Releases > Releases Annual 2022

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Flying Into Mystery
Sony, 12 Tracks, 40 Minutes
Christy is relaxed and mellow on the opening track Johnny Boy; his deep resonance fills out many of the slow songs. This is singing with wisdom, earned from a lifetime performing. There is an acoustic version of Mick Hanly’s All I Remember, which is just as powerful as the Moving Heart’s original. His long sojourn in England in the 1960s where he learned the folk singer’s trade is recalled by a rendition of Van Diemen’s  Land which he first had from Mike Waterson of the influential family of singers from Yorkshire
For over five decades Christy has been taking other people’s songs and making them his own, and he also brings out the best in his accompanists; Seamie O’Dowd (guitar, harmonica, bouzouki, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, bass & vocals), Gavin Murphy (keyboards & orchestral arrangements), Andy Moore (vocals), Mark Redmond (uilleann pipes), Jim Higgins (percussion & organ), and James Blennerhassett (double bass).
This is Christy as we’ve come to love him, with his trademark talking Kildare blues, his humour in songs such as The Bord Na Mona Man, Myra’s Caboose, and the title track. He is up to the zeitgeist in Jimmy Page’s Clock Winds Down (timed to perfection, the album being released while the noise from COP26 was still ringing in our ears). There is also a chilling reflection on humanity’s organised cruelty in Christy’s version of Ricky Lynch’s December 1942.
He cocks a wry smile to the live folk music business in the Zozimus & Zimmerman, the leading ballad makers of their day. And then on the final track he creates a masterpiece from Dylan’s Pity The Poor Emigrant, a reworking of the song he first did with Planxty, On Words and Music nearly forty years ago.
Christy was one of the busiest musicians in Ireland until the lockdown; thankfully for us, he took the enforced time out to make what is arguably his finest work this century. It is deeply embossed with the hallmarks of a Christy Moore classic.
Seán Laffey

An Irish Viola /Vióla Gaelach
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 46 Minutes
The notes on Séamus McGuire’s website say this recording, “will be the first album of Irish traditional music featuring the viola as the main instrument”. Having heard the media review version I can tell you it is a jewel of an album from two gentlemen, who I am sure won’t be offended, when I tell you they are veterans of traditional music.
The album features the viola, the big sister of the fiddle, tuned a fifth below and capable of the most dreamlike passages when in the hands of a master like Séamus McGuire.
Case in point The Dreamers Reel, how languid, how lovely. I was instantly hooked by the rich tone of the viola and the pendulous guitar swaying its way to the luscious lyrical playing from Séamus. The viola is a perfect instrument for slow airs and melancholy melodies; we hear it played solo on the Napoleonic lament The Bonny Bunch of Roses. There are passages where the dark moody viola comes into its own, doing what a fiddle could hardy ever achieve, such as on An Buachaill Caol Dubh. The duo does however, keep the melancholy in check and with the addition of the guitar slow tunes take on a happy countenance, such as on An Buachaill Dreoite. The duo doesn’t hold the sombre button down for too long as the tune picks up once the guitar joins in.
Planxty Stackallan is so jaunty it almost segues into a mazurka (now there’s a thought for a live show).
The liner notes are extensive, full of interesting details, easy to read and thoroughly researched. We learn that Séamus met both Paddy Killoran and Lad O’Beirne on one of their trips back home to Sligo from America; Séamus plays Lad O’Beirne’s reel to remember the great fiddler. Another one of the West’s finest composers is feted by Séamus, Paddy Fahy, with a set of two reels taken gently by the hand, sumptuous and evenly paced, no hurry with every nook and cranny of their melodies dusted off.
The musicians give credit to the Irish Arts Council and Donegal County Council; without their joint support this project would not have been possible.
An album to treasure from a pair of National treasures.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 11 Tracks, 52 Minutes
On this album Damien McGeehan mixes his Donegal roots with the music of Nashville, the polyphonic patterns of the Kora, a jumble of jazz and some Latin beats; in short it’s an eclectic amalgam of styles, tempos and influences. Collaborating with Damien are Seán Óg Graham on guitar, Liam Bradley playing drums/percussion, Conor McCreanor (bass), John McCullough (piano/hammond), and the Nashville boys: Rory Hoffman (clarinet), James Simmons (trumpet) and Jeff Adams (Trombone).
There’s the charming music-box intro to The Girl and The Lass. A different take on the Highland Dulamann Na Binne Búidh, one of those tracks where I kept saying to myself ‘I know this tune’, but it’s dressed up in modern clothing; how did he pull it off? That question made even more intriguing by the way Rockabilly guitar runs through this Donegal favourite.
There are songs too from Shauna Mullin; what a pleasing mature voice, and what a choice of songs too, Richard Thompson’s Strange Affair, a very upbeat James Munroe from the Henry Girl’s Karen McLaughlin and the now vintage Tom Waits classic The Briar and the Rose.
Kin relates to the inspiration behind the names if not the downright composition of many of the tracks on this album. The first track An Chead Chathain is in honour of his Grandfather’s time in the First Infantry Battalion of the Irish army almost 90 years ago. This sets the tenor of the album, with long notes from the boys from Nashville matched by Damien’s fiddle before it breaks out into something altogether more lively.
Other locations infuse the album. Damien’s tunes are spiced with exotic rhythms, for example his liner notes tell of the night he and Shauna spent imbibing the atmosphere of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. It became the catalyst for the third track Runnin On Bourbon.
Like that fiery southern whiskey there’s a lot of high octane spirit flowing through this album, but it’s not all fusion. The final track is an homage to Paddy McHugh. It’s back to Donegal making this album into a circular journey, and once it’s finished you’ll probably do what I did and press the repeat button once again.
Seán Laffey

