Releases > Releases August 2017

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Devil’s Bit Sessions
Cosmic Trigger, CT20170501, 19 Tracks, 58 Minutes
Beautifully executed and emitting a strong familiarity, the Devil’s Bit Sessions fully encapsulates the musicianship of the generations of the Nesbitt family, from the guidance of fiddle stalwart Kathleen and accordion playing of patriarch of John, down to the young Lilly May Nesbitt on the harp. Thirteen of the musical family steeped in the Tipperary tradition gathered at their homeplace and recorded in the very room they all grew up learning and honing their instrumental skills in.
At first listen to the nineteen tracks there is a richness of heritage of the tradition with reels like Down the Broom showcasing the importance of passing these tunes down the generational line. Immediately, you also begin to capture the textured layers of arrangement that are subtle yet powerful, ably demonstrated in the resonance of Captain O’Kane. Each set is a gem, from the haunting slow air, Caoineadh Eoghan Rua where Frances draws every emotion out of the fiddle, to a delightful Muineal an BhardailThe Callan Lassies reel set with Mike and Karl on banjo and bouzouki. Kathleen and John hold court with The Nutcracker & Red Whitethorn whilst there’s an exquisite texture to the trio of fiddles from Kathleen, Máiréad and Frances on the slow air The Wild Geese. A strong mention must also go to Garrykennedy Castle where Emma and Tommy play with striking definition.
Devil’s Bit Sessions is enhanced by the quality of the sound teased out by the expertise of Brian Masterson and the lovely touch of the conversational recordings on certain tracks that give an insight into the personal and historical connection of the tunes. A finishing touch; as Kathleen says, ‘It’s a record of the music that we play, it’s a record of the music to go on.’ It certainly is and it’s also a rivetingly engaging listen. More power to the Nesbitts.
Eileen McCabe

Own Label, 13 Tracks, 36 Minutes
A solo debut, untitled and unnumbered: everything about this recording is stark simplicity. Each of the generous dozen tracks features a single concertina and nothing else, ranging from bass to piccolo to provide a range, which rivals the piano. The concertina is a mechanical instrument; bellows, levers, springs, buttons and valves, and Cormac revels in that, recording every inrush of air, every clack of button release, all those incidental sounds which are usually expunged from blander recordings. It all adds to the raw charm here, one pair of hands providing melody, rhythm and accompaniment, while the machinery whooshes and clatters in the background. Particularly with the bass concertina, with its physically larger dimensions, there is a delay between the musician’s actions and the production of the rich reed sound, but again this is part of the instrument’s personality, and Cormac has made an album which reveals that concertina character in full with no airbrushing or artful cosmetics.
In thirteen relatively short tracks, this master player starts from his native Kerry polkas and slides, and gorgeous airs such as Beauty Deas an Oileain, but soon extends his reach to County Cork with tunes such as the neglected Fermoy Lasses, and beyond to classics of the Clare and Sligo traditions: The Yellow Tinker, The Pigeon on the Gate, The Dairy Maid and more.
One unusual aspect of this CD is two sets of schottisches, five in total, and somewhat akin to barndances in their delivery here, all new to me, well worth hearing. Another highlight is Donncha Ó Loinsigh’s Jig, also featured by Begley’s concertina comrade Jack Talty on his recent solo debut: here Cormac pairs it with the catchy Wounded Healer. The details of the eight different concertinas played on this album are given next to each track, and the contrasts are remarkable, particularly between the growling big Dipper bass instrument and the twittering birdsong of the Lachenal piccolo which ends Cormac Begley’s selection with a pair of fine old reels. Short and sweet, low and strong, bright and cheery by turns, Begley shows all sides of the concertina on a unique and fascinating CD.
Alex Monaghan

