Releases > Releases January 2023

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Let The Free Birds Fly
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 51 Minutes
The title track opens the album with powerful driven banjo and uilleann pipes, the vocals are taken by Andreas Durkin and Cormac McGuinness, both of whom possess strong and youthful voices, Durkin filling the chorus with rock passion. This could be the version of “The Fields” played at sports stadiums around the country for years to come. That driving banjo from Damaris Woods is present on Come Out Ye Black and Tans, with Derek on the vocals, this time a low whistle adding the legato atmosphere to the piece. A low rumbling synth forms the prelude to the Ballad of James Connolly, Derek talking through the first third, as if giving a graveside oration, before the Young Wolfe Tones sing the full ballad.
Derek takes us back to 1803 and the exile of Irish rebels to Australia, in the Bobby Sands’ composition Back Home in Derry (the album’s cover art work by Robert Ballagh shows birds flying free from the Maize Prison, the place where Sands wrote the song). This is set to the now familiar Gordon Lightfoot tune The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The music on this album is first rate and way above the bog standard ballad room session often associated with late night rebellry. One consistent feature is the way the band set up the tracks, mainly thanks to Woods’ banjo, they settle into a strong groove before the singer takes to the microphone.
It’s not all historical Rebel ballads; there are diversions with Home Boys Home and The Spanish Lady. The band also get a track in the spotlight with the instrumental Flying Fingers Set. However the core of the album is material that has long been Derek Warfield’s stock in trade, even before 2005 when he founded the Young Wolfe Tones. Today’s iteration of the band has brought a tight musicality to the songs and even a harmonised chorus on The Sniper’s Promise.
There is no doubt that Derek Warfield believes deeply in his music and his studied view of Irish History, and we know for sure his thousands of fans share those sentiments to a T. They will not be in any way disappointed with Let the Free Birds Fly.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 11 Tracks, 44 Minutes
You may know Niamh as the fiddler and singer in the band Beoga. This album is a welcome extension of her ensemble persona. Here her singing is the main focus, and what a singer she is and what choice of material too.
Musicians on the album are: Joshua Burnside (vocals & backing vocals), Seán Óg Graham (acoustic & electric guitars, stomps, backing vocals), Michael Keeney (piano, harmonium, stomps), Liam Bradley (drums, & percussion), Kate Ellis (cello) and Conor Mc Creanor (double bass).
The first track is Roads of Old Tralee, where Niamh is joined by Joshua Burnside; the song swings and the chorus is a sheer delight. The double bass underpins The Raven, which is the first single from this album. A Celtic tale of warriors and a shape shifting bird, it’s flying in classic folk-rock territory and is a worthy successor to the upbeat work of Clannad. Thomond Lady opens with a long drone, a perfect foil for Niamh’s rich deep voice, blessed here with a whisper of sean-nós; readers who are familiar with the city of Limerick will recognise many of the locations in this atmospheric murder ballad.
One of the longest tracks is called Hold Your Head Up. It begins with a few trilled notes on the piano, soon becoming the most contemporary track on the album, building to a rich crescendo and fading to a single piano chord, quite magical in its trajectory.
The O’Rahilly is a song about one of her ancestors, the famous Irish patriot. This is a tour de force of traditional musicians playing sensitively with an historical ballad, the end of the track closes with the spoken word, as if an echo from 1916.
We’ve know for years that Niamh Dunne is one of our finest singers and this album brings her centre stage. It’s a keeper and quite possibly the Irish folk album of the year.
Seán Laffey

Music from Galway
Own Label BCKCD001, 15 Tracks, 47 Minutes
Two sisters from East Galway: you can hear the distinctive regional fiddle style in their music. Paddy Fahey, Lucy Farr, and more recent representatives Liz and Yvonne Keane are evoked by this album, especially in the gentle grace of Breda’s fiddle and in the local repertoire, which fills about half the tracks here. The modal twists and flat keys of Fahey are often hinted at, and one of his many reels makes an appearance alongside Paddy Kelly’s tune Mullingar Lea. There are also a couple of compositions from Claire Keville, tasty jigs with that East Galway tang. The other half of Music from Galway ranges further afield - to Connemara, Clare, Cavan and other counties of Ireland. Reels and jigs by Ed Reavy, Paddy O’Brien, Tommy Peoples, Gerry Harrington and others are tightly played as duets.
I particularly enjoyed The Market Day and Saint Ruth’s Bush. The sleeve notes on each track are exemplary. Another notable aspect of this recording is the high number of slow airs, many taken from and played with reverence for sean nós songs: a Connemara version of Róisín Dubh, the song Coinleach Glas an Fhomhair learnt from Dara Bán Mac Donnchadha, and Cúirt Bhaile Nua taken from Aran Islands singer Treasa Ní Mhiolláin. There’s also a version of The Wounded Hussar. Each air is played on a solo instrument, three on fiddle and one on concertina. Claire and Breda end with a final treat, the Carolan planxty Sir Arthur Shaen, a fine old melody to finish this first-class album.
Alex Monaghan