Taisce Luachmhar – Valuable Treasure
Irish Recording Company Limited CNF011, 32 Tracks, 87 Minutes
“The music presented here is an exceptional selection of recordings of great sound quality from more than 70 years ago.” So we’re told in the CD notes to Taisce Luachmhar – Valuable Treasure, the new CD from Cairdeas na bhFidléirí. The recordings were made in the years 1948 into the 1950s, with most of them being made in 1949. The sound engineer was Bill Stapleton (1921-1983) recording in his studios of the Irish Recording Company in Dublin.
Some of the biggest names in Irish fiddling are there and they include Sean Maguire, Denis Murphy, Aggie Whyte, John Kelly, Tommie Potts and Paddy Killoran. Bill had hoped his hard work might meet with some commercial success in the U.S.A. but it didn’t work out. He eventually left his recordings with music collector and author Breandán Breathnach and he in turned passed them on to recording engineer and RTÉ radio producer Harry Bradshaw.
Harry was so busy in the recording and sound restoration business he only recently checked out what was in the Stapleton collection and was quite amazed at the quality of the material he had in his possession. His restoration work on the acetate discs gives us a quality production that sounds like it was made only yesterday. In their Acknowledgements the producers state that Harry “deserves every recognition” for looking after the Stapleton collection and for his restoration work.
I have made the point before in these pages that sometimes the CD notes and background information are in themselves worthy of the price of the whole production. Such is the case here in Rab Cherry’s lengthy Introduction and Biographies, and Caoimhín Mac Aoidh’s detailed Tune Notes on all 32 tracks. I must emphasise that the 14 biogs are not brief one-liners but are rich in detail that includes dates and photos. This Valuable Treasure marks a high-point in Irish recording, one to be treasured and enjoyed by lovers of Irish music everywhere.
Aidan O’Hara

From the Devil’s Punchbowl
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 41 Minutes &
Two Belfast based musicians are the key personnel on this stunning debut album, by the renowned uilleann piper, Aaron O’Hagan, and bouzouki player Luke Ward. O’Hagan is also a highly acclaimed Uilleann Pipe and wooden flute maker whose instruments are played all over the world. Aaron makes all the pipes and flutes played on the album. The two principles are joined by Robbie Walsh (bodhrán), Melanie Houton (fiddle), Dermot Sheedy (drums) and Cillian King (keyboards).
This is traditional music with attitude, no nonsense uilleann pipe playing, free flowing, fluid and fluently delivered by Aaron O’Hagan. This is obvious right from the word go on a set of reels The Colliers, Maids in the Meadow, Miss Dunbar where Ward’s bouzouki established the pulse in the very first second; you know this album will be a trad treat. And so it is. O’Hagan is also an excellent flute and whistle player; his flute is used to great effect on track 7 (The Coming of Spring, Christy Barry’s, The Maid on the Green). His whistle begins the first tune on the second track. Luke Ward takes the reigns on the air Moonlight Over Muckross, a delicate touch that counters some of the driving patterns he applies to the heavier dance tunes. I absolutely loved the way the pair plays The Princess Royal; they bring an entirely different dimension to this well-known tune.
They have a recognisable style, Luke sets up the rhythm on the bouzouki and Aaron comes in a measure later, with Luke taking charge of transitions between tunes, such as the shift from whistle to pipes in that second track Jerry’s Beaver Hat, Sean Buí, Dinny Delaney’s.
In lesser hands this could be mechanical and predictable, nothing of the sort here. This ensemble chooses their selections wisely and delivers them with brio. The end papers are a nod to the Bothy Band in a set, which includes piping classics O’Mahoney’s & The Graf Spee.
This album will be talked about for years to come, it’s a classic of its genre.
Seán Laffey

