Releases > Releases August 2016

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Before We Change Our Mind
Own Label, BEOGA06
11 Tracks, 49 Minutes

It’s been a while since the last Beoga studio album. There was a live ten–year celebration recording in the meantime, but new tunes from the creative cookshop of Graham and McKee have been sorely missed. These five musicians have certainly been busy, collectively and individually: tours, awards, producer credits, and many appearances as guests on other people’s projects. This fifth album title alludes to the competing pressures on such a talented bunch. Nevertheless, it was high time Beoga went back into the studio. Before We Change Our Mind is well worth the sacrifices required – and worth the wait for Beoga’s growing fanbase.
The four vocal numbers here show a growing maturity and reflection. Three of them are well known traditional songs, perhaps neglected for a generation or two but familiar to older folkies. The Bonny Ship The Diamond was fashionable in the eighties, and has been recorded by a couple of young groups recently. Beoga rig it out with a stirring arrangement, and Niamh Dunne’s voice has a powerful edge on it for what is basically a brutal story. Farewell to Carlingford has an insistent beat, building through the song, a cry for the exile’s return which turns this story of longing into a call for action. Even more surprising is Wexford Town, completely unaccompanied, a traveller song from Niamh’s family, strongly sung here. Like a Dime is a more modern ballad by Eamon O’Leary, and receives a gentle treatment, almost an affectionate take on the short but unencumbered life of a beach bum.
For me, and for many others I’m sure, much of the appeal of Beoga is in the pumping box tunes powered by Seán Óg Graham and Damien McKee. There are several of these on Before We Change Our Mind, from the opening Homestead Hero medley to the title track of polkas and reels. Don’t underestimate the importance of the rhythm section: Liam Bradley and Eamonn Murray underpin the Beoga sound with great timing and rare delicacy as needed. Rattling box buttons, driving fiddle, pounding keys and bodhrán fill three big tracks – but actually there’s more of the gentle side of Beoga in the instrumentals here. Eochaid is a languid slow reel or march with mystical overtones which remind me of Breton showpieces. Aurora is a lovely slow jig from the same stable as the popular Soggy’s Slip Jigs which have passed into the tradition now. Jump the Broom is an almost French waltz, a very pretty tune. The final Valhalla is a slow slip jig, followed by an old–timey fiddle reel with string quartet in classic Spaghetti Western style, as Beoga ride off into the sunset.
Alex Monaghan

The One I Loved the Best
Lo La Records, LL006, 15 Tracks, 60 Minutes

A fifth album from these London Irish favourites brings some line–up changes but no great shift in their sound or approach. Box–player and founder Maureen Linane bows out in favour of young concertina star Brogan McAuliffe, introducing a new generation to the band but keeping the crisp traditional tunes pumping out. Unsung – and unsinging – pianist Pete Quinn also steps aside, to be replaced by Chris O’Malley on keys and guitar, which does slightly change the feel of the music, moving the more modern touches from West Coast jazz to East Coast blues perhaps. Be that as it may, the London Lasses still focus on pure drop tunes, many with a London connection, sprinkled with songs in English and Irish.
Starting off with two reels by the late Finbarr Dwyer, a superb box–player and composer who spent a lot of time in London, the instrumental tracks include compositions by Brian Rooney, Tom McElvogue, Ed Reavy, Charlie Lennon, and Johnny Óg Connolly. Criocha na hAlban, Pa Keane’s, Scatter the Mud, The Ashplant and The Milliner’s Daughter are from the old heart of the Irish tradition, familiar and finely played. One of the strengths of The London Lasses is their ability to vary the instrumental line–up, and this is aided here by guests on button box, flute and harp. Switching between fiddles, flutes and free reeds, and adding banjo and saxophone on a couple of tracks, allows them to embrace several different styles of Irish music.
Brona McVittie’s vocals also range across a broad gamut of material, from the well–known Slieve Gallion Braes to the more local Flower of Sweet Strabane. McVittie has shown a taste for earthy lyrics in the past, but her choice on this CD really takes the biscuit: she delivers Dainty Davie, one of Robert Burns’ bawdiest ballads, in seductive Ulster tones, leaving the audience in no doubt as to the meaning of these salacious 18th century Scots words. The final song here is a traditional keening, Caoineadh na dTrÍ Mhuire, with backing from the Lasses.
One of my favourite tracks, and one of the ones influenced by Mr O’Malley, is a set of three relatively new waltzes: Waltz for Aly and Belle Mère’s Waltz by Scottish piano box wizard Phil Cunningham, and the more recognisably Irish Tom’s Anniversary Waltz by Clare button box babe Josephine Marsh. I also particularly enjoyed the saxophone and banjo recreations of the early 20th century Irish dance band sound, similar to music by At the Racket: there are two tracks where Elma McElligott and Karen Ryan switch to sax and banjo here, and I loved them both – but I’m not sure which was The One I Loved the Best. Get this album and make your own choice.
Alex Monaghan

