fahy and Gerry Murray’s accordion bolts and kicks where needed and also pulls out some gloriously lush moments. Helen Flaherty’s voice has deepened and developed too. She is commanding on The Braemar Poacher and sensuously sensitive on the wistful Fair & Tender Maidens where she captures a pathos not heard since the much missed Adrienne Johnston. Special guests Omnia’s Luka Kreiger adds atmospheric slidederidoo and exotic percussion from Phillip Masure brings in a dark Gothic edge.
Turas proves that Shantalla has reclaimed its niche and intends to stay there while they are having so much fun. Having accomplished the Lazarus of comebacks, Shantalla can follow in the footsteps of the first bishop of Marseilles, in their case there mission is to preach the Irish trad gospel on the continent. Expect a growing congregation of fans.
John O’Regan

At Home
Fifteen Tracks – Self Published

The music of Gerry Harrington is steeped in the Sliabh Luachra tradition and this is brought to the forefront of his latest release ‘At Home. Harrington has already made an impression through his collaborative work with prominent artists such as Eoghan O’Sullivan, Charlie Piggott, Nancy Conescu and the lovely gentleman that was; Sligo flute player, Peter Horan. On At Home Harrington takes recordings that were literally produced in his home over 2010 and 2011 and has compiled them into a fifteen-track album that resonates with a South Kerry flavour.
Keeping with the Sliabh Luachra essence, Harrington takes a leap into Gallagher’s Jig and then steps into three exquisite hornpipes, shifting his musical compass northwards away from the land of the rushy mountain. These include the Ed Reavy composed Lad O’Beirne’s and the Longford fiddle player John Sault’s tune named for himself. The bow flies through reels, jigs, slides and a beautiful version of The Old man Rocking the Cradle air before settling in Tipperary on The Upperchurch Polkas taken from the playing of Billy Clifford. The Clifford theme is further present in At Home with a divine rendition of a tune from Billy’s Mother Julia Cliffords’ which fits perfectly with Bill the Weavers named after Denis Murphy’s father.
As well as being a pleasure to listen to, At Home is also a must for musical archivists as Harrington specifies in fantastic detail where tunes have been found previously and also relates some entertaining anecdotes of the musicians behind the compositions. Between the anecdotal imagery and the unspoken words that escape through his distinctive style; the story of the Sliabh Luachra heritage is stronger than ever before and At Home is sure to play an integral part in this.
Eileen McCabe

The Jolly Roving Tar
12 Tracks, Nyah CD No 1

Cathal Lynch has both inherited and absorbed a great love of traditional singing, evident in the many sources detailed in the excellent liner note, written by John Moulden, which accompany this album. Moulden cites Lynch’s influences as Len Graham, Paddy Tunney and Cathal McConnell, all great singers and Lynch knows their songs inside out, so much so that he has made them his own. His version of The Flower of Sweet Erin The Green, is stitched together from two other versions such is his command of the repertoire.
May of the songs are or at least should be standard repertoire for any serious singer of Irish ballads in the English Language, such as The Trees They Be High, The Verdant Braes of Screen, You Rambling Boys of Pleasure, and Bess Cronim’s The Bonny Blue Eyed Lassi (here the version noted down by Seamus Ennis is the model). There are some welcome surprises, none more so to me than the title track The Jolly Roving Tar. I was. I must admit expecting a version of the famous Harrigan and Hart song that disappeared into New England’s folksong backwoods for a half century, but no this is a different song altogether, more of a broken token piece.
In a work of such importance you might want the full words of each song printed out, space doesn’t allow for that, instead Cathal provides excellent references and includes the online database. Mudcat Café and the Roud index as a source for printed versions.
So to the singer. Cathal has a clear and very musical voice. The backing by Fintan McManus is melodic, certainly so on the title track, with its passing minor chord at the end of the first line of each verse. McManus adds a similar clever backing to the Bonny Blue Eyed Lassie. The pair give us their very best on the almost seven minutes of The Flower of Gortade. Many of the songs are approached a-capella, notably The Lady of Loughrea, written in the 1950’s and which has since become something of a Comhaltas competition standard.
Cathal Lynch has produced a splendid album here and one I’d recommend to anyone who would like to learn traditional songs in English. Forty years ago these songs inspired the likes of Paul Brady and Andy Irvine, maybe Cathal Lynch will be a catalyst for the next big ballad boom.
Sean Laffey