False Bride
Own Label VACD002, 10 Tracks, 45 Minutes
“It’s a big sound, but it is grounded in Irish romantic tradition.” So says harp player Valerie Armstrong about her second album, False Bride, the title of one of the 10 tracks on the CD.
Valerie who sings songs in Irish and English to her own harp accompaniment came to prominence last year when she was sampled by James Blake for the track Barefoot in the Park on his album Assume Form. The English electronic music producer and singer-songwriter became a fan of her music after discovering her early recordings on YouTube. He liked what he heard.
The new album, which is a collaboration with Ken McHugh of Autamata and Cathy Davey fame has allowed Valerie “to innovate upon the classic harp sound, creating songs which are all at once grounded in tradition yet modern and cinematic in feel”. She adds, “It has been a joy to be back in the studio; collaborating with Ken has provided me with an arsenal of new tools to expand on the genre of the traditional Irish ballad.”
The title track, False Bride, is an old favourite of mine and the version I sang many years ago was one recorded by Sandy Denny: “I once loved a lass and I loved her so well, that I hated all others who spoke of her ill; but now she’s rewarded me well for my love, For she’s gone and been wed to another.” Valerie’s rendering “with electronic percussion to create a contemporary ambient sound” is a foreshortened version, perhaps in a live setting she may sing even more of this song which works beautifully with her voice and harp.
She contrasts the relative shortness of the False Bride with delightful renditions of great ballads like Blackwaterside (about the parting of two lovers due to emigration), Let No Man Steal Away Your Thyme (popularly felt to be closely related to The Seeds of Love the first English tune collected by Cecil Sharp and the Victorian symbolic language of flowers) and, The Dark-Eyed Sailor (a widespread ballad that presents the idealised sailor in a situation which was a favourite with 19th century ballad printers).
Valerie rounds off her altogether delightful recording with The Wexford Carol, and although it’s often cited as a 12th century Irish carol, the fact is it’s much more recent, the tune is Celtic but the words seem to originate in England.
Aidan O’Hara

With Terry Clarke-Coyne and Tony Gibbons
So Here’s to You – Live in Vlissingen 2001
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 52 Minutes
Readers who have been with us for a long time, (hands up if you’ve done a quarter century yet?) know we have always featured European tours in our listings, so have you ever wondered how Irish acts perform on the continent? This album, recorded live in Belgium proves that Irish quality travels very well.
If you are just starting out on your folk singing journey Niamh Parsons is a way marker, her choice of songs is impeccable, her delivery masterful. Her voice is mellow and full. An alto, she brings tender gravitas to An Páistín Fionn, is echoing on Bonny Woodhall (itself is a master class in sparse and perfect accompaniment), she is unaccompanied on Annan Waters, and in The Rambling Irishman she sings a-cappella; listen to the presence on the harmony on the chorus here.
The duo are joined by Terry Clarke-Coyne - Vocals, Low Whistle, Tin Whistle, Flute; Tony Gibbons - Vocals, Cittern. This is a desk recording, mastered by Graham, of a Sunday afternoon gig in the beautiful Arsenaal Theatre in Vlissingen, The Netherlands, in April 2001.
Graham is one of Ireland’s leading guitar players, a brilliant foil to Niamh’s voice during the accompanied songs. When he solos we become entranced by not only his technical mastery of the guitar, with triplets in all the right places on sets of dance tunes including the showstopper Flogging Reel and Trim the Velvet.
This Belgian concert from 20 years ago is an archive of the duo on the crest of a wave. They haven’t fallen from those dizzy heights and are still making this kind of magic today. Now the lockdown is lifting, give the album a listen and if you can, book them, they are the real deal.
Seán Laffey

THT Galway Live
Own Label, 17 Tracks, 69 Minutes
Recorded live at The Town Hall Theatre Galway, THT Galway Live is a very special collection of music from Sina Theil. Recorded during the difficult year that was 2020, Sina has captured Irish music, its heart and soul, with this.
Opening with the classic that is Caledonia, we set upon a voyage of the finest Irish songs. The Green Fields of France draws us to another classic but with the voice of a contemporary artist. Sina not only sings, but uses language in song that just brings the story alive. This is true for every track. The language is always there to the fore. Sina Theil doesn’t dull a word.
With tracks such as Red is the Rose, Leaving Nancy, Fields of Athenry, Never Walk Alone (an original) and so many more: 17 in total, there’s a vibrancy to each one that encapsulates you immediately. Some of her own writing is there too like No Matter the Distance (this Christmas). But as always I am drawn to Grace. An iconic song but Theil sings it with the passion and empathy it deserves. A tale of woe on a day of bliss is highlighted with the language shining through yet again.
There’s a fabulous energy about these classic songs thanks to Sina and her love and passion for them. She brings each one alive in her unique style.
Closing with the much-loved The Parting Glass, Theil brings to a close a special collection which she herself says was ‘born from love, compassion and unity’. Unity as it was a team effort, not only of she and her band but her fans. Crowd-funded by Sina and her supporters; this album is unique in so many ways.
In addition to the collection of music you also get a booklet detailing the journey of the album and Sina during her time in putting it together. Special in every way.
Gráinne McCool

