Releases > Releases August 2015

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Heaven – Chapter Three
12 Tracks, 52 Minutes
Own Label

As the subtitle suggests this is the third album from the young and immensely talented Willis Clan from Nashville Tennessee. The first album Roots was their original take on Irish traditional music and folk ballads, it helped establish them as serious musicians, making critics sit up and agree. The second album Boots explored the music of their home State, bluegrass and country, it earned them a regular slot at the Grand Ole Opry. Then there was mainstream TV and America’s Got Talent. Heaven is where they are now, a meteoric rise it has to be said since their success at the All–Ireland Fleadh in Cavan.
Heaven is their pop album, it lies somewhere between Alanis Morisette and The Corrs, in a good way. The arrangements are slick and sophisticated, with the keyboards and drums taking a larger role than before.
The opening track Now or Never begins with a wash of harmonies, if you were looking for 90 seconds of music for an TV ad this would fit the bill, then Jessica’s vocals kick in: quintessential American pop, cut back to drum and electric guitar from Jair, then filling again with an anthemic tune and a big finish.
Almost a classical interlude on Come With Me, piano and fiddle dominate with a melody that is addictive. Over a moving bass line a cello takes up the tune and the sweetness of the fiddle froths to the top. Chasing Love is a big Celtic rock number, think Kevin Crawford meets Alan Stivell, the whistle is the main instrument here. Bitter Cold is a catchy melancholy song with a chorus underpinned by atmospheric uilleann pipes, it reminded me of the expansive work of Phil Coulter, the song by the way would stand alone as an acoustic number, the chorus in particular lending itself to audience participation.
The title track Heaven comes in three flavours, it first appears as Track 2 cut to the core with Jessica’s vocals coming in from the beginning. The second take develops the instrumental lead, the third version (the final track on the album) wouldn’t be out of place in a night club.
This young band have a chameleon capacity to be comfortable in almost any musical jungle. The Willis Clan are set for great things that’s for sure, where will they go next is the key question. Whereas some bands might not be happy mastering Trad, Bluegrass or Celtic Pop, the Willis family are obviously in Heaven making music.
Seán Laffey

The Music of Eleanor McEvoy
10 Tracks, 39 Minutes
MoscoJazz MOSJ412

Corazón may be an unfamiliar name to you, indeed they are somewhat left field for this publication. The quartet is made up of Ciaran Wilde, Myles Drennan, Dave Fleming and Tom Dunne, they play late night jazz, smooth, languid, complex and smoky.
The common theme is the compositions of Eleanor McEvoy, a lady who is no stranger to these pages. Her music is articulate and sophisticated, however, it often serves as the backdrop to well observed lyrics and her vocal engagement with the songs is paramount in her own ouvre.This album strips away the words to leave the sense of melody and chord progressions on which the band works their arrangements.
If you are very familiar with Eleanor’s output you will no doubt recognise the melodic threads running through Harbour, Wrong so Wrong, Non Smoking Single Female and more. On the other hand if you are new to her music this album will come as a welcome surprise. And is there anyone in Ireland who can’t hum the melody to A Woman’s Heart? Corazon take that number and treat is so simply. It begins with a gentle piano with Ciaran Wilde’s clarinet crying plaintively on the line “My heart is low, my heart is so low”.
As only a woman’s heart can be. This is perhaps the most stripped back track on the whole album. In contrast is Non Smoking Single Female, with its double bass intro, a sax break and piano and drum passage with a final long walk to the end of the room as the bass escorts the tune to bed.
There was a time when the clergy warned against jazz, fearing what it could do to the innocent young people of Ireland. In the hands of Corazon they haven’t corrupted the pristine work of Eleanor McEvoy but they have given her a fresh new wardrobe, and she’s ready for a good night out.
Seán Laffey