The Donegal Melodeon
Own Label, DBSC02, 11 Tracks, 35 Minutes
Who doesn’t know Dermot Byrne, the famous Donegal accordionist, member of Altan for twenty years? Just a few months ago he produced a fine album with fiddler Yvonne Casey.
For many years he has played with guitarist Steve Cooney. The Melbourne-born Cooney came to Ireland in 1980 and has since accompanied a host of musicians including Séamus Begley, and his name appears on no fewer than 250 albums in various capacities.
Dermot and Steve have finally decided to bring their collaboration to fruition on an excellent album, The Donegal Melodeon, which alas is only 35 minutes long. The melodeon is a two-tone diatonic accordion with a single row of buttons.
This recording is a very fine collection of tunes that Dermot learned from the generations that preceded him in Donegal, in particular the musicians of the South-West of the county (notably John Doherty and Con Cassidy), around Teelin, where Steve Cooney settled. An area renowned for its tradition of music, song and dance.
In this part of Donegal there is a lot of influence from the travelling tinsmiths (the Traveller community). Dermot’s father, himself an accordionist, played a very important role in his son’s education, and Teelin’s fiddle style is perfectly reflected in his approach to the melodeon.
While Dermot plays melodeons in various tunings, Steve plays guitar, bass, bouzouki, keyboards, percussion and didgeridoo, an instrument he imported from Australia.
Eleven tracks and eighteen tunes in all follow one another: highlands, reels, hornpipes, barndances and jigs, dances characteristic of this county in the north of Ireland. These include Duncan Davidson, the famous Merry Sisters, An Gasúr Mór and Glencolmcille Barndances. All of these tunes will get the listener’s feet tapping.
Dermot and Steve take the tradition to new heights here, combining impeccable technique with undoubted talent in an album that is already a highlight in 2023.
Philippe Cousin

And We For One Another
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 44 Minutes
Robin James Hurt’s new album And We For One Another is a statement of originality, an organically made album of songs and tunes, lo-fi, in the folk music genre. It was recorded on a four track Portastudio, a clever production of authentic, musical sounds. The title comes from the pen of James Frazer, a line from his Song for the 12th of July, told from the perspective of the United Irishmen. Hurt uses Sean Tyrell’s melody here, a powerful version.
In tunes like Across the Black Soil Plains, Laharna and Snialp he experiments with timing; percussive sounds like quick marching feet, oceans, winds, the elements, the outdoors brought inside, very unusual. The Keech in the Creel is really endearing, comic, beautifully arranged, with Dorothea Bergman and Amanda Young on recorders, playful, a delightful number.
Mick Morris, Kevin Meehan and Ian McTigue provide stellar accompaniment with Hurt the multi-instrumentalist on all tracks. Launching the first track he counts it in; “a one, two, three, four…” as if in live performance, several tracks have the ‘live from a stage’ vibe. Fare the Well Enniskillen and The Galway Shawl, songs that have been widely recorded, interfered with, rocked up, rolled down - here they feel like a species returned to the natural habitat, gentle, rhythmic, Hurt’s gravelly vocals the perfect pitch. Hector the Hero, a charming slow air, drone guitar suggesting the lonesome, darkness in the mood, a compelling listen. The Magpie’s Nest, love song and paean to a place, echoes of emigrant-longing songs, memories of a “cottage neat and clean”, near the Shannon, a place like no other.
Hurt is a passionate singer, composer and arranger, forsaking the bells and whistles of modern technology to make this album, retro but not really, material chosen because it sits comfortably in the yester year room.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Sailing On
Independent Label, 8 Tracks, 32 Minutes
The Bow Tides’ debut album, Sailing On, is an impressive testimony to individual talents and collective creativity. A full five piece band, The Bow Tides are fronted by three very fine musicians and composers - Jessie Burns, Katie Grennan and Ellery Klein - who are supported by Jeff Lindblade on guitar and Eric Thorin on bass. The ensemble has woven a well-produced package of solid harmonic expression and clever arrangements.
As the beautiful cover art suggests, Sailing On merges traditions and continents, spanning the decades of experience of three fiddlers who have performed and taught traditional Irish music for many years. Burns, Grennan and Klein take full advantage of the flexibility, colour and ornamentation of their instruments, and their musical talents -  with fantastic results.
Sailing On is both a distillation of unique styles, and a brilliant showcase of contemporary Irish/Scottish/French/Galician and original music. Beatrice’s Waltz is a delightful tune, ornamentation enriching this catchy air’s mellow and nostalgic character. This original waltz is juxtaposed with the livelier tunes like The Bow Tides Jigs. High-octane, rhythmic, each jig gives a glimpse of the personalities behind the compositions. The brilliant set Trip to Gaelicia shows imagination and versatility. The Power of Three is perhaps the best example of their signature sound: with a complex texture, richness and wildness in the playing of freewheeling and distinctive original reels. The Bow Tides are untethered here, testing musical boundaries through confident playing that yields pure magic. The Wee Boy’s Lament for his Pet Dragon draws from Scottish repertoire. The set turns on a dramatic tune change, and its playful feel is a great choice to end on. The listener is left only wanting more.
This album is a warm and discerning musical collaboration, with Burns, Grennan and Klein using this project to extend and enhance their musical palettes. There is no doubt about the musical cohesion throughout the work- fiddles to the fore, but guitar and bass vital to the heartbeat - with the power of three-plus-two, look out for The Bow Tides bringing their high-energy music to a stage near you.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Decemberwell Decade
Unroofed Records, 10 Tracks, 33 Minutes
Here’s a new idea from an old album. Back in 2011 multi-instrumentalist Mike Vass was, as we now say, “working from home”. Housebound from his peripatetic teaching job during a bitter Scottish December, he decided to compose, play and record his Decemberwell album. Ten years on in 2021 with lockdowns and home working being commonplace, Mike revisited the work, this time as producer, with 10 other musicians playing and interpreting Mike’s originals. Obviously it was a longer and more complex project that time around, hence its November 2022 release date.
Those interpreters are: Philip Cardwell (trumpet), David Foley (flute), Donald Grant (fiddle), Louis Abbot (drums), Sorren MacLean (guitars), Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion), Joseph Peach (piano and accordion) and Emma Smith (double bass).
The brass and fiddle play a major role in Two Decker, whereas the guitar is to the fore on Levity. A resonant double bass makes its presence felt on Prisms on the Dark Sea. For an atmospheric track go straight to Suspension in the Air; here MacLean’s guitar sonically draws images of icicles and freezing fog, giving a whole new meaning to a chillout track.
There are two songs on the album, one each from Kathleen MacInnes and Mairi MacLennan; both sing in Scots Gaelic. Mairi’s version of Siud Ma Chuir Mi N Geamhrash Tharam shares its melody with Robbie Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss, but here the singer tells his lover how he spends the winter:
Siud mar chuir mi ’n Geamhradh tharam
smaointinn daonnan gaol mo leannain
That’s how I put the Winter on me
always think of my beloved love
Kathleen MacInnes sings Ciuin An Oidhch’, a Scots Gaelic translation of Silent Night, a song that has been a feature of Christmas in these islands for 100 years now. And isn’t that the way with classics like Mike Vass’ Decemberwell Decade, they endure, they persist and are interpreted anew by generations to come.
Seán Laffey

