Releases > Releases January 2015

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11 Tracks, 50 Minutes
Gael Linn CEFCD206
Back in the early 1990’s I was living in the Channel islands. What Irish music there was we made ourselves and very occasionally we’d be treated to a touring Irish band. One of the highlights of a decade or more of music at the local folk club was an evening with La Lugh, which featured Gerry O’Connor and Eithne Ní Uallacháin. They were a warm, friendly and exciting band, three or four levels higher than the normal stuff we were used to. So I thought this new album from Gael Linn would help me recall that wonderful evening from all those years ago. Well yes and it did a lot more.
Eithne was a vital spark on stage, a slight, petite figure, she lit up the room, but as we know she held a deeper, darker, weighty shadow. Those undertones are here on the disc, and they remind us plainly that the tradition is capable of high artist expression and moreover Eithne was a master of the art.
In 1996 Eithne brought out the stunning album Brighid’s Kiss, and so impressed were we at IMM we awarded it our album of the year. To think Biligua was being made in the studio only twelve months later is a revelation. This is not an archive recording, or a simple pull from the dusty vaults, the tracks, which date back to the last few years of her life, 1997 to 1999, have been sensitively augmented by her son Dónal and husband Gerry O’Connor, with others too, and I must mention Mudd Wallace who also has a key role in completing the work. And what a job they have done. This is one of freshest most modern sounding album’s I’ve heard this year, from the opening track, Bilingua with its jangly almost African percussion and kit’s core question about identity, to her personal approach to the traditional form of Caoineadh on Grief and the very contemporary sound of Lughnasa Damhsa. Senex Puer is a mix of the medieval, the modern and would not be out of place at a European fantasy folk rock festival.
Without a doubt Eithne was one of the most original voices in Irish music, her song writing both in English and Irish will be ranked amongst the finest in the genre, although trying to tie this down to a simple label is hard as her grasp of music was such that narrow definitions do little justice to her talent or legacy.
The liner notes, with a sensitive and insightful introduction by Fintan Vallely, are impressively researched, they include a number of photographs showing Eithne at her joyous best. The notes also contain accolades from fellow singers, Mary Black, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Pauline Scanlon, and Karen Matheson. The key to the liner text is an appreciation of Eithne’s life and musical work from her own family’s perspective. It is a moving, engrossing and essential guide to this album. Quirky and challenging, subtle and sublime, experimental and emotional, fragile and determined, pick any combination, you won’t hear anything remotely like this in 2015. If there ever was a work of genius this is it. On the passing of a great talent too early, we often say ‘what if?’ This album answers the question before it is asked, with ‘look what she left us, a treasure for all time…’
This album is not an empty cenotaph but a work of the deepest respect to the life of a truly remarkable singer.
Seán Laffey

The Alt
Under The Arch Records UTACD002,
11 Tracks, 47 Minutes
Individually if you see these names in association with music you know you are in for a treat; put them together and the result is a vivid, body of effusive listening pleasure. The existential musical quality and meticulous detail are hallmarks of the instrumental and vocal integrity within John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy and Eamon O’Leary and this shines through in their self–named album, The Alt.
From the A cappella blend of vocal at the intro to Lovely Nancy, the trio takes you through intricate layers of absorbing bouzouki and guitar arrangements that know exactly when to apply themselves as a subtle accompaniment and when to spring to the fore and take over from the lyrical lift of the flute. Their particular variant of John Reilly’s What Put the Blood stands up there alongside both the Moore and Casey versions especially when combined with the unique instrumental backing. I can only describe the mix of string and vocal harmony on Willie Angler as tinged with a honeyed depth and a stand out on the quality front has to be the reflective Cha Tig Mór Mo Bhean Dhachaigh which is delivered with an emotive plaintiveness that mirrors the Scottish lament.
The term, The Alt, is described on the sleeve notes as the name of a storied glen or chasm on the slopes of Knocknarea in County Sligo, and that describes this group perfectly. There’s something about the intertwining of strings with harmonic vocal occasionally interspersed with the lift of the flute that will open up a chasm of intensity that draws a listener deep inside. That’s The Alt.
Eileen McCabe