The Good Mixer
15 Tracks, 51 Minutes
Racket Records RR011
Henry Benagh on fiddle, Marcus Hernon on flute, Noel O’Grady on bouzouki, and a young fella showing great promise on banjo: these musicians played together every week in Camden Town from the mid 1980s, a great time for Irish music in London. They made this recording around 1990 when people were beginning to move back home to job opportunities in a more prosperous Ireland. The tapes have lain dormant for almost a quarter of a century, but they still sound fresh and frisky today, so here’s a reminder of what the pure drop was sounding like a generation ago.
The first thing that struck me was the list of tunes on the album sleeve. The Good Mixer includes session classics, and compositions which have become classics since 1990, but there’s little here which doesn’t come from the heart of the Irish tradition. The Limestone Rock, Sporting Paddy, The Noon Lasses, Mulhaire’s, The Stolen Purse, The Lark in the Morning and Cregg’s Pipes spring into life at the touch of these four. The pair of Hammy Hamilton jigs which have since become famous are among a handful of concessions to modern composers. Caliope House is another, played upside–down as is the Irish tendency, pre–dating Sharon Shannon and others. Reels, jigs and a lone set of hornpipes fill The Good Mixer, just as they must have filled its namesake, the public house where Carty and his friends played. The sound quality on this recording is surprisingly clean and bright for a home recording of 25 years ago. The playing is as tight as you’d expect from any group of lads who’d played together for years, and the style is snappy without being flamboyant, truly traditional but with a touch of swing that gets the feet tapping. That banjo plucks away in the lower register while the fiddle and flute soar over it, and the whole thing is solid as a rock. O’Grady’s bouzouki is supplemented by Bernadette McCarthy on piano for that extra bit of depth on a few tracks. Well rehearsed, well understood and doubtless well lubricated, the music here is played straight and true, and deserves to be widely heard after all these years.
Alex Monaghan

The Land’s End Sessions
10 Tracks, 46 Minutes, Own Label
Two friends met up in Hanover and casually recorded the tunes they enjoyed playing together. They invited a third musical friend and what transpired was a casual labour of love. The CD bears the name of the studio in which they played and recorded for over two years; The Land’s End Sessions. Steffen Gabriel took the rein on flute and whistles along with Cornelius Bode on guitar and percussion. They were joined by Barbara Hintermeier on fiddle and what evolved is a recording where the tunes take precedence, each one shines through their animated play.
There is a great technicality in the tune choices and arrangements throughout, most noted on the trad favourite The Silver Spear, which I have to say I love for its languidity, as it’s, in Steffen’s own words, ‘a D tune played in C on a Bb flute and sounding Ab.’ This flows straight into a set focussed mainly on Colin Farrell compositions (which is never a bad thing) and they emulate that unmistakeable undulating flow of notes that underpins the fluidity in each tune.
The overriding standout here is not their technical mastery though, it’s the sheer expression of enjoyment and love for the music, the purity in each phrase that sparks a connection with the listener. The combination of flute, fiddle and strings, when played directly on the melody, just lifts the roof with unadorned delight, sample the full force in the Quinn’s set of reels that dance and meander in a delightfully up tempo way. Inspired by Peter Horan, influenced by Sligo greats, Gabriel plays the music of Connacht like a native.
The Land’s End Sessions is a genuine, authentic pleasure to listen to and I dare say to be delved into by budding instrumentalists from Hanover to Tubbercurry.
Eileen McCabe

