Releases > Releases April 2015

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Didn’t She Dance and Dance
Own Label PBCD2014
16 Tracks, 51 Minutes

A pair of young – or young–ish – Sliabh Luachra musicians on fiddle and button box, Aoife and Paudie have gone back to the deep well of the tradition for most of the tunes here. Sources include archive recordings and manuscripts by Julia Clifford, Denis Murphy, Johnny O’Leary and of course Padraig O’Keeffe. Polkas and slides dominate, with jigs and reels, and the occasional hornpipe, plus the air An Buachaill Caol Dubh which is a box solo and the only non–duet on this album. Aoife and Paudie are accompanied on roughly half these sixteen tracks by Paul de Grae and Ruarí McGorman on guitar and bouzouki. They end with a pair of Johnny O’Leary waltzes new to me, Tom Billy’s and Terry Lane’s.
While much of the music of Sliabh Luachra is deceptively simple, the beauty is in how you play it. Ní Chaoimh and O’Connor’s playing is exemplary, drum–tight duets which are nevertheless full of expression. They put in a lovely end to Danny Green’s Polka, subtle bass touches on The Glountane, fine ringing strings on the title tune, and plenty of ornamentation throughout. There’s a local version of The Frost is All Over, a mysterious polka or two, a variant of The Tenpenny Bit which was taught by Padraig O’Keeffe, a hornpipe called The Rose of Drishane which certainly isn’t tripe (Cork joke there), and two or three tunes which don’t actually have a strong Sliabh Luachra connection but just seemed to fit this album. In short, it’s all good.
The recording quality here is remarkable too, clear and bright without any distracting mechanical noise from either instrument.
Alex Monaghan

With Friends Like These
New Folk Records NFR7085,
15 Tracks, 58 Minutes

Delighted this pearl of traditional musicality is getting an airing again. With Friends Like These was originally released in 1998 and was recorded on one of James Keane’s visits home where a thoroughbred of traditional talent gathered together in County Meath to play some amazing tunes and airs. When you get James Keane, Tommy Peoples, Paddy Glackin, Liam O’Flynn, Matt Molloy, Kevin Conneff and Gary O’Briain on an album you know it’s going to be quality stuff and quality it is.
The man who has a line of Castagnari accordions named after him and can say he was a founding member of the renowned Castle Céilí band, approaches every tune with a pure understanding of the sensitivity and emotion portrayed in each piece. Whether flying into Mary McMahon’s with Paddy Glackin on fiddle or springing into Trip to Killavil with O’Briain, Peoples and Conneff, he knows how to drive each piece into a force of its own. The familiarity of friendship ensures that this transcends through each musician as they administer ever note and nuance with formidable ease which is prominent on Keane’s composition Lavalla which infuses sentimentality.
Let’s be fair, when you put instrumental ingredients from The Bothy Band, The Chieftains, and Planxty into the mix with a box player of decades of standing, and then go further and understand that his talent is enhanced through his first hand absorption of the some of the greats of the tradition; then you can almost smell the richness of play before you even open the cover. The reality matches the anticipation, no surpasses it, and when you listen to O’Flynn re–define Black is the Colour on the pipes you know you know you are taken to another level of raw brilliance.
If you never got it the first time, then most definitely get it again.
Eileen McCabe

Fead an Iolar
10 Tracks, 37 Minutes
Gael Linn re
issue of 1984 album CEFCD108
The Casaide star is on the rise again with Maitiú Ó Casaide having been awarded Ceoltóir Óg TG4 (Young Traditional Musician of the Year). He is the present generation, here we have the previous incumbents on this welcome re–release from 1984.
Thirty years ago Na Casadigh were a family band exploring the new territory of the traditional music ensemble. Take a look at
the contemporary photograph on the back of the CD sleeve, youthful faces, hand knit jumpers, a scarf, but the tell tale signs of vintage come from the round back slot–head bouzouki and the decidedly not round and very large bodhrán. This is music from a time before a trad music industry existed.
In 2003 I booked Na Casaidigh for a re–union at St. John’s cathedral in Cashel, at that stage the album was a distant and fond memory. The group played a memorable one–off concert. There were local connections, Odhran had been a resident physician in the local hospital and friends and ex–patients helped fill the seats. so for me this is a doubly nostalgic piece of work. So with my objective specs on how has it stood the test of time?
The work was extremely well–produced, after all 1984 wasn’t the dark ages when it comes to the history of recorded sound. The arrangements do stand against most material that is being made now. The album is book ended between two pieces of Hiberno classicism, the closing Molly St George, and the opening Thomas Burke (a Carolan composition). The former is more sedate, more measured, with repeating motifs driven by the fiddle, the Carolan piece begins on harp and builds as the band takes the tune by the reigns.
The band were known for their choral arrangements, something which sits naturally with family groups. Here it is to the fore on Tami In Arrears, this is could have well been a marker for Anúna. Talking of inspired music The Wedding at Ballyporeen with its harpsichord and fiddle reminds me very much of Seán O’Riada, that is until the pipes come in with what sounds like a marimba. There are no liner notes to speak of, so it is hard to say who played what and when on the album. So back to that Ballyporeen set, there’s a middle section on pipes and bodhrán that wouldn’t be out of place on a Chieftains album, thy close the set with the tightest of endings.
The title track Fead an Iolair is in the middle of the album, it has a filmic quality, sweeping arrangements, chime bars, a high pitched fiddle, in English it is called The Eagle’s Whistle and this piece is both lyrical and experimental, some passages are shading towards Chinese folk music, the glissando and vibrato on the fiddle strings and a slide guitar adding oriental spices to the simple tune.
If you like your trad straight without water then the Monsoon Set which is at its heart a fiddle and old style bodhrán duet, until the bouzouki chips in to say hello.
Na Casaidigh were great musicians, they had loads of ideas, clever arrangements and stunning vocals. They were also busy professional people, they could have been a cross between Clannad and the Bothy Band had they taken to the road. This is one of their legacies, the other of course is a family tradition which continues today.
Highly recommended.
Seán Laffey

