Releases > Releases December 2016

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String Theory
Own Label, WB3CD004, 12 Tracks, 44 Minutes
With a name like String Theory you’d expect to get a lesson in the tangible technicality of, you guessed it, strings. I’d throw that formulaic name out the window as although you do get a lesson in the prolific instrumental prowess within, more importantly you also get a sound– scape of pure, unadulterated pleasure that will lift the roof of wherever you may be listening. Enda and Fergal Scahill, Martin and David Howley are We Banjo 3 by the way.
I’ve always championed the lads in We Banjo 3 and that’s not just because of their musical talent, it’s also their musical attitude, which is to provide a thoroughly entertaining listen. Technical ability is tantamount in sets like Kentucky Grind, which epitomises their trademark sound and Fergal’s fiddle is highlighted in the first phrasing before the pace swiftly swings into a syncopation of conversational instrumentals that allows for expressive freedom. Good Time Old Time also highlights the harmonic balance from the strings which sweep from layered staccatos before lifting to a full volume flow at just the right time to dive into the Noelie McDonnell penned Happiness with David’s vocal flying through an upbeat layer of sound. On a side note, this song should be getting a daily play on the radio; nothing better to lift the spirits!
It’s not all upbeat happiness on String Theory though; Trying to Love is a song penned by David in his teenage years of unrequited love and it just shows the maturity of expression in both the creation of the lyrical imagery and the depth in its delivery on this particular track. Other vocal standouts include the version of his and Enda’s song This is Home and a stunning duet with Aoife Scott on, the Greg Brown song, Ain’t Nobody Else Like You. Instrumental standouts include Martin’s composition Green Tomato Pie which, on this set, the guys are joined by 5 string banjo extraordinaire Alison Browne. I could give mention to every tune as not one diminishes the quality in performance delivery but one emotive composition deserves a special mention; Ryan Molloy’s Crann na Beatha will grab you to the core with its sentimentality.
String Theory is more than a lesson in strings; it’s a whole school of stunning sound that will blow you away. The lads have done it again.
Eileen McCabe

Ag Fogairt An Lae
Own Label, RBC002, 15 Tracks, 46 Minutes

It’s been five years since their debut and it’s well worth the wait. With a rake of raw bar musicality within, Raw Bar Collective has produced fifteen tracks of listening gratification with Ag Fogairt An Lae. This isn’t surprising really considering the quality of musicianship in the line-up; Conal Ó Gráda’s name is synonymous with the flute and likewise for Dave Sheridan on fiddle, Benny McCarthy on box, and Colm Murphy with bodhrán and the sean nós vocal of Nell Ní Chróinín. The track layout is designed to showcase their mastery of a variety of tune types ranging from the core jigs and reels to barn dances, marches, slides and polkas with a flourish of Newfoundland singles that include Hughie Wentzells and The Trip to Boston to round off a fully encompassing trad album.
Each instrumental is a standout but the percussive glue is the bodhrán of Murphy and this is especially true on the opening set of reels, Here’la, The Magic Boomerang and Desperate Dan composed by Ó Gráda, that sets the definition for the rest of the instrumental tracks, where the undercurrent of beat allows the tunes to breathe in the flow of the melody. There are a number of tunes scattered throughout the album that have the inimitable mark of Ó Gráda, none better than the madly titled polkas Security Status Orange and The Hijacker Cat through which Sheridan’s fiddle strikes a powerful layer that is fully attuned to the enclosure of surrounding sound.
The music is complementary to the singing of Nell Ní Chróinín and vice versa. She does a wicked rendition of Turacail Pheige Bhreátha that lilts its way through the demise of a cart no less and she also evokes the beauty of Baile Mhúirne with a standout inflection and emotiveness of lyricism. With four songs throughout and the variety of instrumental that’s on display, produced and played to the highest of quality; Ag Fogairt An Lae is a solid work of traditional music, and dare I say it nicely refined from its Raw beginnings.
Eileen McCabe