In Galway
IRL 15 Tracks, 68 Minutes
Accordion music was something your mam and dad danced to on a Saturday night down at the social. It was never ‘in’. That is, until Sharon Shannon came along.
Sharon made the accordion relevant to a wider audience, not only by collaborating with contemporary artists from Bono to Jackson Browne, but also by releasing a string of her own successful albums.She continues to work that same magic with this latest live recording.
In Galway is a generous package – with a CD and DVD of a concert filmed at O’Connor’s Famous Pub in Salthill, Galway, Sharon’s home– town for many years. At first glance of the video, it looks like Dave Grohl on guitar. So you think Sharon must be performing with Foo Fighters. It is, in fact, Dublin multi–instrumentalist Alan Connor. Fans will know Alan has already been performing with Sharon at various venues. He’s a perfect gigging partner for her, as he shows a similar wild abandonment in his keyboard and guitar. Anyway, you know he must be good when Sharon credits him with ‘mind–blowing musical abilities’. Alan uses a ‘foot stomp’ to keep a driving beat, and a digital loop to repeat guitar rhythms. This comes across powerfully on the album’s tour de force, the Donal Lunny number Cavan Potholes.
The duo performs some of Sharon’s standards – including tracks from her first album such as Coridinio and The Woodchoppers. Of course, Blackbird is there, too. James Browne’s March by Mike McGoldrick is covered. Alan sings The Midnight Special, a traditional folk song thought to have originated among prisoners in the American South, and The Galway Girl. As you’d expect, joy and freedom flow throughout this set. There are sensitive moments, too. Little Bird will soothe the stress–filled atmosphere in any home.
The test I gave this album was the same as any other. I let it play endlessly while going about my household chores and writing assignments. I listened out for any of those special moments the music might bring. In Galway passed the test.
Clive Price

The New Blackthorn Stick
17 Tracks, 71 minutes
Own Label

In the days of Harrigan and Harte, the Irish took the lead roles in Vaudevuille and the Eastern Europeans played in the orchestra pit. As the musical hall gave way to the jazz age, some of the instruments crossed over into Irish culture, the banjo being the most successful. For a time saxophones were poplar in Irish dance bands, Paddy Killoran’s even included a clarinet, but by the mid 1950’s the trad police ensured that pipes and squeeze boxes were the only approved reed instruments for the music.
Andy Lamy has brought the clarinet back to the Irish music scene in Orange New Jersey and New York, this album is his homage to the tradition. You can see he is keeping A-list company as the following guest on the album: Jerry O’Sullivan, Mary Bergin, Dylan Foley, Brian Conway, Kevin Crawford and John Whelan all roll up their sleeves to play with Andy. There’s a song too from Donie Carroll.
Lamy has the skill to bring the best out of the clarinet. To my ears the intriguing thing about Lamy’s Clarinet is the way it sits with other instruments. On the jig Felix Gone Fishing it blends seamlessly with Pat Mangan’s ’fiddle, on the slow air Tiarna Mhaihjh Eo it sounds like a sweet pipe organ. Paired with Mary Bergin’s whistle on Paddy Taylor’s it follows the contours of the tune matching the attack on each note and that takes dome skill on blown reeds. Andy is out front on the title tack The Black Thorn Stick a reel, and it is here where the technical limits of the clarinet creep in, Andy chooses a rhythmic rather than a legato rendition of the reel and it works really well. The CD booklet written by Don Meade is packed with interesting information, tunes are thoroughly researched and full credit given to sources. Lamy has dug deep into the tardyon on this album, for example he selects two pieces from O’Neill’s 1903 publication, which we believe have never before been recorded: The Green Branch & The Green Linnet Reels.
The first ever trad Irish clarinet album is far more than a curiosity. Will it help inspire others? Certainly. (Should we be worried? In Brittany the clarinet usurped the bagpipes for 5 generations, you have been warned). In New York the Clarinet has been locked into jazz bends and klezmer orchestras for 100years, now Andy Lamy has freed a force of nature here. It’s a joyous celebration of Irish music first and foremost and a without doubt a ground breaking clarinet album.
Seán Laffey

