Releases > Releases August 2014

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Gather the Good
12 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Own Label WB3CD002
They certainly have gathered the good here. Good tunes, good looks good times, good grief! Yes it’s another album from the impossibly talented We Banjo 3. One of the hottest properties in the acoustic tradition at the moment with another infections take on the string band and the banjo in particular. They dig deep at the tap roots of that latter instrument’s parentage whether it be Barney McKenna or Earl Scruggs, WB3 have visited the masters and walked away with the blue prints.
From the opening blacksmith inspired old–timey tune, Shove the Pigs Foot a Little Further in the Fire to the closing Johnny O’Leary set, the band infect this disc with so much enjoyable energy, you might need a lie down after listening to it. Some of the tunes, especially the ones from the American canon are well–known, such as The Long Black Veil (it sounds much older than its 1959 origin) and Down the River Uncle Joe, here they put their own stamp on each number. The Rocky Road to Dublin a long time banjo favourite is paired with the American Polka, the two tunes syncopate effortlessly, it isn’t the usual 9/8 slip jig though, this is a thoroughly Americanised version of the Rocky Road.
The secret behind much of the music on this album is their ability to produce an easy accommodation of pulse and swinging melody. There’s a dark groove running through The Bunch of Green Rushes, chopping guitar and mandolin and a slow drawn harmonic fiddle. James Blennerhassett adding deep double bass just enough to make a mark but never taking over the beat from the lighter strings.
The title song Gather the Good was composed by the band’s Martin Howley a young man so well versed in Old–timey music that the song seems like it has been around for generations, the number is stitched together by the fiddle of Fergal Scahill. Brother Enda Scahill’s composition It’s Hard to B3 is composed for his own son, a “rambunctious toddler” the tune is in contrast, a lovingly unhurried gift to the child.
The sleeve design features a high–resolution image of the lads posing against a wall of photographs, portraits of folks who mean so much to the project. Inside the liner notes are succinct yet detailed enough to allow for further study, and they fully acknowledge sources, for example Martin Mumford is named as the instigator of one song. The choice of a small black font on a brown background is a little hard on in the eyes mind you. But, the album is very easy on the ear.
When your are in need of a smile, when you are washed out by a rainy day, when you dough wont rise, Gather the Good will put the sparkle back in your soda.
Seán Laffey

Féileacán na Saoirse
Own Label SM 1401
12 Tracks, 42 Minutes

Not a common Irish name, Falkenau: this young fiddler is originally from Germany, but has taken to Irish traditional music like a duck to – well – anywhere on Erin’s green isle! After a stint in Cork, and another in Connecticut, she’s well able to produce an album mixing Irish and American old–time music with some of her own compositions. Anna Faulkner’s sweet spot seems to be the junction of Irish and American music – she tops and tails this CD with a couple of Liz Carroll reels, and makes a lovely job of them. There’s a number of accompanists on Féileacán na Saoirse, and some fine unaccompanied fiddling too. Anna’s playing is folksy, earthy, not the usual German precision, and lends itself to slower tunes and to the raw Sliabh Luachra style: her version of The Wounded Hussar is spine–tingling over a fiddle drone which acknowledges its piping legacy.
The jump to The Coolea Jig shows a sprightly side of Anna’s music, a lighter mood which leavens the heavy dark modal tunes here – but to be honest I prefer that darker side. The growling harmonies on Sally Coming Through the Rye with a high bass tuning, the sawing slow suicide of Anna’s own Vodka & Chocolate or the abject despair of O’Rahilly’s Grave which I’d even say has a touch of the Martin Hayes genius about it in Anna’s hands. Ivan’s Waltz is sweet, with Holly Geraghty keeping the harp well grounded. A bit of banjo and accordion is always welcome on Richmond and Ard Bothar, and of course it’s great to hear a Scottish gem like G S McLennan’s Little Cascade. This fiddler’s real meat is dark and heavy, Caoineadh Ui Néill and even her own title track Féileacán na Saoirse.
Give this album a listen.
Alex Monaghan