Own Label
11 Tracks, 43 Minutes
Brendan Ring – Irish piper writing and playing really innovative tunes, right? Wrong. That was his last album: this one sees Brendan recast as a harpist playing the ancient Celtic repertoire, pure and simple music in some ways, but fiendishly complex at times. Brendan’s wire–strung clarsach sounds somewhere between Paul Dooley’s small harp and Ann Heymann’s monster replica of the Brian Boru instrument. (Having just read the small print, it turns out that Brendan’s harp is indeed a Trinity harp replica with Ann Heymann’s strings, so I wasn’t far off!) Its bell–like resonance makes a beautiful noise, but it also causes clashes and dissonance with the following notes: many older harp pieces were written to take advantage of this, and it is the harpist’s job to manage the resonances for maximum effect, a job which Brendan does brilliantly here.
Cumha starts with a Scottish pibroch probably from the 1600’s, a challenging performance piece normally associated with the bagpipes but often played by harpists: there’s a whole area of study on whether pibroch evolved from harp music or vice versa, google it if you’re interested, but for now it’s enough to note that this is an ancient and demanding form which calls for great technique if it’s to be bearable for the listener.
The two pibroch tracks on this CD are relatively short – around five minutes each – and are both delightful, seemingly effortless, the sign of a master musician. Brendan’s own compositions here include Tony’s Cumha and Sheila’s Cumha, laments or airs of parting, not heart–rending wails but gentler moods of mourning and loss. The more formal Cumh Easbig Earraghaal is an older example of the same form, a lament for a renaissance bishop of Argyll.
Brendan includes a range of lighter pieces too, from the Carolan classic Eleanor Plunkett to reels and jigs such as Crowley’s and Out on the Ocean, popular session tunes which Mr Ring makes his own, taking liberties with the melody and pushing out more triplets than an Irish fertility clinic.
Along with the Scots and Irish traditions, there are some hints of Brendan’s new home in France: Breton shades in his piece The White Oak, and maybe even some central French influences in the slow reel Tiger Moth. The whole recording is a solo effort, although Brendan supplements the lone harp with his own low whistle and percussion on a couple of tracks, including the final mystic Irish Icaro.
Cumha is an album of quiet contemplation and gentle enjoyment, with a few moments of exuberance too. There’s no label or website information on the CD, but a message to brendanring24 care of will get you to the man himself.
Alex Monaghan

Basement Sessions
15 Tracks, 57 minutes
Own Label MMCCD1
This album is a welcome return to the recording studio for veteran folksinger Johnny McEvoy. It carries his trademark easy going handle on folk songs, there is nothing hectoring or polemical about this work, it has the feel of a man completely at home with his repertoire and his music.
The production is first class, and if there ever was an album destined for radio play this is it. The ensemble, sound is one that is instantly recognisable and welcome on the majority of local radio stations across the country, no doubt due to the deft hand of Bill Shanley on production (he also plays, guitar, keyboards and adds backing vocal). A steady bass line is slotted in by James Blennerhasset with Andrew Holdsworth on piano. Guest musicians include Maire Breatnach on fiddle and the young group Na Fianna on backing vocals. It all adds to a sumptuous sound.
McEvoy is both a fine singer and an accomplished songwriter, his many fans will welcome firm favourites, such as The Ballad Of John Williams, The Leaving of Liverpool, Gordon Lightfoot’s Last Thing on My Mind, and Bill Staines’ Roseville Fair. Johnny proves that even though he may be labelled as a veteran he hasn’t shrivelled creatively, his newer songs Saskatchewan, Boston Ladies and The Planter’s Daughter hold their own on this collection of what are now more or less folk standards.
He gets nostalgic on track 11, Banagher, a sweet melancholy a love letter to his own place. He has one spoken word track, Béal Na mBláth, which precedes the final track Michael, an homage to Michael Collins, a deftly handed book end to this lovingly made album.
Seán Laffey

