Releases > Releases December 2023

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Atlantic Sounds
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 40 Minutes
Another winner from Waterford’s musical magician Benny McCarthy. Miscellany of Folk’s debut album is a mixture of old and new, songs and tunes linking Ireland and Newfoundland. The core trio of Benny McCarthy, Billy Sutton and Eddie Costello have been playing together for years in social sessions in Waterford and Newfoundland, and since 2022 have been gigging as a working band whenever that’s been possible.
The first track, Deckhand On A Trawler, begins in Newfoundland sea shanty style, with Eddie Costello a cappella. It soon develops into a sophisticated folk song with a full band arrangement. Paddy Keenan joins in on low whistle on Robbie O’Connell’s When The Moon Is Full. Another example of fine group playing comes in Jim Payne’s upbeat love song Waltz Around The Cape with Billy’s mandolin taking the role normally allotted to the fiddle, its fretted cousin adding an authentic Americana measure to the song. This is further enhanced by the excellent vocals of Jamie  Dart who also shines on David Mallett’s song Moon Upon The Left.
Tune sets intertwine melodies from the two Atlantic traditions, new tunes mix seamlessly with old favourites in Conal O’Grada’s Coiscéim na and the traditional jig Helvic Head, played straight with an old style bodhrán bass line, nicely anchoring the higher pitched button accordion. Newfoundland singles are showcased on Harry Eveleigh’s/Advance/Mrs Belle’s #7, the final tune in the selection embellished by bodhrán and some classy flute playing from Michelle Brophy. Track 10 returns the favour with a set of polkas from Ireland: John Walsh’s /The UpperchurchMuirisin Durkan, the latter with some doggerel from veteran box player Bobby Gardner.
They close the album with A Walk on the Wild Slide and the Coomby Jigger, underscoring the shared love of traditional music on both sides of the North Atlantic. This album is a gold mine for any band looking to build a fresh repertoire.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 6 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Glasgow based The Routes Quartet are Rufus Huggan, cello; Emma Tomlinson on viola; and fiddlers David Lombardi and Madeleine Stewart. So named because of their various Scottish, Irish and English origins. The group sequestered themselves away on the Morvern Peninsula. Known as a ‘sea gap’, the place, like the music they’ve made on their debut album, Windrose, works to fill the liminal spaces between classical and traditional music with old and newly composed tunes.
Here is a suite of elegant music with Greek and Roman tune names that evoke earthiness, fire, timeliness and the planets. Recorded with Keir Long and co-produced by Patsy Reid, Windrose tells its own rhapsodic story of shifts and changes in modern music, attitudes to blends in styles and cultures - it is highly innovative and well-achieved.
Kairos is a playful number, delightful arrangements, excellent fiddling with an edge of unpredictability. A savvy mix, showcasing the individual talents and the group’s explorative, boundary-free creativity. Aster, living up to its title, is a star tune; vigorous fiddle playing, great texture and depth, surprising lifts and turns as if two Celtic fiddlers arrived unannounced into a classical music recital and all agreed, amicably, to coalesce as one band, a signature number and captivating sound to close out the album.
As a classical quartet with folk, classical, jazz and fiddling backgrounds, Routes was also nominated for Folk Band of the Year by ALBA, Scots traditional music awards. Windrose will earn the Routes new fans, opening up their repertoire to a whole new audience: listeners who are searching for different, intelligent music that takes risks and is adventuresome, will find an album that will take the band in significantly new directions, reward them for knowing how to infuse genres, musically testing out the waters in many seas. Available from Bandcamp &
Anne Marie Kennedy

Own Label, 10 Tracks, 43 Minutes
This is seriously stylish Celtic music from the Prince Edward Island trio of fiddler Karson McKeown, cellist/fiddler Tuli Porcher and guitarist Tom Gammons. Seasoned readers of this magazine will know other PEI groups such as Vishten and The East Pointers. Well now you can add Inn Echo as ambassadors for the island’s music. They acknowledge the influence and support of both those two bands and there is a direct connection: Hemispheres was recorded at Space Camp Productions Charlottetown, produced by East Pointer Jake Charron and his business partner Donald Richard. The album was supported by funding from the Canada Council of the Arts.
The front cover artwork by Jud Haynes depicts a fantasy world, a fast flowing river, distant jagged peaks of the Rocky mountains and a sky populated with multiple moons. Inn Echo’s music takes flights of fancy too, you can hear echoes of Maritime fiddle on Big Blue but there’s much more going on. Jupiter and Mars with finger picked guitar, pizzicato fiddle and a melody of sweet fiddling caresses this simple tune, in contrast the guitar builds up the tension on All Nighter Polkas. Gammons’ guitar dances with brilliance on Dragonfly, its second half is hoppy and staccato, bursting with energy. On Breton Tune, the cello adds a sonic depth and rasping shiver.
The final two tracks were recorded live at the Woodford Festival in Australia in 2022. The last track opens with polite clapping, the music gingerly taking the audience by the hand and walking them through the set. Listen here for the way the lead fiddle is accompanied by the second violin playing a counterpoint, and of course it all ends with one mighty flourish.
Fair play to Inn Echo. If you visit their website you can hear every track for free, no need to download or stream. Of course I’d encourage you to buy the physical copy if you can, it’s worth it for the artwork alone and that’s just a prelude to the stunning music on the disc. That front cover is other worldly and Inn Echo’s music is nothing but stellar.
Seán Laffey

