Releases > Releases December 2015

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The Lower Road
Own Label
10 Tracks, 37 Minutes

More and more players are combining banjo with tenor guitar in Irish music, and indeed there’s a move away from the bouzouki to the tenor guitar as an accompanying instrument too. Leading guitarist and banjo man Meehan seems to have ignored this route, though, preferring DADGAD tuning on a six–string. Paul is still able to switch from the percussive banjo notes of rapid–fire reels and jigs to the gentler guitar tone required for waltzes and other slow pieces. He also turns his hand to reels on the guitar, Gaughan style, with no need to cut a couple of strings. As well as the guitars and banjos, guest musicians pepper this CD with percussion, button accordion, harmonium, and even a bit of flute on a French waltz.

Originally from the Manchester Irish community, Paul has done the rounds with Northern Irish bands At First Light and Buille, and more recently with Lúnasa. His accompaniment style is well–respected, and we’ve heard some melody lines from him over the years, but this is the first time he’s fronted a whole album of tunes. Traditional Irish jigs and reels, hornpipes and marches, are joined by an eclectic selection of old and new music. The Lower Road finishes with a distinctly jazzy composition of Paul’s own, Sheila on the Segway, which is great fun. There’s also a driving low version of Molly Ban, a punchy little Breton set, and an up-tempo take on O’Sullivan’s March. This is a very fine solo recording.

Alex Monaghan

Own Label, 13 Tracks, 69 Minutes

There’s a raw heartbeat of musicality that pulsates from the depths of the soul in this album. Produced by the stellar line–up that calls itself Ré (meaning era and moon). The music of Liam Ó Maonlaí, Peter O’Toole, Eithne Ní Chatháin, Cormac Begley and Maitiú Ó Casaide began from the theatrical masterpiece that was Rian; “where the vision was to honour the heritage of the culture, in a way that the creative impulses aligned with that of Seán Ó Riada’s.” (Liam’s words) From a theatre performance the band moved to the musical stage and Ré recorded this purely live album with Jack Talty at St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church in Galway as part of the successful Tunes in the Church series.

What you get is a quality of production that puts you firmly in the heart of the live audience. Here is the resonance of reflectiveness and the poignancy of the plaintive as Ó Maonlaí projects the lyrics of As I Roved Out with a prominent edge, then there is a haunting piano background to Eithne’s rendition of Lough Erne Shore both take you on a journey into a musical mind space, it is melodic escapism. The remaining three songs are all standouts and what’s more they were each composed by a different band member; namely Peter, Eithne and Liam. The consistent concept that runs through each is that of a hypnotic draw, compelling you to listen and connect with the emotion of the singers.

The instrumental on Ré can only be described as quality. The Rainy Day set of reels is introduced with Maitiú on full flow on the pipes, A captive fiddle takes precedence the hypnotic slow air, Beauty Deas an Óileáin before being joined by a subtle piano, concertina and whistle. This moves into the upbeat rhythm of the Port na Deoraí jig which captivates on many levels with layers of arrangements interspersed with a unison of lilting voices. The bonus is in the final track though. It’s described on the sleeve as a set of reels but there is a hidden extra. I won’t tell you here but you’ll certainly enjoy it.

Ré brings you into the heart of the live performance, the heart of the music as it’s played and deep into the heart of the very vision that Ó Maonlaí set out to create; they have most definitely honoured their cultural heritage and more.

Eileen McCabe


Beg and Borrow

Sharing Music Shared by the Scottish and Irish Traditions

18 Tracks, 70 Minutes, Temple Records COMCD2107

On this album the Battlefield band explore the musical connection between Scotland and Ireland, separated by only12 miles of sea at its closest they are joined here by a dozen guests to bridge the musical gaps. Six from Scotland and six from Ireland join the Batties, who already have an Irishman in singer Sean O’Donnell from Derry on board.

The Battlefield Band are: Mike Katz (highland and small pipes, whistles, bass, guitar, vocals) Alasdair White (fiddle, whistle, bouzouki, vocals) & Sean O’Donnell (guitar, vocals). Their and guests are Christine Primrose (Gaelic Song), Alison Kinnaird (Scottish Harp & Cello), Jim Kilpatrick (Snare & Bass Drums), John Martin (Fiddle), Mike Whellans (Harmonica/Moothie), Nuala Kennedy (Gaelic Song & Flute), Leo McCann (Melodeon), Aaron Jones (Vocals & Bouzouki), Barry Gray (Highland Bagpipe), Robin Morton (Vocals, Bodhran) Don Meade (Harmonica) & Tony DeMarco (Fiddle).

