Releases > Releases April 2020

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Press and Draw
Own Label BMAC001, 15 Tracks, 36 Minutes
Benny McCarthy from County Waterford is a button-box player of some renown, having been tutored by the great Bobby Gardiner and winning some major awards before founding the band Danú with some friends in the mid nineties and spending the next twenty-odd years with its evolving line-up. Here he plays fifteen solo tracks, on fifteen different instruments from a 1900s melodeon to a two-and-a-half-row Salterelle accordion built almost a century later, and some even newer boxes too. Every track represents a slightly different form from the Irish tradition: slides, song-airs, slip jigs, slow airs, stately Carolan pieces and storming reels. One of the interesting points about Press and Draw is the left-hand accompaniment, a relatively rare feature of Irish button-box music for historical reasons, but with more choice of instruments these days and the possibility of custom left-hand layouts, the bass buttons are coming back into fashion.
As is the humble melodeon, the name for a one-row box in Ireland. Four such instruments are featured here, give or take, and the sound they produce reflects the different technique required: more percussive, with arpeggio-based ornamentation and passing notes, very suited to many older tunes. An Madraín Rua, The Shores of Lough Gowna, Brian Boru’s March and Cucanandy fairly get the toes tapping and the blood pumping. A smoother sound is needed for Sliabh Geal gCua, O’Carolan’s Dream, the waltz Banbridge Town and the well-known song melody Idir Deirghic gus Breo: Benny obliges on two-row boxes by Paolo Soprani and Hohner. Reels and jigs are trotted out in fine form, but my ear was grabbed by some more unusual rhythms: the fling Maggie Pickens on a Hohner Corso, Seamus Walshe’s wonderful hornpipe The Quilty Fisherman on the more usual Hohner Erica, and a splendid set of polkas on a 2010 Pietro Mario box. Press and Draw is a box-player’s delight, and a revelation for anyone who thinks all accordions sound the same.
Alex Monaghan

The Broken Pledge
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 51 Minutes
Amazingly, The Bonny Men have been together as a unit for nine years; this is their third studio album, one they have devoted plenty of time and effort to, and the results certainly reflect this. The line-up closely resembles that of the legendary Bothy Band, but with an extra member on board, they can add percussion as an integral part of the sound, without losing some firepower in other areas. All gifted young musicians, well-versed in the tradition, they have absorbed a wide variety of influences and combine their collective talents to explore exciting new possibilities with creativity, courage and dedication.
On this recording they have collaborated with carefully-selected additional musicians including Steve Cooney on a number of tracks and an enhanced string section, arranged by Tim Doyle. The opener Jenny’s Welcome To Charlie features the expanded line-up and includes a didgeridoo intro before Maitiú Ó Casaide’s pipes take over, building gradually and incorporating the various players. The band in full flight are capable of musical levitation, an event which occurs several times on this recording, my personal highlight being the closing stages of the Rodney’s Glory set, a wonderful exercise in dynamics. The Clergyman’s Lamentation is a gorgeous string arrangement of an old Carolan harp tune.
Several tracks have a strong historical context, especially the three songs, two from the 1960s, Tunnel Tigers by Ewan MacColl is about Irish workers building the Victoria underground in London; while Ian Campbell’s The Sun Is Burning addresses the Hiroshima bombing of 1945. The Sean-Bhean bhocht is based around the 1798 rebellion. The various sets of tunes are well-chosen and brilliantly arranged, showcasing the growing maturity of the line-up which is unchanged since their formation. This long-awaited recording really delivers on the promise of the band, and is full of musical gems, neat touches and virtuoso playing abound, so this is essential listening.
Mark Lysaght

The Second Story
Own Label, 14 Tracks, 70 Minutes
I haven’t heard the first album by this Chicago Irish fiddler, but if it’s anything like The Second Story it’s worth a listen. Certainly her new release is full of interesting moments, a different take on many traditional Irish tunes, as well as several of her own compositions. Katie Grennan is a fiddler, dancer, fiddle and dance teacher, and her attention to detail comes through on most tracks: tempo is a big thing, from her surprisingly slow version of The Cordal Jig to the precise beats per minute of the dance sets towards the end of this CD, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Precise technique and practiced tone are evident immediately on the opening set of three original reels, all with a spring in their step. The gorgeous Fort Dunree by Manus McGuire is gently backed by Steve Holloway and John Williams whose button boxes make a welcome return on five tracks here. Jaunty slip-jigs from Liz Carroll and Patrick Davey keep the toes tapping - Katie’s own quicksilver shoes can be heard at times, before The Coolin provides a total contrast, an air played with aching slowness and subtlety.
Grennan gradually increases the tempo until we reach a more modern section, André Brunet’s Valse du Chef de Gare and a single song by Jacob B Little, showing another aspect of this flexible fiddler. More of Ms Grennan’s fine compositions, an air and three jigs, open the final section of The Second Story, tracks designed for Irish stepping with a solid modern beat which pushes The Hut on Staffin Island into reel tempo and slows Dave Richardson’s Calliope House almost to waltz time. A hornpipe version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Máirtin O’Connor’s Leverette end a varied and entertaining album.
Alex Monaghan