Behind Every Door
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 48 Minutes
Matt McGinn is from the Mourne Mountains of County Down and is an established and highly rated singer songwriter. This is his 6th album and it was released on the 27th of October, so it’s as fresh as buns from a baker’s hot oven. Joining McGinn (vocals and guitar) are John McCullough (keys), Eamon Ferris (drums), Colm McClean (guitars), Darragh Murphy, (Uilleann pipes & whistles) and Damian McGeehan (fiddle). The album was recorded by Sean Og Graham. Track one, The Music - a mix of banjo, fiddle, bodhrán and fiddle pulsing through the lines, “I am your music I am your soul”. A tale of Protestant emigration to old colonial America, history we can all appreciate.
Nightmare Alley - long held notes on the end of each phrase, a choppy fiddle, an electric bass gives this song an urban Celtic vibe, the ending almost a discordant finish with two sets of triplets on the keyboards. Lig Duinn hits you in the face with a circular riff, confrontational, an abrasive litany of wrongs tempered by the realisation, “there are differences between us, you let them in”. We are left wondering is the answer some kind of common ground. God Only Knows is a gentle commentary on the religious tribes and customs of his homeplace, the most introspective number on the album. From its words we find Matt has an inner sense of place and purpose.
We have to wait until track 6 for the title track Behind Every Door. Matt says behind every door, “there’s promise, a promise I intend to keep”, a reflection on the sanctity of settled domesticity, a place of solace, refuge and the joy of constancy.  There’s a 1, 2,3,4 count intro Shine Your Light, upbeat, poppy Hammond keys and a youthful positive message in the chorus. To The New Year, an atmospheric postcard to the future from the Mourne Mountains with the recurring line, “let us pray for an end to our sorrows”, a low whistle shaping the new dawn that is on the way. Winter once again blows into the final track, The Turning of the Tide. At over 10 minutes, it’s work that needs to be revisited time after time, quiet and brooding, echoes of Danny Boy on a musical saw add to a feeling of aching sorrow. Not all movies end with happy resolutions and this track wraps the album. If it were a play, it would be a triumph of a tragedy. McGinn’s work is masterful, poignant and honest.
Seán Laffey

Betty Beetroot Records, 11 Tracks, 33 Minutes
Here is an album of new songs from three gifted songwriters who are geographically spread across the northern latitudes.
Derbyshire-based Lucy Ward (vocals and sansula, an African thumb piano) links up here with Iceland’s Svavar Knútur (guitars, keyboards and synthesiser) and Canada’s Adyn Townes (guitar). They are joined by Sarah Matthews on violin and viola and Evan McCosham on bass, with album producer Steve Mac Lachlan adding drums to the music. The works were created on zoom during lockdown and recorded at Leifshús Art Farm Iceland last April.
On balance Townes takes the majority of the tracks, bringing a Neil Young vibe to the proceedings, whereas Lucy Ward’s contribution is somehow more solid, more grounded. Svavar adds atmospheric backing vocals and fronts Isn’t it Funny. The opening two tracks take us up and away, firstly on Astronaut and secondly on Paper Plane, the former classic Americana from Townes, the latter contemporary English folk from Ward.
Your Love Was Death To Me is surprisingly bouncy and ebullient and the same vibe is present on Work It Out with its clappy backbeat and jingly guitar adding to the levity. The final track is in Icelandic, Orgar Brim; it’s a choral piece, brewed with dark roasted harmonies and moody vocals. If you are in search of new lyrics for your own repertoire, their website has all the words of the songs clearly laid out, so you can sing along, learn and share.
The title track is perhaps the most interesting, posing the question: what would it be like to receive a phone call from the past, and if you knew who was calling, would you answer it? Of course, a call from the past is a call to the future, and this trio has an exciting musical future ahead of them.
Seán Laffey