Live In Galway
Own label, 12 Tracks, 43 Minutes
These four lads just keep taking their musical genius to new levels and whatever about the magic of their last two studio albums, there’s nothing like the raw emotion and fusion of the live experience. Watch them live in person and you get to experience the humour, dynamism and pure enjoyment as the guys unleash a frenetic energy that unfortunately cannot be captured, bottled and sold; listen to this live album and you get a mighty taster of just how energetic those live gigs can be.
The band were joined on stage over two nights of recording with similarly energised musical talent that included Jig Jam, Damien Mullane on box, Tom Portman on dobro and the perfect blend to Howley’s vocal depth in the form of the delightful Norianna Kennedy and Nicola Joyce. Add a wealth of wind instruments to the line–up and the twelve tracks rock with musical versatility and virtuosity and that added we Banjo punch of showmanship.
Live in Galway can take you on many journeys, from the gut blasting, foot stomping exquisite intricacies in The Bunch of Green Rushes which is fortified by a driving wind and string instrumental interspersed with a delicate fiddle before dropping you straight into an different type of emotional spectrum with Lonesome Road where David Howley’s vocal always delivers just the right soulful intensity that is consistently intertwined and enhanced by the backing instrumental.
I usually try and pick a few stand outs but the difficulty with anything We Banjo 3 performs is their ability to make each performance a stand out in its own right. I will mention Liz Carroll’s Air Tune for its ability to capture a moment in time and totally draw you into its expressive sentiment and Pressed or Time for its purely instinctive capacity to showcase the individuality of talent within a depth of cleverly crafted arrangements that is a totally gripping listen.
Live in Galway is banjo driven rocket fuel and the spark of We Banjo 3 has ignited a musical furnace that is set to burn for a long, long time.
Eileen McCabe

10 Tracks, 41 Minutes

Alyth is well–known to fans of Celtic music, having performed with Moya Brennan, The Chieftains, The Step Crew and Noirin Ni Rian, her previous solo CD, People Like Me was made with the lads in Lau.
The album will was recorded in Wicklow and features Alyth on vocals along with Brian McAlpine on piano, guitars and accordion, Aidan O’Rourke of Lau on fiddle, Karol Lynch on bouzouki, Joe Csibi on double bass and Noel Eccles on percussion with one track from Ali Smith on fiddle. Alyth is married to Noel and the couple have been living in Wicklow for the past three years.
Alyth is no stranger to the concert platform, the theatre stage or the recording studio and it shows in her quiet mastery of each song she has chosen here. Themes of emigration, loss and melancholy populate the work. She opens with the ballad of unrequited love The Lambs on the Green Hills, the backing of piano and fiddle is as verdant as a May meadow; Alyth’s voice adding a sad resignation atop the gorgeous melody. The Hebridean song Thig am Bata (The Boat Will Come) starts with chime bars and a repeated motif on the piano, Alyth lifts the song into the tune with a light touch, as the motif runs endlessly underneath, the number fading out with a reprise on the chime bars. Atmospheric!
Alyth bring a sense of drama to Carrickfergus, which she approaches with the tenderest of touches, almost talking through some of the verses. On Martin Furey’s My Grand Mother’s Eyes. It would be a shoe in for the emigration scene in Sunshine on Leith. She recalls her home on Lewis with the mouth music The American Set.
Homelands addresses the Celtic problem of Where and what is home? In the end her answer is; it is an emotional response to place and its people. She closes the album with Lord Yester. This is in the keening tradition, a lament for a lost warrior, who cannot be found after a battle, the song itself although it sounds like it could be a Child Ballad was written by George Weir and put to music by Roy Williamson of the Corries (the man who wrote Flower of Scotland). It is a sombre yet hopeful ending to an album of considered Celtic music from Alyth.
Seán Laffey

4 Tracks, 22 Minutes
Connal Music

Irish mythology fans know that Connla is a character in the mythological Ulster Cycle. It is also the name of what may well now be the hottest new group out of Northern Ireland. This Armagh and Derry–based quintet features uilleann pipes, vocals, whistles, harp, bodhran, and guitars. They just released a new EP, self–titled, Connla. The CD cover is deceptively simple for the wonderful and complex music contained within.
This is a brand new group bursting forth on the scene. They are filled with youthful energy, combined with a veteran’s sense of arrangement, style, and depth. As you are reading this, they are at work on a full CD. You can download this EP at the group’s website, It will soon be widely available, if not already, through the usual Amazon, iTunes, and other outlets. We could not recommend this group to you highly enough. Big future—written boldly. Nothing is more common in Irish and all forms of music than almost constant changeover in groups. We hope Connla avoids that risk and stays just as they are right now.
It won’t be long before you will see them featured at the big festivals worldwide. They deftly combine admittedly youthful vocals with seasoned, instrumental approaches.
Make no mistake, this is the Northern Ireland style, perfectly exemplified. This is just the initial review of a major discovery. There can be no doubt that when they release their new, full CD, their music will get a much longer and in–depth treatment. Consider this your early– warning system. There is something serious on the horizon, and that creative storm is Connla.
Bill Margeson