Every Migrant is My Fellow
Own Label NOCT005, 11 Tracks, 64 Minutes
Marla Fibish and Bruce Victor are Noctambule; Marla plays mandolin, mandola, and tenor guitar and Bruce, the guitar, bouzouki and cittern. They are joined by Christa Burch, Nuala Kennedy, Liz Knowles, Tom Neylan and Rebecca Richman.
The story behind this album is found in one page of the liner notes, which is an exemplar of urbane brevity & clarity. Some 13 years ago Marla was in a second hand bookshop, where she discovered a collection of carefree poems in the Canadian volume Vagabondia by Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey. Marla and Bruce set some of their poems to music and in doing so they have created a keystone album for our time.
This is one of the finest acoustically recorded albums of 2021; the sounds of mandolin and guitar in combination on tracks such as Murmuration, Cecily’s Waltz and A Sigh in a Gale/The Eagles Whistle are intoxicating. Listen on a good set of headphones for the full resonance of their instruments to hit home.
The title track is a poem from Vagabondia set to music, sung by Marla who has a very musical voice. The song imagines the movement of species North as the American continent warms in spring, nature poetry in its day, now with an allegorical message for humanity.
Bruce takes the vocal on Thousands are Sailing, a re-working of the Andy Irvine classic. Bruce offering a slower more thoughtful rendition; it’s contemplative with a hint of melancholy, after all emigration is often the final act in a long process of personal and cultural separation.
The album artwork is by Anita White, a frequent attendee at Noctambule concerts. Its colourful naive innocence is a visual metaphor for the hope that drives many people to pack up and move on to that somewhere over the rainbow.
They write, “Where the certainty of home is undermined by poverty, persecution, changing climate, famine and disease”. Distilling the factors, which will compel people to migrate in this century. It’s not just empty rhetoric; the duo donated half of their pre-sales orders to the International Rescue Committee. This is a moving album about movement that will move you.
Visits to their web and Facebook pages are highly recommended.
Seán Laffey

Now Is The Time
M.A.R.S. Worldwide, 8 Tracks, 30 Minutes
Originally from Ferbane, Co. Offaly, singer/songwriter and guitarist Danny Guinan enjoyed success in Ireland fronting the excellent band Speranza before relocating to the Netherlands, where he is now based. He has since made several solo recordings and has toured extensively in Europe, the USA and Asia. On this album he has assembled a core group of trusted musicians including long-term collaborator Ed Veltrop, with whom he often gigs as a duo.
Danny has a warm and tuneful vocal style that is instantly engaging, and his songs are well-constructed and thoughtful. The overall sound on this album is a real delight – intelligent arrangements that allow these songs to breathe, with lovely string arrangements by co-producer Bart Wagemakers. There is genuine musical chemistry between Guinan and Veltrop, and the subtle interplay between acoustic guitar and keyboards is apparent throughout.
The opening track The Greatest Gift cleverly uses the album title as its first line, and builds steadily from a solo guitar and vocal intro to introduce keyboards and strings – suddenly we are transformed into a lush soundscape which feels warm and inviting. Each song is crafted with care and attention; Ochón is more restrained and allows Danny to showcase his solo guitar and vocal with lovely background colour from the keyboards, while To Each His Own and The End are more conventional band offerings which highlights his ability to compose material with more general appeal, allowing the musicians some space to shine alongside the main man.
Little Star reflects his fascination with astronomy, while Enchantment is intoxicating from the outset, reflecting inner confusion with lovely use of organ underpinning the melody.
He addresses some universal themes with real confidence and maturity as we emerge from the ravages of the pandemic – this is an excellent album, and hopefully there is much more to come.
Mark Lysaght

Message in a Bottle
Old Laundry Productions OLP009, 10 Tracks, 37 Minutes
It has been quite a while since I reviewed an album by this Lochaber harpist and pianist. In between she has recorded with her husband fiddler Iain MacFarlane, with the Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band, and as accompanist for many other artists. The youngest ever winner of BBC Radio 2’s Young Folk Musician award, and teacher of countless young musicians herself, Ingrid was long overdue for another solo recording. Message in a Bottle was commissioned by NatureScot as part of their Year of Coastal Waters project, so its creativity centres on water and wildlife, but it also showcases Henderson’s huge range of talent as composer, arranger, performer and organiser.
Two old Gaelic songs - actually two of my favourites - and a George Stewart McLennan pipe march are mixed in with new music composed by Ingrid. Reels, jigs, and airs wrap two more songs, one at the heart of the title track, the other reminding me strongly of Davy Steele and John McCusker’s Last Trip Home - in a good way. Ingrid is joined by her sister Megan on fiddle and piano, Anna Massie on guitar and fiddle, and Conal McDonagh on uilleann pipes and whistles. All four sing - I hadn’t been aware of Ingrid Henderson as a singer, but she provides a strong lead here. The highlights for me though are her harp pieces - Port na Culaidh, the wonderful Sarcastic Duck, and a pair of storming reels inspired by the frenzied flight of petrels and terns. The message is clear, and the music sparkles on this CD.
Alex Monaghan