Small Towns and Famous Nights
Own Label BBM006, 11 tracks, 47 minutes
I last saw Roscommon box-player Alan Kelly play live with this line-up in Dún Laoghaire, just over a year ago. It was a great concert, full of fire and passion, the quartet’s sound filling a large open-air venue with the help of one or two guests. Since then, the gang have been on the road, honing their performances.
Alan’s piano accordion (no longer a black box - now a work of wooden art) is augmented by Tola Custy’s fiddle, Tony Byrne’s guitar, and the flutes and vocals of Alan’s protegée Steph Geremia. Guests include: Jim Higgins, John Douglas, Boo Hewardine, Kevin McGuire, and Eddi Reader. There are three songs, all by American writers. Steph sings Tim O’Brien’s The Garden, a bittersweet lament of unfulfilled love, and the soulful parting ballad Journey’s End: her native Bronx burr cuts through the Galway brogue, giving a mid-atlantic feel to these tracks. She sings like a woman born to it, strong yet unforced, with easy tunefulness and a range of expression. Eddi Reader’s rendition of John Douglas’s Connemara is another ocean-straddling track, an Irish-American ballad sung with Eddi’s own combination of Hollywood and Holyrood.
The lion’s share of this CD is of course the accordion-led instrumentals, the piano box in the hands of a master who understands how to use both those hands to complement the melody. In what is generally a controlled and thoughtful recording, there are a few flashes of fire and plenty of passionate playing. Alan only presents three of his own compositions here, along with one of Steph’s, but he’s in great company: Frankie Gavin, Máirtín O’Connor, Vincent Broderick, Liz Carroll and Bobby Casey all contribute tunes, and there’s equally high quality from the unknown composers of several traditional jigs and reels. Alan’s slip jig Hopalong is lyrical enough to be a waltz, and starts a medley of jigs and reels finishing with a punchy Phil Cunningham tune. Golden Pipe combines Tola’s fiddling on a gorgeous air by Liam Lewis with a couple of grand old reels. Birdmaker starts with lovely delicate fluting from Steph, leading into her own Listmaker in Balkan mood. The music continues to impress with Charlie Lennon’s Dawn Chorus and Niall Vallely’s driving Oblique Jig, all four members fused into a tight wedge of sound.
The final waltz for Alan’s grandmother is a delightful piece, underlining the easy grace and skill of The Alan Kelly Gang: beautiful music from master musicians.
Alex Monaghan

Na Fir Bolg
Raelach Music CD002, 13 tracks, 48 minutes

If the name Blas na Meala – Honeyed Sound hadn’t been claimed by Padraig MacMathuna for his fine 1992 release, I’d suggest it for this 2011 album. Talty and Begley play concertinas here - nothing else - and their duets are so sweet and natural that I was wondering if this was actually one supremely talented man playing the tune on two hands, until I read the notes and discovered that the treble Anglo-German concertina we are used to has been joined here with baritone and bass versions to give over five octaves of possibilities. That’s more than almost any other instrument in Irish music, and these two excellent concertinists make full use of the extra scope: playing in octaves, providing bass acompaniment, and filling this recording with a full range of tasty free-reed sounds.
Perhaps we can adapt the honey metaphor to include mead, because Na Fir Bolg is definitely full of the intoxicating pure drop, Irish music distilled through the ages. The title refers to a mythical race of men who inhabited Ireland, and who may have had something in common with our two bellows-pumping heroes - who may even have made similar music. Certainly some of the tunes here go back well beyond living memory: The Gypsy Princess, An Súisín Bán, The Hare in the Corn, The Flogging Reel, and many more. Most of the versions on this CD come from the great concertina players and other musicians of Clare and Kerry, either passed down over generations or reclaimed from archive recordings. Among these icons are John Kelly, Joe Bane, Johnny O’Leary, Paddy Cronin, and Willie Clancy. There are two clear exceptions: a set of modern polkas by Maurice Lennon, Paul Roche and Finbarr Dwyer, and a Shetland reel learnt from fiddler Kevin Henderson.
Na Fir Bolg was recorded in a Galway church, lending its ancient acustics to the music. There was no post-editing, and there are occasional small imperfections but the freshness and spontaneity of the playing more than compensates. Large concertinas are not easy to master, but Jack and Cormac make it sound easy here: listen to the rich deep notes perfectly timed on If I Had a Wife or The Curragh Races.
Alex Monaghan

The Leitrim Equation 2
18 Tracks

What a coup for Leitrim! Firstly they were privileged to have none other than the highly established group Dervish as their band in residence and secondly they have produced an album that highlights all that is good about the music of Ireland. The Leitrim Equation 2
Dervish and Friends encapsulate the inherent richness of the Leitrim tradition on this album as they showcase a compilation of musicians and singers from the County who have all contributed to the culture through tunes and song. Fionnuala Maxwell gives voice to The Hills of Leitrim following an elegant rendition of My Country Leitrim Queen by Adrian Dunbar with none other than Andy Irvine giving a helping hand to Dervish on the instrumental. There are a multitude of musicians who entertain with tunes that include a Ben Lennon, Mossie Martin and Tom Morrow trio on The Yellow Tinker Set whilst the Ward Family display their talents on The King of Inishbofin and Michael and Fiona O’Brien dance around Rooney’s Favourite with the box and the fiddle.
These artists are only the half of it and with other names like Eleanor Shanley, Charlie McGettigan, Tom Mulvey and Jimmy Joe Dolan vocalising the descriptive beauty of Leitrim; there is a song and a tune that will captivate even the most discerning listener. The lynchpin of the Leitrim journey though is Cathy Jordan and the rest of the Dervish stalwarts. They have put thought into the track choices, welcomed all the participants into the Dervish fold and produced quality music.
Every County in Ireland should have a Dervish in residence as The Leitrim Equation 2 undoubtedly proves.
Eileen McCabe

