Releases > Releases August 2021

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I Am Of Ireland - Yeats In Song
Merrow Records, Raymond Driver Music (BMI), 24 Tracks, 70 Minutes
“The history of a nation is not in parliaments and battlefields, but in what the people say to each other on fair-days and high days, and in how they farm, and quarrel, and go on pilgrimage.” And as we know, on such occasions they sing their songs, something William Butler Yeats fully understood. A collection of 24 poems by Yeats, set to new music by Raymond Driver, features more than 30 “Celtic and folk-music artists”.
When he was a young boy of about eight or nine, Raymond’s father gave him a book with the Yeats poem Down by the Sally Gardens that he found enchanting. The poet himself said it was as “an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old woman in the village of Ballysodare, Sligo.” When Raymond had grown to manhood and was out walking one day reciting to himself Yeats’s He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, suddenly a melody for it came to him out of nowhere. Eventually, Raymond set over a hundred Yeats poems to music.
In early 2019, music producer Paul Marsteller discussed with Raymond the idea of “creating a various artists Celtic adaptation” of his Yeats songs. It has been over two years in the making, with 32 artists across three continents working remotely through the pandemic. The album is a triumph of collaboration, with singers that include “some of Celtic and folk music’s most distinctive voices”: Cathy Jordan, John Doyle, Christine Collister , Eleanor Shanley, Seamie O’Dowd, Dave Curley, Mick McAuley, Fergal McAloon, Ashley Davis, Jackie Oates, and newcomer Bríd O’Riordan, a traditional singer from West Cork.
Instrumentalists include renowned fiddle player Kevin Burke, cellist Natalie Haas, fiddler Dana Lyn, harp player Cormac De Barra, guitarist Niall Hanna, pipers Mick O’Brien and Leonard Barry, and three members of Lúnasa: Cillian Vallelly, Trevor Hutchinson, and Colin Farrell.
Dare I say it? With Yeats in Song and this Marsteller cast, there’s a happy coming together of the best in song, poetry and music. And there’s more: as well as the songs that include Fiddler of Dooney, Lake Isle of Innisfree and The Wild Swans at Coole, there’s a 16-page booklet with notes and words and you can read those online by visiting the website.. Happy listening.
Aidan O’Hara

Own Label, 6 Tracks, 22 Minutes
Ciarán Cooney is an Offaly native now living in Glasgow. He may be a familiar name to our American readers, having toured in the States with Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones, and he was a resident performer at The Raglan Road Pub at Disney World in Orlando.
Ciarán has an authentic Irish folk voice, backed here by a top class team of Benedict Morris (fiddle), Ryan Cavanaugh (banjo), Ali Levack (whistles), Anthony Davis (bass, keys and percussion) and Kieran Leonard (bodhrán).
The Mickey Dam, is the first of the 5 tracks; Ciarán takes it over and totally inhabits its narrative. The band adding a delicious coda as they turn up the tempo on the melody. Then there’s The Lakes of Pontchartrain, beginning simply with Ciarán’s voice and his guitar, an instrumental break takes the tune to another level. This is one of those songs you wish would never end, one I ran on continuous repeat, this version is that good.
Ireland’s Green Shore starts with the gentle interplay of banjo and whistle, before Ciarán’s voice comes in. There’s a wee slice of reverb on this track, the style is close to that of Jarlath Henderson or Damien O’Kane, and yes Ciarán is in that same premier league of singers.
The band have great fun with Tipping it Up to Nancy, fiddle and low whistles taking the lead on the instrumental interludes. This is one of the freshest versions of this well known song I’ve heard in years.
The last track on the EP is a pair of original tunes from Ciarán, First Fall of Winter and the Kirky Dance; they are a toe-tapping ending to a very listenable debut. When the lockdown lifts go see Ciarán and his band live. I’d queue in the snow for a musical vaccine as potent as this.
Seán Laffey