Charmed (Faoí Draíocht)
Own label MMA001CD 14 Tracks, 63 Minutes

A Fleadh Cheoil singing stalwart, with eight All Britain titles under her belt, and on this recording Marianne McAleer brings all the expereince she has acquired in her singing and lilting career to a charming collection of songs. They are bathed in reflection and history, some newly written, others old songs from older times, others, newer compositions, that have made an impact in various traditional song circles.
Marianne is a well – known figure on the singing circle scene both in the UK and Ireland, the track choices encompass the sadness of emigration in Green Fields of America, the loss of love in The Lady of Loughrea then changes emotive tack and steers to the comedic in an uplifted version of Rolling Home Drunk. With guitar accompaniment by Jeff Gillet, the songstress combines vocal with a lilting flair in her original composition Fahy The Fiddler inspired by her son Finn, who does indeed shine with his fiddle at the conclusion to the song. The Wounded Hussar calls for silence as the unaccompanied vocal tells the tale of Turlough O’Carolan’s friend, Captain Henry O’Kane, who fell to his tragic fate beside the famed Danube river.
The Banks of Sullane, named after theonly male river in Irealnd is rendered well, calls up imagery of the lush rolling Ballyvourney and Macroom landscape of West Cork, the song synonymous with Elisabeth Cronin is now endemic to the cutlere of the river valley. The standout on the album for me though is the composition by Pete McAleer, The Cry of the Curlew, where the reflective descriptions of Greencastle in Tyrone are married with the popular air Éamann a Chnoic.
Charmed is a lesson in song choice and delivery that can be attributed to any traditional, circle of song, whther it be for accoilaes, trophies or pure enjoyment.
Eileen McCabe

13 Tracks, 41 Minutes
Own Label KRTYMT001

John O’Shea comes with a weighty CV, years of work with Michael O’Toole at the Dublin Institute of Technology’s Music Centre, a Masters from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and his current role as full time guitar teacher at the Limerick School of Music.
Now don’t think for one moment this is album an academic exercise. Yes O’ Shea displays the technical ability you get from prolonged high level study, but there’s soul and passion here too. This is alchemy on a six string. It does come with a warning: ‘I Dunno What It Is, But It’s Not Trad’. Now isn’t that the way with innovation? O’Shea is making his own box and this is a new pigeon hole for guitar playing.
The track titles are deceptively reassuring, such as The Floating Crowbar reel or Smash the Windows jig, The Glen Cottage polka, even Whiskey in the Jar. Drill deep into the album and you’ll discover an innate feeling for the structure and forward flow of those traditional tunes, allied with a supple understanding of the narrative of each melody where O’Shea has a feline ability to command a precipitous edge.
The opening track, Maidin Luain Cincíse, is a gentle as you could get, delicate, empathetic, the next track is such a contrast, hanging on the Floating Crowbar Reel, the playing is fast, tight and precise, punctuated with chops, flamenco Rasgueado, a diversion into the world of American progressive county rock and back to more triplets, all within the space of thirty seconds. There’s so much to hear, this is not background music, it’s visceral, demanding your full attention, blink for a moment and another train is on the track.
His lyrical side comes to the fore on Taimse Im’ Chodlagh his guitar is bell like in the accuracy of its tuning, O’Shea’s version is inhabited by open spaces, individual notes are given air to resonate and time to fill the void. He is joined by fiddler Anna Jane Ryan on a beautiful two hander: The Lark in The Clear Air. Whiskey in the Jar is the calling card, all the arrows in his quiver are here, from the Spanish percussive to the Irish plaintive with a tremolo in the middle section, it ends with the flash of a fan.
Talent with taste, technique with temperament; O’Shea is doing something exciting, this album will be an inspiration to would–be solo guitar players everywhere and a nightmare for folks with not enough pigeon holes. Check out his sample tracks at his Soundcloud link on his Facebook page.
Seán Laffey