The Knotted Circle
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 53 Minutes
Julie Kinn (bodhrán, vocals) and Josh Kinn (octave mandolin, guitar, vocals) are Kinnfolk, a duo based in Roanoke, Virginia. They play an attractive brand of Celtic folk with clear clean vocals and a way with harmony; check out their acappella Loch Lomond, or Julie’s bodhrán and vocal on the English song Byker Hill (their YouTube version was filmed in a rusty industrial location for added grit).
Kinnfolk choose material from the traditional treasure chests of Ireland and Scotland, for example: As I Roved Out, The Barnyards of Delgaty. Josh sings the Scots Gaelic A Mhic Iain ‘ic Sheumais, and they include songs that have recently come into the folksinger’s bag such as: Peter Jones’ Kilkelly, Ireland and Steve Earle’s The Galway Girl. They even add a new one of their own The Hat Song, which at 5 minutes is one of the longer songs on the recording.
Three tune sets are played by Josh on the octave mandolin, The Transatlantic Set (Whiskey Before Breakfast / The Arkansas Traveler / John Stenson’s No. 2), The Ballydesmond Polkas (Ballydesmond Polkas No. 1, 2 & 3) and The Borden Set (The Tuned Bodhrán / Run from the Horseshoe / The Spinning Silver Penny). Josh has great empathy with these tunes, and brings the often-hackneyed Ballydesmond Set back to life.
If I had to pick a favourite track it would be the Robbie Burns’ song Now Westlin Winds. For economy of writing you won’t find a more condensed comment on our fractious relationship with nature, and to think it was written in 1775 when Burns was 16 and at school in Kirkoswald. Julie Kinn’s version is stunning in its simplicity, just voice and guitar, every word and every message ringing true for our times and beyond.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 10 Tracks, 39 Minutes
Siblings Elan, Marged and Gwilym Rhys are from Snowdonia in North Wales. In the Summer of 2012 they formed a trio Plu (the Welsh for feathers). For over 10 years they have been performing Welsh language alt pop-folk with appearances at the Glastonbury and Green Man festivals and the Patagonia Celtica Festival (Argentina being the epicentre of the Welsh Diaspora in South America).
This album was recorded over two years at Stiwdio Sain, Llandwrog, with producer Aled Wyn Hughes. The trio acknowledge the financial support of the Eos grant fund, which allowed them to bring in guest musicians: Carwyn Williams, Dafydd Owain and Edwin Humphreys.
The first track Dinistrio Ni sets the tone: pure vocals, low bass drum, three part harmonies on the poppy vocals, a gentle electric guitar break, a distant saxophone. For Ben i Waered (Ben is away) there are finger picked guitar arpeggios, an ethereal chorus. The song is paced like a lullaby, with an unhurried crescendo to close the track. Porth Samdal is sung in a plaintive chanteuse style, the vocals opening over a guitar backing, the whole filling with drums and washes of electric guitar chords. The piece becomes more complex before looping back to its original simplicity, with a tiny chime of bells ushering in its ending.
Gweld Dim (View Nothing) inhabits a slow jazz vibe, a persistent snare beat and a repetitive lyrical format. There’s a gorgeous instrumental break, fluid and sumptuous, a slight echo on the vocals when they rejoin the action, the melody fading away as the track dissolves. The final track, Cân Pryderi by Robin Williamson & Dewi Savage, with its deliciously buttery low saxophone interlude, reminded me of the melody to The Skye Boat Song. Cân Pryderi with its sibling harmony to end the track is the ideal way to sign off on this gentle album of traditional and contemporary Welsh language songs.
Seán Laffey

