Releases > November 2012 Releases

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Roots of the Banjo Tree

Own Label WB3CD001, 13 Tracks, 40 Minutes

From the opening guitar strum that paves the way for a raw bass melody in Martin Wynne’s reel, that’s served with a side of perfecto harmonic banjo arrangement, to the sudden silence at the end of a rousing version of The Dublin Lasses you know you are listening to pure quality throughout every second of play on the debut release from We Banjo 3.

The blending of banjo sound and styles serves the Howley brothers and Enda Scahill so well as the roots of old time and Appalachian merge and intertwine with bluegrass vibes and Irish Traditional beats. The changes between tunes are unexpected and enticing and bursting with creative energy, yet the lads are able to tone down the pace and use their intrinsic guitar abilities to let the tune do the talking through the delightful strings of guest artist Gerry O’Connor as they perform a mesmerising version of Time to Time.

Banjo and guitar communicate with style in the Bill Cheatum set where Fergal Scahill’s fiddle and James Blennerhassett’s bass provide profound accompaniment; this is followed by the sublime Liz Carroll composition Air Tune that merges guitar with mandolin in a whimsically ethereal way whilst depicting note precision with clarity and panache.

For a young guy, David Howley has a voice that is steeped in a deep maturity and so suited to the bluesy, Americana vibe that powers through the five choice songs on the album. The addition of Louise Holden with harmonies and the instrumental backing are such that you have to play each song again and again for fear you’ve missed anything. In fact this applies to each and every track on the album as it is layered with intricate riffs, powerful string combination and pure listening pleasure.

Stunning stuff from the guys that have, with Roots of the Banjo Tree, sowed the seeds of a new and innovative era in banjo music.

Eileen McCabe


The Lady’s Plaything

NYAH CD Label No.5, 12 Tracks, 33 Minutes

The liner notes to The Lady’s Plaything CD is fairly festooned throughout with logos to this, that and the other. They include Cavan Arts, Comhaltas, Northern Sound 94-98FM, and the Nyah Festival. But there’s no doubt whatsoever about who’s up there front and centre in this whole production, and that’s Martin Donohoe, box player, talker, MC, wit, and general all–round musical force of nature. The clever and amusing CD design is by Angie Crowe of craftycrowedesign and it achieves what I suspect is Martin’s whole objective: to show that making music is fun. On the CD cover it announces: Music is not what I do. It’s who I am. Now, who could that be, I wonder?

Indeed, reflecting the sense of fun and frolics, here and there the strictly trad playing of instruments on Irish tunes is given a strangely appealing effect by the saxophone playing of Noel Sweeney (who also plays the flute), so that, for example, the line–up in Track 1 is: Seán Ó’Sé singing Kitty Lie Over, with Martin on the accordion, Pádraic O’Reilly, piano, Johnny King, bones, and Noel on sax. Then in the instrumental rendition of Dick Farrelly’s song, The Isle of Inishfree (recorded by, among others, Bing Crosby), there’s Kavan Donohoe on uilleann pipes and harp, Fintan McManus, guitar, and Noel again on the saxophone.

On this CD you never know what’s around corner, which is not the least of its attractions. For example, the witty and cautionary tale of Old Roger Rum, lustily performed by Sean Owens, is followed immediately by Carolan’s stately harp piece, Madame Maxwell, performed by Kavan with accompaniment from his sister, Savannah, and Fintan on guitar. Martin on the accordion is heard throughout and is in mighty form in his compositions, The Pocar (a hornpipe for his good friend Seán Ó Sé), and Jack Keyes’ Reel (for Jack who is Cavan’s County Manager). Incidentally, Seán was given the name Pocar from a woman who said to one time, Sing us the Pocar, referring An Puc ar Buile.