Own Label, 15 Tracks, 50 Minutes
The family album to end all family albums, Na Mooneys’ eponymous release is a joy from end to end. Reels, highlands, jigs, mazurkas, marches, a fiddle air and four songs in Donegal Irish: this is the music which made Altan a worldwide favourite, the tradition of the Dohertys and the Byrnes, Tommy Peoples and Johnny Doran, and of course Francie Mooney and his family. Na Mooneys is Mairéad on fiddle and vocals, her sister Anna on whistle and vocals, their brother Gearóid on guitar, and Gearóid’s son Ciarán on fiddle. This core is extended by other family members who appear on a few tracks: Mairéad’s daughter Nia, Ciarán’s wife Caitlín Nic Gabhann, and the album’s producer Manus Lunny who surely must be a family member by now. There’s also a cameo from patriarch the late Francie Mooney who plays fiddle on the final track with the core quartet. Donegal royalty indeed, and every piece shines with their musical splendour.
Take the song Dónal na Gealaí, which features the vocals of three female Mooneys, including young Nia. The resemblance between Anna and Mairéad’s voices is uncanny, and they blend perfectly, although I’d be prepared to bet that Anna starts this song. Nia’s fine clear descant adds another dimension, and her solo verse is strong and confident. Their singing needs almost no accompaniment. A Óganaigh Óig is similarly sparse and beautiful, while Máire Mhór and A Mhuire ‘s a Rí get a full band backing. The tunes are even better: starting with a reel or hornpipe widely known in Scotland as Roxburgh Castle, the relationship with the music of Caledonia carries through the jig Rock and Wee Pickle Tow, the strathspey Moneymusk played as a highland here, and the bagpipe march Coilleach Rua na Mire which translates roughly as The Mad Ginger Eejit. The final highland Green Grow the Rushes is best known as a Robert Burns song too. In between are plenty of distinctive Donegal delights: Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie, Geaftaí Bhaile Bhuí, Mazurka Róise by Mairéad, and The Cavanman’s Daughter by Ciarán. It’s all brilliant music, masterfully played by Na Mooneys. The big question, of course, is why has it taken them so long?
Alex Monaghan


Cuisle Cheol na bPíob
Kelero Records KELEROCD161, 15 Tracks, 59 Minutes
Kevin Rowsome is the grandson of Leo, known to many as The King of the Pipers, a celebrated Dublin piper, maker and teacher of the mid twentieth century. Leo Rowsome taught many of today’s great players: Liam O’Flynn, Paddy Moloney, Joe McKenna, and the late Willie Clancy, as well as Kevin himself of course. Kevin’s style was strongly influenced by his grandfather and father. This is his second recording that I know of, and apart from three new compositions of his own, Kevin sticks to the Irish traditional repertoire. He’s playing a set of Rowsome pipes with additions by Benedict Kohler, and while they have great tone there are a few squeaks and wails here: piping in the raw, with fine driving tunes.
The first new tune we come to is the air Cuisle Ceoil an Bhlascaoid, inspired by the view from Dunquin to the Blasket Islands, powerful and pulsating. Kevin plays two more airs here, An Buachaill Caol Dubh and Cois Abhainn na Séad which is probably better known by its English name By the River of Gems, the title of a fascinating album from Dicky Deegan a few years back. Rowsome delivers plaintive versions of both, emphasising the primal sound of drones and regulators. Elsewhere he uses the regulators to great rhythmic effect – on the jig Rock of the Quilt and the final Wedding Ring Reel, for example. Those tunes come from the Goodman collection and from Ryan’s Mammoth Collection, and Kevin has unearthed tunes from sources such as the Levey collection, the O’Farrell collection, the early 19th century Amateur’s Companion, and various obscure manuscripts. Hornpipes, jigs, reels, slip–jigs and a long dance bring us to two Rowsome reels The Very Man and The Bee in the Bonnet, both worth a listen, featuring Kevin’s trademark resonator dissonances. My favourite here is Yellow Stockings, a three-part slip-jig from O’Farrell.
Cuisle Cheol na bPíob is certainly one for the piping enthusiast.
Alex Monaghan

Project West
ICA Records/Project West
10 Tracks with Bonus, 46 Minutes
Well firstly I want to know where Damien Mullane got the name The Badger who Tore off Down the Road wearing my Uncle’s Stilettos as the imagery that evokes is transfixing which is a core that runs through this debut album of Project West. Five guys and a girl who have evolved from the Young Irelanders and firmly established themselves with a beguiling musical maturity and innovative depth through their live performance, creative arrangements and seemingly spontaneously contrived composition. Mullane’s already got a mention and shines alongside Niamh Farrell, Kieran Munnelly, Stephen Markham, Seán O’ Meara and Colin Farrell with a range of instrumentals and vocal flair in this eponymous album.
The tunes are a balanced mix of established favourites alongside originals that set off at an accelerated pace, ergo with the first set Laurel Tree/Former Wife/Johnny O’Leary’s, if you need a shop window for the band here it is. Each instrument is cleverly given space to shine, each with its own layer of ingenuity before the sound subdues and Niamh stills the room with a haunting version of the exquisite Doyle/ Peterson’s Liberty’s Sweet Shore of which the instrumental backdrop sits perfectly. A standout is The Plump Pigeon which has to be heard a few times to fully appreciate the nuance behind what appears to be effortless playing and the energy and intricacy that weaves through the San Diego Brass Set with a huge wall of layered sound. A final mention is for a voice that strikes the core of the soul when singing the powerful Eileanóir Na Rún. Niamh Farrell wrings out every emotional lyric with an assured maturity to maximum effect. Minimal instrumental is required for this and that’s a highlight of this band; knowing when to utilise the silence to bring out the best of the sound.
A masterpiece of a debut. More power to Project West.
Eileen McCabe