Coda – 15 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Own Label

Coda is a group of seven singers and multi–instrumentalists from Mayo, Ireland, formed in 2010.
They are Declan Askin, Alan Drumm, Conall Ó Domhnaill, Brian Lennon, Mike Cannon, Steve Bryant and Leonard Kelly. Actually, they found their way to Mayo, all but Mike Cannon.
Their debut album is Mouthmusic, self–released on their own label. It is produced by the peripatetic Maurice Lennon. The seven part harmonies run the gamut from very old and very traditional to really new and shiny, and, it appears, a lot of songs from their youth.
Coda uses chorale style singing to display great harmonies. Their opening gambit was The Briar and the Rose a match winner by itself. It is followed by the waulking song, Mhorag’s Na Horo Gheallaidh, The brilliance of blending songs from across the time spectrum, from Burns to Lennon and McCartney, allows for the band to show off their breadth of their ability, and the beauty of the human voice as an instrument.
Interestingly, the instruments are almost an after–thought, and in many ways are lost to the overwhelming strength of the vocals. That is a good thing, as it allows their voices to lift and carry, doing all the heavy work. The exception is Lord Franklin, about the doomed Arctic explorer. The guitar gives the song a bit more colour.
Van Morrison’s Full Force Gale is given a good showing, with slight American gospel sounds painting the corners of their singing. The sea shanty, Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her, popularized by Makem and Clancy, finds nuances that I had never before heard in this standard.
Not all tracks worked for me, though. Mike Scott’s Bring ‘Em All In, is almost annoying, but it is a song that always has had that effect on me. The other is Lennon and McCartney’s Because, a piece that is distracting, both by the Beatles and Coda.
That said, there are many good moments on this work that make it an exceptional album. Burns Auld Lang Syne, although familiar, is completely new at the same time, a rare feat. Ewan McColl’s Tunnel Tigers also has the punch that McColl s song was meant to have.
The album closer, Declan Askin’s Mayo Home utilizes the Clew Bay Pipe Band, and would make the most ,at least momentarily, considering buying the red and green of Mayo’s teams. It is a rousing sports song, and helped bring the group fame going into the All– Irelands a while back. It is a perfect coda to this work.
Brian Witt

13 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Own Label JJCD11s
Even before I put this in the CD player I suspected it was going to be good, engineered by Tony Flaherty at Sonas Studio in Killarney, cover shots by Macroom’s Con Kelleher, endorsed by Galway’s Tom Cussen banjos, it had a hallmark of excellence stamped on it. After the initial twenty seconds I was convinced this is a gold star deal.
First impressions? A huge sound from a trio: Jamie McKeogh – Guitar, Tenor Banjo, Mandolin & Lead Vocals Daithí Melia – Five String Banjo, Guitar & Vocals, Cathal Guinan – Double Bass, Fiddle & Vocals. They label themselves as Traditional Irish and Bluegrass fusion, and they hail from Offaly, but you’d suspect from the work here they’d been raised in the mountains south of Harrisburg. For too many years Irish country music has been a limp imitation of the proper stuff, well Jigjam are as close to authentic as you can get without having been raised on grits and fried squirrel.
There will be inevitable comparisons with We Banjo Three (and that’s a good thing, they even credit Fergal Scahill on the liner notes). Jigjam’s vocals are strong, they choose catchy lyrics, their tunes are upbeat the banjo is the main melodic instrument adding the bluegrass flavour and driving everything forward. They are not however, WB3 clones, Jigjam have their own recognisable sound, thanks largely to the pumping double bass of Cathal Guinan, which fills the air and adds full colour to the vocal tracks.
They show their Irish trad roots on the jigs Ringing the Bell/Banks of Newfoundland, explore some classic Bluegrass in Big Sandy River, fire on all cylinders on a set they call Gypsy Jazz March. They are joined on Beeswing and Cedars of Lebabon by fiddler Ciara McKeogh and it is here they calm it down as effortlessly as they can rip it up.
Their songs are varied ranging from Old Crow Medicine’s Show’s Levi (a song about a soldier’s life in Iraq). More Americana on Rye Whiskey and Jack of the Woods, then they tackle Richard Thompson’s Beeswing and the modern favourite Riptide by the Australian songwriter Vance Joy. They close the album with a children’s song, The Fox, you know the one about the Fox went out of stormy night, there is thunder and lightning in this version, a backwoods county fair of banjo picking, mando–chopping and tight bass syncopation. Listening to this in the kitchen, the teenage daughter said, “I’d love to see these lads live, I bet they are a brilliant festival act…” I had to agree with her.
Their opening track is called Tickle Me Pink and if you like your music with a mountainy swing this album from Jigjam will put a permanent smile on your face. Great debut album from a great trio, Offaly should be proud of these lads.
Seán Laffey