Indeedin You Needn’t Bother
Brenda Castles Music BC 001, 14 Tracks, 54 Minutes
A title full of life and uniquely Irish, a powerful photo of balloons over Buddhist Temples in Burma, both aptly reflecting the fine music on Brenda Castles’s solo concertina debut CD. The title (with Brenda’s slip-jig of the same name) is a phrase associated with her spirited grandmother who possessed a colourful flair for the acerbic comment.
Brenda’s playing evolves from a Meath background steeped in traditional milieu, a house full of music thanks to parents Lily and Noel’s love of it. Her excellent liner-notes tell their own story of finding tunes, like The Rose of Rosyth (a hauntingly melodic Scottish waltz) deep in the heart of her banjo-playing Dad Noel’s enormous cassette collection. Her musical lineage included rich community links, the blessing of neighbours like Brenda’s first concertina teacher, the late Rena Traynor (nee Crotty) from Kilrush, and the entire MacGabhann clan close-by with noted fiddle-player Antóin teaching Brenda’s siblings.
Brenda credits her good fortune in being taught by concertina maestro Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh (himself a student of Rena). And the CD itself gives true lyrical expression to that influence. Echoes of Mícheál’s iconic album The Nervous Man in Brenda’s style, pace and variation, where guitar, harp and bodhrán accompaniment is rhythmic and beautifully discreet.
Like Eoghan Scott’s intuitive guitar interpretation on Track 2: (Sheep in the Boat/Larry the Beer Drinker/The Castleblayney Piper Jig). And a sense of Brenda’s own musical balance between deep respect for tradition while boundary-pushing in playing that’s both refined and feisty.
Music takes Brenda across the globe (Shanghai and Mongolia included) and the swing and lift in reels like Peadar O’Riada’s Is Cuma Liom feels somehow indicative also of her spirited journeys down some radical decision-making routes. At a recent New York concert, renowned musician Mick Moloney introduced Brenda by saying, “Veterinarian by profession, musician by choice!”
Indeedin You Needn’t Bother is a brave CD, brave in how Brenda lets the concertina speak for itself, edgy but not over embellished. Track choices are considered, plumbed for meaning, and that shows. Assurance and strength in her tone but that fearlessness also allows a vulnerable quality that actually strengthens the music, which might well account for a CD that’s more enjoyable the more I hear it.
Deirdre Cronin

Living Roots
Own Label, LR001, 10 Tracks, 39 Minutes
Living Roots starts off with fiddle and banjo and, for the first few bars of the opening hornpipe, it seems as though the ‘innovative’ tagline being used to describe this new album from Brendan Hendry and Jonny Toman, is a bit contrived, for it sounds like nothing more than any other well-produced fiddle and tenor banjo album. Not a bad thing at all, but where is the innovation?
Such is the subtle intuition and attentive finger picking of Jonny Toman as he plays Irish traditional tunes on 5-string banjo, yes a 5 string not a tenor! That is where this new production Living Rootsindeed lives up to its tag.
Between Toman on 5-string and Brendan Hendry on fiddle (along with a number of instruments and guests which add to the overall mix, particularly Toman on dobro which contributes beautifully to the overall sound). They have conspired to deliver a fine treat of music for fans of American and Irish and the combination of both.
Over the course of 10 tracks, unique traits of the 5-string banjo do spring forth, with techniques like pull-offs adding the instrument’s distinctive accent to traditional tunes like The Boyne Hunt, as well as seamless triplets and a drive that settles nicely into the Irish style as heard on O’Mahoney’s.
Alongside the likes of Tom Hanway, Jimmy Kelly or Paddy Kiernan, Jonny Toman joins the campaign for 5-string finger picking banjo to be held up in its own right as a distinct purveyor of traditional Irish tunes, taking it way beyond the stiff, backwoods grandpa of the tenor banjo who just can’t quite get that damned jig rhythm right!
Indeed. Toman’s distinctive flow can be heard displayed expertly in 6/8 time through the intuitive interpretation on the Mist on the Meadow set, with the tone of the 5-string adding a wonderful depth.
Not that Hendry’s fiddling is to be overshadowed here, hopping between Irish and American twangs with as much fluidity as the 5-string; it is this cross-over of styles and instruments that makes Living Roots a truly innovative album and a must for fans of either or both genres, from two highly productive musicians who also share membership of the long-running Northern Exposure bluegrass band.
In among the weaving of styles and traditions, are some original compositions and songs from both, with special mention to the rich fiddle tone and overall quality on the track From Rocktown to Boylan’s Shore.
Derek Copley

