Releases > Releases December 2018

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Live At The Crosskeys Inn
Own Label SDB003, 13 Tracks, 55 Minutes
There’s something uplifting and invigorating in the raw style that emits from the banjo playing of Stevie Dunne. The Crumlin, Antrim based musician previously released two acclaimed albums; Banjo and the award-winning About Time. This time Stevie has taken the musicianship of his own inimitable playing and fused it with the compatible driving styles of guest musicians, Cyril O’Donoghue on bouzouki, Brian McGrath on piano, guitar guru, Gerdy Thompson and bodhrán maestro, John Joe Kelly. The additional flavour to the musical melting pot is that Stevie chose the more relaxed live setting of The Crosskeys Inn, nestled between Portglenone and Toome in County Antrim, to showcase the rich acoustics of the banjo, which he does with fluid ease.
Live at The Crosskeys Inn encompasses the relaxed fervour of the live setting with rocket fuel performances and weaves through tunes that are both familiar and newly composed. There’s a firm emphasis on Stevie’s world in his original tune composition with a high octane and powerful set, Cast the Net/Steaming Home that lifts the Crosskeys roof in honour of his father’s trawler man heritage with a tribute to all the trawler men risking their lives daily amongst the waves.
The defined hornpipe definition displayed through the strings of the banjo is augmented by McGrath’s distinctive definition on piano in O’Flaherty’s / Off to California and the upscale of soundscape at the intro to Crosskeys veers fluidly into Cahir’s Slippery Jig; named for Stevie’s youngest son. The percussive intro sets the pace on the final set; The Dog Among the Bushes/The Wise Maid where a driving banjo is lifted by a syncopated melee of musicianship, which ignites across the floor.
This album brings you right back to good, raw and honest play where Dunne’s musical talent is laid bare to the delight of each and every listener. A cracking live album!
Eileen McCabe

Speak My Mind
Thirty Tigers Holland, 12 Tracks, 47 Minutes,
The front picture on this album show six musicians in silhouette emerging from one of those American covered bridges: it’s a significant crossing into a better place.
We’ve known for a long time how charming and talented the young people in the Willis Clan are. Their previous records explored their roots in Irish traditional music, followed by it’s close cousin Bluegrass and then their deep Christian faith. Each was an exceptionally well crafted album. Behind their success was a very dark secret, involving sexual abuse by their father and his subsequent 40-year prison sentence.
The consequences of that darkness have been life changing. Rather than buckle under the load the Willis Clan have taken this family trauma and not allowed it to eat them away. They are bigger and better than that and this album affirms their determination to let the world know the artists they really are. Their new songs were made to heal those deep family sores, and by collating this cathartic work they realized the songs have value to the wider world.
There lies the complexity and the power of this work; here six siblings make their music with a fresh start, an open mind and perhaps a degree of forgiveness in their hearts. As such the music is more personal, both in its content and the musical genres they are becoming comfortable with as young adults.
Part of that comfort comes from being honest, asking the hard questions that might not have clear answers. Such as the song How Much Of Me Is You? The songs here are not fictional imagining, they come from hard experiences, from jagged edged truths, which have left scars. The Line addresses the emotional trajectories of abuse; it pulls no punches, tells it like it is and concludes with the separation of the family from their father. On the surface Paper Dolls could become a dance floor hit, but listen to the words; they address the abyss of respect at the black heart of the power of the abuser over the abused, it has a pop-diva anthem. “Cause we’re nothing more to you than paper dolls you tear in two.” On Pull You Down, we get to know about living somebody else’s vicarious life and putting a brave face on the day for the public, whilst that day eats away at your self-esteem.
The Willis Clan’s Speak My Mind is an embrace of a future that both acknowledges and yet vehemently refuses to live in the shadow of their back-story. It’s a new beginning with the past held up for all to view
Seán Laffey