The Sugar Loaf
13 Tracks, 52 Minutes
There’s a soothing fluidity to the melodically perceptive bow in this, the debut album from Manchester based fiddle player Kevin Madden, who has taken thirteen tracks of considered tunes and treated them with a mesmeric, musical touch. The former All Ireland Champion has taken his years of experience on the Manchester and London music scene, including spells with St Malachy’s and the Knocknagow Ceili Bands and honed the best of that experience into an absorbing collection of tunes that draws you into an escapism of sound.
Whether it is the lively lightness of Johnny Connolly’s jig set or the intense introduction of Major Harrison’s Fedora, the consistent tonal quality and intrinsic ornamentation that abounds within the defined breadth of each note carries with it inviting warmth. A stand out is the lifting sweep of the switch from the Lark on the Strand jig into the enticing flow of Rosemary Lane before closing the set with a rhythmic rendition of Boys of the Town. The initial notes of the compelling air Sliabh Na Mban could instantly silence a room as the intensive emotion embarks the strings and fills the air with a languid poignancy until the mood is broken by a sublime reel in the form of The Morning Thrush.
There’s a wealth of musicianship among the backing artists on the album, but they recognise that the fiddle is to be revered here and contribute with a subtlety and respect that enhances without detraction from the main instrument. They know its Kevin Madden’s time to shine and his playing does that for him.
An exceptional debut that could well become a classic.
Eileen McCabe

MCKSOC002, 2 CDs and a book
The archetypal Irish fluter of the 1920’s and 30’s, John McKenna emigrated from County Leitrim and recorded forty–four selections of Irish music in New York between 1922 and 1937. All these recordings have been carefully cleaned and remastered by the John McKenna Society on a double CD with an accompanying 104–page book. The quality of these old recordings is generally excellent, and McKenna’s iconic reputation is richly deserved. It’s a great achievement, and a gift for current and future generations, to have the whole of John McKenna’s recorded music gathered together. While some of these recordings were previously available on cassette, this release is the first complete collection and the finest quality remastering of McKenna’s 78’s. The clarity of tone on The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue or the showpiece reel Colonel Frazer is exceptional even by the standards of today’s players and instruments.
John McKenna was born in 1880 and spent his youth in an area richly endowed with flute music. At the age of 24 he set sail for New York, and in five years he had qualified as an electrician and had also gained American citizenship. He promptly returned to Leitrim to marry, and took his new bride back to New York. A recording career followed, making John McKenna a household name in Irish America and throughout Ireland. As well as sixteen solo cuts, McKenna recorded duets with fiddlers Barney Conlon and the great James Morrison, fellow fluter Eddie Meehan, and many with Michael Gaffney on banjo. There’s the occasional whistle or vocal performance here too, and even a quartet of Meehan and McKenna with Larry Redican on fiddle and pianist Frank Fallon. Numerous pianists appear on these recordings, some of them anonymous now: every track had to have a vamper in those days. John McKenna made one more trip home, in 1938, and was welcomed as a great musician in both Leitrim and Dublin. McKenna returned to New York, but made no more recordings: he died in 1947.
Not all this music has been equally well preserved. Some selections show the crackles and hiss of well–loved and oft–played records, with no pristine copies surviving. Others are in remarkably fine condition, but bear the hallmarks of many Irish discs from the early 20th century, such as inexperienced piano accompaniment, or exceptionally fast playing because of the very limited duration of 78rpm recordings. Some pieces may even have been speeded up by errors in the recording process: The Gallant Boys of Tipperary for instance is reproduced at a speed which would leave the most sprightly set dancers standing, probably because the music was accidentally accelerated back in 1928. On other tracks, the playing is as measured as you could wish. The John McKenna Society has deliberately left tempos unchanged from the original 78rpm discs. The mix of sound quality and tempos makes this collection better for dipping into than extended listening, and at well over two hours it’s a marathon task to take it all in. There’s so much to learn here, from both the music and the accompanying book which includes McKenna’s history and an analysis of his music. Subtitled The Buck from the Mountain, this release joins other authoritative collections of music from the Irish American recording boom as a landmark archive and a true representation of one of the great players of that era.
Alex Monaghan