Storm in a Teapot
Loftus Music LM008, 12 Tracks, 49 Minutes
Seven albums down, these icons of traditional fiddling are still a treat for the ears, if not for the eyes so much these days. Quebec whirlwind André Brunet has bowed out, being replaced by Scotland’s Charlie McKerron who has perhaps been neglected by hard–core fiddle fans due to his long commitment to the band Capercaillie and more recently to Session A9, but he is without doubt one of Scotland’s finest fiddlers, despite a certain lack of solo recordings.
McKerron’s compositions, on the other hand, have been very widely recorded, from The Islay Ranters to Bulgarian Red, but he doesn’t play any of them here. Instead, he sticks to traditional favourites such as The Atholl Highlanders’ March to Loch Katrine, Earl Grey, and The Marquis of Tullibardine - all with drink references as it happens. Founders Kevin Burke and Christian Lemaître, treasures of Irish and Breton music, are both still bowing and scraping for all they’re worth, and the three fiddles fit very well together.
The group’s formula is unchanged: duets and ensemble pieces, plus a solo or two each, all accompanied on guitar by Brittany’s Nicolas Quémener who also contributes the fine guitar solo Fisel – not to be confused with a G string despite their linguistic and musical similarities. From the opening Galician muñeiras, the music proceeds to Loch Leven Castle and then to Brittany for a pair of lovely slow tunes from Christian. Kevin plays three traditional Irish reels, before the slow air Cluny Castle, and then the group passes a suite of Breton dances from fiddle to fiddle. A pair of Carolan tunes is taken a little faster than expected, but this is more than compensated by the deliciously relaxed pace of three cracking reels Noctambule, Love at the Endings, and Iain MacPherson’s. The uncompromising Breton rhythms and cadences of Kas ha Barh are rocked by Lemaître, leading to the big finish on two showpieces: Cairngorm Mountain, a savage jig, and Kohler’s Hornpipe which has obscure and disputed origins but makes a fine finish to the first album from this new and promising line-up.
Alex Monaghan

Bird’s Nest
Own Label, 9 Tracks, 36 Minutes

The Fretless is out with a brand new album, Bird’s Nest. This comes as welcome news to the group’s singularly devoted following. The Fretless is Karrnnel Sawitsky fiddle, viola; Trent Freeman fiddle, viola; Ben Plotnick fiddle, viola; and Eric Wright cello. Now you know why the group is called The Fretless. Bird’s Nest contains nine tunes, all instrumental. This is not Irish music. It is Irish music. This is not traditional. It is traditional. Beyond any debate, it is wonderful music.
The Fretless is unlike anyone else. Just when you think any one of these tunes has wandered off into a more general, world music format, each cut comes roaring back to Irish music–the real deal. Our favorites are Jig of a Blood Moon, Mary’s Jigs, and Samuel’s Maids. We used to think it was best for groups if they could not be categorized. We are not so sure nowadays. If The Fretless did a purely traditional album, we are sure it would be sensational. But then, it would not be The Fretless. Make no mistake, these are four superbly gifted musicians, and all of this would be a lot easier to describe were it simply acoustic traditional. This group is impossible to pigeonhole except in one key aspect: file them under excellent music, wonderfully played, and demanding your fullest attention. We recommend this album highly. Just don’t expect a thumpin’ set of reels, jigs, polkas, and slides. It is way past that, and it is excellent. Let’s go back and repeat ourselves, something we do often. Bird’s Nest is glorious. We have listened to it straight through four times, as well as sampling it. Each listen has uncovered new treasures. Good on ya, The Fretless! Keep going a long time!
Bill Margeson

The Ultimate Guide to English Folk
ARC Music EUCD 2671, 35 Tracks, 2 Hours, 26 Minutes