Adèle Commins and Daithí Kearney
Own Label, 14 Tracks, 49 Minutes
All Ireland banjo champion Dr. Daithí Kearney from Kerry and piano accordion playing ethnomusicologist Dr. Adèle Commins from Louth both teach at the Dundalk Institute of Technology. This album is the fruit of their musical partnership. A collection of their original tunes set at a pace for learning. Given their provenances you wouldn’t be surprised to find a polka or two from Daithi, so check out Porto Alegre Dream 2 and the Priest’s Polka.
Places, people and events inspire their writing; it was always the case with traditional music, this may be new music but it shares a blood line with much that has gone before. In many respects it is deeply personal, paying homage to parents (From Kerry With Love, Sleepy Joe); there are tokens of their own affectionate marriage (Away Too Long and Shoreside Strolls). Tunes also reflect the internationalism of both their performance academic worlds with A Telemark Tune, Trip to Tivoli and Rocky Road to Kansas. Daithi plays mandolin on a number of tracks, with his tour de force on Trip to Tivoli and the Porchetta Reel.
The tune is very accessible. I suspect this comes from their background as teachers, with steady tempos and easily grasped arrangements. If you are struck by a tune a visit to their website will pay big dividends. Each tune is available with easy to read, big, bold and clear melody lines. Should you want the whole collection, you can download a book of tunes with some fascinating and thoughtful added information. A key phrase in the book states: “We hope that our tunes can become part of this ever broadening soundscape and are enjoyed by people all around the world. This booklet is only one step in a process. As Dowling notes, ‘the vast majority of new compositions languish in printed collections, on commercial CDs, or in the repertoire of isolated practitioners’. We hope that you will help give these tunes life beyond these pages in new places around the world.”
Of course it will be up to the amorphous tradition to determine which tunes have the most traction. On first listening I can say there are many here that could have long lives ahead of them.
Seán Laffey

The Loom
Own Label, 15 Tracks, 51 Minutes
I first heard Liam O’Connor playing with Davy Spillane and Sean Tyrrell back in the 1990s, and even then his fiddling was distinctive. A decade or more later he recorded a fine album with piper Sean McKeon, a journeyman piece focusing on Dublin music and musical influences. Now here Liam is again with a solo CD, which shows a mastery, and an empathy, which is rare indeed. Still with a strong Dublin influence, from his own family and others, Liam presents a collection of old tunes and one or two new ones, accompanied by John Blake and Paddy McEvoy, often with multiple fiddle parts.
Like his sources Tommie Potts and John Doherty, Liam’s playing is characterful, eccentric even, finding paths through these melodies, which would not occur to most fiddlers. There are a number of youngish players who take a similar approach - Danny Diamond and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh spring to mind - and O’Connor matches their technical ability as well as their willingness to explore different sounds. As well as non-standard versions of classics like The Bucks and Tarbolton, O’Connor introduces his own distinctive ornamentation to many pieces, including a deft little hitch on The Coolelan Jig.
Master Crowley’s and O’Dowd’s, The Rights of Man and The Wild Geese: there’s no shortage of grand old music here, some of it very challenging. There are also a hornpipe and a jig by Liam, both stirring tunes. Moran’s Return, very similar to the Scottish Jacobite song Lady Keith’s Lament, is a favourite for me. Among the faster sets, the combination of The High Road to Galway and The Graftspey stands out, not only because of the confusing second title: Grand Spey, Graf Spee, Grant’s Strathspey?
Liam’s father Mick joins him on flute for the final track, a reprise of tunes which Mick recorded with Charlie Lennon in 1981, Lucky in Love and The Indian on the Rock. I should also mention the CD cover picture, a minimalist depiction of woven cloth with what may be a musical score scattered across it: a provocative image, and one which captures Liam O’Connor’s knack for finding stray threads and pulling at them, weaving different strands together, and creating new music out of an old familiar fabric.
Alex Monaghan