12 Tracks, 42 Minutes
Purt Sheeran Records PSRCD001
Ruth Keggin is a singer, flautist and whistle – player with the Manx band Nish As Rish, a group well–established in the Isle of Man and gaining more and more attention abroad. They won the Trophée Loic Raison for best new group at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient 2011, and are planning a tour of Norway in the Spring of 2015.
Ruth is Manx Gaelic singer and passionate about bringing Manx music and language to a wider audience. Sheear (Westward) is her debut solo album and features traditional and contemporary Manx Gaelic songs. The release of the CD in February 2014 was followed by a mini Irish tour which she shared with the Scottish Gaelic group Dàimh.
Ruth’s singing and her songs are easy on the ear and she is blessed with a true and most appealing voice. People interested in Gaelic song may tend to concentrate on Irish and Scottish sources, but if they do, they will miss the many delights and surprises awaiting them in the Isle of Man heritage of songs. Ruth has made a most interesting selection of traditional Manx Gaelic songs and some new compositions, as well.
She starts with Fin as Oshin (Fionn agus Oisín) about which she says, “The words of this song purportedly date back to the late 18th century; it is thought to the ‘oldest ballad in Manx history’.” That’s followed by Colin Jerry’s Manx Gaelic translation of Pádraic Colum’s She Moved Through the Fair. English language translations are supplied with all the Gaelic songs. There are two songs in English: Holdfast, a poem by Ruth’s cousin, Breesha Maddrell, set to music by Stef Conner, the other, the Irish song, The Road to Clady, which she got from the Belfast group Craobh Rua; two contrasting but appealing performances.
Ruth does equally well with the Manx religious song, Oiken ayns Bethlehem that translates, Baby in Bethlehem, and in spite of the unusual phonetic rendering of the Manx language, Scots and Irish Gaelic speakers will immediately recognise the words. She is well served by her fellow musicians, David Pearce (guitar), Venessa McWilliams (double bass), Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin (flute & vocals), and Tomas Callister (fiddle & banjo).
Aidan O’Hara

Air Time
Own Label
11 Tracks, 42 Minutes

There’s been a rush of albums devoted to slow airs lately – maybe as many as three, which probably equals the number released in the thirty years between 1970 and 2000. So we’re not overloaded with them yet, and Air Time is a fine addition to this category. Fiodhna Gardiner is a low whistle specialist, and as the daughter of famed Clare accordionist Bobby Gardiner she’s able to enlist an impressive band to fill out this debut CD.
Recently returned to County Clare after many years as an emigrant in Abu Dhabi, Fiodhna has built upon her experience of playing Irish music in the United Arab Emirates to produce this collection of airs ancient and modern, Irish and Scottish, with some well known melodies and some new favourites. The traditional An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig sets the scene, with accompaniment from Gary O’Bhroinn and Seamie O’Dowd. Easter Snow, a favourite air for me, adds Bobby Gardiner on accordion in a beautifully slow interpretation. Whistle and accordion alternate, and then combine for a final duet. Amhrán na Leabhar is also from the heart of the Irish tradition, a tragic tale played with great feeling here.
There’s lovely tone from Fiodhna’s Colin Goldie whistles – in A and Bb instead of the usual low D. Fiodhna’s ornamentation is peculiar to the whistle, rather than pipes or flute: tonguing and glissando, simple doublings and subtle vibrato, giving a very modern folky sound. This is enhanced by the use of keyboard, string arrangements, and harpsichord on several tracks.
Additional touches come from Mairtín O’ Connor and Liam Kelly on accordion and flute. The Dervish connection is clearest in three vocal contributions by Cathy Jordan: The Mall of Lismore, The Banks of Sullane and the traditional An Buachaillín Donn with English lyrics. Other instrumental tracks include the great Scott Skinner air Hector the Hero, recorded by several Irish musicians previously, and three Gardiner family compositions. Fiodhna’s own tunes Grá Mo Chroí and The Boy from Aughdarra honour her husband and her father respectively, and both have the poignancy of many modern whistle airs. An Ghorta, written by Fiodhna’s mother Ann, is more lyrical or even pastoral, despite being a lament inspired by the famine years in Ireland. Air Time finishes on a more cheerful note, The Dreams of Old Pa Fogerty by Scottish Gael composer Ailean Nicholson, a delightfully wistful end to a charming CD.
There’s a lot more information on Fiodhna’s website, well worth a visit.
Alex Monaghan