Draw Back the Curtain
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 38 Minutes
On their new album, All Folk’d Up produce music with the energy and verve of their live shows. It’s accomplished with great enthusiasm and ability, mixing original songs and technically solid musicianship over the course of this album. The songs are driven with an excitement of a band boiling in the melting pot of their own creativity, pushing each other to give it their all.
The tracks, which number 10 over the course of Draw Back the Curtain, cover themes of love and regret, and also the buzz of the Irish country music night out! Indeed, the track Country Music Night could be from any of the main country ‘n’ Irish super-groups with the effortless play of the musicians, including the dramatic key change trick thrown into the mix.
The opener, Long Time Ago, has a distinct quality that leans towards a Pogues sound, with drums backing up banjo and whistle riffs. Lead singer pours his heart out to some long time ago love, confessing: ‘Long time ago/I loved you then/ love you now/long time ago’. The banjo punches amid the tension of the singer’s heartbreak as he asks: ‘I still love you/do you still love me?’ There is a tune set toward the end, with a blistering banjo performance of syncopation and sparkle by Pauric Mohan, along with earthy flute joining in on the Star of Munster, with the full back-line of drums and bass and electric guitar intermixing with the trad to create that folk’d up vibe over the course of the set, ending with MacArthur Road.
With the likes of Carry Your Sleeping Bag a more contemplative number among the group’s latest recordings, urging the muse to ‘forget about your troubles’ as ‘they will go away’. The folk rock vibe is the hook of the band, ebbing and flowing in a well-crafted eclectic mix, I’m sure they’ll be around for a long while yet.
Derek Copley

Songs from the Fever Ship
Intendance (0719452221238), 11 Tracks, 43 Minutes
Something of an intriguing figure on the Irish music scene, Galway native Eamonn Dowd now lives in Norway. His biography stating that he played in a league of forgotten bands before forming his current outfit The Racketeers. One of those bands was the Tuam based The Swinging Swine who carved a niche in the live Irish scene in the late 80s where they caught a late 80s Gothic Americana flavoured breeze, which suited their moody musings.
More recently with The Racketeers Dowd has embarked on an adventurous career releasing ten albums and touring throughout Europe and the US, either with the band or solo. His new album Songs from the Fever Ship sees him collaborating with Horslips members Jim Lockhart on keyboards, flute and whistles and drummer and founder Eamonn Carr. Indeed Carr plays on three tracks from this album his first recording in decades, as well as contributing lyrics to many of the songs on Songs from the Fever Ship. Lyrically it’s a collection of story songs, some in the ballad mould and others in the Tom Waits meets Raymond Chandler mould; highly narrative, each possessing much more substance on closer encounter. The Horslips influence evident on a cover of Cu Chullain’s Lament from The Tain and the crisp drumming on Crow’s Nest, Merchants of Bordeaux and Cry On My Grave, which recall vintage Horslips crossed with Dowd’s gothic roots rocking. The total work is a rich collection of songs, each aching with life and emotion.
John O’Regan

Bright Brand New Day
Mill Pond Music, 12 Tracks, 49 Minutes
Andy Cooney’s family immigrated to the States, settling in Long Island, and that emigrant Irish sensibility is key to the music here. Cooney’s innate musicality and respect for melody oozes throughout this work, the very same quality that percolated Irish music before the ballad boom and a quality that is still beating in the hearts of many Irish-Americans today.
There’s a tale here, too: this is an album, which was half recorded, but lay in a bottom drawer for 20 years. The moving spirit was Andy but the ringmaster was Phil Coulter, and the collection features five of his songs, not to forget Phil’s piano playing, always on point, always perfectly poised, matching Andy’s voice on Our Gold and Silver Days, the piano gently holds our hand as Cooney begins Remember Me, its simplicity echoing the sincerity of the lyrics, until the whole piece ends in a voluptuous orchestral cascade. Andy is one of a trio of tenors based in New York, and his web page tells how he filled Carnegie Hall six times. Andy has a fine tenor voice and with Phil Coulter’s arrangements it is brought to centre stage on classics such as Westering Home, Love’s Old Sweet Song, and The Rose of Aranmore. There is a deep hope in the emigrant’s faith in a better brighter tomorrow in Wait Till The Clouds Roll By, one we can believe in, because Andy Cooney has a voice that is sincere as he performs wholesome versions of these time honoured songs.
There’s a modern folky tinge with bodhrán and whistle introducing Calling Us Home Again (a writing collaboration with Phil Coulter). Then consider, Home Away from Home and Phil Coulter’s masterpiece The Town I Loved So Well, each in their own way an homage to both place and displacement.
This album is presented here with a very professional polish. It’s a genre that’s been around since the days of the Edwardian music halls, it is a tradition that values good singers. Andy is indeed a prime example and there are many people on both sides of the pond who will find their cultural identity in this heartfelt album.
Available on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and most Digital platforms.
John Brophy