Time For The Bay
Own Label, 16 Tracks, 68 Minutes
Joe Dunne has been involved in Dublin’s folk and trad scene since the 1980s, and he is one of our hidden treasures, blessed with a deep, resonant and distinctive voice, as well as a notable talent for song writing. His previous solo album Hail Caesar was released in 1998, but this long overdue follow-up is well worth the wait. All but one of the sixteen tracks are self-composed, and they display many colours in his wide musical palette, embracing traces of folk, traditional, blues and rock along with other world music influences.
The secret ingredient on this recording is co-producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist Gavin Walsh, who also makes a huge musical contribution on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass and drums. Joe himself is the anchor on vocals, guitar, whistle and mandola, with a dazzling array of specialist musicians and vocalists involved, hand-picked and enhancing each track with their tasteful inputs. His daughter Pearl sings beautifully on Pilgrim.
Many of the songs are deeply personal, allowing Joe to inject genuine emotion into his heartfelt delivery, and the arrangements are first-class, with some classy performances by all 20 musicians and singers involved, but Gavin Walsh is very prominent throughout and deserves major credit. The opener Changing sets the mood with some stop-start verses and a driving rhythm; others in this vein include Jenny, Deep Blue, Hazel (a tribute to his deceased daughter), and No Time. Time For The Bay, the title track, refers to an actual shipwreck Joe experienced near the Aran Islands in 1982.
Little Girl has been released as a single, and is a charming throwback to more carefree days of youth, and Joe’s strong folk roots are also evident on tracks such as The Fall (with beautiful orchestration), Thousand Memories and Grace of God. Highly recommended – check it out.
Mark Lysaght

New Frontiers
Own Label, 5 Tracks, 21 Minutes
Fiona Tyndall packs a lot into this five track EP, an elegant homage to Jimmy MacCarthy’s pen, with harmonising daughters Aisling and Caoimhe. Brendan Hayes on piano is consistently melodic, intricate playing, with stellar arrangements of wind, percussion and strings.
There’s no doubting the vocally talented trio, tender, cascading harmonies, not melancholic but appropriate, especially in their version of Neidín, verses taking turns between mother and daughter, very effective, clarity and sweetness in the voices; Bright Blue Rose with rain-stick introduction for tempo and mood-setting, words dubbed over chant, vocal layering giving depth and an acapella verse, versatility in their interpretation, a fine showcase of individual and collaborative talents.
Kieran Munnelly, James Blennerhasset, Tim Edey and Davy Ryan, all highly accomplished musicians, their accompaniments here are insightful, sensitive and innovative, nothing less would be expected.
The Contender is warmly done, intimate, the song trusted to tell its own story, inserts of choral interludes add to the poignancy, a very compelling version of a well-known MacCarthy. The Tyndall version trusts the song to unravel, to tell its own tragic story beautifully, sensitively.
Fiona Tyndall’s tribute to Jimmy MacCarthy leaves the listener wanting to hear more of her and the brilliant bandmates.
Anne Marie Kenendy

Own Label MAN05, 11 Tracks, 41 Minutes
A fourth album, and perhaps Mànran are finally taking their name seriously - sweet and melodic, lyrical sounds are certainly more characteristic of this release than their previous ones. Gone are the raw rock vocals, gone are the strident notes of the highland pipes. Instead, the new line-up highlights two singers from the softer side of Scottish music - Kim Carnie, media personality and “velvet voice” from Oban, educated through Gaelic, and Aidan Moodie, Orcadian singer-songwriter with Gnoss who brings his guitar and beguiling lyrics. There’s still plenty of punch in the backing and the instrumentals though, and a powerful sound from this seven-piece band.
Kim and Aidan share the song-writing credits here with founder Ewen Henderson. Amongst some strong Gaelic numbers concerning death, fights, sheep and improbable clothing are a couple of misty modern songs of love and life together. Many of the vocal tracks are drawn from the Gaelic tradition, including a medley of puirt a-beul which is always a challenge for the singers, but all the instrumentals are newly composed. A cracking march by Ewen, a catchy reel by Irish piper Ryan Murphy, and several other very danceable tunes are turned out on pipes, fiddle, accordion, drums and bass. Carnie’s vocals leave us with the haunting 16th-century lament Griogal Crìdhe, a highland favourite for almost 500 years, movingly arranged here in a modern Scottish style, with vocals that could almost come from Capercaillie or Danú, and an impact which reminds me of Wolfstone’s Hector the Hero or even Runrig’s Highest Apple.
Alex Monaghan