The Raven’s Rock
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 44 Minutes

It’s hard to believe that this is Cillian Vallely’s debut solo CD. He’s made a couple of great duo recordings, of course – Callan Bridge with brother Niall, and On Common Ground with fluter Kevin Crawford – but in almost two decades as Lúnasa’s piper he hasn’t taken the time to make an album of his own. Until now. The fact that Cillian has already been everywhere, done everything, and played with everyone from symphony orchestras to Springsteen is a partial explanation for the relaxed, almost casual feel to the music on The Raven’s Rock. This is no young firebrand out to burn his mark on the world. This is a mature, experienced musician drawing on decades of experience and doing what he does best – playing Irish music on pipes and whistle, alongside some of the best bandmates in the world.
The Bull’s March, Master Crowley’s, The Star Above the Garter, Port na bPucaí and The Leitrim Thrush – these are classics of the Irish tradition, and mostly of the piping repertoire too. Cillian has learnt from the old masters, but puts his own gloss on each piece. Whether it’s a jaunty slide or a grand slow air, his piping is expressive and delicate, deft and technically excellent. Chanter, drones and regulators sound together for the full uilleann piping experience. The Vallely clan is also represented by Niall on concertina and Caoimhín on piano, and I must mention the delightful cover painting The Travelling Piper by JB Vallely. With Seán Óg Graham, Paul Meehan and Ryan McGiver on guitars, a touch of bodhrán from Brian Morrissey, and the stateside fiddle of Jeremy Kittel, this record on several tracks, particularly for his own compositions and those of his brother Niall, of which there are several here. 40 March, Nina’s Jig, Clifton Road Jig and the final Wedding Anniversary Reel are all Niall’s while Cillian wrote Sinead Máire’s, Eimear’s Shuffle, The Dead Rabbit, Stormy Hill and the title air. In my view he saves the best to last with a lyrical hornpipe he calls The Ballycastle but which goes by another name in Scotland, followed by a pair of Scottish reels before a great new tune ends this great new CD.
Long overdue but very welcome at last, The Raven’s Rock is an album to savour. Who knows when the next one will come along?
Alex Monaghan

