Releases > Releases January 2016

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Various Artists, 5 CD’s, 101 Tracks, 5 hours, 50 minutes
Dolphin Music TV5CD106
If you sing ballads, and I do on a weekly basis, there’s no doubt that at some point during an evening you’ll be asked to deliver a rousing rebel song. If you get stuck for a song to add to your repertoire, then this 5 disc set is full of classics; whether they are from 1798, the Famine, the Easter Rising, the Civil War or the Troubles, it is guaranteed your audience will know the songs and join in.
This compilation from Dolphin Records is selected from their roster of talent, which includes, Liam Clancy, Barleycorn, Dublin City Ramblers, Paddy Reilly; Derek Warfield, The Wolfe Tones, Frances Black and many more. Johnny McEvoy opens the collection with a spoken word peice that sets the scene and he does so in less than 2 minutes, which is itself a feat of great writing. If you know Irish history, even its general outline, you only need a short introduction to set the scene, if you don’t then many of the songs should spur you onto further study.
Derek Warfield sings The Soldier’s Song in its original English language setting as written by Peader Kearney in 1907. We now know it as Amhrán na bhFiann, the translation entering Irish public life sometime around 1923. The National Anthem closes the collection as the last track of disc 5. Musically this collection offers a mixture of styles, from Johnny McEvoy with the Garda Band singing Boulavogue, to the subtle note bending of a pedal steel guitar in Patsy Watchorn’s version of The Foggy Dew. Fans of the mandolin will get a good dose of eight string melody playing from bands such as The Wolfe Tones on the Lonely Banna Strand or the Fair Isle Folk’s Anne Devlin, a ballad about the time of Robert Emmett. This latter song demonstrates the power of song to capture the imagination of future generations. Indeed many of the songs on the album were written some time after the events took place, the meters of fitting existing melodies so that the transmission of ideas was made easier.
The road to 1916 was cut through hundreds of years of Irish history, for example Johnny McEvoy’s Famine Song explores 19th century nationalism. The problem Irishmen had with the Kings’ shilling is a source of many an anti–recruiting song. Here we have Johnny McEvoy & Sharon Shannon’s Salonika and Paddy Reilly’s Arthur McBride and The Recuriting Sergeant by The Black Family.
You can view this album as a commerative or a sampler of Irish Rebel Folk music, indeed as both, with the songs weaving their historical narratives whilst giving facts and feelings equal billing. Political figures are honoured too, in The Black Family’s James Connolly and Derek McCormac’s Padraig Pearse. The Time Has Come from Frances Black was written by Christy Moore and Donal Lunny about the hunger– striker, Patsy O’Hara who died in 1981. Likewise Liam Clancy brings us The Patriot Game, written by Dominic Behan as a foil to Seán South of Garryowen (they both deal with the same incident).
The skill of the team at Dolphin in assembling this collection has been to avoid a linear, didactic arrangement of the compilation. We get Ronnie Drew’s The British Army on the same disc as Peter Rafter’s Bodenstown Church Yard and Niamh Parsons’ The Boys of Barr Na Sraide. The latter song detailing the economic consequences of the fight for freedom. In an era of political correctness, when these sorts of songs get mothballed by broadcasters, there are more than enough tracks here to fill a week of radio. It would be a good thing to ask your local station to acquire a copy. If the album teaches us anything, it tells us that it has taken brave men and women to bring us to where we are today.
Easter 1916 is a high point to commemorate in this centenary year. Its legacy endures today wherever a bunch of singers gather and are asked for one of those old rebel songs.
Seán Laffey