When the Light Gets In
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 61 Minutes
RUNA’s musical canvas is splashed with wild, vibrant colour and textures in the material chosen for their recent album When the Light Gets In. Shannon Lambert-Ryan, Fionán de Barra, Cheryl Prashker, Tom Fitzgerald and Jake James make up this Celtic blended contemporary band.
The album is packed tight with great songs, multi-lingual, original compositions, rousing tunes, packaged with a palpable fun vibe. O’Dheara Sheanduine (singing the curse of marrying an old man!) is a terrific opener, sung in unison as Gaeilge, vocally brilliant, rhythmic, a song that will dance about the head for days after hearing it, regardless of the language, great choice.
Their version of Hug air a Bhonaid Mhoir, a Scottish celebration of ‘the great Bonnet’, is mostly a cappella with really tasteful percussion by Cheryl Prashker, solid accompaniment, melodic, great mouth music. Northwest Passage is about the search for a northern water route through the Arctic and northern Canada that would shorten the trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It was hijacked for years by the Shanty community; it’s probably Stan Rogers’ most famous song, so much so that it has become the unofficial Canadian national anthem. Here Shannon Lambert-Ryan teases out its inner melancholy.
Fionán de Barra’s Liam’s Lullaby – on guitar, arrestingly beautiful, short, gentle, a soothing balm. The Clowns is a jazzy little number with Tom Fitzgerald and Jake James on fiddles. Midnight Hour brings a stylistic shift. RUNA have great energy and versatility; the listener imagines them laying down a solo vocal track, layering up the harmonies, adding guitar, bass and mandolin, then a folk group evolves, headlong into a full céili band in one afternoon at a recording studio or on stage.
Taking a song like Somewhere Over the Rainbow, translating it into Irish as Ar an dtaobh thall den mBogha sín, very clever, the familiar air, Lambert-Ryan making it her own, vocal clarity and sophisticated bodhrán playing. When the Light Gets In has refreshing, varied, intricacies everywhere from highly skilled, talented musicians, singers and composers.
Anne Marie Kennedy

THE ABBOT – Clive Carroll plays the music of John Renbourn
Own Label, Double CD, 27 Tracks, 110 Minutes
Clive Carroll’s tribute to his friend John Renbourn’s music speaks to continuation, legacy, friendship, loss and innovation.
Like Renbourn, Carroll’s technical skill is expressed with variation, embellishment, ornamentation and some special effects. With Renbourn’s compositions as a framework, Carroll puts his own stamp and character on the tunes of a pioneering guitarist and composer from the 1960’s ‘folk baroque’ era. With twenty guest musicians and singers, complex arrangements and segues into several styles and genres, the album is an outstanding celebration, a memorial tribute to an outstanding voice in the history of acoustic guitar.
Lady Goes to Church is a delightful guitar tune, cascading rhythms, flawless instrumentation. Blues Run the Game, a Jackson C. Frank drinking song, albeit not a merry one: “when I’m not drinking honey, you’re on my mind”. A philosophical poem, how alcohol is a relationship shredder, the human propensity for denial, the song blames the blues. The Hermit is distinctive, vigorous, authoritative playing and arrangements. The Young Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn is upbeat, playful, a morality tale perhaps, farce, lots of pickin’ and pluckin’ into Faro’s Rag, great variety in tempo, variety in material too. Lament for Owen Roe O’Neill and the Mist Covered Mountain lean back beautifully into the traditional, sitting comfortably beside Renbourn originals, some not heard since the 60’s and 70’s.
Sidi Brahim, the closing track, something olde-worlde and Chaucerian in it, pilgrims setting out, emerging crowd voices, steps, flute, momentum gathering, musical tension built with percussion, foot tapping, theatrics. The mood changes with Jacqui McShee’s ethereal vocals on The Wedding Dress, layers of instruments, sweet, melodic, an orchestral suite. Renbourn and Carroll travelled extensively together, mutual tastes in eclectic sounds, clearly a rewarding collaboration back then and now a musical hero honoured.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Steady Away
Big Sun Records, 11 Tracks, 37 Minutes
Chris Brain is a Leeds-based singer-songwriter who achieved notable success with his debut album Bound to Rise, reaching No. 22 in the UK Folk Chart and gaining highly complimentary reviews, with Tom Robinson calling it “an acoustic gem”. His new release Steady Away has been eagerly awaited and does not disappoint with his distinctive vocal and fingerpicked guitar at the centre of a beautifully produced soundscape, which really enhances his songs.
Chris has a deep commitment to, and connection with his local folk scene in the Leeds area, and he adheres faithfully to the tradition on the new recording, which has a more reflective style, his guitar augmented by piano, double bass, percussion and strings. The title track makes effective use of subtle harmonies with a beautiful string arrangement. Curse showcases his flowing finger-style guitar with lovely chord voicings; here the dynamics are carefully managed to gradually engage the listener. A track simply called Instrumental, just solo guitar, further underpins his engaging style.
The songs are carefully-constructed with lyrics telling tales of tenderness, loss, pain and the power of nature. They’re reflective and authentic, as exemplified by tracks such as Rolling Wave with lovely instrumental interplay; Silence is more upbeat but still relaxed, with the double bass driving the rhythm, and Tawny has an unexpected pedal-steel figure towards the end. Westlin Winds is one of those great songs written by Robert Burns; Brain takes inspiration from the guitar parts of the classic version by Dick Gaughan. The album is littered with these unanticipated gems; kudos to Tom Orrell who recorded the songs with great sensitivity.
The beauty of his songs inevitably draws comparison with the greats such as Nick Drake, Ralph McTell and John Martyn, but he can hold his head up with the best, and the quality of his compositions belies his youth.
Mark Lysaght