Those tunes are followed by Gerry Gorman from Legga, Co. Longford, singing a rollicking version of The Auld Volunteer. And Martin’s good friend, Seamus Fay lilter extraordinaire provides us with two reels, The Arkle Mountain (composed by Manchester banjo player Sully Sullivan, and first recorded in 1976) and The Fair–Haired Boy. A final word about the title of the CD: it’s an 18th century dance tune found in James Aird’s Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, Vol. 1 (1782). And for the afficionados, it has an unusual B part, which has twelve bars instead of the usual eight! Now, could ya bate that?

Aidan O’Hara


Through Wind and Rain

Own Label CD001, 11 Tracks plus Bonus Track, 49 Minutes

With a wait of seven years for this, the fifth solo release from the Detroit based singing jewel in the crown of Irish American music; Cathie Ryan has taken it to a new level with an album that strips away the traditional sentiment to portray the stark reality of life with a set of choice songs that disturb yet intrigue, unsettle yet resonate and all the while she beguiles and entertains with that indisputably attractive voice.

Through Wind and Rain is the best one yet as it gives eleven tracks (and a bonus) of soul bearing vocal that showcases thought provoking lyricism yet shines with a healing positivity that instils hope with the listener. I am a Beauty, the Laura Smith penned ode to the inner self, reaches to the deep understanding of self– worth where the face is the map of my time here and my heart is the map of my dreams’ and Ryan immerses herself in these lyrics with belief and conviction. The breathy vocal on Fare Thee Well is poignantly outstanding and is enhanced by the expressive instrumental and harmony that fully complements the song.

John Doyle and Catherine Peterson excelled when composing Liberty’s Sweet Shore and Ryan adds the final touches to the tender song of emigration with a soulful rendering that promises a hope for the future. The hard hitting truth of the words of Daddy penned by Cathie herself tell a story of how the terrible pain of alcohol abuse can affect a family and the heartfelt emotion that spills out through the lyrics gives way to a compelling listen. It would take another review altogether to comment on the guest artists associated with Through Wind and Rain. Let’s just say that with Ryan’s musical connections hitting both sides of the Atlantic; the instrumental and harmony vocals reads as a who’s who in traditional music and the quality of the backing is top class.

This is an album to succumb to emotion with as Cathie Ryan’s enchanting voice takes you through sadness and despair yet breaks through those barriers with a vocal strength that captivates and allows the bitter sweet beauty of each song to shine through and grab the heart. Genius.

Eileen McCabe


Suaimhneas Clo Iar Chonnachta CICD 189

14 Tracks, 48 Minutes

Where harp albums are concerned tune set based collections are commonplace nowadays as opposed to the minority. This hasn’t always been the case of course as some decades ago (not centuries) the majority of harp recordings had the gentle stringed menagerie as accompaniment for songs plucked gingerly to accommodate repertoires gleaned from the Castle cabaret and Mary O’Hara songbook. Interestingly enough it took an outsider in the guise of Alan Stivel to show us how dance tunes could be scored for the harp and not loose face. Since then playing jigs and reels on the harp has become established and that history lesson is enforced with the emergence of Michelle Mulcahy’s debut solo album Suaimhneas.

The Mulcahy family genes are steeped in traditional music so the material here is predominantly pure drop trad as much as the harp allows for. Michelle’s playing is assured on Martin Wynnes No 2 and The Battering Ram and suitably restrained on Amhran Mhuainse. A slender contemporary thread exists in her self–penned The Karen March composed after a visit to Mae Li refugee camp on the Thai Burmese border and Celia’s Jig (named after her mother Celia) also alludes to a promising compositional talent. The strings ring and resonate in all the right places and Michelle’s confident playing exudes commitment and love for her instrument and muse. Suaimhneas makes all the right noises and indeed pulls all the right strings.

John O’Regan


Flash Company

Lorimer Records LORRCD04
11 Tracks, 54 Minutes

The year 2012 has been an almighty one for the International blend of talent that make up The Outside Track. With awards of Best group and Best Vocalist for Norah Rendell from Live Ireland and a National tour complete, they have also been busy with their latest release entitled Flash Company.