Own Label JDS001, 9 Tracks, 45 Minutes
Not what I was expecting from these three excellent musicians. Belfast piper John McSherry is known for his wild playing and progressive music in groups such as Tamlin, Coolfin, The Olllam and At First Light. Dónal O’Connor is the other front man for At First Light, a formidable fiddler and keyboard talent from a musical Louth family. Seán Óg Graham is a young box player with only just over a decade of touring with Beóga and a few score great new tunes to his name: here he shows what he can do on guitars. But it’s not Beóga, or Tamlin, or At First Light. In fact, if I had to pigeonhole this music, I’d put it close to the O’Connor family band Lá Lúgh on their later albums, firmly Celtic traditional, mostly acoustic, with a hint of modern mysticism and pagan power.Ulaid is a fascinating CD, ranging across Breton, Swedish and Asturian music, as well as Ulster tunes old and new, several of them written by the band.
Fiddle, pipes and whistle deliver everything from Dónal’s gentle air An Ode to Heaney to the final p–Celtic Lights Out known in Scotland as The Boar She Has A–Hunting Gone. Seán Óg deserves full credit for his accompaniment, strong and silent as required, plus some lovely solo guitar. The album title comes from the ancient people who gave Ulster its name, and who formerly held sway south to the Boyne and west to the Shannon. There’s plenty of fine Ulster music here, including a Tyrone version of The Cottage in the Grove, a Cavan take on Thady Casey’s, and the jig If Ever I Marry from Louth/Armagh border country. The fiddling and piping are superb, of course, whether on the stately Mórshiúl na Mara or the storming Ramblers reels. There are moments of modern genius –Na Magha Reel and The Return to Madagascar are more like At First Light or Beóga – and there’s a thumping pair of newly penned polkas worthy of Begleys or Leahys which bring out the button box, but in many ways Ulaid shows a new side of McSherry, O’Connor and Graham which will surely broaden their appeal.
Alex Monaghan

Sona do Cheird
Own Label DMGB 004, 13 Tracks, 55 Minutes
It’s always a pleasure to get a CD that has a generous helping not only of songs and music but of information and background material, as well. Such is the case in this new 12–track album of Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde’s, the renowned Gaoth Dóbhair singer. Doimnic has a style and a way with a song that is all his own, and his distinctive Donegal voice and presentation add to the pleasure when listening to the words and the music.
This production, Sona do Cheird, is the fruit of many years of labour and hard work on Dominic’s part, and he has compiled a fascinating selection of songs from the tradition, based principally on the extraordinary fieldwork and research by the great Ulster song collector, Énrí Uí Mhuirgheasa, whose Dhá Chéad de Cheoltaibh Uladh, was published in 1934. And where a song was just words and needed a melody, Dominic is not backward in coming forward with the remedy.
An impressive part of the CD’s production values is the provision of the song words in Irish with an English–language translation, and all accompanied by interesting and informative notes for the listener. One example is what we learn from the song, Dónall Ó Maoláine, reputedly a rapparee from Co. Mayo. It seems he was in love with two girls and apparently made the wrong choice. The notes tell us: “This song is in the form of a conversation, where the poet’s version of events is relayed in the first, fourth and sixth verses and his lover’s thoughts are revealed in the second, third and fifth verses. This is a common feature in Gaelic songs.” Dónall says of the girl he loves that she is “the summer” in his life. Another of Dominic’s numbers is his Irish Gaelic rendition of a song in Scots Gàidhlig, Beatha Úr/New Life, a wedding poem written by Glasgow–based Niall O’Gallagher for his wife–to–be, Claire. It is a beguiling and tender love song in which the poet lists all of those elements of their relationship that will make their “new life full of hope and love”: These are the gold rings we bestow that will not break through time. This is the unblemished love between us which inspires each phrase, verse and poem. Looking for a new song? Well, this is the album for you.
Aidan O’Hara