Live In Bremen 1974
Made-In-Germany-Music GmbH, 9 Tracks, 97 Minutes
In the days before Peter Gabriel invented world music there was fusion, and one of the most innovative bands of the early 1970s were New York based Oregon. They came together in 1970 fusing jazz, folk, world and a hybrid they called chamber jazz. The band was Ralph Towner (classical and 12-string guitars), Paul McCandless (oboe and English horn), Glen Moore (double bass) and Collin Walcott (sitar and tabla).
Oregon’s trademark was improvisation, which set them apart from the folk rockers of their generation. Their debut album never saw the light of day as the record label failed before they could release the recording. By 1974 they were signed to Vanguard Records who issued the band’s Winter Light album. Prior to this, Oregon toured Europe, where they performed at Radio Bremen’s Sendesaal on 14 March 1974.
During the summer of 2021 Johannes Schreibenreif meticulously prepared the 47-year-old tapes under the critical ears of Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless. These re-mastered recordings have now been made available to us by Bernd Ramien’s Made in Germany label, which is uncovering concert gems from almost 50 years ago; live recordings made when bands were on tour on the still un-united Germany in the 1970s & 80s.
Being improvised music you should expect extended pieces and a short track here is 8 minutes long, some run over 12 minutes. That itself is testament to the ambition of Radio Bremen back in the 1970s. Would today’s commercially driven stations give air time to the 17 minutes of Raven’s Wood? Having said that the final track is a few seconds over 3 minutes, a paradoxical hors d’oeuvre for the main dish; it is the most accessibly melodic piece on the album. The end of the recording is left to the audience who show their appreciation with a rousing round of applause.
Oregon were at the sharp edge of the razor in 1974 and on this MiG album their music still cuts through the noise of mediocrity.
Seán Laffey

East Side NSD7103, 16 Tracks, 49 Minutes
So they all rolled over, and one fell out. There were two in the band, and the little one said, “Let’s make an album!” Well obviously it didn’t happen quite like that, but this is the first recording by iconic Swedish band Väsen since the 2020 departure of Roger Tallroth after more than thirty years. Nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson and fiddler Mikael Marin, who founded the trio with Tallroth, have collected new material and arrangements for this CD - you can see them diligently searching old Swedish archives on the cover - and have composed a good handful of their own tunes to produce an exciting and varied selection.
Keyed and unkeyed fiddles of various sizes combine to make this four-handed group sound more like six or eight. The compelling cadences and rhythms of Swedish music are expertly delivered in schottisches, polskas, waltzes, marches and more. There’s even a tune dedicated to Ireland and Irish musicians, Den Gröna Ön, The Green Isle, a country-style waltz with hints of Carolan. That stately old-world feel is common to many pieces here, low continuo notes adding to the grandeur of swingy Silverschottis, graceful Marstalla-Olles Brudmarsch, and contemplative Andakten. At the livelier end of the spectrum, Erlandsson is a driving pair of old dance tunes, Hardrevet is one of those fiddling flights of fancy which could easily have been written by Pachelbel, and Adventspolska is perfect for warming up the feet on a winter’s day. There’s more to enjoy on Duo, much more, but I’ll leave you to discover it for yourself.
Alex Monaghan

Mo Cheantar Féin
Sliabh Luachra Records, 7 Tracks, 24 Minutes
Another showcase album featuring a young Sliabh Luachra musician, Mo Cheantar Féin means roughly “My Home Ground”, and describes the music which fiddler Emma O’Leary plays here. Slides and polkas take the lion’s share of this recording, with a few hornpipes, some jigs and one pair of reels. Emma’s style is close to that of Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, and other Sliabh Luachra fiddlers of previous generations - rhythmic, even percussive at times, with ornamentation split between both hands, neither the bow-led playing of Donegal nor the fancy fingerwork of rolling Clare and Sligo fiddlers. Her version of The Knocknagree Polka is a fine example, delicate fingering on the more lyrical sections, but long unornamented notes too, and a consistent striking of the back strings to ring the rhythm.
The material here is all dance music except for the air An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig, a piece well known throughout Ireland but given a personal interpretation by Ms O’Leary, deep and ominous, like a dark winter sky. Other tracks are more cheery: Terry Teahan’s Favourite skips along nicely, as does Mrs O’Connor’s, slides topping and tailing this collection. A set of three jigs starting with The Woman of the Big House is taken at a relaxed pace, not the battering rush which dancers crave, a more expressive tempo which leaves room for accompanist Brian Mooney to add some lovely touches on bouzouki. A rake of hornpipes wraps around the slow air, the well-known West End and a couple of less common melodies, smoothly played but with enough swing to satisfy those who like their hornpipes dotted. The Trip to Kilmurry by PJ Teahan is probably my favourite track, a gorgeous lilting hornpipe expertly tickled by Emma O’Leary and followed by two local reels which allow the fiddle to shine. Small but perfectly formed, Mo Cheantar Féin is a delight from start to finish.
It’s worth repeating some background about this label for those who haven’t encountered it before. Sliabh Luachra Records is the brainchild of fiddler Eoin O’Sullivan who was appointed Sliabh Luachra Musician in Residence in 2018. Funded by Irish arts bodies and local councils, this is an initiative to promote the musical culture of a remote region which has been known for its musicians for centuries but which is losing ground to the cities these days. The original idea was for outreach to schools, and working with local groups and festivals, but because of the Covid situation Eoin’s efforts have taken a different direction. Thanks to him, there are several nice albums available on the Sliabh Luachra site or through Bandcamp, including Emma’s now of course.
Alex Monaghan