The Leipzig Sessions
10 Tracks, Tree Tone Music

The pairing of traditional fiddle player Anna Falkenau with the singer/ songwriter/guitarist Ivan Murray has been a bit of an underground phenomena in recent times. Having toured both in the US and on the European mainland, they landed a gig at the Electric Picnic this Autumn and it seems the barometer of their fame is on the rise. Their ability to blend the Irish tradition with some rootsy Americana and well-crafted original compositions has made folks stop and listen. Now the world can judge just how good they are with this
debut album. First track, Wake Up The Neighbours, a one sided dialogue reflecting on our global love affairs is sung in a dry high pitched voice with the fiddle sympathetically soaring through the work. The next track
is a raw edge fiddle tune Polly Put the Kettle On standing somewhere between Kentucky and Kanturk it keeps you guessing when will it might go completely modal. For me the tone could be a little darker on the lower register as Falkenau attacks the thick strings to dramatic effect. Those two pieces set the tone for the rest of the album, a balance between modern song writing and rooted dance music. The duo is billed as Contemporary Folk with an Irish sensibility, the latter stemming mostly from Falkenau’s fiddle. She is a member of Galway’s Rye and a one time component of Liz Doherty’s Fiddlesticks. Her traditional provenance is persuasive. The contemporary folk world is a jungle of all too similar sounding singer songwriters. In the Leipzig Sessions Murray and Falkenau have hit on a formula to bring the strange and wonderful to what is often a tired and jaded genre. Catch them live when you can, and give the album a listen, they even have samples on their website to whet
your appetite.
Seán Laffey

Kavan from Cavan
Thirteen Tracks – Nyah Recordings

This is harp music with a difference. Another way of describing it would be a touch of edgy multi-instrumentalism with the harp taking precedence. Whatever way to succinctly capture the cusp of this album, the one thing that is evident is that the recordings are rendered by the emerging talent of Kavan Donohue in a unique and colourful way.
Kavan from Cavan is the title and the energising musician is the son of the Fleadh Cheoil Daddy of Cavan, Mr Martin Donohue. Music is in the Donohue blood and Kavan showcases his instrumental ingenuity through his rendering of the harp, uilleann pipes, low whistles and whistles in a crisp and invigorating style. The harp immediately makes an impact with the first track as Kavan grasps the Coldplay hit Clocks and impresses with an upbeat, current arrangement that is vigorously innovative. There’s great variation as he slips into The Stig Jig set and then waltzes into the slow piece Brittany by April Verch before moving into a beautiful rendition of the O’Carolan composition Planxty Wilkinson. With a shift to the piping side of the equation, Kavan shows that versatility can be no problem as he delves into The Morning Thrush set which was written by Seamus Ennis’s father James. The tune connects perfectly with The Old Bush and the pipes are mastered by Donohue showing a full appreciation of the tune. Weaving a magic spell that highlights Donohue’s expertise are names that are synonymous with music in their own right. Tim Edey, Fintan McManus, Niall Preston and Kavan’s younger sister, Savannah ensure that the main instrumental is highlighted by their subtle yet imaginative accompaniment and this only serves to enhance.
Kavan (from Cavan!) can be hailed as one of the emerging young artists that are bringing the harp to the forefront of the tradition. The tracks are fresh and the music is eloquently rendered in a cutting edge style. Now that’s what I call a debut album.
Eileen McCabe

December Moon
14 tracks 46 minutes 20 seconds
Own Label

What a revelation, the Henry Girls have finally found their voice and what a happy voice it is. December Moon sees them tackling Americana head on and winning the argument. Sure there’s Celtic fiddle (on Rain and Snow) and harp on Moonstruck with the Kora player Gemeli Tordzr, which sits strangely in this project. They take on Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives and polish it with a French accordion to give it a sophisticated Gallic gloss. But original Americana is the taste you are left with; honky-tonk corn dog on Couldn’t Ask For More, smoky bourbon on Ol ‘Cook Pot.
The Donegal sisters travelled not to Memphis but to Gorbal Sound the brand new studios in Glasgow to record the album with some of the final production at home in Donegal. The girls are augmented by a cast of fine musicians: Nicky Scott, Liam Bradley, Ross McFarlane, Denise Boyle, Ted Ponsonby, Donal McGuinness, Sean McCarron, Robert Goodman and Gameli Tordzro.
For example they exhibit an uncanny family ability as they hit those close harmonies as if they’d been shape note singing since they were toddlers on The Long Road (complete with an authentic chopped bluegrass mandolin and a new country backbeat). They can do trad too, on the short harp led Aisling and a down home intro to Fool’s Gold. Their original songs have the potential to have a very long life beyond this album. December Moon the title track could be the Galway Girl of 2012. It kicks off with an infectious fiddle riff and syncopated beat from Ted Ponsonby that will get your foot tapping and that chorus is positively viral. (Listen carefully and you’ll detect some great Dobro work behind it all).
Nashville has to hear the Henry Girls.
Seán Laffey