Fortune By Design
Own Label BWDW-01, 10 Tracks, 34 Minutes
In 2020 guitar player Brooks Williams and 5-string banjoist Dan Walsh got together in a “split screen” and played a version of Church Street Blues. The reception they got online spurred them on to making an album, which they call Fortune by Design. Brooks, a native of Georgia USA, is now living in Cambridge where he is a leading exponent of Americana and roots music. It’s all here from track one, from that seminal Church Street Blues with its bent notes on the banjo to Bob Dylan’s Well Well Well with its vocals enriched with reverb as the banjo picks up a stomp beat.
Paper Jam doesn’t get stuck, in fact the picking here on the guitar keeps the reams flowing. Stays the Same is a song about changing places, with a line that goes: “I get excited by a change, I can only choose what stays the same.” Then there’s shifting syncopation, ragtime style on It’s a Sin to Tell Lie.
Brooks goes back to his Statesboro roots on Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine. Dan’s banjo takes the first part of the melody before they play in unison with Dan taking the lead as the tune swings to Lockdown break down.
The album’s name comes from a line in the last song on the album, Tornado Smith, about the colourful Tornado Smith and the Lioness Marjorie Dare. Smith was a wall of death rider whose act included a 12-stone lioness riding in a side car, he also ran the White Hart Pub in Boxford, Suffolk.
The good news for readers in the UK is that from 14-15 January you can join a workshop with these two virtuosos in Wiltshire, details are on their website.
Seán Laffey

Words of a Fiddler’s Daughter
The Tears of Jenny Greenteeth
UTE 006, 14 Tracks, 90 Minutes
Musical folk-arts meets a modern fairy tale, set in “a time younger than ours”. A time of innocence, a time before the pollution of greed sucked the natural world dry.
This extended folk tale is written by Jessie Summerhayes, the daughter of fiddler Adam Summerhayes, who is joined by Murray Grainger on accordion (both of whom also play in The Haar and the Ciderhouse Rebellion). Deborah Norris and Ballet Folk created the piece, which is a masterful work of dramatic writing from Jessie, and because it is a story you need to listen to this album in linear time.
Now with such a narrative piece it would be best to avoid spoilers; unexpected characters and twists in the plot are all part of the inner life of this recording. To whet your appetites, Jessie’s spoken word introduction is backed by a mellow fiddle, contrasting a sombre present with a joyful dance from the busy industrious thread-spinning days of long before.
Time moves on and things sour, Jenny is drowned and the once prosperous mill falls into disrepair. In one passage Jessie says “Resentment towers like a steeple over us” whilst simultaneously her father’s staccato fiddle is conjuring the ghost of Jenny Greenteeth, a revenant child coming back to haunt the future from the village’s past. Redemption eventually comes to the Mill race, and dancing and laughter return to the valley green, the fiddler infusing the day with hope and happiness on The Tickity Trees Are Dancing.
Imagination and music fashion a morality tale for the times we live in, from a truly creative fiddler’s daughter.
Seán Laffey