This Is Something Constant
Hudson Records, 9 Tracks, 34 Minutes
Jack Rutter has been compared to both Lisa O’Neill and Lankum, I’d add Daoirí Farrell to that short list too. Not that Jack plays Irish music per se. He does play an Irish ten string bouzouki and he is joined by two of Celtic music’s leading instrumental players, Mike McGoldrick on pipes, whistles and flute and renowned Scottish fiddle & viola player Patsy Reid, which gives the English songs a definite Celtic edge. However, when it comes to source material Jack opts for traditional songs from his own locality, Child ballads and some collected by Cecil Sharp 100 years ago.
Those initial comparisons hinge on his unwavering dedication to traditional music, a desire to sing in his own voice, and in doing so proudly proclaiming his heritage and roots. Jack’s album was produced and recorded by Joe Rusby at the Arch Recording Studio, Southport, and Rusby has done a tremendous job of making this a truly traditional album.
Songs include Nevison The Highwayman, an ex soldier who took to robbing on the King’s highway and met a judicial end on the 4th May 1684. It is a brilliant intro to the album, Rutter’s bouzouki, voice and harmonica taking no prisoners even if Nevison did find himself in chains in York. There’s some wild piping from Mike McGoldrick on Many’s The Night (The Harvest Home), the song’s recurring chorus: “Many’s the night we’ve finished a barrel,” is a roaring celebration of a harvest well won.
Jack takes up the guitar on Sledburn Fair with Patsy’s fiddle adding the melody between verses, a song recalling the simple rustic pleasure of visiting a nearby town for the Farmers Market. From a time when farmers’ markets were for farmers and not the SUV elite. The mood is toned down on Lord Maxwell’s Last Goodnight, an honour killing, a confession and a flight into exile. The accompaniment is stripped to its barest minimum on Ninety-nine and Ninety, a riddle song, I won’t give the last answer away… Jack is back on the bouzouki on the final track Upon The Mountains High, a reminder that those sunny Tory uplands are places of rebellious leftist intentions.
Jack says the album’s title is about the longevity and lasting truth of folk songs, and on this classic album, he tells it like it is. Quality like this lasts, it is one for the long road.
Seán Laffey

Tunes in The Morning
Own Label, 6 Tracks, 27 Minutes
Harrisburg harper, Mary-Kate Spring Lee performs regularly with her siblings in the Philadelphia based Seasons band. This is her first solo EP and it is unequivocally traditional Irish in style, repertoire and realisation. This is in no small measure due to Mary-Kate’s one year advanced studentship with Mayo harpist Gráinne Hambly. It is evident from the finesse that Mary-Kate brings to these half-dozen tracks that the relationship between apprentice and master was a fruitful one.
The best way to listen to the album is with the volume turned up, that way you’ll get to hear the full resonance of the strings and take in her dexterous ornamentation, which gives these tracks such an authentic and flowing feel.
The EP kicks off with Paddy Canny’s 3 part modal jig The Caves of Kiltanon paired with The Fields of Woodford, the latter tune was made popular in America by flute player Jack Coen, who was originally from Woodford, East Galway. There are slower tunes too: Limerick’s Lamentation recalling the Flight of the Earls in 1691, although there is evidence the tune was known to Irish harpers 25 years earlier. Mary-Kate couples it with The Wounded Hussar (the tune began life as Captain O’Kane by O’Carolan). The song The Wounded Hussar was written to fit the melody sometime around 1825.
A generation ago it was seen as avant garde and even daring to include dance music on a recording of Irish harp music. Mary-Kate has no such qualms as she revels in the set Galway to Dublin and McGlinchey’s Hornpipe. She ends this recording with two famous tunes: The Trip To Durrow and The Boys of Ballisodare.
Mark-Kate is still a pupil of Gráinne Hambly’s and we can expect even more from her in the coming years. In the meantime, Harrisburg has a fine harper on its doorstep.
Seán Laffey