The Stable Sessions
10 Tracks, 47 minutes
Trad Nua

If you think of music as a cultural ecology, there are habitats and niches to be filled in every genre. Folk song has gone through some lean times since the ballad boom of the1960’s. Firstly is became uncool, secondly it didn’t quite fit into the nationalist agenda, after all some of the best Irish songs came out of Protestant Ulster. For years The Clancys and The Dubliners were the go to bands for songs. The Dubs had the longest career but The Clancys cracked America and that made all the difference. Those bands had their acolytes who filled the ballad niche and built up a strong following. An audience still hungry for the come all ye’s and too–ra–li–iddle–i–os
The lads who played during the boom had songs that came from source singers such as Bess Cronin or Sarah Makem. Today there are fifty years of albums to look back over. Now young bands exploring folk songs again. Enter Na Fianna; Ciaran and Hugh Finn, James O’Connor and Peter McMahon.
They inhabit some familiar ground: Step It Out Mary, Rocky Road to Dublin, Muirsheen Durkin, Three Drunken Maidens, Molly Malone, and more contemporary numbers such as Galway to Graceland by Richard Thompson and Caledonia from Dougie Maclean.
Those songs would be the staple of any bar room ballad band, so what do Na Fianna bring to the table? Firstly style, they have a look, short hair and leather jackets, that’s the cool criteria ticked. Musically they have a presence, they take time over the tracks, I don’t mean they slow them down, but they do play them musically, it’s not a race to the finish with three chords and a bang on the drum. Secondly the instruments are up to the minute, for example Peter plays the cajon as well as the bodhrán.
This is a double disc package of CD and a DVD, the latter shot in the Stables Studio, with a great deal of red light. The DVD has the same running order as the CD so if you are promoter you can judge how they’d perform in front of your audience (smart move lads). All four members of the band sing, and for my money the standout voice is James O’Connor, he has the richest tone and most rounded timbre; he does a fine job on the Lakes of Pontchartain. He’s to the fore again with his accordion on the old Planxty chestnut Three Drunken Maidens, he injects tremendous energy into the tune, you’d get a room dancing to that one.
Na Fianna have a healthy tour schedule lined up in Germany for the autumn of 2015. On the strength of this CD/DVD their audiences will be in for a bumper bundle of ballads.
Seán Laffey

Luke Daniels
CDTRAX 379 2015
12 Tracks, 38 Minutes
Once again Greentrax brings us a wonderful CD where good music and great history coincide. William Hannah for those of us unfamiliar with him was born in 1891 and having started his music life using the mouth organ before graduating to melodeon. He served in The Great War and after that was prolific recording artiste and band leader in the 1920s. He was a major figure in developing the modern accordion and is said to have been a major influence on the man most of us often see as the father of Scottish country dance music, Jimmy Shand. But like so many pioneers in all walks of life he has been largely forgotten.
Now Luke Daniels sets out to rectify this with an album featuring music transcribed from not only the old 78 rpm discs but even wax cylinder recordings. In addition to lend even greater authenticity a Wilkinson Excelsior said to have been Hannah’s signature instrument has been restored to feature on the album.
As with many instrumental albums recorded primarily to dance to some of the titles may not be too familiar although very often the tunes will resonate.
Over twelve tracks you will enjoy reels, jigs, strathspeys and waltzes with perhaps the latter including more familiar melodies such as Leezie Lindsay, Skye Boat and Peggie O’Neill. Here also you will find Dashing Light Sergeant and Boston Two Step.
As ever with Greentrax there is an informative booklet which even includes the sheet music for Boston Two Step as well as link to download full transcriptions of all the featured music. As well as being a piece of history this is an ideal album for an easy listen or a bit of a Scottish hooley.
Nicky Rossiter