Casadh na nAmhrán - Turning The Song
Phaedrus Records Phaedrus 004, 14 Tracks, 63 Minutes
One of the perks of getting to write about the recordings we receive is the privilege of hearing talented musicians and singers of great ability and musicality. Then, on occasion, one is in receipt of an album that is absolutely complete and captivating and hugely satisfying. Such is the case with Casadh na nAmhrán / Turning the Song, songs in Irish sung by Fran O’Rourke accompanied by the internationally renowned Irish guitarist John Feeley.
An essential in the production of any album of song recordings is that the background notes are comprehensive and the song words are supplied. That’s what makes this a recording of high production values. I enjoy Fran’s singing very much and he has that inestimable quality, the sine qua non of singing, which is to express through voice and words and delivery the essence and meaning of the song simply and effectively for the listener.
This he does in a selection of what to me are some of the best-loved and indeed favourite songs from the Irish language song tradition. They include Art Mac Cumhaigh’s aisling Úirchill an Chreagáin, Aindrias Mac Craith’s Slán le Máigh, and the traditional song, Jimmymo Mhíle Stór. Other appealing features of the album are Fran’s scholarly notes and exquisite song translations that make this my recording of the year. An extra quality in Fran’s singing is his honest feeling for the song and an obvious pleasure in sharing it with the listener. Mind you, having the magic of a Feeley accompaniment adds hugely to the whole presentation.
John’s doctorate is in music, Fran’s in philosophy, but when not engaged in serious academic matters, music recording and concert presentations nationally and internationally are what they like to do at every opportunity. Fran is a James Joyce scholar and with John - who plays the restored Joyce guitar - has recorded Irish traditional songs from the writings of the great writer. Recently, John has accompanied Eleanor Shanley in her Cancion de Amor album.
There is one more thing. Peadar Ó Doirnín’s poem, the 200-year-old Mná na hÉireann (track1) sung to Seán Ó Riada’s haunting air, Fran describes as “the most politically incorrect song of its time”. You will surely be intrigued when he adds: “As a courtesy to delicate ears two verses are omitted in the opening track; the final track has the leagan iomlán (the complete version).” Unexpurgated, I suppose one could say!
Aidan O’Hara

Own Label STARAN 01CD, 9 Tracks, 39 Minutes
A young band and an unusual line-up for a Scottish folk group, Staran deploy guitars, bass, mandolin, keyboards and percussion - plus a fiddler and a vocalist. Their sound is a long way from the country or classical pop world usually associated with these instruments - many tracks consist of intricate piano and guitar lines from John Lowrie and Innes White, and strong melodies are struck on fiddle by Jack Smedley. The singing lead falls to Kim Carnie, three Gaelic songs and one in English. If any or all of these names are new to you, prepare to see them a lot more in future, with Staran or with other groups, because these are definitely some of the stars of the next wave of Scottish musicians. Trusty bassist James Lindsay gets a bit more freedom than usual, and is joined by his Breabach buddy Megan Henderson on guest vocals, both relative oldtimers now - a scary thought!
Enough about the people - how’s the sound? Staran open with a traditional Gaelic song which I think translates roughly as Two Hands on the Pipes and is sweetly arranged and sung. An instrumental track follows, a couple of the band’s own compositions: Smedley’s Deichead made me prick up my ears, as Joe Orton would have said, a fine driving fiddle tune written for someone unspecified. Another gentle Gaelic number brings us to two impressive instrumentals, Lowrie’s flowing Einbeck and the thumping Casino by Hallu Kella, another highlight.
Mandolin and piano introduce the rippling Little Waves, also from John Lowrie who sparked the formation of Staran. The traditional Gaol a’Chruidh is probably my favourite song here, one of those heart-tugging West Highland melodies arranged in multiple layers with a strong slow beat, to sway to at future festivals I hope! Balcarres is another band original, slow to build but bouncy at the end, reminding me of a late night walk home as the distant lights grow and reflect off the puddles. Staran end on a song by Kim, English lyrics, and finally that Country & Western line-up comes into its own with nods to Tammy Wynette and maybe Garth Brooks.
This is a pleasant and quite gentle debut, with plenty of places where the energy could be pumped up; let’s see how Staran handle it live.
Alex Monaghan