Valge Valgus
Trad Records TRAD013, 9 Tracks, 34 Minutes
Belgian box-player Hartwin Dhoore has been living in Estonia for some years now, and you can hear it in his music. This collection of new compositions combines his diatonic skills with the strings of Sofia-Liis Kose and Carlos Liiv for a very varied soundscape, led in turn by box, fiddle and guitar, plus vocals and keyboard splashed on for extra depth and colour. Valge Valgus truly is a soundscape, inspired by the islands and towns and people of Estonia. Udu is a mournful misty minor evocation of fog, in 9/8 of course, with haunting Baltic tones on voice and fiddle. The waltz-like Algus winds up to the driving beat of Hoovus on pleasantly percussive guitar, both with a coastal ebb and flow.
Waltzes are the order of the day, the pump-organ grace of Ösel Valss and the ambiguously named Reflections in contemplative 3/4. The connection between Baltic and Oldtime styles is clear on a few tracks here, and Hartwin blends in a bit of Celtic with the country too, but there are also moments of modern music: Kajakad could come from a progressive rock movie soundtrack, seagulls screeching behind the electric guitars. The trio sound is wound tight on Labürint, but opens out into a dreamy 7/8 for Allikas, three streams flowing together to make a river of sound. The title track is a surprisingly gentle end to an intense and immersive album, half an hour where you can just close your eyes and drift as the music picks you up and rolls you around, relaxing and reinvigorating, like wet yoga without the mess.
Alex Monaghan

Soie et Acier
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 37 Minutes
Diego Fernandez has established himself as a leading acoustic guitarist in his native Switzerland, best known for performing with gypsy jazz ensembles such as Gadjo – he is also a trained classical player. Through his Spanish ancestry (his father is from the Asturias region of Spain), he has gained a deep feeling for Celtic music and this album of completely solo guitar instrumental pieces bears testimony to a diversity of influences which have shaped his highly original approach, also including various contemporary strands gained from listening to bands such as Placebo and Led Zeppelin.
On this recording, most of the thirteen tracks are self-composed, and from the outset the listener is struck by the remarkable elegance, poise and clarity of his playing – he uses steel-string Taylor guitars throughout. Sometimes using classic DADGAD tuning (as used by so many Celtic players), his favoured approach employs either DADDAD or EADEAE. This allows him to derive some extremely interesting sounds, coupled with superb technique which uses advanced classical fingerstyle passages which transport the music into another dimension.
The title track, which translates as “silk and steel” showcases his ability to vary the emotional content of his compositions to reflect changing moods – this is also apparent on the closer méditaction, which ends with an emphatically rhythmic finale. His version of Franco Morone’s Flowers from Ayako is another standout, a homage to a musician that Diego deeply respects. Elsewhere, la Llosa has an almost Moorish influence (the title is the name of his father’s home in Spain) while Seed Extruder is an improvisational piece that gradually evolves into an emphatic ending.
This is a very enjoyable album and hints at some even more interesting development of the interwoven strands that have contributed to Diego Fernandez’s playing style. It will certainly appeal to lovers of solo acoustic guitar.
Mark Lysaght

Sixteen Easy Songs for Voice & Guitar
Own Label, 16 Tracks, 59 Minutes
Irish-born and originally from Limerick, Owen Moore has settled in Bournemouth on the south coast of England, and he is now a veteran of the UK country music scene as a singer and guitarist with various bands. In parallel, he has performed as a solo artist, gigging regularly until the pandemic, and writes and records his own compositions, which has kept him busy. This new album, as the title suggests, consists of sixteen of his best songs and is a compilation of tracks from various solo recordings, looking back over the last ten years.
The songs are relaxed and assured, with his country-tinged vocals reminiscent of some of the greats, especially Roy Orbison and Glen Campbell. He plays all the instruments himself, and his songwriting influences include Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, Don Gibson and Guy Clark. The results are very pleasing, and here is a man comfortable in his chosen genre and well able to deliver a lyric.
Owen has lived a varied and well-travelled life, and this is reflected in the songs, which have a variety of themes, with lots of variation to hold the interest of the listener. The arrangements are pleasant and straightforward, reflecting his extensive experience in recording himself, and ensuring that he strikes the right balance with a sympathetic musical backdrop to underpin the vocals.
It’s difficult to pick out a stand-out track from this album, as it’s already a compilation of his finest work, so best to listen online and sample the delights of this hour-long recording. Lovers of country and folk music will enjoy his easygoing approach, and tracks such as Round and Round, All The Time in the World and Walking with That Girl of Mine will give a nice flavour of what to expect from this thoughtfully assembled greatest hits package.
Mark Lysaght