Close to the Arms of the Sun
EP Own Label, 4 Tracks, 16 Minutes
Across musician Ciarán McLoughlin’s four original songs, there’s a strong appealing singing voice that draws you in and an emotional register that feels very authentic.
Graduate of the prestigious BA in Irish Music & Dance in UL, Ciarán lives in Moate. The first thing that captures the attention is his gorgeous guitar-playing lending a cohesive strand right across the production; Ciarán’s musical style holding a multi-layered mellifluous quality in tone. A reflective unrushed quality to the arrangements allows lyrics to breathe and lets the songs stand in their own light.
There’s an interconnected quality to the tracks almost like a set of linked short stories, subtle open-ended interplay between love and nature. The Fall melodically hints at both seasonal change and conflict between lovers, indeed, fall is a word linking all the songs. Tone is gentle, affectionate and honest: “And we slept on the idea, but the answer’s clear to see, circling around the truth in the vague reality.” Avril McLoughlin’s backing vocals add a great dimension, likewise producer Seán Óg Graham’s piano & Paul Shanagher’s percussion. Final track touches on emigration, and doesn’t disappoint with its lovely title Close to the Arms of the Sun.
Deirdre Cronin

In the Parting
Cup O Joe Music, 10 Tracks, 37 Minutes
There is a wonderful authenticity jumping out of the new album from County Armagh siblings Cup O’Joe. In the Parting gathers nine original tracks and a traditional one (the title track), showcasing the talent of Reuben, Tabatha and Benjamin Agnew, who exemplify the essence of bluegrass music with a Northern lilt.
The licks and lyrics all combine to set the uplifting at times, and others bittersweet atmosphere so tied to the bluegrass and folk styles. Pinley Green pings with attitude as Tabatha’s banjo picking curls and rolls around the room, while guitar runs are effortlessly portrayed by Reuben.
The trio have been getting a lot of attention in recent years, due to their strong work ethic but also because of that seeming natural connection that, it is said, can only be garnered through siblings, having been brought up in an environment that nurtured and progressed their musical abilities.
Their style is honed in the bluegrass image, with five-string banjo, double bass and guitar the main axes. But with songs like Til I Met You, there is also a draw toward contemporary folk, with traditional melodic sense and jazz rhythms punctuating this fine album. Other songs like Why hark back to the roots of bluegrass and a gospel theme, by asking to be set ‘on the right path… to defeating the darkness let me see who I am’.
This religious sentiment is cemented in the acknowledgments section of the liner notes of the album, the trio reserving special thanks ‘to the Creator of all things for giving us the ability to enjoy playing music’.
Derek Copley

Fury Breizh PL1020/2, 12 Tracks, 52 Minutes
The band was founded in 2002 by the two brothers Yannick and Odran Plantec, and is part of what is known as the new Breton scene. Plantec’s music is traditional but also flirts with rock and electro, using traditionally inspired melodies played on bombarde, to which they add guitars and techno programming. Their few lyrics are in Breton and their melodies lend themselves to dancing.
Over the last fifteen years, Plantec have become a key figure on the Breton scene, imposing their modern vision of the fest-noz, fusing the powerful rhythms of dance with aerial and bewitching compositions. The band has thus created a style all its own, blending acoustic, electric and electronic influences.
As a trio since 2011 with Gabriel N’Dombi D’Otala on machines, as we say in France. Plantec have just released their tenth album; it is their seventh studio album, called Hironaat, which means mixed, hybrid. It is an album that skilfully blends sounds and cultures. An album that tells the story of a life journey: birth, discoveries, experiences, transmission and death.
Cross cultural fusion is ever present here, with the many guests who took part in the recording: Jack and Yuji, two Japanese musicians who play the shamisen, a traditional stringed instrument on the track Hajime. There are also two Finnish singers, Maija Kauhanen and Paivi Hirvonen who accompany two Breton singers Morwenn Le Normand and Rozenn Talec on Viisaan Äänen. And finally the Burkinabe musician Mamadou Diabaté on balafon for Nouson Dia.
And as the trio’s inspiration is Breton dance, we find gavottes, Dañs Fisel, Hanter Dro, Kas ha Barh, Rond de Saint Vincent, Pilé Menu or Scottish and Mazurka. Enough to give you ants in your pants! Animal energy, wild dances, guests from the four corners of the world. An album of Trad Electro from Brittany, full of sounds without borders. A real success.
Philippe Cousin