These UL music graduates are serious about their music and perfectionists when it comes to submitting an album to the public that proves its musical worth. The care taken with the arrangements, harmonies and the quality of execution is notable and the result is an accomplished eleven tracks that are worth the listen.

The title track is taken from the song made famous by both Norma Waterson and June Tabor with which Norah applies additional lyrics and a taste of nostalgia to the mix whilst Rankin’s fiddle intertwines a tantalising taste of the slow air My Cape Breton Home as the strings and accordion embody the air with a flourish.

Rendell also captures the essence of the song in The Mountain Road, which is enhanced by quirky instrumental phrasing and soft backing vocals that blend perfectly. The track has been released separately as a download with all proceeds divided between three well–deserving charities.

On the instrumental side the Body Parts Set begins with a delicate string intro making way for Rankin’s fiddle to shine, interspersing with the other instruments until Black slowly makes away on accordion with the instantly recognisable (from Sharon Shannon) Neckbelly –love that tune! A favourite of mine is the Rankin penned Kelly Pecks. The string intro, the placing of each instrument within the composition and O’Dálaigh’s guitar combine perfectly and then gives way, via the harp strings of Robertson, into a choice arrangement on the Eric Favreau jig named Le Petit Sarny which continues to lift with a quality of execution that is flawless. Fishcakes and Brandy unites fluid sounds with a static edginess that is especially highlighted in the second tune (written by Robertson) which builds into a fusion of sound that is held within the boundaries by the guest percussion of Ewan Baird.

With the individual musical accomplishments of this band at a premium, I wouldn’t have expected any less than the high class production they have produced in Flash Company. For a lesson in where it’s at; this is a compulsive listen.

Eileen McCabe



Own Label, SDB20122

13 Tracks, 53 minutes

2012 seems to be the year of the banjo and the instrument finally graduated to the official roster at the Willie Clancy week. Craobh Rua’s, Brian Connolly has a new book out, there have been excellent CDs from We Banjo 3, Darren Maloney, Sean O’Driscoll and here’s another cracker from Belfast based Stevie Dunne. This year of course saw the passing of the grandfather of the Irish banjo, Barney McKenna, and of all the banjo albums so far in this glorious year Stevie Dunne’s is the one that pays the greatest tribute to the master.

This isn’t impersonation, Stevie has a style all of his own, but brings a feeling of McKenna to some of the tracks, notably on I’m Waiting For You, Thady Casey’s (and a superb) O’Rourke’s in the key of D. Stevie sets the bar high. Pulsing triplets and a clear attack on the single notes, with some very tasty work on accompaniment in the background, with Michael McCague supplying the bouzouki/ guitar backing there’s no shortage of talent on this album.

There’s a touch of Beoga with Seán Og Graham on bass and Eamon Murray on bodhrán. Arty McGlynn comes in on Down The Back Lane adding spice without detracting from the banjo flavour. New compositions are welcome into Stevie’s musical world and he includes The Silver from Breton flute player, Sylvain Barou, whilst he makes a great job of the barndances Lucy Farr’s and The Dances at Kinvara. Stevie is no mean composer either, his The Road to the Rock is destined to become a session favourite. He is generous too, leaving one track for singer Tracy Ryan to cover Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure. Listen out for the serpentine backing supplied by Ryan O’ Donnell on that track.

If 2012 is a vintage banjo year, this is up their with the best of the Beaujolais and his Drunken Sailor is the grand cru of this impressive second album.

Seán Laffey


Aon le h’Aon

Moanfin Recordings CD002, 20 Tracks, 65 Minutes

When Eileen O’Brien first published a volume of her late father, Paddy O’Brien’s compositions, she began to receive requests to record an album of her father’s work.