The Ultimate Guide to English Folk carries on from the templates set out by ARC Music’s previous Ultimate Guide to compilation sets dealing with Spanish, Irish and Scottish folk styles. This excellent value for money 2 CD package includes 35 tracks selected and annotated by compiler John Bowden of Bellowhead fame complete with detailed liner note it is a much needed and worthwhile anthology of classic English folk material. It is broad in both its artistic achievement and its chronological span including many of the leading names in the UK folk scene both established and new.
Mostly drawn from the exhaustive Topic records vaults with remainder from own artist’s archives and canons. All the major names are covered Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, Kate Rusby, Show of Hands, The Copper Family, The Unthanks, Martin Simpson, The Watersons and newer talents like Fay Held, Jackie Oates and Leveret included. It also highlights the oft–forgotten names like Roger Wilson, Blowzabella and the late Peter Bellamy. Familiarity exists with classics like Nic Jones’s Canadee-I O, Martin Carthy’s Scarborough Fair, Martin Simpson’s Bramble Briar, June Tabor and Martin Simpson’s Heather Down the Moor and Waterson Carthy’s The Light Dragoon stand out and Sam Lee’s Bonny Bunch of Roses and Fay Held’s Green Gravel impress from the new pack.
The musical stance is primarily acoustic and traditionally based with a nod to Folk Rock in Steeleye Span’s The Weaver and The Factory Maid. While there’s no Fairport/ Sandy Denny/Pentangle present or a nod to the Renbourn/Jansch Early Music school to encompass all aspects, this is an up to date primer. A lovely closing snatch of Joseph Taylor’s Murder of Maria Marten retains a sense of circularity. The Ultimate Guide to English Folk salutes a living tradition with respect, poise and gratitude.
John O’Regan

Skorsa: The Riddle of the Earth
11 Tracks, 40 Minutes, Red Box Recordings
Antrim harper and singer Susan Grace Bates’ debut album showcases her obvious interest in Irish, Scottish, Swedish and other musical arrangements. The harp has always been in the background of Irish music but it’s very much rejuvenated with this new collection. And the results are rather engaging.
The Irish harp is in fact the official emblem of Ireland so it’s rather apt to have an album composed of tunes using such. Bates’ compositions on this have been collected from various contrasting places, such as Norway, Scotland, Sweden and there’s even an Estonian lullaby there! It’s traditional and contemporary from the outset. The Celtic element is ever present. Bates plays solo and at times with an array of widely acclaimed artists including John McSherry (whistle), Ross Martin (guitar), David Foley (bodhrán), Dónal O’Connor (fiddle) and Kerry Bryson (cello). They all fall in line beautifully alongside the harp. Pauline Scanlon administers harmonies to Susan’s entrancing voice on her Estonian lullaby and Swedish songs. Skorsa: The Riddle of the Earth opens with a series of cavers by Mike Vass and one by Bates herself, and ends with Michael McGoldrick’s Farewell To Whalley Range: a fitting jig saying a fitting farewell. Sandwiched between such is more tracks from others alongside original compositions by Bates.
Her musical interests are distinctly motivated by her sheer ambience for the locales. There’s a real lightness about this collection. With the harp cleverly and very clearly to the fore, it brings a lovely freshness to the music. This is relaxation music at its best but cleverly combined with charisma and energy, resulting in a very well balanced ensemble. A definite for many forthcoming Christmas stockings.
Grainne McCool

Own Label, 12 Tracks, 50 Minutes

A young man with a strong pedigree in Irish music, based in New England, Damien Connolly’s debut recording is firmly centred in the Irish Americana category, but is unusual in that most of the tunes are his own, and in fact some of them stray into other immigrant traditions or even into America’s own old time genre. Damien plays mostly button box, switches to fiddle for a handful of tracks, and picks up the bouzouki as well just for fun. His music is first rate on all three instruments, but the box has pride of place on Inspired and seems to be his weapon of choice. Weapons, I should say, for Damien plays an entire arsenal of button boxes here: B/C, C#/D and D/D#. I imagine it helps that his father Martin Connolly is the master musician and maker behind Kincora Accordions. There’s a lovely warm tone from these instruments, and Damien has impressive technique both in the Irish style and in the very different continental finger work on his piece The Immigrant.
Connolly is joined on Inspired by his uncle Séamus and Sligo’s Oisín Mac Diarmada on fiddles, Sally Connolly on flute, Brendan Dolan on piano, Jason Sypher on string bass, and a trio of guitarists in John Doyle, Sean Earnest and Eamon O’Leary.
The Old Timer is a new fling, which could come from the Donegal fiddle tradition, or the American Scots fiddle repertoire, played on both box and fiddle by Damien, one of several great compositions on this album. The New Box is a similarly tasty jig, which would fit well with Spóirt. The following Savage Paddy is a great fiddle reel fired off by Damien and Oisín, and topped by the traditional Miss McGuinness. The waltz Tell Me Now is delicately played on C#/D box, a memorable tune with a great guitar solo from John Doyle. Nora Críona gets a solo fiddle treatment, sean–nós fashion, along with another fine jig from Damien.
The final track Americana features an entire string band – fiddles, mandolin, guitar, dobro and bass – while Connolly moves to bouzouki for a very pleasant sound more closely associated with Indiana than Ireland. Inspired is an intriguing CD, potentially the start of several musical journeys, and already so successful that you can even find it online at Walmart!
Alex Monaghan