The opening track has an Irish feel to it’s central section with guest Leo McCann playing his accordion, it starts with highland pipes blasting out The Five Mile Chase, the selection also includes the Cameronian Reel, The Black Haired Lass and Miss Girdle, This is a full on festival sound with chopped guitar chords and a long pipe note to finish. In contrast the Drunken Man’s Frolic is a laid back fiddle and banjo piece with the addition of a sweet sounding small pipes on this set which comes from Goodman’s Tunes of the Munster Pipers.

Songs are an integral part of the tradition and O’Donnell brings us his version of the Blantyre Explosion which closes with a Gaelic verse from Christine Primrose. Aaron Jones adds One Night in My Youth, the Old Blind Dogs bouzouki player giving a fine rendition. The lyrics were written by Robert Tannahill to the Irish tune The Lass Who Wore the Green, Tannahill by the way who also penned The Braes of Balquidder which morphed into Will Ye Go Lassie Go in 1950’s Belfast.

Don Meade and Mike Whellans add mouth organ. Mike to the march McCarthy’s Quickstep and the reel The Drunken Piper. Don Meade counts 1,2, and 3; as he introduces the Whole Chicken In The Soup a Sliabh Luachra variant of the Ulster comic song Maggie Pickens.

The album closes with the Batties on high form with Dominic Behan’s song The Mickey Dam about a Clare exile in Scotland working on a Glasgow reservoir project. It includes the weft of the Scottish tunes the The Haughs of Cromdale and The Glasgow Hornpipe woven into its plaid to form a seamless tapestry. You may recognise the Haughs of Cromdale as the tune Tralee Gaol.

So there you have it, don’t think of those twelve wet miles as a barrier, they are a punctuation for two musical traditions that have been crossing back and forth for at least 300 years.

Seán Laffey


Sibling Revelry

Old Bridge Music

19 Tracks, 53 Minutes

The Casey sisters are Nollaig, Máire and Mairéad, and a formidable combination they make. For this album they went to Chris Newman’s studio in Ilkley, Yorkshire, and they had Arty McGlynn for company on guitar. Máire’s partner, Chris Newman, a giant of the acoustic guitar scene in the UK produced the album and like everything from the Old Bridge studio it has quality stamped all over it.

It’s a thing well–understood, but seldom mentioned, that Munster, except for the mountainy bits, was never as badly off as other parts of Ireland: there was a history of prosperity there, which attracted visitors/ invaders. It shows even today when a town like Bandon has a festival celebrating its lineage as a 17th century walled citadel and a bastion of colonisation. And there’s a look backwards to the dances of that time, with a dance composed by Máire and Nollaig, the Earl of Cork’s Allemand (a German dance).

The album opens with a swaggering hornpipe the humours of Castle Bernard, which the sisters had from O’Neill’s they pair that with a tune from the even older Ryan’s Mammoth Collection; the reel from Shore to Shore this has a Cape Breton twist to it. The tune Katherine O’More is from Carolan and is a call answer between fiddle and harp, the tune is of course gorgeous, did Carolan write anything else but memorable melodies?

For a new tune look no further than Connamara, not really new as it is over 200 years old, having lain silent in the Bunting Collection in Belfast until the Casey Sisters breathed music. The low whistle from Mairéad here is gently allowed to nestle between the comforting blankets of harp and fiddle.

Patronage in Gaelic Ireland was key to creativity, sure it kept Carolan in whiskey and his donkey in oats, today’s sponsorship maybe corporate so kudos to Bandon Festival for commissioning the Bandon Bridge Suite and the Casey sisters for collaborating on the making of this musical set.

The album is full of local references, including a charming song An Dhroimeann Donn Dilis with Mairéad taking the lead vocal over a simple harp accompaniment., before Nollaig’s fuidle completes the picture with a plaintive lament.