Running Time 10 Tracks, 37 Minutes

Roots by Andrew Finn Magill is only the first of two albums the virtuoso fiddler plans to release in 2016; the second, Branches, is slated to come out in the autumn and will feature more of his jazz and Brazilian influence.
From the first confident notes of the first track, a set of reels including Miss MacDonald and The Siesta, the album has you tapping your feet and smiling. Magill, a North Carolina boy, was an All–Ireland fiddle finalist twice by age 14. His first album, 2005’s Drive & Lift, received praise from all sides. He’s been busy since then: he received a Fulbright–MTV–U Fellowship to co–write and co–produce an album musically capturing HIV/AIDS experiences through song in Malawi. Mau a Malawi: Stories of AIDS came out in 2011. Not just a great musician, but a great person, clearly. On Roots, he’s supported by the incomparably rhythmic John Doyle on guitar, as well as rising star Sean Earnest on guitar; master uilleann piper Cillian Vallely, Vincent Fogarty on 10-string bouzouki and terrific fiddler Duncan Wickel.
The selection of tunes shows deft mastery of the well–known, such as Green Fields of America, with wonderful contemporary tunes such as the jig Don’t Touch that Green Linnet by Tommy Peoples, which is now destined to be a popular session tune, it’s so catchy. Magill takes the jigs, reels and hornpipes at nice brisk tempi, never sacrificing precision (truly gorgeous rolls!) and perfect intonation. A set of reels that begins with an unaccompanied rendition of Ed Reavy’s Tom of the Red Hills that slides into Tom Ward’s Downfall and The Western Lasses captures such excitement when it first switches, suddenly picking up speed, and adding in Sean Earnest’s easy energy that you might find yourself shouting whooat home. At least, I did. The accompaniment by his talented crew is perfect: just enough to fill in, never overwhelming.
His rendition of the O’Carolan piece Maurice O’Connor has sweet simplicity and grandeur. It makes you want to sway. John Doyle’s accompaniment gracefully adds delicate rhythm. He has also received well–deserved enthusiastic blurbs from Liz Carroll, Kevin Crawford and Brian Conway, and no wonder. If you like fiddle music, don’t pass this up. Add it to your iPod favourites right now.
Gwen Orel

From Mountain to Mountain
Claddagh Records. MCPP003,
11 Tracks, 46 Minutes

American folk–song survival owes much to the late singer/collector Jean Ritchie’s Appalachian legacy. Joan Baez called Jean the mother of folk. Recently, Dolly Parton said she wants to write like Jean when she grows up. Across 11 great songs spanning the bridge between these islands and Kentucky, Mary McPartlan illuminates the transformative beauty of music in migration. McPartlan’s powerful voice is rooted dark and heathery, a deep echo of something both familiar and unfathomable.
The Leitrim–born singer’s long–held passion for this project is as big as her voice – Mary tears into the musical narrative of Jean Ritchie’s significance with fearless vision. Travelling Jean’s Kentucky heartland, McPartlan gathers her collaborative influences, including acclaimed ex–Dervish fiddler/guitarist Seamie O’Dowd, African–American jazz pianist Bertha Hope, young Kentucky banjo–player/ vocalist Sam Gleaves (currently touring with Peggy Seeger). The resultant CD is high–energy but deeply moving, creative new arrangements,loss, yearning and joy in the exquisitely drawn–out blues acoustics on songs like Pretty Saro. Traditional music with Mississippi Delta–like expansiveness.
Many parallels unite Jean and Mary, not least how they both utilised Fulbright Scholarships to criss–cross Atlantic paths in time; exploring music as carried in deeemotional pockets of the emigrant experience, McPartlan singing How Can I Live on the Top of a Mountain is laced with memory layers: Jean’s 1952 Irish sojourn with Elizabeth Cronin; Mary’s Kentucky time, (2014, her memorable meeting with Jean, which involved both women singing at the Ritchie kitchen table). Worth noting that Jean’s husband George Pickow was a renowned photographer and NUIG Galway holds a precious pictorial–archive of their 1950’s Irish travels, including crucial encounters with Seamus Ennis and many more.
Iconic Ritchie compositions The L& N Don’t Stop Here Anymore; Black Waters: testament to Jean’s environmental activism also reflect McPartlan’s sense of shared landscape, politics, Leitrim, Tyrone, Perry County, music locked, but cherished, in the hills; in the struggle to survive. Bertha’s piano–work is astonishing – Anglo–Scots ballad Lord Randall revitalised, the magnificent jazz swing and how McPartlan embraces that is electrifying. This mountain music reaches beautifully around itself, turns the river–bend for home, while remaining wide open to what home might mean to any of us.
Deirde Cronin