I Got Rhythm
Gnatbite Records GBR021, 13 Tracks, 50 Minutes
Here is one of the most gifted guitarists of his generation, able to switch from traditional to classical or gypsy jazz. All this without ever having taken a single music lesson. Tim is a special talent and one of the most generous musicians on the circuit today.
Tim Edey was born in Kent with an Irish mother, he now lives in Scotland and was named “musician of the year 2012″ by the BBC.
Over the past twenty years he has played and toured with a host of bands and musicians: The Chieftains, Christy Moore, Sharon Shannon, Altan, Capercaillie, Michael McGoldrick, Séamus Begley, Shaun Davey, Julie Fowlis. Impossible to name them all. And not content with being a seasoned guitarist, Tim also shines on diatonic accordion, piano, banjo and whistles.
To say that his new album I Got Rhythm is traditional would be inaccurate. A whole host of musical styles are represented, from gypsy jazz (I Got Rhythm, Lady Be Good) to musette waltz (La Bourrasque) or pop (How Deep Is Your Love, Fields Of Gold), without forgetting trad (Rare Old Mountain Set!, Danny Boy Air). We are even surprised to hear the famous Lily Marlene.
Recorded at home, in one take, during the lockdown of 2020, this album benefited from the support of some musician friends that Tim has worked with over the years: Michael McGoldrick on flute, Ross Ainslie on whistle, Dave McFarlane on keyboards and strings, James Lindsay on bass, and Natalie MacMaster, Donnell Leahy and Patsy Reid on fiddle.
A must-hear for the eclecticism and talent of this top-notch musician.
Philippe Cousin

Le Solas Faoithine
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 43 Minutes
Jack Warnock’s debut album Le Solas Faoithine (By Dusk Light) is a compelling piece of work from this young Derry man. An accomplished musician, singer, composer and native Irish speaker, he was nominated for the BBC Young Folk Award and is an all-Ireland champion accompanist.
William and Davy is a dark, tragic song; two brothers bound in love and friendship, fall for the same girl, and to maintain their friendship they construct a harmless enough plot to have her decide between them, childishly being shocked, cold and hungry, when she is oblivious to their plight.
Teas an Teallaigh, original Warnock slip jigs, mid-tempo, piano and accordion delightful, a great showcase of his versatility, as is Stop that Racket, The Timekeeper, (for Arty McGlynn) and The Five points, tunes written in pandemic gestation, a rich harvest, his creativity nurtured by the sunsets on Glenshane Pass. Seen by fading evening light (hence the title), like other great writers he values the beauty of his birthplace, evidenced in The Faughan Side, a beautiful paean to his native Derry, “where the shamrock rose, the thistle grows/the lily too beside”, vocally assured, a fine version.
Deartháirín O Mo Chroi, with echoes of Paddy Tunney, is a classic; ethereal, nature sounds brought inside, top class musicianship, woodlands and rivers evoked, brothers who “did each other adore”, until one goes to war and dies, “pale…bleeding…”
With Dónal O’Connor on fiddle, Tony Shaer on flute and Archie Churchill-Moss on accordion, the arrangements are clever throughout, his voice distinctive, thoughtful, rich cadence in the Irish language songs.
This album is a confident first step on Jack Warnock’s musical journey, full of richness in texture, full of promise, with a genuine sense of contentedness, the mood surely influenced by the artist paying attention to land and sky-scape at dusk.
Anne-Marie Kennedy

Voices from the Cones
Songs Inspired by Stories from the Glass Works in Stourbridge
WTK002, 12 Tracks, 39 Minutes plus bonus CD (49 Minutes)
Back before the 1980s I was doing a science degree at Wolverhampton and one of our liberal electives was on the Folk Music and Folk Lore of the Black Country. It was a fun no-pressure course with visits to Canal Cuts, The Crooked House at Himley and a day trip to the Cones at Stourbridge. These are glass producing brick kilns, so how pleasing it was to find this double CD of songs and tales from that once hive of industry.
The words of the opening song sets the cultural agenda in two lines:
Four hundred years on this land and we haven’t finished yet
Voices from the Cones we never will forget
Dan Whitehouse and his fellow musicians channel the passions of a community that had worked for over 30 generations in an industry where it took 28 trades to complete a finished piece of glass. Originally founded by Huguenots refugees (their compatriots brought linen and silk weaving to Ireland), they were more or less benign managers who knew the worth of treating each specialist kindly.
On the track Moving there is an African-style electric guitar, evoking a tireless industrial machine as it turns out its produce. Rouse Ye Women recalls the Chain Makers strike of 1910, a call for equal pay for equal work, led by suffragist Mary McArthur. There’s A Music Hall vamping piano on Through The Front Door Out Through The Back, a funny story of the pub sale of extra curricular manufactured glass trinkets, we’d call it cash for a nixer in Ireland.
With heritage centres active in Ireland this project is an ideal model to emulate, combining archive interviews with new songs that are bedded in a deep understanding of the communal culture of the locality. This album is an example of the way music can illuminate social history, singing of the passion for people and place. It’s all as crystal clear as the glass that came from the Cones of Stourbridge.
Seán Laffey