The Whistle Blower, Own Label, 6 Tracks, 26 Minutes
A fascinating and disturbing album, The Whistle Blower is inspired by a 1976 train robbery and its miscarriage of justice and its repercussions over the next forty years. At a time when Irish justice is again being challenged and questioned, when the role of the rich and powerful in Irish society seems as shady and destructive as ever, this story is a stark reminder of the effect of institutional corruption on the lives of ordinary people, and the dangers posed by any faction which believes that the ends justify the means, and that justice can be bought and sold.
World-renowned whistle virtuoso Cormac Juan Breatnach wrote the music on this CD. Fiddler Daire Bracken and accordionist Martin Tourish, both in the top echelon of today’s Irish musicians, join him but too young to remember 1976, and the mail train robbery that started the chain of events commemorated here. Cormac’s brother was arrested, tried, and convicted on the flimsiest of evidence - a conviction, which was later quashed. The first piece here recounts that night in 1976 with spoken words and scat singing over a lively tune. Lost Whistle is more ominous, tramping feet and a dark melody, touches of Spanish music. The third track returns to the railway theme with squealing fiddle and steam-train percussion. Breatnach also eerily recreates the mood of 1970s Chieftains albums with his call-and-answer arrangements.
Amhrán na Mná evokes the lamentation of family members, particularly the mothers of the convicted men, in an accordion-led piece which approaches church music. Faoi Bhláth is more uplifting, the defiance of the campaigners who refused to give in. The final track is a complex piece, twisting and turning, bittersweet as befits a story with no real resolution. The Whistle Blower is a cautionary tale for our times, a reminder of the effect of even a relatively small injustice on the lives of so many people, a compelling collection of music with a powerful message.
Alex Monaghan

Hieroglyphs That Tell The Tale
Vertical Records CD113, 10 Tracks, 42 Minutes
All you Greek scholars know that hieroglyphs are not simply those pictures found on Egyptian tombs, they are literally sacred marks. In the context of the song I’m Still Standing Here, by Janis Ian, from which this album takes its name, those marks are the lines and wrinkles left by time on the face of a woman. Casey has a long and distinguished recording career behind her and on this album has the confidence to mix many of those influences from over two decades in the business. For example there is the traditional folk song: Sixteen Come Next Sunday that stands shoulder to shoulder with Bob Dylan’s Hollis Brown. There’s a light hearted song from her adopted home of Cork, The Doll in Cash’s Window from the pen of Pat Daly.
This is a big production with 25 musicians on the album, recorded in Antrim by Sean Óg Graham and in Cork by Niall Vallely, the production overseen by Vertical Record’s boss Donald Shaw; it sings quality from start to finish.
This being a Karan Casey album there are hard edges. Man of God is a bass rich swamp funk critique of the power of religion to whistle up the dogs of war. Karan has never been one to shy away from political issues of social justice and indeed has become a torchbearer for the Fair Plé movement. She has selected the cream of female folk singers to accompany her on this recording: Niamh Dunne, Pauline Scanlon, Maura O’Connell, Aoife O Donovan and Karen Matheson.
Karan is a powerful songwriter; her Down in the Glen has an absolutely gorgeous melody and a refrain of I’ll Sing a Rebel Song for You. Her Hold On starts with Karan’s lonesome voice, singing Appalachian style. The movement in the song with pipes and a brass section as it develops to a jazz crescendo is a remarkable piece of writing, executed perfectly by the ensemble. Karan has an ear for a good song and an ability to create surprising arrangements. This is an album of traditional songs, covers and her own material that is unmistakably Karan Casey. With Hieroglyphs Karan has certainly left her mark.
Seán Laffey