Areas of High Traffic
11 Tracks, 57 Minutes
Proper Records PRCD39
Damien has been 10 years on the road and this is his first solo album in five years, and he tells us on the promo video that this is where he has wanted to be over the second half of his career. He’s assembled a hand picked team of musicians to make this album with the intention of becoming a touring band. His stated mission is to add something extra to the traditional folk songs which have been the bedrock of his performances and in this album he succeeds achieving his goal with yards to spare. There is a pattern here, long intros develop up a groove until Damien enters with a voice drenched in presence. There’s a hint of echo on The Black Smith, some extended phrasing on The Next Market Day with splashes of Sean Nos.
On Maid of Seventeen there’s a funk jazz backing going on as a passage of beats and licks repeats under the lyrics. His version of the Banks of the Bann, begins with a nod to Paul Brady, and is lifted with the arrival of Damien’s wife Kate Rusby who adds a parallel harmony, it’s one of the simplest yet most enduring of tracks on the album.
There’s a great deal of sonic engineering in the album thanks to Joe Rusby, combined with the musicians rising to the challenge of giving old songs a fresh lick of paint, it is different but not in an experimental way, this feels like a finished product. There’s an instrumental too, as Damien picks up the banjo on The God daughter Part 1, swags of repeated phrases and an exuberant whoosh as the drum kit of Cormac Byrne stitches the track together with a running thread of rhythm. Then there’s an African sounding electric guitar passage from Steve Iveson. Anthony Davis on keys provides moments of stillness and contemplation on I Am Youth. This album marries the traditional with the contemporary, without sacrificing any of its component forms. What comes across on every track is the melodic core of each song, the tunes fit the words like a glove, which gives Damien the scope to let his imagination and his voice soar. If this is a prelude to the next ten years, expect some high traffic from Mr O’Kane!
Seán Laffey

Own Label SMC001, 11 Tracks, 41 Minutes
Dublin fiddler Danny Diamond is joined by Finnish artist Aki on nyckelharpa and experimental cellist Kevin Murphy in this trio for what must have been one of the most unusual Irish releases of 2015.
The trio bring the sweetness of the nyckelharpa, the deep resonances of the cello, Diamond’s raw fiddle style, and a layer of Finnish vocals on a few tracks. There are passing similarities to Lau to Martyn Bennett, to Iarla Ó Lionáird and to some of Chris Stout’s recordings, but much of Os is really in uncharted territory for a devotee of Irish music. Slow Moving Clouds create a sound somewhere between the sepulchral Arctic winter and the school Christmas concert. There are moments of beauty, moments of spirituality, and for me at least moments to consider slowly.
The opening Conquering Hero reminds me strongly of school orchestras in echoing church halls, this time playing an unfamiliar hymn tune. Hiljainen Suru cuts to a cantor or celebrant, a good one, chanting words of power. Devil’s Polska shapes the earthy sounds of cello and fiddle into something quite beautiful, simple yet eloquent.
Monday Tuesday is a delightful air, Rinda–Nickola is a charming piece of Nordic dance music, and Hatchet Field unites two fine pieces of fiddling. Then comes The Death of Staker Wallace, a great Irish air which seems to be wandering in the mists of a Finnish tundra. Os finishes strongly with the minimalist meditative Anonn ‘s Anall. Scandinavian minimalism offers a high key image, it’s probably the perfect music for watching Slow Moving Clouds.
Alex Monaghan

Secret Victory
Own Label EPCD15, 10 Tracks, 44 Minutes
Cool, contemporary and Canadian – this mainly instrumental trio from Prince Edward Island write their own music in the hallmark Acadian style which introduces a little bit of French flair into the grit and guts of great traditions from Ireland and Scotland, plus a dash of native North American culture. It’s a potent mix, dark and brooding at times – Koady Chaisson’s Stubborn Mule reel and Tune for Hannah jig – but always full of energy, always moving forward, and always surprising. MJ’s Favourite could easily be a Scottish pipe tune – and a good one at that. Queen Street Cobbler is an Irish jig in all but name, while Jake Charron’s The Annex leans more to Quebec. There’s a modern sophistication here too, a natural gloss with just enough grime to keep the East Pointers grounded.
Word is this was pretty much a one–take recording, and there are a few signs of that – occasional finger slips, maybe some tuning issues with the banjo (but then again how would you tell?), and one or two sudden endings. The mixing and production are first class, though, and the playing is generally phenomenal. The banjo and fiddle sound cuts through brilliantly, underpinned by solid guitar and a bit of bass and percussion.
Koady and fiddler cousin Tim Chaisson share the writing credits with guitarist Jake, and two of the three vocals also acknowledge Patrick Ballantyne. The lyrics flow nicely, and Tim’s delivery is clear enough, but the instrumentals are this band’s strong suit, finishing with the stomping swing medley Woodfordia which is just one of many points where Secret Victory reminds me of Moxie. Fine music, full of fun, East Pointers are all fired up for UK tours in the next few months, so catch them live if you can.
Alex Monaghan