Following from the release of The Definitive Collection of the Music of Paddy O’Brien 1922–1991, the Tipperary fiddle player decided to record a collection of Paddy’s tunes and the result is the gem Aon le h’Aon.

These compositions are timeless and Eileen herself perpetuates the style and the phrasing of her father who, as well as his tunes becoming an integral part of Irish Traditional music, was credited with the emergence of the B/C style of button accordion playing that we know so well today.

There are seventeen tracks of Eileen performing compositional pieces by Paddy and three tracks that showcase Eileen’s proficiency playing traditional slow airs which includes a beautifully emotive Easter Snow.

Eileen takes us through well administered double jigs The Fly in the Porter and The Burning Brakes before treating the listener to a wander through polkas, reels, slip jigs and a fantastic hornpipe display with The High Road into The Surprise Hornpipe which truly showcases that distinctive North Tipperary style of structured enunciation in which every note plays its part.

The album ends on a high note with Dinny O’Brien’s named for her grandfather; another great influence of musicality in the Irish tradition.

In fact this tune is derived from the first in three chapters of Paddy’s compositional history that took place in the latter part of the 1940’s and the start of the 1950’s; the second being the mid to late Sixties and the final chapter, his most productive, from the latter part of 1970 until his passing in 1991.

Aon le h’Aon is an archival reference library within itself and a valuable resource for any collector of tunes and in Eileen’s touch of the bow to the strings, the inimitable O’Brien legacy most definitely remains firmly ensconced deep within the tradition.

Eileen McCabe


Light, TAM CD 002

13 Tracks, 48 Minutes

There’s a first time for everything, like getting a CD of Irish harp music with notes in Japanese. A look at the website (plus translation) shows that Irish harp is big in Japan with players like Kathleen Loughnane (who is Sakayka’s teacher) Gráinne Hambly, Anne Marie O’Farrell, Cormac de Barra and Gráinne Yeats all doing well there.

We agree, wouldn’t it take the heart of a lion to travel to the far side of the world and master not only an instrument, but also a language, and what we do to it, and Sayaka has certainly done all that and more.

Sayaka’s harp is by Paddy Cafferky: it confirms the trend towards a bigger instrument with more resonant bass, which allows the music to breathe. Also, she has a well chosen selection, played with understanding. She does a fine job on Peadar Ó’Riada’s
An Droighneán.

The whole work is fine proof of just how international our music has become, and hopefully will stay.

John Brophy


No Strings Attached

16 Tracks, Garland/Tall Ships Records

The cover is a curiosity in itself a painting of Kings Charles 1st with his Catholic wife Henrietta Maria of France. He had hundreds of paintings commissioned of himself and the wife and they were gifted around the fledgling empire as visual propaganda, one or two made their way into ascendancy Ireland. The picture on the cover is from Carton House in Co. Kildare, where Garland met up for a rehearsal. Four hundred years on and the Folk revival in England, on the coat tails of Copper family a wave of a cappella groups. Unaccompanied harmony singing was always more of an English phenomenon than an Irish one, but Garland were herein Dublin in the 60’s and 70’s mirroring the work of the New Tradition. In our Gaelic tradition, the solo singer stands supreme. Also, as there was fair chance that English song would end up praising Squire Xxx and his gallant militia – well that wasn’t the sentiments of those present here, no how.

But there are also the shanties: few things can equal the joy of raising the voice in an unamplified venue and singing in harmonised chorus. Garland consists of Pat Sheridan, Paul Noyes, Michael Andrews and Denis Ryan, all based near Cork. Really, they should be called Lazarus: they were apart for ten years before a love of the songs brought them back together. Since all the Clancys of that generation are gone,and Frank Harte and Larry Roddy, it’s a wonderful reprieve from time’s fell hand to hear the great songs back in their full glory. There are hunting songs, carols and of course the shanties, with only a mike between singer and audience. That’s how it was and is meant to be, and this album captures it.