Working On Love
11 Tracks, 32 Minutes
Own Label

I had my copy a few weeks before the release date, which was of course St Valentine’s Day 2015. Niall gave me a preview of the album at the Shannoside Winter Festival where he performed tracks from the new album. This is Niall Toner’s fifth CD of all– original material; some of it re–worked and freshened up from over a decade ago.
Niall is the real deal, an enthusiast, a deep thinker and a connoisseur of American folk music, social subject bluegrass. He went to Nashville to record this album and gathered some of music city’s finest to cut the tracks here. Niall plays both banjo, and mandolin and is to the fore as the lead vocalist on all the song tracks, aided by Wendy Buckner and Keith Sewell on harmony. Produced by Keith Sewell, (who co–wrote the title track) and with Samson Grisman on Bass, Justin Weaver on Mandolin and Guitar, John Mock on Harmonium and Whistles, Keith Sewell on Guitar, Fiddle and Mandolin and Scott Vestal on 5–String Banjo.
Now most pop songs are about love, but bluegrass takes a different slant, yes it can be happy and positive and Working on Love is about a mature take on togetherness, about team work and tenderness. There are many love songs about separation and there’s whole species of them in Anglophone folk song, I Know What Lonely’s About is a welcome addition to this never too full category.
I wondered was there a sense of the autobiographical song–writing in Old Tyme Love? It has a jaunty Fosteresque tune, but at its centre lies the heartbreak of the touring troubadour, locked and lonely in grand hotels night after night, counting the days until the tour turns a corner and the singer steers his barque home. One unusual track, certainly in terms of subject matter is Bill Monroe’s Mandolin, a love song to an instrument. There are two things you need to know, Bill Monroe’s mando playing invented bluegrass, this music wouldn’t have surfaced without Monroe’s genius, and secondly Niall is a keen student of the Gibson Luthier family, and they made the finest mandolins 100 years ago. You can hear some great mandolin playing throughout the album. If you are seeking new Irish tunes then check out Planxty Coolasnaughta/ The Flower Of Liffey Hall, the tunes were compsoed on a classic Gibson guitar and were written not in Nashville but at the foot of Mount Leinster.
The album is not just about love, it is a love letter to the music that cradles Niall’s heart, the mountainy music of the Appalachians, the chop and shuffle of the mandolin, the frailed banjo, the rhythmic thrum of the bass, a taste of molasses dripped over biscuits and the sound of cicadas in the pines as night falls. Niall’ work is a love affair with music and the album itself will long outlive kissing time.
Seán Laffey