We have tunes from Carolan, the Goodman collection and other outposts. But this is a illustration of how the music resumes a direction it once had before it encountered near fatal obstructions. It may prove quite prophetic.

John Brophy



Own Label MLCD001

18 Tracks, 62 Minutes

We’re not always aware of it, but one the reasons why we go to sessions is to hear a plenitude of musicians play together in real time. So often on CD the tracks have been assembled from disparate parts that you could hear the answer; “Is that a double jig?” “No, sir, that’s a Frankenstein.” It takes a great deal of expertise, musical intelligence and good taste to make the studio assemblage sound like a spontaneous session.

Mark has been on the scene for about 40 years, and he has a wide circle of friends many of them fleadh champions, who were willing to contribute to this anthology. The list starts with his own wife, Mary Rowsome (now there’s a name to respect), and son Mark Óg, she’s on Boehm flute and he’s on pipes.

Mark is an accompanist who shows taste and restraint, his work is both varied and measured, and if you are at any way inclined to back an Irish tune this as good a CD to own for inspiration as any other. Firstly he can and does play tunes, his guitar intro to the Monaghan Jig has a defined beat that would keep dancers happy. Here he allows the sound to build as the pipes take control, the volume of the guitar doesn’t fade but Mark has the skill to let you imagine it is just underneath the melody, before he steps in again with a guitar melody on the closing Pipe on the Hob. Likewise on The Laurel Tree, he plays a deft Joe Foley bouzouki as a counterpoint to Treasa Lavin’s whistle. Like a painter who has the knack of selecting and mixing the right colours without muddying the canvass Lysaght adds a Spanish guitar a set of Polkas from Breanndan Ó Beaglaioch, the playing here is inspired, the common approach would be to follow Steve Cooney, but Mark show he is his own man with the right amount of push without taking over the driving duties from the accordion,

What’s evident here is the care in the selection of the backing instruments, bouzouki and guitars, both nylon–string and steel, or all three as the occasion demands. It’s well repaid in a collection that’s as cosy and at home as a warm fireside and left this reviewer warming to Lysaghts skill and dedication.

John Brophy


Best of Mrs Bruce’s Boys

Greentrax Records, CDTRAX385, 2015

16 Tracks, 69 Minutes

For those in the UK and Ireland this is not a play on a well–known comedy series. The Bruce boys already used a title called Mrs Bruce’s Boys decades ago. That gives us an idea of the retro value of this CD. The duo were packing in audiences as far back as the 1980’s where the publicity tells us they appeared on the main stage of no less than fourteen music festivals in a single year.

Back in those now far off days the brothers went separate ways with Ian continuing in music and having a great career while Fraser decided to go into business.

Now to the delight of older fans and to bring the new generation a taste of some great folk songs they have reunited to produce a compilation of music including ten remastered tracks with five re–recorded and a brand new previously unreleased item. Yes that gives us an album of 16 tracks and although it seemed to start a bit slowly by the third track I was hooked.

A number of the tracks are live recordings and as such pack a great deal of atmosphere into the songs such as the perennial A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday and The Hills of Isle Au Haut.

The duo bring us that wonderful mix of the sad and the humorous in a well produced album and who could ignore tracks like Can Ye Sew Cushions?. I will leave you to find out the answer when you buy this CD.

It was great hearing Richard Thompson’s Down Where the Drunkards Roll and a blast from the past in Cyril Tawney’s The Grey Funnel Line that I first enjoyed some decades ago. I really enjoyed Pete St John’s tribute to old Dublin titles Ring a Ring a Rosie here but you know what it is.

The album closes with the new release White Flower a beautiful anti–war song reminiscent of the best of folk but I bet that any who listen to this CD will be seeking out the earlier albums of the brothers as well as Ian’s solo works.

Nicky Rossiter


What Next
Own Label
11 Tracks, 46 Minutes

An all–star quartet alright, with members of Afterhours, Toss the Feathers, 4 Men and a Dog, and the Accordion Samurai, this new band is old indeed in individual experience. With an even split of songs and tunes, What Next is much more vocal–heavy than most CDs I review, but it’s worth it – for two reasons. Firstly, the songs are actually pretty good. And secondly, the instrumentals are outstanding.