Own Label, No Catalogue Number, 9 Tracks, 37 Minutes
The Meath based traditional band Coscán celebrates the landscape and archaeology of their native county in their latest album Firedance. The multi–talented members, Gerry Doggett, Harry Long, John Shankey and David Nevin pay tribute to ancient tribes, mythology and folklore in celebration of the magnificence of landscape and in particular, county Meath’s prehistoric monuments, which predate the Egyptian pyramids.
A Reel Around the Sun and the Dowth Reels are outstanding tunes, the whistle playing is particularly captivating. A fitting tribute to a pre–technological age, where the spiritual and devotional power of the sun, aligned purposefully for solstices, manifests in the architecture of the ancient monuments at Loughcrew, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. The tune is aptly named, the tempo and arrangements flawless
Millmont Morning and Mornington Dawn is a sweet set of tunes that progress from jig to march time. Millmont is associated with one of Ireland’s earliest poets Amhaigrhin Glúngheal. Mornington is where the renowned Boyne river enters the sea. It also has associations with St. Patrick, the Milesian people and the Tuatha De Danann. Harry Long’s fine lyrical ballad, Dark Liberty, is a poetic tribute to the tragic life of 13th Century bard, Muireadach Albanach O’Dálaigh.
Francis Ledwidge penned In a Cafe, a light hearted soldier’s song, a distraction from the brutalities of war. It is entirely fitting that Ledwidge be included here, another Meath native in whose work the ancient monuments also featured. Firedance is a fine album of refreshingly original and traditional sound, melodies, harmonies and arrangements.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Raelach Records RRCD007 6 Tracks, 38 Minutes
Jack Talty’s concertina, Matthew Berrill’s clarinet, and the fine fiddling of Jeremy Spencer are supplemented by guitar, double bass, marimba and drums for a cool minimalist jazz approach to some classic Irish dance music. In only six tracks, Ensemble Ériu explore reels, jigs, and nothing else really.
Some pieces are played almost straight, The Humours of Drinagh for example, a great jig taken out for a morning gallop on concertina and fiddle, before being gradually deconstructed as the ensemble does its stuff. First the melody is pared down, leaving just a skeleton, with jarring chords in places, then that layer is stripped away to leave the rhythm with just a hint of a jig tune. Other instruments add competing rhythms and melody lines, while the jig can still be heard in the background, but then it is pulled right back to a simple marimba beat onto which the lads add a new melody, a slip-jig this time, creating a modern Irish arrangement that might suit Dónal Lunny or Steve Cooney: funky, folky, fun.
More often, the jazz is there from the start, as with their version of The West Clare Reel. Slowed down, with clarinet and bass improvisations, this reel is changed into a rather menacing piece of modern music: plenty of attack from the fiddle, smooth concertina harmonies, drum beats building to a final crash.
Micho Russell’s and The Yellow WattleCnocán an Teampaill and The Tempest complete this brief but beguiling CD, without so much as a whiff of a James Bond theme.
There are a few jarring moments, some toe-tapping sections, but mostly Imbas will wash over you, soothing, stimulating, familiar yet different, as if Doolin had been cast adrift in the Caribbean with enough bacon and Guinness to fuel a few laid-back sessions. Whatever next?
Alex Monaghan

The Complete Transatlantic Recordings
Cherry Tree CRTREEBOX 16
4 CD Box Set, 105 Tracks, 60 Minutes per disc
The Ian Campbell Folk Group based in Birmingham was along with The Spinners in Liverpool and The Dubliners one of the earliest and most influential British folk groups of the 1960s. Fronted by Aberdeenshire born brother and sister, Ian and Lorna Campbell, they recorded a series of pivotal albums for Transatlantic records between 1962 and 1967.
This four CD box set gathers all their Transatlantic albums. This is The Ian Campbell Folk Group, Across the Hills, Coaldust Ballads, Contemporary Campbells, New Impressions and The Circle Game with additional 45 and extra tracks. They were the first British group to record Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’ narrowly pipped to the chart post by Dylan himself and established the long running Jug of Punch Folk Club.
Concentrating on British material and with a strong three-part vocal attack and academic approach and strong individual instrumental work, they established a style that quickly became a cornerstone of the English Folk revival.
Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle work shines as both an adroit accompanist or solo while Ian and Lorna Campell’s distinctively strong voices stand out on solos and group tracks also as does their adroit choice of traditional and contemporary source material whether on the strident One Eyed Reilly or the poignant Highland Widows Lament.
Songs from Ireland, Scotland, England and the US dominate but also material from Europe appears too subtly intertwined. Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle and mandolin work is sparklingly vibrant offering potent back up to the vocal attack while John Dunkerley’s banjo, melodica and guitar backup is gently supportive.
This lavishly produced 4 CD set complete with a 36-page background booklet highlights the consistency and artistic quality combined with astute arrangements that characterised The Ian Campbell Folk Group, surely time for a rediscovery of the pioneering work of this pivotal British Folk institution.
John O’Regan