Distant Chatter
Talking Elephant TECD 468, 10 Tracks, 47 Minutes
The Matthews Baartmans Conspiracy is comprised of ex Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort founder, vocalist and songwriter Iain Matthews and current MSC guitarist BJ Baartmans. They reconvened to conceive a series of songs that feature on Distant Chatter, making an album of its time. This is a series of reflections of life, existence and survival in a pandemic the like of which has not been encountered before on such a universal and personal level.
Both Iain Matthews and BJ Baartmans found themselves isolated with the loss of career income and livelihoods through Covid 19. Their reactions and experiences of lockdown informed the songs on Distant Chatter as this album invites the truths of lockdown into the centre for musician and listener. The music is intimate, low fidelity and laid back and the songs challenge hanging between despair, incredulity, brokenness and hope: the spirit of the performances is at once affirming and encouraging. Iain Matthews’ distinctive vocal range and style suits this down tempo, his performances are tangibly resolute. From the opening Sleepwalking, I’ve Gone Missing and The Corner of Sad and Lonely capture the dislocation felt in Covid while Are You a Racist asks some very important social and political questions.
The songs are urgent sounding, faced up to with honesty and a survivor’s will allowing sufficient emotional fixture. We may be approaching some sort of normality yet the ghost of Covid is never far away and the damage caused is always present, but the audacity and vivacity of these songs cut through with a passionate intensity. Distant Chatter reveals a quiet storm but a real one, faces it and acknowledges the damage done but also offers hope of survival. It’s an aural diary for the present moment –approach with openness and honesty and rich will be the rewards.
John O’Regan

Tilly and The Post Master
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 43 Minutes
Darragh has a poet’s charm to take what might be seen as ordinary and turn it into something memorable, something that will rebound across time and generations. His family looms large in the fabric of his songs; the album’s title refers to his grandmother and her love for his grandfather (The Postmaster), who by the way provides a spoken word intro to this debut album.
There must be something magical in the air around Tuam, it’s been the breeding ground for some excellent songwriters over the years, and I’d add Darragh O’Dea to any list you care to dare write up of song makers from Galway.
Darragh’s music isn’t that too far away from the Saw Doctors; his Life Has a Way has a Dylanesque Remona style riff, a catchy chorus and reverberating electric guitar. Guerrilla Warfare in Your Back Garden tells a story all too common in rural Ireland; what do you do when the family is dispersed and the folks left at home want to “knock the nest from the family tree”.
The title track, Tilly and The Post Master begins with a funeral. It’s a fondly remembered poetically presented tender and telling three minutes that has echoes for every family in Ireland. Music as Religion (Buy Buy Buy) contains its own catechism “I am a well fed well bred thoroughbred from the pagan lands of eternal winter…”
He closes the album with For the People of Tuam, wherein he tells us no matter what befalls the environment, what emigration to Mars might bring, what extinctions occur, he’ll still be in Tuam making songs for the people of the town.
Those people should be rightly proud of Darragh and this debut album.
Seán Laffey

The Story Song Scientists
Quantum Lyrics
Dharma Records, 10 Tracks, 26 Minutes
The Story Song Scientists are Findlay Napier and Megan Henwood. The album cover contains a hint of what’s inside. Their logo is a visual pun on that used by the Open University for instance.
The first track is a spoken word piece from Findlay; it reminded me of the great Ivor Cutler, although not as dead pan as he was in his pomp. Here Napier recites Lord Byron’s apocalyptic poem Darkness, over 200 years old but still relevant today, perhaps even more so (COP26 anyone?). The second track is 1800 And Froze To Death, taking its theme from 1815, the year without a summer, when a volcano on Sumbawa erupted and the world went cold.
Stand back from the album and take a longer perspective. It runs like a radio show, songs are interspersed with quirky announcements, these are called ‘specimens’ in the track list. One for example is of an Australian lady telling us all about a blood donor. Musically if 1800 is a blues-stomp, the rest lives in the realm of Simon and Garfunkle. Then there are those radio-phonic interludes, crackles of interference as a wireless searches for a station; an American announcer saying he’s sorry to interrupt this broadcast, harking back to the pre-TV days of 1950s radio.
There’s wit too, no more so than in the final two tracks Clouds and the Cloud Appreciation Society. These are based on Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s “The Cloudspotter’s Guide”. Two things of note emerge, clouds are nature’s way of being moody and clouds are the best antidotes to blue-sky thinking.
Wit, and wisdom co-exist on every track here. Take the time to uncover the inner stories in each of them and marvel at the way these two very clever lyricists have created a cogent audio world that melds classic radio with today’s troubled times.
Seán Lafffey