Highfield Suite
Cauldron Music, 8 Tracks, 26 Minutes
One of my old professors used to say the key to engaging writing is to leave room for the reader’s imagination and that is exactly what singer songwriter Michael does for the listener on this stunning debut album. His songs are neither polemic or didactic, yet we can read all sorts of things into them. This is clever adult imaginative song writing, open to our points of view as much as his, and as our perspectives may change, his songs remain fresh on each listening. That’s a difficult thing to achieve; it’s a craft skill of the highest order.
Michael has a voice from the same mother lode as Peter Nardini (that’s good). His guitar playing, on a nylon strung Spanish guitar, is supple with the bass strings warming the tone of each song (that’s good again), and the nine guest musicians play sensitively behind Michael’s performance; they are there, but never in our faces (that’s very good). This recording from Cauldron Studios is in itself masterwork, kudos to Bill Shanley for his work here (and that again is very good).
Michael has a winning suit in his hand, he writes memorable tunes, his songs are intriguing, compelling and singable, he inhabits a vocal range that is right on the sweet spot of listening, and there’s that ever present luscious guitar.
The opening song I’m Not Myself Today reflects a key concern of modern times. Where living in the moment is so important, but what if we are having a really bad hair day? Michael’s request is that you understand we’ll not always be like this.
Highfield Suite is the second track, a slice of Americana with a pedal steel guitar, the words flow effortlessly yet the chorus is a simple one-line affirmation, and “Time won’t change me at all.”
The big number with the backing musicians making their presence really felt is Isle Of May a co-write with Lewis Archibald. The album closes with I Hear Their Voices In The Attic, with its opening of a guitar over the top of a choir, a song that just might be about paranoia, it’s also darkly funny and is a perceptive observation on the human condition in 2021. McGovern’s writing is so clever it will be true for all time; this is without a doubt a five star album, congratulations to everyone involved.
Seán Laffey

Pili-Pala, 13 Tracks, 46 Minutes
They say in Wales the Dragon has two tongues. Bethan Nia is fluent in both, this album is a mixture of traditional Welsh songs and her own compositions in English. Contrasting languages and contrasting styles, the Welsh numbers are rooted in older rhythms, her original songs are 21st century. And yet those old Welsh songs have been given a fresh lick of paint, with beats and loops and fiddles and the crwth bringing ancient airs to a modern audience. What Bethan Nia is doing with Welsh music is similar to the impact Moya Brennan had on Gaelic song in the 1980s, modernising with respect.
Ffiniau means borders, the places where languages, social classes and ethnic groups meet each other, and historically those borders have been barriers not points of interchange. This is the case in the song Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (Watching the White Wheat). It is well known in Wales, having been covered by many artists over the years, based on a true story of unrequited love of a farm labourer for the young heiress of the big house. Like all good folk songs things don’t end well, and they didn’t back in the 1740s when the real events took place.
There’s a wealth of social and historical research behind many of the songs on this album, for example the song of parted lovers Ym Mhontypridd Mae ‘Nghariad was first collected in 1858. Her own songs such as Outside, Winter and Between Land and Sea share a haunting ethereal quality; the lyrics of Outside are themselves mysterious, conceptually poetic, asking us to imagine where the fundamental truth lies behind the emotive phrases.
The instrumental Ty Fy Nhad / Diferion y Gerwyn was recorded in that very Welsh institution, the tea shop, two gentle tunes playing over the background hub-bub of friendly conversations. Whereas Kannanaskis is built on a mesmerising repeated phrase on the harp. The album closes on an English language song, Between The Lines; like the album it’s about the space between our worlds. It will surely resonate with Celtic music fans that have a gra for magical spaces.
This just might be the international Celtic music breakthrough Wales deserves.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 14 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Toronto’s Old Man Flanagan’s Ghost is both a musically accomplished recording band and a good time live act. This new album Live was recorded last autumn. Singer/guitarist/writer Steve Lamb recalled, “It was a lovely fall day on September 12th, 2020, in a backyard in Toronto: The band had come together safely outdoors for the first time in 6 months to do a live-stream event…but as the pandemic continued its course, and after we heard the audio from the recording, it seemed like an opportunity to bring people a new album that provides a sense of a live show.” Materially the selection reads like a standard repertoire of a successful bar band with The Black Velvet Band, Irish Rover, Drunken Sailor and Molly Malone all making an appearance.
What sets them apart here is how those old songs are treated. Old Man Flanagan’s Ghost is a band that attacks their material with a reverential amusement, they belt out the songs whilst embellishing them with subtle arrangements. The overall effect is to make melodic enthusiastic abandon. The two instrumental sets, Fishers Hornpipe with its changing tempos and a Danny Boy Set that goes from slow air to all out dynamism, highlights the ensemble’s panache.
Steve Lamb is a quality front man with a supple yet strong voice that ascends above the backing, imbuing the lyrics with a fresh joie de vivre and a spirit of adventure. The result is that Old Man Flanangan’s Ghost Live is a rousingly striking set, which abounds in righteous fervour. That must have been some backyard party..
John O’Regan