Shannon’s Lovely Vale
DOM CD003, 47 minutes
What an enormous amount of care and dedicated effort has gone into the making of this CD. From the cover design, to the sound production by Tony O’Flaherty, with mixing duties shared between Danny O’ Mahony and Maurice Lennon. There is retro look to disc itself, old–fashioned vinyl black. The packaging adds to the charm of the work and makes the CD not just a music recording but also a collectable object in its own right. As we reported in an earlier edition Shannon’s Lovely Vale takes its title from a newly composed tune by renowned musician and composer, Maurice Lennon, of Stockton’s Wing fame. Having composed this piece in honour of the band, Lennon also features as guest artist on the recording. The album includes music and song of North Kerry, much of which previously has been unrecorded.
So to the music, firstly, Céilí band albums are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to trad on record. Céilí bands make their bread and butter playing live for dancers and this shows in the choice of tunes and the tempos taken on by the Shannon Vale, all very danceable indeed. The band has a huge following in North Kerry and West Limerick and I well recall the scenes of wild jubilation the night they won the All Ireland at the Cavan Fleadh. So this album comes as a reminder of the great music the band makes, their repertoire, which draws heavily on local sources and the fun they have with the music. Oh and they sing, The Sand Hills of Kilmore and the Lordly Shannon Side, two songs delivered by Joe O’Sullivan, he has a commanding if light tenor voice. The Sand Hills of Kilmore is a new song to me, and the band suggests this is the first time it has appeared on disc. The other song too is a rarity with its origins in the Ballyduff village, for those with a map it is near Ballylanders. Céilí band are well–known for their wide selections of tunes and the Shannon Vale follow this general pattern with jigs, reels, barndances, hornpipes, waltzes, polkas and marches. The liner notes give great insight into the tunes, which range from the old, such as Nora Chriona to the newly composed Shannon’s’ Lovely Vale. The band have a fondness for the compositions of the late Tipperary fiddler Sean Ryan with his The Nightingale and P.J Moloney’s. Bandleader, Danny O’Mahony dips into the family fortune with a reprise of Hayes’ Favourite a barn dance from his relative Tom Carmody of Listowel who was the accordionist with band over thirty years ago. Lively, spirited, full of unusual tunes, a deep touch of the local in its influences and sources, this is an exemplary recording of Céilí band music from one of the country’s finest.
Seán Laffey