From Then Until The Here and Now
Own Label, Disc 1 8 Tracks, 45 Minutes, Disc 2 6 Tracks, 34 Minutes
This double album, From Then Until The Here and Now, is a comprehensive collection of Claire Roche’s own songs accompanied by her antique harps, grand piano and guest musicians. It is a heartfelt collection and is biographical, taking the listener through several emotions. It has been said that Roche’s singing voice both “heals and inspires”. There’s certainly something very healing and inspiring as you listen to this new collection of music. All written by Roche herself, bar the words of a poem from Richard Murphy, on Disc two.
Disc one opens with Sitting In a Green Field, accompanied by the harp. This is a song about the restorative power of nature. Initially it’s a haunting sound but it just grows on you as it progresses. The next four songs are piano accompanied, beginning with The Irish Tragedy telling the story from during the Troubles in the early 70’s. Roche’s mother was from Belfast and witnessed the incidents the song is about. The next three songs celebrate much of Roche’s life, her garden, horses and freedom. Nearing the end of Disc one we return to her harp in Fields of Fassaroe, and then piano once more ending with Hold On, a celebration of sailing.
Disc two explores both her personal and public life. She pays tribute to Martin Luther King in Essence, and then dedications to both her parents. Her final song is a poem from Richard Murphy, Visiting Hour, combined with the singer’s own words.
With a good mix of both harp and piano accompaniment, combined with Roche’s own haunting voice, this collection will allow you time to escape to another world, hers, yet all the time enjoying wonderful music.
Grainne McCool

South Haven, Own Label, 8 Tracks, 28 Minutes
Ben Miller plays Scottish border pipes, a quieter and more flexible relative of the great Highland bagpipe. Anita MacDonald is a fiddler in the Cape Breton style, and Zakk Cormier comes from a talented multi-instrumental family but focuses on the guitar. Together they play music which is drawn from the old Scottish dance and song traditions: reels and jigs, strathspeys and marches, airs and waltzes, with a good smattering of tunes from the Irish repertoire. The combination of Scottish border pipes and Cape Breton fiddle together with the driving rhythms of Canadian guitar, is quite typical of contemporary Nova Scotian music despite containing material which is centuries old.
South Haven opens with a melody familiar in Ireland, Joe Bane’s March, almost certainly a version of the old Scottish pipe tune Dornoch Links. As is the way in Cape Breton, the trio adds a punchy strathspey and a couple of reels to create a classic medley. They follow this with a well-known competition 6/8 march in B minor, Angus MacKinnon, a tune I and many others learnt at pipe band practice, played here with rather more lilt and feeling. Anita starts the tune, slow and delicate over a brooding guitar line, double-stopping F# and B for added depth. The pipes pick up the melody line, allowing the fiddle to slip down for some grinding bass harmonies.
The Jacobite jig O’er the Water to Charlie unites two more themes of this recording: toe-tapping dance music, and song melodies. While Anita doesn’t sing this tune or the puirt a-beul reels, which follow the beautiful waltz Gur Milis Morag, preferring to stick to her fiddle alongside the pipes, she does provide rhythmic Gaelic vocals on Alasdair nan Stòp, an old hop-jig song. If I had a Wife of My Own is another tune with words, known in Ireland as well as Scotland. The final track turns squarely to Ireland for two reels, The Fowler on the Moor, played here with plenty of swagger, and Rip the Calico, which picks up the pace before two more jaunty puirt a-beul pieces. There’s a bit of Acadian foot-percussion going on here too, reflecting the connection between Cape Breton music and Scottish step-dance - but that’s another story!
Alex Monaghan

Standing in Doorways
Little Sea Records, 9 Tracks, 40 Minutes
Singing with a deep love for the tradition, there is no mistaking the voice of Colleen Raney once again on her latest album, Standing in Doorways. With this new compilation Raney draws new life into old songs and just makes them her own. Standing in Doorways is Raney’s fifth studio album and once again, it just doesn’t disappoint.
Compiling of 9 tracks, each one different from the previous and yet each one uplifting of the very soul. Standing in Doorways opens with Sorrowlessfield. A Scottish song immersed in a dream, with Raney bringing it very much into the contemporary world with a wide accompaniment of instruments. From the bodhrán to bass, keys to guitar, this is steeped in natural imagery and a real natural feel from the voice of Raney.
Various instruments and each one different in its own right accompany all nine tracks. I’m particularly drawn to In My Bones, track number three on the album. It’s about feelings and with a term I often use, it just resonates. We all get that feeling ‘in my bones’ once in a while! Raney has successfully taken 9 songs and very much made them her own. There’s a strength to each song she has chosen here, which just suits her richly textured vocals. To pick a weak track from this collection would be impossible. She has captured the beauty of each one with that fine, exquisite voice. It has been written of Raney’s voice that it is ‘most definitely American’. I beg to differ with this new album: we could be listening to one of our very own Irish ‘colleens’. Although this particular Colleen is from Portland, Maine, USA, her voice tells me she’s very much Irish at heart. The echo of Irish tradition resonates from beginning to end on this album.
Grainne McCool