Alan Burke sings a range of numbers from the almost contemporary to the firmly traditional. Pretty Fair Maid is a stateside variant of the English love token ballad, and is my least favourite track here, but you can’t deny the energy and drive in this arrangement. Will Jobling is a gruesome Durham mining tale, pulling no punches, not for the faint–hearted. The band’s namesake track is a Planxty classic, expertly delivered, and followed up with two well–known songs in Irish. Alan also sings his own If Mama Ain’t Happy, close to contemporary country. The arrangements by Gino Lupari, Sean Regan and David Munnelly are fresh and engaging, with strong backing vocals which wisely exclude the bullet from Belmullet.

All five instrumental tracks are original compositions, shared by Munnelly and Regan, and they range from funky reels to a romantic waltz. Grange Road is a thumping set of fast–paced four–fours, rollicking rather than rambling. The album title track starts slow and builds into a Balkan horo, not one of the usual ones, with delicate box and fiddle, and world–class clapping from Gino. Dave leads Voor Roos, a lovely melody which could mean many things but I’m guessing it’s Dutch for “For Rose”. Wosky’s is a fiddle showcase, with a strong box bass line, and What Next finishes with another pair of reels tightly played with rhythmic guitar and bodhrán behind the box and fiddle.

Give it a listen online – I reckon you’ll be hooked.

Alex Monaghan


A Tribute in Music & Song to John Bellany

Greentrax Records, CDTRAX386, 2015

19 Tracks, 73 Minutes

John Bellany was an accomplished artist whose family had always been associated with the sea and fishing. His work reflected that ancestry to great effect. He also had an interest in the music of his native land and had a band called The Blue Bonnets in his early years.

This album of 19 tracks is compiled and released as a tribute to him and we lovers of Scottish music reap an extra benefit in obtaining a diverse collection of works and performers. Having said that it opens not with a traditional Scottish air but rather with Henry Mancini’s Moon River. It soon gets to the meat with Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham providing a very distinctive rendition of Bonaparte’s Retreat followed by Davy Steele with Coolbeg bidding Farewell to the Haven that wonderful song that has the listener almost feeling the salt air against their skin. Hamish Moore performs John Bellany of Port Seton bringing the album to a personal note and this is repeated on the track The Reel John Bellany while The John Bellany Day Centre Folk join Alex Hodgson on The Boatie Rows. Like all the best compilations we get a mixture of old and new. The better–known tracks are performed by The Corries The Road to Dundee, Ae Fond Kiss by Gill Bowman and The Shoals of Herring by Rod Peterson and Coolbeg.

One stand out track is by the great Calum Kennedy and it is Dark Lochnagar. Once again the listener gets a bargain from Greentrax while helping to build a wonderful library of Scottish Folk music and song.

Nicky Rossiter


Own Label AMGCD001
14 Tracks, 50 Minutes

Originally a Cavan man but a long time resident of County Meath, Antóin is also known by his anglicized name of Tony Smith, and has titled his long overdue solo debut accordingly. I’ll start at the end for a change, as the slow air When Days End is Done illustrates many of Antóin’s exceptional qualities. His own composition, for a family friend who died tragically young, this melody is beautiful but simple, nothing too fancy. The fiddle tone is pure and bright, and the ornamentation is carefully chosen. Antóin’s musical generosity is well–known at fleadhs and sessions, and he opens his house regularly to musicians from near and far: the idea of writing and recording a tribute to a lost friend is fully in keeping with his character. A great supporter of the tradition, this fiddler is also happy to experiment here: The Last Train from Loughrea is a descriptive jig with percussion effects by Aimee Farrell. The other twelve tracks are straight fiddle with piano accompaniment from Charlie Lennon, a fiddler’s pianist if ever there was one.

A trio of Reavy reels is preceded by three tracks featuring tunes by or for Tony’s tuneful daughters. Before those comes a version of Down the Broom as a jig and a reel, learnt from Tyrone fiddlers.

There’s always more to learn, and Antóin MacGabhann has learnt from several generations of fiddlers, from Sean McGuire’s father to PJ Hayes’ son Martin. Among many fine tunes on this CD, I was struck by My Love is Fair and Handsome, Paddy Gone to France, The Thrush in the Storm, Corny’s Glendart which seems to be based on the classic Planxty jig, and this version of The Green Fields of America. Antóin’s tempo is never hurried – in fact I found it just a little slow in places – and his touch is clean and confident.