Turn the Corner
Spring Records SCD1062,
10 Tracks, 40 minutes
Early last June, my wife and I were on our way to Inverness from Belfast City Airport when who should be waiting to board the same flight but Colum Sands! It was great to see him again and to note that he still has the gift of eternal youth and retains the Sands gift of graciousness of nature and affability.
There’s always a hill somewhere that beckons and stirs the mind no matter how long ago since it entered one’s ken. And that’s the theme of Colum’s delightful opening song, Lazy Hill in his new CD Turn the Corner. Mine was a hill above the townland of our new home in Ludden near Buncrana, Co. Donegal, when I was nine and had moved from Muff. His had a name, but ours was just ‘the hill’. For Colum, Lazy Hill was a “good place for anyone to slow down” and enjoy the singing of the “birds in the hawthorn hedges”. In Turn the Corner, he displays that Sands’ magic for creating atmosphere in the words and airs to songs he’s written for us all to enjoy. Song words are included along with great notes.
“All Song Words and Music by Colum Sands” is what it declares in the CD notes. And why is this?  Colum explains that in 2012 he took a year out from presenting his weekly programme with the BBC and also slowed down on concert touring. “It was a welcome break from the laziness of keeping busy,” he says, “and using endless activity as an excuse for avoiding the serious work of thinking!”
Well, I am happy to report that he wasn’t wasting his time because what he has served up in Turn the Corner is a lovely daisy–chain of gems in words and music, all turned out in a seamlessly woven garment of delightful musical arrangements. NOTE: the music enhances what we’re hearing and doesn’t over–ride the words which are always clear and audible. Thank you, Colum and fellow musicians, who include family members, Tommy, Ben, and Anne, and friends, Brian Finnegan, Steve Cooney, Maggie MacInnes, Karen Tweed, Claire Byrne, Nuala Curran, and Sinéad Stone.
Aidan O’Hara

Irish Guitar
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 42 Minutes
Here is an album that brings a new twist to many familiar tunes and songs. It is not too often we get the likes of Macroom Lasses, Tripping Down the Stairs and Chief O’Neill’s Favourite played just on guitar. O’Brien takes these tunes and many more and presents them in fresh guise that will be a revelation to those expecting that they can only be played on fiddle or accordion or the more traditional instruments. He intersperses the traditional tunes with a selection of songs from his own pen like Good Times Coming. He also proves excellent on the more familiar Next Market Day presented as a song. My Lagan Love lends itself generously to a guitar interpretation and is all the more haunting without lyrics. The CD will be a welcome addition to the guitar fans and will be a revelation to anyone willing to have a new take on the familiar.
Nicky Rossiter

Amhráin Nua i nGaeilge
New Songs in Irish
EndaDeRoad Records EDRD 004,
14 Tracks, 41 Minutes

When I opened Enda Reilly’s new CD, for a moment or two I was magically transported back to my Pentangle days of the sixties (that’s the nineteen sixties, by the way – just in case any of my friends cheekily check which century I mean, the dossers). It’s the voice and the arrangement and the instruments, you see. So, that Pentangle observation is by way of giving a compliment, because as the tracks kept coming up, I saw that here’s a talent, no doubt about it. That it is also so evocative and reminiscent is for this listener a huge extra.
Also, while I’m no luddite and shun face–booking, tweeting and blogging, I do appreciate the efforts performers make on–line to provide us with interesting information on who, what, were, etc., in their website presentations. Enda is quite avant-garde in all this, and in so far as that expression relates to being musically innovative and progressive, that, too, is our Enda. Very contemporary, very modern and very easy on the ear, musically, of course, but also in the moods and thoughts that come through in a dozen and more songs that appeal on many levels.
Enda writes songs in Irish and English, and he and his co–writer, Christine Deady, were the winners of the IMRO Christie Hennessy Song Competition in 2012 with their song, Follow the Water. He’s no stranger to TV and radio and plays with The Lazy Band and The Gospel Project and he’s a member of the Urchin Collective. His web– site is a gem of high production values and worth viewing for that alone. It is so chock–full of inviting things to click on one is helplessly drawn to listen and to even see the songs being performed by Enda.
Of course, because the songs on Amhráin Nua i nGaeilge – New Songs in Irish are as it says on the tin, in Irish, I wish I were writing this as Gaeilge, just to share my pleasure at the songwriter’s enjoyment in passing on creative thoughts and sounds in songs like Bíodh Áilleacht Ann / Let there be Beauty, Mol an Aimsir (agus Tiocfaidh Sí) / Praise the weather, and Ceol As An Dorchadas, where Enda uses Irish and English words about receiving music out of the darkness and imíonn stró is strús – stress and strain are gone! It’s like that with this CD, too.
Aidan O’Hara