4 Tracks EP, 17 Minutes
Coscán CD 3
Coscán are no strangers to IMM, we have been following the progress of this county Meath quartet for a number of years now and at every turn their musical imaginations have expanded. This EP is a taster of a much larger work in progress, a work, which will celebrate the heritage and mythology of their native county.
Firedance the EP is made up of 4 tracks, three of which would be handy in any radio station, coming at three and a half minutes or less they are ideal for the modern time limited radio show. Cnogba The Cradle is a mesmeric jig with the fiddle and whistle to the fore, Reel Around the Sun/Dowth Reel is chance for the fiddle to take centre stage, as it plays over a synth drone, the Dowth Reel kicks in with the guitar and whistle changing the pace and angle of attack. The Apostles Stone, is a bright piece with the fiddle and the synth running in strings mode, it brings a full orchestral sound to the closing number on the album. Now the three shorter pieces if they have a down side it is there is little time for development of musical ideas or melodic motifs. On the other hand the third track on the disc, The Flame of Slane is a programmatic piece, assembled from four elements, Draiocht’s Dia, Bealtaine Fires, March of the King of Tara and the title composition Firedance.
The first selection Draiocht’s Dia is held by a lonely whistle which is joined by an equally plaintive synth and then the fun begins, with a steady bodhrán and whistle interlude on March of the King of Tara, which seagues effortlessly into Firedance, a composition burning full of energy, the guitar, prominent in the mix, kicking the work along.
As a sampler for things to come, this is an upbeat collection of original work, grounded in a landscape and lore that Coscán truly loves.
Seán Laffey

North Star
12 Tracks, 49 Minutes
Own label ACR 102

Be warned with this, the second album from singer songwriter Kyle Carey entitled North Star.
Yes, be warned, as the longer you listen the more you are drawn in to the soothing tones and delicate instrumental that fuse together to bring an album of beguiling captivation that catches you until the last note falls from the air. This captivation is in the delivery, the arrangements, instrumental and vocal harmony choice and of course, the fact that the majority of tracks on the album are self– penned with emotive lyricism that conjures a landscape and soundscape of vivid colour.
Produced by Solas stalwart Seamus Egan, the languid yet intricate style on the album is supported by a cast of skilled instrumentalists such as Dirk Powell, Chico Huff, Natalie Haas and Catriona McKay, amongst others, whilst the careful choice of vocal harmonic combination brings out a stunning blend of sound with Pauline Scanlon and Eamon McElholm shining on North Star as they soar over an anchor of string instrumental and turn the waves to gold. That skill in choice of vocal blend is fully apparent also on the opening track, the vibrant, June Day as Josienne Clarke lifts the intensity of Carey’s emotive delivery and that intensity continues through to Sios Dhan an Abhainn where the power of engagement holds firm as the voice of Gillebride Mac IlleMhaoil unites with Careys with a captivating force.
Each track is special in itself, whether it is the turn of phrase or a melodic twist, Kyle Carey has surpassed herself in bringing her thoughts and dreams to life through a soundscape that positively emphasises the languid intensity within.
Eileen McCabe