Own Label, 10 Tracks, 41 Minutes
What do you get if you leave a multi-instrumentalist in a museum for a year? This album. Joe Danks was musician in resident at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, in 2018. Sponsored as part of the EFDSS Musicians in Museums project. Danks was exposed to thousands of artefacts and historic documents from Britain’s maritime past. He used the time to create new music, inspired by the priceless collection.
Yet it was poems by John Masefield from which Danks crafted the first piece of alt-folk on this eclectic CD. His Sea Fever adopts the famous Masefield line as its chorus: ‘I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.’
Joe assembled a very capable crew to flesh out his vision; Sarah Matthews (fiddle, viola, vocals), Danny Pedler (accordion, hurdy gurdy), Jean Kelly (lever harp) and Simon Harmer (step dance).
The second track opens with Joe’s bodhrán and the sound of Harmer’s feet tapping as it warms up to a quadrille played on the melodeon. Danks sings Southward, unaccompanied, enriched by the acoustics of the Museum’s stairwell. It tells of the Steam Yacht Morning, which sailed to the Antarctic. Another song with a Polar connection is Hussey’s John Peel, a Cumbrian hunting song that was played on the banjo during Shackleton’s voyages to the south and in this version references Shakleton’s crew mates.
Jumbo is a complex and multi-layered piece of music, a dark disturbing composition based on the true story of the shipping of an elephant from London to Barnum’s Circus in New York. Exploration and commerce were two of the three legs of the British colonial maritime adventure, all of which were made possible by gun boat diplomacy, so given the contents and context of the museum it is understandable that Danks includes Man of War, a ballad about the death of Nelson, a gentle song, which eschews any jingoism. Danks tells it as a 21st century reflection on the import of the battle of Trafalgar.
I’m sure there will be thousands of people in Ireland who will know the last track on Seaspeak. Ewan MacColl’s Sweet Thames Flow Softy, famously covered by Christy Moore, a bitter-sweet romance on the Thames dockside, with love lost on the ebbing tide.
Joe Danks’ sabbatical in the museum has given us food for thought, some memorable songs and a new way into writing creatively within the contemporary folk idiom. A project that is well worth mirroring in Ireland.
Seán Laffey