Ian Carmichael
SplitRock Music
12 Tracks, 43 Minutes

Ian Carmichael’s album Ten Years On brings to mind Mark Twain’s comment on seeing his first minstrel show in Hannibal, Missouri, in the 1840’s – “it burst upon us as a glad and stunning surprise”.
At the time a banjo craze was sweeping the US and also Europe through these minstrel shows, and the man at the forefront was one Joel Sweeney from Appomattox, Virginia, with family roots in Mayo. Eventually Joel even made it to Ireland. The surprise is that it’s taken another 150 years or so for traditional music in this part of the world to truly embrace the five–string banjo.
Through this release, his first solo album, Ian Carmichael joins the front rank of those exploring the possibilities of the five–string in a rich mix of trad tune types. Ian is the ideal candidate to play at the crossroads of Irish, Scottish and bluegrass. Brought up in the Scottish highlands, his musical journey took him through years of bluegrass festivals in the US, back to sessions in Edinburgh in the early 90s and on to become a staple of the northern Irish trad scene from a base in County Armagh.
Ten Years On is a celebration of highly–accomplished picking married to a thorough understanding of the music and a great ear for a tune, whether found or composed. A personal favourite is Bothy, a brilliant bit of work with guitarist Paul McSherry, composed in a salmon fishing hut in Clachtoll in the west highlands. But there’s lots more where that came from.
The understated and deft opening track, a Scottish reel and an Irish one, sets out the stall. It’s not about musical grandstanding, but an exploration of a lifetime’s work in music. That track is followed by the composition Trampolines, a super bluegrass– influenced tune backed by renowned roots player Frankie Lane. Pipe Set is a pretty remarkable rendition of highland pipe tunes on the five string, and Coloured Aristocracy is a beautiful solo interpretation of an old–time fiddle tune.
If a musician is known by the company he keeps, Ian is well–served on this CD. Brendan O’Regan produces and contributes to various tracks on bouzouki and more. Garry O’Briain features on guitar, Paul O’Driscoll on double bass and Tommy Hayes on percussion, all as tasty as you’d expect.
Accordion supremo Dermot Byrne pops up on the final and title track, Ten Years On, which Ian wrote for his wife, the dancer and flute player Mary Fox. The tune is an appropriate finale – it’s not just Ian’s roots that are showing in this expressive recording but the flowering of the five string in the fertile soil around Maghery on the shores of Lough Neagh.
Twain would approve. After all, he said if you want genuine music, “invoke the glory–beaming banjo!”
Martin McGinley

Hard Times Come and Go
Brechin All Records
14 Tracks, 48 Minutes

Regular readers will know by now, perhaps, that – apart from the music – there’s one thing especially I look forward to in a new CD, and that’s a generous helping of background notes on who, what, where, etc. In Hard Times Come and Go we’re treated not just to superb performances from two top musicians, but to an album of great tunes and songs accompanied by excellent and detailed CD notes. So, really, it’s a case of listen, read, and enjoy! Singer and guitar player, Ewan Wilkinson, has a voice ready–made and ideally suited to ballads and folk song – oh, and lullabies! I say that, because as it happens, the very last song on the CD is called Lullaby (At the End of the Day), a song Ewan wrote for the wedding of two of his friends.
What a gift to have song written for you and then to have it performed tenderly and lovingly by the composer himself. Yes, Ewan’s baritone voice can be big and braw when necessary, but here he has it just right with the words, “I’ll sing you a lullaby; I’ll sing you to sleep, A dream casting melody, soft, low and deep. The stars will sing harmony, as you fall asleep, I’ll sing you a lullaby, at the end of the day.”
Sandy Brechin, of course, dazzles with his box–playing wizardry in dance tunes and as accompanist. Fingers Brechin can still amaze, and I’m also guessing that he had a hand in writing the notes, a clue to his wicked sense of humour being found in a note to May Day, a Matt McGinn song: “One half of the duo is a card–carrying member of the Labour Party; the other plays the accordion…” When I sang with The Celts in Canada in the sixties (that’s the nineteen sixties, by the way), one of our songs was Matt’s The Pill. The song has the chorus: “The pill, the pill, I’m pinin’ for the pill, I’ll never have nae mair cos they’re goin’ tae bless the pill.” The wife goes to the priest hoping for advice on what to do with her man, but he gives her hell for being married seven years and she only has the six!
There’s a mix of Scottish and English traditional songs on the CD, three of them written by Ewan. I liked his performance of the Napoleonic song, Broken–hearted I wander, which he learned from the singing of Dolores Keane.
Did I say I liked the recording? I liked the recording. And I think you will, too.
Aidan O’Hara

The Tides that Bind – Fánaíocht
Own label ÉÚCD002, 12 Tracks, 51 Minutes

The album features songs from the Irish tradition, many of them remembered by Seán Ó hÉanaigh from the singing of family members, such as Bríd Thomáis Mhurchadha and An Buachaill Caol Ard. There are also three folk songs in English in this collection, including The Banks of the Lee, one he remembers his mother Kate and uncle, Joe Heaney, singing. Two Scots Gàidhlig songs are included, and four of the tracks are his own original compositions. When she came back from America and was settled in back home, Seán’s mother, Kate, began compiling songs from the tradition in a red notebook, and five of the songs on this CD are from that collection. “Two or three years before she died she said to me that some of the songs in it were nice and that I might consider recording them some time. Well, now I have.”
One would be hard–put to choose a favourite from among the twelve tracks, but all of them have superb musical arrangements from instrumentalists that include Mary Ann Kennedy (harp), Allan Henderson (violin, piano), Findlay Napier (guitar), and Maidhc Ó hÉanaigh (flute, whistle, bass). The opening accompaniment to track 1 on Fánaíocht promises much for the listener, not just in the song itself, Buachaill Caol Ard, but for the CD – and so it proves. The musical arrangement is ‘togha’ as they say in the West, in other words, it’s done with style and elegance.
No small credit for that goes to the singer, the warmly regarded broadcaster and producer, Seán Ó hÉanaigh, who has graced our national airways for many years and continues to entertain us on Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Sruth na Maoile.
Aidan O’Hara