Charlie Lennon’s piano strikes the right balance between supporting and supplementing the tunes, adding lift and filling the spaces which should be filled. The opening reel is another of Tony’s own crafting, to mark the first Céilí House broadcast of 2000: I was privileged to be there at the recording, traditionally made at the MacGabhann house in the first week of January, with a host of excellent musicians. Antóin follows his Millenium Céilíhouse Reel with Coleman’s Cross, but you know,
I think Coleman would actually be very pleased by Tunesmith.

Alex Monaghan


Curlicue, Waulk Records

12 Tracks, 49 Minutes

This is a brightly interwoven debut album that showcases the instrumental abilities of the duo of Freya Rae and Lois Bingham. Freya is an eclectic wind instrumentalist who combines her talents on flute, whistles and clarinet to produce an intriguingly diverse instrumental sound while Louis concentrates on strings, utilising the guitar, banjo and bouzouki along with a touch of percussive bodhrán. The diversity with both is in the styles they emulate and the instrumental use of application within.

Take the Treujenn Gaol set which actually translates from Breton to ‘cabbage stalk’ which Freya states on the sleeve, is a term used to describe the shape of the clarinet. The clarinet is interwoven with the flute on the melody serving up a hypnotic interchange with a delicate string line adding even more depth to the haunting natural rhythm of the piece. I love Lanton Road which is both structured and distinctive with heavy emphasis on the treatment of each note that swiftly changes to a driving flow as they burst into Ed Reavey’s The Shoemaker’s Daughter before breaking into a fantastic rendition of Frankie Gavin’s Alice’s Reel. Call to the Dance is both haunting and hypnotic as the clarinet draws out a slow version of the dance tune Rond de Loudéac which slowly gains speed and sway as it entices the movement of the dance.

There’s a beautiful waltz written by Freya’s dad Paul who also anchors the tune with the tambura allowing Freya herself the freedom of creativity on the flute as it dips high and low with a freeing flow and a special mention has to go to the string solo of Louis on Farewell Monty as delicate definition is combined with a harmonic drone layer to fantastic effect.

For both the instrumental and style diversity and the quality of performance within: It’s a debut album that will captivate from start to finish.

Eileen McCabe


The Master’s Return, Own Label ER19,
13 Tracks, 38 Minutes

Subtitled “a tribute to Paddy Killoran”, this album is a little shorter than most but contains a higher than average number of notes because of the lively tempo of every track. Killoran’s style was indeed a quick one, perhaps a little less formal than his contemporaries Coleman and Morrison, and those three recorded a body of music which has informed the Irish tradition ever since. The Master’s Return has much of that 1930’s New York sound, including some snippets of Killoran’s original 78rpm records. It’s not just the tempo, maybe dictated at least in part by the limited duration of early recordings: this music has the brash showmanship of working fiddlers, the soaring three–octave range of the old Sligo repertoire, and many familiar tunes which have slipped from the session and céilí scene in the last generation or two. It also has space for a lot more than just reels – fully eight of these thirteen tracks are not reels at all. No slow tunes, though! When I started playing in Dublin sessions in the early 1990’s, you would not have heard jigs such as The Blackthorn Stick, The Tenpenny Bit or Haste to the Wedding, and certainly not the hornpipe Harvest Home. Yet they are all here, recorded by Killoran and passed down to every generation since. At this speed, and in these hands, even a simple tune can be magical.

Polkas such as Memories of Ballymote, reels such as On the Road to Lurgan and The Sligo Maid’s Lament (was it originally called this?), and even the humble barndance – all are swept up by the fiddlers’ energy and drive. Frankie Gavin’s fiddling needs no introduction from me, and Malachy Bourke is a star pupil of his. Malachy’s father Brian batters the auld drum with discernment, leaving the twin fiddles to soar and plunge, leap and twist around the tunes. Precision is not the aim here – at least I hope not – for this CD is a crucible where the essence of the music melts and flows, an anvil where it is beaten and shaped, a whetstone where these players put an edge on it that can cut through turf briquettes.

If it’s authenticity you’re after, look no further than The Master’s Return.

Alex Monaghan