Black Swan
Own Label WARDCD00001, 13 Tracks, 45 Minutes
Judging from the number on this debut recording, fiddler Lisa Ward has ambitions to make over ten thousand CD’s. And she could do it. From a strong musical background, Lisa has the talent and the application to be extremely successful – not to mention her looks and youth and other skills! An All–Ireland fiddle champion at an impressively young age, this Leitrim lady has honed her art with family group The Ward Sisters and with an MA in performance from Limerick. She has one of the best Scots styles I’ve heard from an Irish fiddler, and has also mastered the showman style of 1920s Irish American music. There’s a slightly formal edge to her reels and jigs, putting me in mind of players such as Sean McGuire, Seamus McGuire or Maire Breatnach. Ms Ward tackles some challenging tunes here – The Bee’s Wing, The Dawn, The Contradiction and others – but she’s more than up to the task. There are some abrupt tempo changes and some unusual medleys on this wide–ranging collection, enough to keep listeners and accompanists on their toes!
Lisa is joined by sisters Niamh, Orla and Sarah on box, flute and bodhrán, as well as guitarist Paul Meehan and pianist Brian McGrath. Two ensemble sets break up the fiddle solos nicely, and add a more relaxed feel to Lisa’s music. There are three fiddle–only tracks, opening and closing this album, plus one in the middle. The rest is accompanied fiddle: reels, jigs, hornpipes, flings, a couple of barndances and a polka. The Ulster influence is strong, with a Tommy Peoples jig, two James Hill hornpipes, a couple of Scottish strathspeys, and the title track based on Sean McGuire’s version of the virtuoso hornpipe Minnie Foster. There’s also a lot of Leitrim music here, from Joe Liddy and Charlie Lennon and others: that lone polka is a Leitrim tune too, although it could have come straight from the Flanagan Brothers in its performance here. A more modern aspect of Lisa’s playing is apparent in a pair of slip–jigs which have been topping online charts, and in her languid version of two Paddy Fahey compositions. The centrepiece of this recording is the slow air An Clár Bog Déil, delicate and poignant. Black Swan ends with two reels by Tipperary whistler Sean Ryan, an unaccompanied fiddle delight.
Alex Monaghan

Old Clichés
10 Tracks, 38 Minutes, Brechin All Records CDBAR022,
Brechin All Records, a small recording company based in Edinburgh, is under the guiding hand of the remarkable and discerning musical maestro, Sandy Brechin. Sandy with his keen ear for talent has provided a platform for many young musicians, and has once again chosen wisely in recording the voice and songs of Sophia Magallanes.
Sophia is Mexican–American, one of seven daughters, and comes from Los Angeles. She and her sisters have always sung together, but it was only when she found herself in Edinburgh that she was able to express herself more freely through music. But it wasn’t music that brought her to Edinburgh, because in the four years she’s been there, she earned a doctorate in theology at New College, University of Edinburgh. Blessed with an appealing and expressive voice, Sophia has a way with words and melody that reveals her as a unique and talented songwriter. In her Daughter of Zion, a song she sings a cappella, she asks, “Does it make sense that I am all too new to this?” She need have no doubts, because her songs are full of mood and feeling throughout, and deal largely with love and disappointment, hopes and expectations. Indeed, the some of the verses might easily stand alone as poems in their own right, because Sophia surely is a poet–songwriter.
Interestingly, Sophia and/or her producer, Sandy Brechin, chose as the opening song the traditional African–American lullaby, All the Pretty Little Horses, sung to a melody by Matt Coleman. It is a happy choice, because it engages the listener right away, and Sophia’s distinctive vocal presentation is enhanced by the musical arrangement featuring Sandy on piano, Alan Mackenzie, acoustic guitar, and Aly Macrae, fiddle. Full marks to the producer who allows the voice and the words to be heard clearly throughout the recording, and for supplying us with all the song words, as well. Clearly, Ms Magallanes will have a decision to make in deciding where her future lies: the song writing and singing, or will she go down the doctoral route and a day–job, perhaps? Or maybe she’ll manage to balance both.
Aidan O’Hara