John Brophy


The Plum Tree and the Rose

Waterbug Records

13 Tracks, 47 Minutes

This is a fascinating release that has a wonderful combination of the old, sometimes very old, and the new. McQuaid has a voice very well suited to all the tracks and a heart that appears to appreciate the long folk tradition with a mind and a talent to almost replicate it while modernising it with style.

Her opening track Lift You Up and Let You Fly is from her own pen and is bang up to the minute with its theme of parents letting children go to make their own way in the world.

On the tracks Hardwicke’s Lofty Towers and Kenilworth she reveals a wonderful empathy with the old style ballads of long ago with well written, arranged and performed stories of historical characters and events. Both songs are accompanied by extensive notes in the insert booklet giving us a nice historical background to better enjoy the stories. In Derby Cathedral she draws the listener into a leisurely stroll through an historic location. But life is not all about those long gone misty eyed days of yore with McQuaid. The Sun Goes on Rising brings us squarely back to 21st century reality of the wolf at the door and the consequences of recent economic past.

She delves back into the ballad canon with spirited renditions of songs from around 1600 with Can She Excuse My Wrongs and New Oysters New. It is amazing when we listen to such songs to realise that others – probably not the lesser beings of society – heard these very lyrics before Oliver Cromwell was a gleam in his mother’s eye.

The title track is another new song with a title and sentiment very much rooted in those earlier days. She closes proceeding with a beautiful song called In Gratitude I Sing and I suppose the listener will echo this with in greater gratitude I listen.

Nicky Rossiter


Irish Female Vocalists

17 Tracks, Gael Linn CEFCD201

A few years ago on there were some interesting observations from correspondents replying to a request looking for information on Máire Ní Scolaí. The person doing the querying had heard her on a recording and liked her singing very much. In their replies people observed that while she had indeed a pleasing voice and great phrasing ‘she could not be classed as a traditional singer’.
One writer said her style and that of other such women singers who were recording fifty and sixty years ago was too Soprano–ish; he/she didn’t add, for my liking, but could have, because it is all a matter of personal taste: whether one prefers to hear songs in the raw bar performance of a sean–nós singer, for example, or if a rendition/interpretation by those not born into the tradition is what one likes better. Then there are those amongst us who enjoy a song of whatever provenance or genre that is performed well and in a pleasing voice, SATB – or in tones that are unclassifiable, a la Ronnie Drew whose voice might be described as interesting if not mellifluous.
This collection of Irish songs of love is drawn from the rich Gael Linn archive and features along with the aforementioned Máire, the singing of Eilidh Ní Mharcaigh, Fionnuala MacLochlainn, Marjorie Courtney, Deirdre Ní Fhloinn, Kathleen Watkins, Grainne Yeats, and Mary O’Hara. The singers featured were not from the native tradition of singing, the producers of Songs of Love – Amhráin Ghrá emphasize, but each with their distinctive style succeeded in bringing an Irish song repertoire to a wide music audience. A feature of the presentation was that singers often accompanied themselves on harp or piano.
There are fine examples, too, of solo singing on this album from Máire Ní Scolaí, Gráinne Yeats and Mary O’Hara. Songs of Love presents different facets of love: romantic love, maternal love, and love of country. The collection features a variety of songs that include the ‘big’ songs of the tradition, such as An Droighneán Donn and Róisín Dubh, gentle lullabies, and love songs such as Seothó ló ’thoil and Mo Mhuirnín Bán. Modern compositions are also included such as Éamonn Ó’Gallchobhair’s lovely A Ghrá ’gus a Rúin Ghil and Gráinne Yeats setting of A Ó’gánaigh an Chúil Cheangahilte.
I am pleased to echo the hopes the producers have for this CD: This album is a tribute to a style of singing which has been rather overlooked in recent times. It is hoped that this album will re–awaken an interest in, and an appreciation of, the beauty that lies in this evocative Irish singing tradition.
Aidan O’Hara