Highs & Bellows
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 50 Minutes

This album has been getting a daily listen for the last few months in this household and there’s a very good reason why. The ability of Mick McAuley, along with Colm O’Caoimh, to fill a space of silence with such compellingly energetic sound that visits every spectrum of the emotion, without losing a breath is abundant in the amazing new release; Highs and Bellows.
The Solas stalwart knows his music and the familiarity with those tunes allows for a depth of expression and delivery that flows freely around the dexterous strings of O’Caoimh’s guitar. We are taken back to some old favourites with Mayor Harrison’s Fedora showcasing McAuley’s inherent ability to display intricate detail of note within riotous pace whilst leaving room to impart his own inimitable, expressive stamp on the arrangements. This lifting energy touches the majority of tracks including The Jackson Scot’s reels and a riveting An Nead Scamallach (my standout track) as the pair dig right into the heart of The Birds Nest and The Moving Cloud and bring out all that is best of the intense sound within.
The duo are well able to drive the tunes yet they are also able to emit a subtle tenderness when needed which is prominent in the flawless McAuley penned Doireann’s Waltz where the marriage of poignant accordion with a delightful guitar arrangement from O’Caoimh creates a perfect fusion of sound. The range of musical understanding within the instrumental takes you from the Irish tradition to the depths of the French Valse Mussette, Indiffèrence and, from there, to the heart of the Brazilian Choro with Domino before diving straight into the box player’s originality of composition in The BallyCotton Jig set. It’s not all about the tunes though. Mick has taken two songs firmly established in the tradition and delivered a refreshing vocal on Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore and an exquisitely rendered version of As I Roved Out.
Highs & Bellows has everything you want in an album; instrumental genius combined with diversity of expression tightly packed within a synergy of sound. Brilliant.
Eileen McCabe

Own Label, 10 Tracks, 50 minutes

This young fiddler and guitarist from Colorado are creating waves across the States and beyond. Not only do they play the music of the Auld Country with sensitivity and soul, they also bring their own brand of modernism to the Irish tradition. Over fifteen years of playing, Adam Agee has developed a fiddle style which owes more than a little to the measured approach of Martin Hayes, but also includes influences from Donegal, Scotland, and of course North America. It’s a relatively unadorned style, pure and clean, but far from simple. Listen to Runs in the Family (one of his own I’m guessing) followed by Angry Birds – there’s a mix of stateside fiddling and old school Irish here which makes for a compelling performance.
Suantraí takes its title from the ancient Irish category of relaxing music, usually slow and graceful, including lullabies but much broader. There are several examples here: Jon Sousa’s exquisite guitar picking on an air most of us know as Down by the Sally Gardens but which here goes by the name Maids of the Mourne Shore, Agee’s achingly slow fiddle version of The Eagle’s Whistle, and a couple of beautiful Scottish airs: the pipe lament Fàgail Ghlaschu and Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife by the great 18th century Perthshire fiddler. The album finishes with Amhrán an Bhá, another lament, so we’re clearly getting into goltraí or sad music at the end.
There’s plenty of happy dance music here too, with Adam rattling through the jigs and reels, and Jon swapping his guitar for a tenor banjo for Hardiman’s Fancy while Agee plays back–up fiddle. Sporting Paddy, Siobhán O’Donnell’s, The Clare Reel, Apples in Winter, The Star of Munster and The Glen Road to Carrick are among the more well known dance tunes on Suantraí. Less common are Rob Hayes’ reel Paddy on the Landfill, The Long Drop, The Starry Lane to Monaghan by Ed Reavy, and a couple of others including an excellent fiddle version of Jim Sutherland’s Easy Club Reel. While the tempo can be a little slow, there’s no question as to the sentiment behind this music, or the skill in the hands of Agee & Sousa.
Alex Monaghan