The Coast of County Clare
Timezone Records TZ2402, 15 Tracks, 64 Minutes
Subtitled “New Irish Tin Whistle Music”, this third helping of compositions by German whistle master Olaf Sickmann includes a downloadable e-booklet with all the track details and the music for over two score new tunes. Reels and jigs, polkas and hornpipes, some nice waltzes and a couple of other slow pieces are all arranged for solo whistle with guitar accompaniment and a cittern cameo from Cameron Robson. Tin whistle music it certainly is, brightly and strongly played by Olaf with excellent control and phrasing. There are certainly some familiar snatches of melody here, jigs that owe much to The Rose in the Heather or Father O’Flynn for example, but to all intents and purposes these are original compositions to add to Sickmann’s already extensive collection.
One question is this: is it Irish? It’s not a matter of nationality or geography, but of style. There are some things here, particularly ornamentation and cadence, which strike me as clearly un-Irish. Sickmann has hallmark ornaments tongued triplets, passing notes, blurred mordents for instance, which come from a different tradition and which to my ears make this album more pan-European than pan-Celtic even. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it doesn’t stop the music being entertaining, but just as Galicians notice Scottish piping ornaments or Oldtime musicians react to Bluegrass riffs, these little touches of other styles make their mark.
Sharon Shannon can play Jamaican or Argentinian music with an Irish accent, and Martin Hayes adds the flavour of Feakle and Tulla to classical pieces. Olaf Sickmann brings a style all his own to The Coast of County Clare.
Alex Monaghan

The Youth that Belonged to Miltown
Own Label TAM001, 15 Tracks, 56 Minutes
Music from West Clare, flute and fiddle duets with a few solo tracks and one song: this collection is a delight, full of heartfelt music sweetly played. One of the things I particularly like about it is that it’s all old tunes, music which has been played in Miltown for years - centuries in most cases, some more recent from the last hundred years, and only one relatively new composition but even that is from the heart of the tradition: Trio to Mount Bernadette, a lovely modal jig by concertinist Rory McMahon. Otherwise, you’ll probably recognise most of the music here: perhaps not Therese’s song The Hills of Shanaway with an unknown composer who praises the area around Miltown Malbay, but certainly the reels, jigs, hornpipes, airs and set dances which drop from the talented fingers of Curtin and McInerney.
It’s great to hear young musicians playing with such assurance and understanding of place and tradition. The Crosses of Annagh and The Cuckoo’s Nest; Scully Casey’s and The Hearty Boys of Ballymote; Hurry the Jug and Liam O’Connor’s Fancy are all tightly played as duets. Solo tracks include reels, jigs and slow airs, showing skill and precision. The title tune is a slow air duet, poignant and powerful, accompanied by resonant cello. Touches of piano, bouzouki, bodhrán, harp and even dance steps round out the sound here without distracting from the flute and fiddle front line. Throw in a couple of Liz Carroll tunes, a few compositions by the late Paddy O’Brien and Ed Reavy, and of course Junior Crehan and Bobby Casey, and you have an enviable collection of musical greatness given a sparkling treatment by these two polished players.
The final track brings it all together for a crowning set of reels, finishing with Union Street all the way from Paul Cranford in Cape Breton: storming stuff!
Alex Monaghan

Gog Magog
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 39 Minutes
Not every folk band can boast being founded in Beirut but that’s the story with The Trials of Cato. With a burgeoning career and healthy reputation and a fine debut album Hide and Hair, their radical brand of folk music and exotic transfusions of Traditional and esoteric styles continues apace. Initially an all-male trio their promise was obvious and one to watch. Now with Polly Bolton, ex Magpie and a singer and multi-instrumentalist of some note on board, her considerable vocal lustre is exemplified by the opening Paper Planes a loping rollicking slice of Indie Folk mandolin, banjo and piano supplemented by stomping cajon beats, sublime female vocals and interlocking harmonies. The title track Gog Magog mixes Eastern rhythms, the tenor banjo assuming an Oud like bass tone while Ring of Roses mixes nursery rhyme lyrics and finger snapping rhythms.
Abaradaron’s Welsh acappella vocal opening to Clannad like accompaniment of guitar and mandolin ushers in some sweet male/female harmonies and subtle jig–like cadences. Stringed instruments are commonly used throughout, which would bring a comparison with Ye Vagabonds, but their strident quick-fire agility brings a more earthy rootsiness on Kerhonkson Stomp. When Black Shuck Roams gets a suitably dramatic reading while Bedlam Boys long remembered from Steeleye Span’s manic version on Please to see the King starts with eerie treated vocals before heading into a swampy blues-based reading malevolently full of foot stomp and angular vocal nuances. Boudica features Polly Bolton’s voice in a wispy languid melodic framework over acoustic backing and lilting harmonies.
Their balance obviously is between lead and backing vocals and instruments, nothing dominates and this creates a unified atmosphere. Gog Magog is musically articulate and aurally superb.
John O’Regan