Mór Mo Mholadh – Great Is My Praise! A Selection of Songs, Recitations & Tunes
Howth SingingCircle
DAOC001, 16 Tracks, 57 Minutes
There is nothing to beat an assembly of people engaged in a launch of a CD and enjoying the music and song that celebrates the occasion. Covid-19 put the kybosh on carrying out such events, and people have recourse to the only alternative - an online launch. That was the case on 20 May 2021 when members of the Howth Singing Circle (HCS) and friends launched Diarmuid Ó Cathasaigh’s CD, Mór Mo MholadhGreat Is My Praise! A Selection of Songs, Recitations & Tunes.
Following Diarmuid’s death on 14 November 2020, his beloved wife Áine and his sister Mary decided to publish a recording Diarmuid had made in 2009. They received help and support for the project from the Howth Singing Circle of which Diarmuid had been President. All proceeds for the CD are in aid of St. Francis Hospice and the Irish Cancer Society.
It is a quality recording of his singing in Irish and English, playing tunes and delivering recitations in his inimitable style: his songs include Ae Fond Kiss and Ar Éirinn Ní Neosfainn Cé Hí, his most beloved recitation, The Shooting of Dan McGrewA Parody; and he plays airs and tunes on the mouthorgan. A 35-page booklet compiled by Diarmuid provides fascinating detail on each track and he supplies us with background information on his life-time engagement with traditional culture and his commitment to it.
Just as Diarmuid was well served in developing his love of song from prominent figures like Nioclás Tóibín, Colm Ó Lochlainn and Seán Óg Ó Tuama, so, too, was he blessed in having such devoted friends to work on this production whom he had wished to thank. Along with his dear wife, Áine and his family they include Steve Byrne, Máire Breathnach, Séamus Brett, Máire Mhic Aogáin, Terry Quinlan, Neville Wright, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Francy Devine, Daire Ó Baoill and Ann Riordan.
Aidan O’Hara

Den Langrfingrede
Go Danish, GOD 621, 10 Tracks, 40 Minutes
Svøbsk is the name of a whirling Danish dance, where the participants spin round until they are dizzy. The band Svøbsk were formed in 2004 as a duo of husband and wife Jørgen Dickmeiss and Maren Hallberg. The couple are from the small island of Funen, in Jutland, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen.
Svøbsk now expanded to a quartet features Jørgen Dickmeiss (fiddle, guitar, jaws harp and vocals), Maren Hallberg (piano accordion), Theis Langlands (piano and mouth organ) and Simon Busk (percussion).
The first set Blodmane (Blood Moon) begins on pizzicato fiddle, accordion and a high-pitched hand drum. The track fleshes out when the piano and bowed fiddle take up the staccato melody. As a contrast the next track Nu Flyver Jeg (Now I’m Flying) features Dickmeiss on guitar and vocals, backed by harmonica.
Track six is where the titled tune appears, paired with Bramstrup, which sounds like a slow and deliberate jig. The fiddle impels the tension towards Den Lanfingrede a fast dance form, with a baroque flavour; there are quiet passages too where the tune is handed over to the piano. The following track, Nordlys (North Light) is a slower number, almost a lullaby, ending on a high drone of the fiddle. Snowville is a rhythmic excursion from the jaws harp and fiddle, both travelling forward with a hypnotic intensity.
The accordion features strongly on Den Tabte Vais (The Lost Vase), think a European Gyspy band and you’ll be near the sound that they make here. The final track is a slow number, written by Simon Bask called Mofars March; what begins as a very simple tune but builds into a major piece of music as the track runs on.
Svøbsk are four virtuoso players making some magical music. With wit and courage, they show what can be done to embellish and enhance the art form, that is, once you give yourself permission to play around with it.
Seán Laffey

The Unsolicited Dance
Own Label 12 Tracks, 48 Minutes
This young Thurles based neo-folk band released Turbulence a couple of years before the lockdown. They then went off to be the resident band at Raglan Road in Disney Springs Orlando, Florida. The pandemic saw them heading home to record and release The Unsolicited Dance, which came on June 18th of 2021.
This is a huge step up from Turbulence. Clearly the band has their eye on bigger stages and festival crowds. This is music that would easily fill Semple Stadium or Fenway Park. Strangely however, the album doesn’t name the current line-up of Strings and Things, so a visit to their website is a must.
James O’Meara Ryan is one of the band’s song writers and is the lead vocalist. His singing is often coloured by a strident angst, as in the case of the title track, which is about self determination. His songs, such as My Dreams Are Not Enough are full of meanings and feelings, which will endear him to audiences across several popular music genres. Eoin Shelly too is an accomplished songwriter as he proves on the co-write of What If with James.
Indeed Strings & Things have complete control over their output. Like many young bands today they are a group of many talents, and are not simply restricted to singing and playing; for example Eoin Salmon recorded and produced the album and Eoin Shelly designed the artwork, they are the complete package.
This album shows the band taking an unwavering line towards a new kind of Celtic rock, with the banjo being an essential component. That’s thanks to Seán Mongey, from Loughmore, one of the key spots for traditional music in the Premier County. His banjo adds melodic heart to the band and boy can he rock the banjo. Eoin Shelly provides the back line on percussion with Eoin Salmon on bass guitar. The lads are joined on a number of tracks by guests who help gather that huge sound that is a hallmark of The Unsolicited Dance, Caoimhe Maher’s fiddle enhancing the song Anywhere but Down and Fionn Morrison adding pipes to the song Jig Time (about being there pronto when a friend needs a hand), and his whistle as a foil to the banjo on the opening track Fuaim Gathering.
Turbulence showed what great potential there was in the Thurles quartet. Four years on The Unsolicited Dance is a whole new ball game. As they say in Tipp, lovely hurling lads, lovely hurling.
Strings & Things are represented by Impact Promotions Ireland.
Seán Laffey