Own Label MHRCD004, 11 Tracks, 40 Minutes

A fourth album from this Manx harpist is welcome indeed , much like the Duke of Fife on Deeside whose welcome march I’m listening to now. Rachel is one of the pioneers of melody playing on the Celtic harp, and this complex Skinner piece is the second track on Trí: she and her trio make a fine job of it, the harp taking the lead while Jenn Butterworth’s guitar provides percussive rhythm and Cameron Maxwell’s double bass rings out in the background.
But I digress. Rachel’s trademark modern style is actually more obvious on her opening Jigs for Mann – spiky, tinkly, growly by turns, surprising and new, not what we expect from harpists even today. Very few players in Ireland, Scotland or elsewhere play in this powerful driving way, and it’s a testament to Rachel’s talent that she’s able to fill an album or a concert with just guitar and bass accompaniment.
There are songs too, three to be precise, delivered by Butterworth and ranging from the very contemporary Angel to the very traditional Mo Rùn Geal Dìleas sung in English translation here. All the vocal tracks benefit from thoughtful arrangements – varied guitar techniques, harp harmonies and arpeggios, bowed bass – and indeed both Butterworth and Maxwell contribute greatly to the instrumental tracks too. It’s an unusual sound, harp with guitar and bass, but it really works.
While there are elements of Celtic music here from the Manx tradition and from others along the Atlantic fringe, much of Trí defies categorization. The Marching Gibbon and Tune for Esme are somewhere between techno and country, or not, hugely enjoyable but you wouldn’t want to try dancing to them. Starry– Eyed Lads is more reliably in jig time, reminds me of the Northumbrian piping repertoire, and pulls in two Irish pieces. Tobar nan Cean is a quite traditional track, a strathspey leading into the reel Kitty Gordon’s, while The Tea Towel Polkas soon lose their similarity to Sliabh Luachra music. This CD finishes with a Norwegian waltz, a lovely melody which suits the ringing notes of the harp. Refreshing and challenging, not for the faint–hearted, Rachel Hair’s music is just that – her own, unlike anyone else’s. Try it and see for yourself.
Alex Monaghan

River Waiting
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 51 Minutes

About a year ago, a CD from a group in Northern Ireland named, Connla arrived in the mail for review. It was an EP (extended play), an archaic term for an album of only four selections. In reality, it was simply a self–titled introduction to the quintet, (three men, two women). A way for Connla to hold its hand up in a crowded market and say, We’re here.
I was, and still am, stunned by it. Having studied and written about Irish music for almost 40 years, moments like this still remain rare. The last time a musical tidal wave like this hit my desk was 21 years ago when I first heard a new album from the Galway–based, Reeltime.
Now comes Connla. They are releasing a full CD entitled, River Waiting in mid–July. I can tell you that magical feeling has returned after 21 years. River Waiting is very special, and that good.
I eagerly put it on, and was overwhelmed from start to finish. Of course, I received an advanced copy of the album for this review and my regular monthly column in The Chicago Irish American News, as well as There is a full mix of songs and tunes in River Waiting. Eight of the 12 are original. All albums have a full range of songs and tunes, with many originals. But, not like this.
Let’s stipulate that writing any review about any piece of music is a fool’s errand. How do you accurately convey what a group or an album sounds like? The approach? The taste? Musicianship? Arrangements? Production? Ambience? You don’t. What you can do is listen to it repeatedly (six times straight through for me as I write this). And, then, you can try to describe the impact.
Here goes. River Waiting is absolutely new, absolutely current and absolutely traditional to its core, all at the same time. It will be widely accessible in the best artistic sense of the word. What does that mean? It means that the trad purist who has been involved in traditional Irish music for decades will love this for Connla’s profound musicianship, and the grasp and understanding of the music, especially from musicians so young. People who know nothing of real Irish music will be drawn to it because of the clever melodies, the gorgeous song lyrics and the easily open warmth of the music, as well as how Connla plays it.
Space does not permit a list of our favorite Irish albums of all time, but River Waiting is now on it. It is Irish music at its best. A stunner. And, it is a must have for you, not if you love Irish music, but if you just love music. A new musical powerhouse is among us. It is from Northern Ireland, and it is Connla. Wow!
Bill Margeson