Songs From Across The Lake And Sea
Own Label, 9 Tracks, 39 Minutes
Katie Else is based in the Michigan area but much of her singing style comes from the traditions of the West of Ireland where she studied sean nos singing after training as a classical singer. She has toured extensively with shows like Riverdance.
This album of nine tracks is an excellent introduction to the performer. From the opening song, her version of The Rocks of Bawn, we are left in no doubt of her classical training such is the modulation of her voice. She makes this well-known song her own from the first bar.
The album contains her arrangements of mainly traditional songs. These include many that may be new to the listener and as such she opens new vistas in Irish traditional music. This is not an album that will have you dancing in the kitchen. It will be your soothing evening music after a long day as you rest by a log fire.
Katie will ease your mind with wonderful songs like When First I Went to Sea and the haunting Leaving Arranmore. Do not be put off because many of the songs are in the Irish language, you do not need to understand the words to appreciate the emotions on offer.
The one song on offer here that is not from the Irish tradition is 1913 Massacre from the pen of Woodie Guthrie but in a new arrangement by Katie Else. It will send shivers down the spine as you hear an old song anew. This is the album for the music lover as the evenings draw in.
Nicky Rossiter

Twenty Live
Easy On The Records, 12 Tracks, 67 Minutes
Jamie Smith is a piano accordion player who has fronted the Welsh band Mabon for the past 20 years. This is a celebration of those two decades, released on October 26th timed to coincide with a massive UK tour that runs until March 2019. It is a live album; I’ve been to some Mabon gigs myself and I can tell you a good time is always guaranteed, dance floors fill and folks groove to the Cambrian Trad–Jazz. Maybe that’s not the best description of the music, think of something between Sharon Shannon, Lúnasa and Flook and you’d be almost there. A live album is a must for their thousands of loyal fans both in Wales and the continent where Mabon have been a festival hit for years.
The track Frank’s Reel begins with a rasping bass and is driven by a full drum kit and Smith’s insistent accordion. Part way through the melody dies away, the beat continues as the band members are introduced, before the accordion takes up a repeated theme to end on an emphatic chord. The good time party continues with the Accordionist’s Despair, melancholy title, melancholy music? Not a bit of it as Smith’s fingers burn triplets into the piano box.
Mabon have made a name for themselves in Brittany as the go-to Welsh band for The Inter-Celtique Festival in Lorient and on Drum n Breizh they rock the hall with a melody that begins in that trademark Breton mode; of course it’s Mabon so it ends in a mesmeric dance. Things do slow down for The Tale of Nikolai and the Dancing Bear, Oli Wilson-Dickson’s fiddle here is the lead instrument. The final track Easy On The Elephant, starts with an American lick. Is this going to be a touch of Brad Paisley I thought? No of course not, this is Mabon having fun.
And that sums up this live album, Mabon having fun. There’s nothing you can say against that is there? Go see them live and bring your dancing shoes.
Seán Laffey