New Irish Tin Whistle Tunes Volume 2
Timezone Records TZ2155, 10 Tracks, 40 Minutes
This is an attractive package - play-along MP3 files and an ebook are included on the CD, so you have all the dots and the stories behind these two dozen tunes, as well as a whistle album. Olaf is a German composer in the Irish idiom and a very fine performer, but his compositions and style might not be what you expect: this is not the Irish music of The Dubliners or The Chieftains or even of Planxty or Paddy O’Brien. No, Sickmann’s music is more modern, more free form, more akin to the repertoire of Flook or Deiseal perhaps. Nothing wrong with that, and compositions such as Engagement in G or Summer of ‘95 are likely to prove popular at sessions and even on future albums.
These are all very approachable and whistle-friendly pieces - jigs, reels, a couple of hornpipes and a handful of slower tunes, never straying far from the key of D. Olaf Sickmann structures them into ten sets for the album, and provides his own guitar accompaniment. That’s the only area I would criticise: by modern standards this accompaniment is unimaginative and lacks variety, but then again we are supposed to be focused on the whistle so we can’t complain too much. As a whistler, Olaf plays with clarity and crisp ornamentation, not as fluid as some but certainly adept at the fancy tonguing and piping-style gracenotes. He rattles through Sean’s Reel and the ones that come after it, yet he has the delicacy and sensitivity for a waltz like When I was in Galway. Tune titles are interesting - you’ll have to read the stories (in English and in German) to understand the significance of I Know It’s Over, Sometimes TV is Great or Just Before Spring - what we might call Winter I suppose!
Alex Monaghan

Gothard Sisters Music, 12 Tracks, 44 Minutes
Dragonfly is the new album from the trio that is The Gothard Sisters. A 12-track album with a good mix of songs and tunes. Each one original, and all written and arranged by the sisters themselves.
The first track is the tune, Chasing the Sun. Immediately I thought of Coldplay. Yes, it just had that sound at the very start. But very quickly comes into the traditional genre and makes you want to dance around the sun. This is quickly followed with Solana singing Wise One. A beautiful song about the beauty of life. And then it’s a selection of tunes with Wildflower Jigs. Track 4 is the title track, Dragonfly, sung by all three sisters. There’s a beautiful sense of freedom as one listens to this song.  Another tune, Golden Thread slows down the tempo before a truly beautiful song depicting Nightfall in all its beauty. As we go into the second half of the album, Hurricane Ridge takes the pace right up and the beat changes immediately. It continues in a more upbeat mode with Shadow and Sun.
The remainder of the album is a continued mix of tunes and songs. Finishing with what is definitely my favourite, Long Road. Opening with the line, “There’s no need to know it all.” This is reflective of the entire album. One that is encouraging us to appreciate what we have and enjoy life as it is. The natural world has clearly inspired this collection of music and song. In turn that is inspiring us to appreciate the natural world around us and life in general.
Dragonfly is very much a feel-good collection of music and you can’t help but feel good on listening. The sisters have captured life in all its beauty, and they showcase it in the music.
Gráinne McCool