Own Label 53330, 14 Tracks, 59 Minutes
The revival of interest in all things Celtic in Europe has been one of the most heartening developments in recent years. In some cases their crossover into even earlier musical forms like Medieval and Renaissance music has coincided with an engrossment in the world of Pagan Folk. Pagan Folk culture evokes Celtic & European Folk legends and ethereal musings on fairies, castles, battles, otherworldly beings and homage to the earth and mystical elements. Followers of Pagan Folk popularise events like Holland’s Castlefest and musically inhabit a canvas involving Celtic and Early European Medieval Folk and Classical styles.
SeeD is one such Belgian Pagan Folk band playing music that is melodic acoustic and semi electric folk with Medieval and Celtic leanings, weaving ethereal tales and paeans to the land, nature and other world and middle kingdom. Among the cast is one Joe Hennon, late of Omnia and currently in Shantalla, and Fae is their fifth release and third full album. Musically acoustic with a dominance of flutes, percussion, acoustic guitars and wispy female vocals which puts it somewhere between Kila, Deiseal and Pentangle at times with elements of Jethro Tull, Gryphon and Amazing Blondel hanging on the edges.
Sara Weeda’s strong ethereal tones shining in Het Vergeteen Fok with Gaelic spoken refrains while Onwards and Satyr Dance highlight rhythmic earthy variations on the Medieval/Folk/Roots crossover ideals. Koen Van Egmond’s flutes and whistles provide melodic instrumental leads equally traversing Folk/Classical/ ethereal landscapes.
Fae will appeal to the Pagan folk audiences eager for a musical lore bedecked within the familiar ideals. The Dungeons and Dragons/Game of Thrones fans will lap it up, likewise SciFi followers, but outside eager and open ears might also.
John O’Regan

I’m A Physician (Parts 1 and 2)
Own Label, 2 Tracks, 5 Minutes
Michael McGovern is a Glaswegian singer-songwriter, with a signature sound achieved using vocal harmonies over nylon-string guitars, influenced by some of the greats such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen. He released his debut album Highfield Suite last year, earning fulsome praise from the music press, and since then he has toured extensively throughout Europe.
His new single I’m A Physician is in two parts: - Part 1 is an up-tempo number which starts with a jaunty drum beat to introduce a humorous love song with some sumptuous vocal harmonies and a brassy instrumental interlude. Part 2 is a much more contemplative piece which charts the aftermath of the relationship. He has an engaging style, with some attractive guitar work perfectly complementing his vocal delivery.
McGovern has a very individual approach which works well, and his vocals are strong with an unmistakable Scottish flavour. A nice showcase for this talented newcomer.
Mark Lysaght

Shine the Light on Me Tonight
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 37 Minutes
You can take the man out of Galway but Galway is still present in Seamus Kelleher’s work, especially in his most recent album Shine the Light on Me Tonight. With electric guitar, mostly anchored in the blues, occasionally dipping into country rock, the album spans diverse landscapes, with metaphoric, emotional and real journeys.
Matty Gill is an everyman tale, the younger eager man, devout listener, invested in an older man’s musings of tragedy. Like Synge’s plays, Matty, who had “a face full of gentle lines”, has seen the devastation of the sea, fishermen wiped out, heroes who averted tragedy, lovingly remembered in the song as being “a gentle soul, no kinder man than he”.
Two strong melodic pieces, Rory’s Lament and Nashville Blue show Kelleher’s versatility, complex tunes, nicely arranged.
Thank You For the Music is a compelling tribute to Leonard Cohen, hero worship, the use of Cohen’s own words, phrases, song titles and characters, woven into a new song in the style of the great poet; “thank you for the romance and Marianne’s slow dance”, with repetition of Cohen’s Alleluia, clever composition, should be sought after in concert settings, shades of Liam Clancy perhaps?
In Your Lovin’ Arms, a country-ish, journey song, the listener taken from the American south to Philadelphia, the performer leaving the gig, travelling the highways, “headed north on 95”, to wake up with his woman.
Old Salthill Prom is autobiography! You’d have to have been there (as Kelleher no doubt was), to take the temperature of the holiday capital of the west in its heyday. The vivid recall, memorised detail, the fun and frolics oozing out of the lively melody, capturing a night when “the Oasis was rockin’, O’Connor’s was hoppin’, in Seapoint they danced all night long”, a rousing song, pure Galway.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Great Highway
Own Label, 14 Tracks, 60 Minutes
Galwayman Vincey Keehan is a vital, long-time node in the San Francisco Bay Area music community. He was sidelined by the Covid lockdown and with support from a village of like-minded working musicians, he created this lively, lyrical collection of songs, a piece of high-level, homemade art.
The album is filled with sturdy, tuneful songs. Any worthy singer-songwriter would be proud to have songs like Working the Streets, Rosmuc Hero, Going Down the Road, The Classic, Argentina or Georges Street. Working the Streets has a measured pathos with Rosie Keehan on vocals, Eamonn Flynn on piano, Kyle Alden on guitar, and Dana Lyn on fiddle, providing a lovely setting for a sad story. The Classic is a honky-tonk opener inspired by nights at the Classic Ballroom in Gort, Co Galway, Keehan’s home territory. It’s a sketch of his journey from the showbands to traditional music and later emigration to the U.S.
Rosmuc Hero honours the boxer Sean Mannion. The song tells the poignant, painful portrait of a man’s rise, fall and redemption. It has a layered lonesome sound with sax, guitar and harmonica. Make It Back is sung vigorously by Michael Keehan, giving Van Morrison a run for his money. Along with Morning, this is a new song developed in street sessions during the Covid lockdown. This song and Pride Comes Before the Fall are wonderfully embroidered by Bill Sparks’ saxophone playing.
There are song-writing lessons to be learned from the old songs and Keehan has absorbed them well as he continues his journey down the Great Highway. Like many of us, Keehan found the San Francisco Bay Area is just like the Hotel California: you can check out any time you want but you can never leave.
Tom Clancy