West Towards Home
TBG 001, 11 Tracks, 45 Minutes
This album by new group The Boxty Gang kicks off with tenor banjo played through the prism of a five-string banjo. It is a punchy delivery from banjo whizz Josh O’Loughlin which helps set up a beat to get you moving amid the clinical stops and starts.
As the album indicates, The Boxty Gang primarily consists of Clare man Josh, Rory Costello and Norweigian Kristian Dugstad. The trio are joined by Josh’s long-time friend and collaborator Brian Corry, as well as Mathilde de Jenlis on fiddle and Eddie Kavanagh on percussion. Like the group, the music is a mix of traditions from all over, with songs and tunes getting equal billing.
From songs like Bound for Caledonia to Farewell to Manitoba, and on tune sets like Wigs on the Green or Edinburgh Rock, there is a vibrant energy, which perfectly captures the attitude and capability of these fine musicians. Tracks like My True Love are given deep thought and attention to produce a depth to encapsulate the listener.
The banjo stands out as the lead instrument throughout, with a number of compositions from O’Loughlin featuring across this album from The Boxty Gang, with Na Lochlainnaigh combining two of his tunes (the first undoubtedly inspired by the popular session tune Father O’Flynn’s) before leaping forward with a Norweigian influence from Dugstad’s neck-of-the-woods. Through their material selection, rhythmically and also in arrangements, the group are not afraid to travel and indeed their individual confidence and ability allows for a level of experimentation that could well propel this group onto many the international festival stage, lighting up the crowds with their diversity and dexterity as a group of performers.
Derek Copley

Own Label BEO 01, 10 Tracks, 48 Minutes
Now here’s a heart starter. If pipes, flute and bouzouki are your thing, this is the medicine for you. Beo are a trio of Yoann an Nedeleg on uilleann pipes and low whistle, Erwan Menguy on flute, whistles, guitar and bouzouki and Martin Chapron on bouzouki. Only three instruments, but don’t they make a huge sound.
They choose tunes from the Irish and Breton traditions, opening with Darragh DeBrun’s Leaving the Nest, following with a triple header of Organ Mountain which melds a jig, a reel and a bluegrass instrumental together. They give us Denis Murphy’s Slow Reel, it’s a gorgeous tune played on the flute with a bouzouki intro that carries the tune as the flute fades and the pipes come in, simple and hypnotic. Yoann emulates the bombarde with his pipe chanter on track 5 Mod Gwenedor, a self composed piece in the Vennetais style of his native Brittany. This segues seamlessly into an An Dro as the flute completes the circle.
A trip to Dublin’s Pipers Club resulted in the trio picking up Paddy Mill’s Reel, coupling it with Franck’s Favourite. The album closes with Erwan’s Kitchen, The Duduk Jig and Running Man another brace of new compositions from Yoann. Beo are clearly part of a new vanguard of Breton musicians, evidently enthralling and technically gifted, fearlessly composing in the Irish tradition and with a deep regard for their own culture. Beo is a five star album if ever there was one.
Seán Laffey

Traditional Irish Music
Own Label JEP01, 12 Tracks, 48 Minutes
A few years ago I was in an advanced fiddle class taught by Liz Carroll at Catskills Irish Arts Week. Jayne Pomplas, then a wee thing, was in it, and already better than most of us (certainly better than I was). She knew almost every tune Liz wanted to teach. At the end of the five-day workshop, Liz hugged her and said, “You’re going to be a player!”
Jayne’s new CD, Traditional Irish Music, is 12 lively sets, played with top musicians, some familiar to attendees of that magical week in the Catskills: Isaac Alderson (of The Yanks) on flute, Anna Colliton (who also did the album design) on bodhrán, Tony DeMarco (who runs the 11th Street session, and I think also taught Jayne) on fiddle, Alan Murray on guitar and bouzouki, and Cillian Vallely on uilleann pipes. Her playing is strong and emphatic, with the occasional double stop thrown in. One can almost see her arm pressing down on the bow. DeMarco also produced, and one can thank him for the clear separation of the instruments. Everything sounds very clean.
Jayne is going for: stripped down, not hugely arranged, straightforward acoustic music. Several of the tracks are solo (sometimes duo) fiddle. Many of the sets have at least one familiar session tune, paired with trickier or less well known tunes. Others are tributes to great musicians: for example, she plays, unaccompanied, Martin Mulvihill’s The High Road to Glin, who she writes, “taught music to hundreds of youngsters in New York and New Jersey”, followed by Sonny Brogan’s Favourite.
She’s still young, but the CD is nicely old-fashioned. Liz Carroll was (of course) right.
Gwen Orel