Mostly Melodeon
16 Tracks, 53 Minutes
Old Box Records OBR004
Dan Possumato as you probably know already is a box player based in Alaska. That’s a big distance from the shamrock shore, yet his music could have come out of the West of Ireland, it is that authentic. This album is a selection from three of his previous albums: Land of Sunshine, Pulling Out The Stops and Tunes Inside, Due to that there is a big list of ‘many friends’ on the album, eighteen in all. With the likes of Elliot Grasso, Brian McGrath, Kevin Burke, Julie Langan and Quentin Cooper on the list you can see Dan keeps the very best of musical company.
The stately reel Da Eye Wife opens the album, lovely bouzouki backing here from Frances Cunnigham. Jerry Mulvihill puts a shift in by adding a deep sounding banjo to Land of Sunshine set, there’s a sea shanty, one of Liam Clancy’s favourites, Leave Her Johnny with bouzouki from Bill Galloway and melodeon providing the touches of instrumental filling here. Teresa Baker adds a gentle walking piano accompaniment on the Little Stack of Oats.
Dan ads some frolicking bass on Scattery Island where can hear how the melodeon could have infected Quebecoise music with its bounce. Eliot Grasso only appears once, but the partnership of melodeon and his pipes is one of the standout tracks, they play Rosemary Lane with such confidence and fun foot tapping was the order of the day.
As a sampler for Dan’s other albums this is a welcome calling card, for a look at the potential of the often sidelined melodeon it will give some young bucks a dose of inspiration, whether it’s Athlone or Alaska, mostly melodeon is mighty music.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 10 Tracks, 43 Minutes
This is one of the most beautifully presented CDs I’ve seen in a long time, as well as being a breath of fresh fiddle music from an exciting young Boston musician. Jenna Moynihan draws upon Irish, Scottish and American traditions on this debut solo album. Her own Haven opens the recording: a modern stateside waltz with delicate harp and guitar. Jenna follows up with two big Scottish tunes from Uist piper John Scott, a 6/8 march which draws delicacy from the fiddle this time, and the driving competition reel Dolina MacKay which shows some real power but still finishes with a light touch. This gentle “less is more” bowing style seems to be a feature of Ms Moynihan’s playing – the bow barely touching the strings, harmonics creeping in, missed notes leaving a minimal skeleton of the tune. It’s subtle and beautiful, and surprisingly effective.
The Eagle’s Whistle begins as a light, languid air, then ramps up to a country fiddle romp through Major Campbell Graham. There’s more of that misty Martin Hayes mood about Banks of the Deveron, a slow jig with harp and guitar again. Harpist Mairi Chaimbeul introduces her own melody Kendall Tavern before leading into Nollaig Casey’s spiky reel Dancing in Allihies. There’s a clear American oldtime feel to Jenna’s tune Chill on Montebello, perhaps best described as a breakdown, written in an old 5–string fiddle tuning and played here with country legend Darol Anger O’Sullivan’s March, Cawdor Fair and Rise Ye Lazy Fellow get the Moynihan treatment with slow and soft turning to fast and dirty, before the big finish on Jenna’s reel The Night We Had the Bears, fun and funky. There’s a vast range of music on Woven, both fiddle and accompaniment, very well played, with a unique poignancy and freshness.
Alex Monaghan