Desde Un Nuevo Lugar (From a New Place)
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 36 Minutes
This album’s title translates as From a New Place. Santiago Molina is a multi-instrumentalist who plays Galician bagpipes, tin whistles, Irish flute, percussion, synths, adds vocals and also does Midi programming. He is joined by Nicolas Sokolic (acoustic guitar), Samuel Izcaray (electric bass), Sergio Ribnikov Gunnarsson (Irish bouzouki), Albert Castillo (bodhrán), Manu Sija (fiddle, acoustic guitar, bombo legüero Argentinian bass drum).
The title track was a real surprise; Irish whistle playing with ornaments and tongued trills, a moving bass line and following bodhrán, shifting by turns with two whistles in dissonance resolving to harmony with a final few notes on a flute. Another Irish track is The Return from Fingal, here played on whistle; the pace is stately with a thunderous drum adding military tension to this old clan march. Whelan’s Set is like an acoustic Moving Hearts, thanks to the bass that sits under the whistle, then up through the gears and foot down on the accelerator, showing us there is no doubt this lad can play an Irish tune with the best of them.
The rest of the album reflects Santiago’s Galician and Spanish culture. On Luna Tucumana, Santiago brings Galician pipes to an Argentine zamba, the pipes occupying the middle section of the tune, which begins on guitar and afterwards shifts to whistle before a final flourish on the gaita.
More Spanish whistle on Camino a Boed. I wonder if there’s a Flook influence on this track? It has that same purposeful urgency of a Brian Finnegan tune. There’s a Serpentine bouzouki snaking its way through Caminito de llamas; this is a song sung in high tenor voice, and of course there’s a gaita to shut the box on the track. If you are  a fan of whistle albums, put this on your Christmas and Birthday lists, you are in for a treat.
Seán Laffey

Wonderful Time of The Year
Own Label, Single, 4 Minutes
A Marimba sets the beat of this happy seasonal song from Tipperary born Paula Ryan who describes herself as a Gaelic Funkstress. She even includes a reference to Tipp Hurlers in her Christmas wish list, but don’t be put off by such partisan parochialism, this is a song as warming as mulled wine on the Cashel plaza when Santa switches on the Christmas lights.
Some of her lyrics are tongue in cheek; Santa has a fondness for pizza for his Christmas dinner whilst the rest of us like plain roasted turkey not fancy Foie gras. Listen to the words and you’ll recognise a typical Irish Christmas in every line. Paula’s chorus is a toe-tapper, and easy to learn:
Carol singing, Bells are ringing
Let’s give a loud Christmas cheer
Fun and music, joy and laughter
It’s a Wonderful time of the year.
Wear your Christmas jumper and play this track, then raise a glass and a smile to a wonderful time of the year.
Seán Laffey

7 Holy Nights
Deaf Shepherd, 13 Tracks, 38 Minutes
A seasonal offering from a prolific German 6-piece band. This is their 17th album since forming in 1990. The colourful cover shows a manic Santa playing a fiddle, and musically this is closer to punk Celtic than Perry Como - they call their music Irish Speedfolk.
The range of titles would be on anyone’s Christmas mix-tape: The Mull of Kintyre (and yes there are bagpipe sounds and a full chorus), a cover of Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody’s Having Fun, a choppy staccato accordion on Merry Christmas Everyone (Snow is Falling) with a lively fiddle and whistle middle 8. They step away from the raucous revels on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, don’t worry as they come back to the punk party with Bing Crosby’s roasted chestnut White Christmas.
They sneak in Danny Boy with an opening that seems to be inspired by The House of The Rising Sun. Jona Lewie’s Can You Stop The Cavalry is sung at 90 miles an hour and comes with a military snare-drum snap start. For sheer chutzpah you can’t get more eclectic than Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, a Euro- jazz fiddle intro, hints of country steel guitar, off beat drumming and shouted choruses. Sure we’d all sound like that after a few Baileys.
If your Christmas is more burning schnapps than mulled wine, if you prefer savoury to sweet, your Yule may end up like Fiddler’s Green’s title track 7 Holy Nights, a mid-winter oblivion running on an excess of whiskey. Forget the sentimental cheer, 7 Holy Nights is Christmas without the schmaltz.
Seán Laffey