Releases > Releases June 2014

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A Thousand Hearts

Charcoal Records in partnership with Sony Music

11 Tracks, 44 Minutes

Five years on from her acclaimed solo release, Hill of Thieves, that winning combination of Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman has produced an enigmatic collection of songs trademarked with Dillon’s distinctive and delectable tone. The new album, A Thousand Hearts, includes eleven tracks of cleverly crafted arrangements and sound.

Everything is clever about this album. Musicians such as Ed Boyd, Luke Daniels, Niall Murphy, James Fagan and Eamon Murray, amongst others, set the bar high for Dillon’s tone to effortlessly float above the instrumental. Guest vocalists Aoife O’Donovan, John Smith and Timothy B Schmit join Cara on the lifting traditional Appalachian refrain, Bright Morning Star which also includes the voices of the duo from Winter Mountain, who are currently signed to Dillon and Lakeman’s own record label.

The other clever choices are the songs themselves; the stunningly haunting River Run lingers on and an enchanting Érigh Suas A Stórín is garnered by sweet tones interspersed with a standout instrumental in which piper, Jarlath Henderson, shines. Henderson also applies the low whistle beautifully to Shawn Colvin’s Shotgun Down the Avalanche as Dillon’s vocal soars over with a mystical panache. The same voice turns The Shores of Loch Bran into an emotional tale tinged with the pain of loss before enthralling with her version of As I Roved Out which can only be described as sublime.

Freshly signed to Sony in a deal that allows for freedom in creativity, the future is even brighter for Cara Dillon and the next chapter has started on an all–time high with A Thousand Hearts. A definite winner.

Eileen McCabe


Under a Red Sky Night, Own Label MT001
12 Tracks, 55 Minutes

I first heard this Donegal piano accordionist on a very fine duo recording with Luke Ward on bouzouki, totally trad with a couple of forays beyond the Donegal fiddle repertoire. Under a Red Sky Night is completely different. All but one track here is composed by Martin, and arranged for a diverse range of instruments amounting to a folk–flavoured chamber orchestra. Starting with a magnificent Spanish–inspired medley, Martin’s music moves between his native Donegal and other Celtic traditions, as well as drawing on more contemporary styles. Imagined Communities opens with an archive recording of legendary travelling fiddler John Doherty, and weaves this into an anthem for culture and community which embraces much more than Irish music. Moment Music is an improvisation which reminds me of the connection between Donegal and Scottish fiddle music, a link to the playing of Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, Duncan Chisholm and the like. The next two tracks spring from traditional Donegal melodies, Bog an Lochan and a polka from the 19th century James Tourish manuscript collection. Martin transforms them both into powerful ensemble pieces, one fast, one slow.

That single traditional track also comes from the James Tourish collection. Today’s Tourish takes a composition by another great stomach Steinway artist, Alan Kelly’s polka Trip to Dingle, and slows it down to a swaggering march before launching into two polkas from this old manuscript, in a medley with all the punch and panache of the best modern Irish dance music. The beautiful sweet Liobhan Song, the gentle Lullaby and the final Horseman, Pass By all relies on the expressiveness of the solo accordion in a master’s hands here. The spooky Agnis Tompson’s Final Dance and The West Gates set the accordion against complex arrangements of strings, vocals, brass and woodwind, to tell stories of Scottish witches and Donegal fiddlers, not such unlikely bedfellows. The latter is a set of reels which could easily become traditional. Which only leaves The Missed Step, an accordion showpiece that would make a fitting finale for any CD.

Although there are many performers on this album, Under a Red Sky Night is one of those rare recordings where the composition, arrangement and performance is largely down to a single musician: this is Martin Tourish’s music, and I’d say it will make him a lot of friends at home and abroad.

Alex Monaghan


Grace Bay

Own Label
14 Tracks, 55 Minutes

After years of facilitating the music of others in their highly famed Boston venue, The Burren, Tommy McCarthy and Louise Costello have now stamped their own tuneful signature to their debut release, Grace Bay.

The hosts of the Burren Back Room sessions bring their defined rhythms of the box, fiddle and banjo, amongst others instruments, to fourteen tracks of traditional and newly composed tunes. The title track, Grace Bay, was written by Tommy and he envelops the melody with poignant strings before being joined by Louise on accordion in a seamless fusion. The empathy between the instrumental is significant on the haunting Willie Clancy favourite, A Stór Mo Chroí, and the familiarity of style sweeps through to the playing of their daughter Rose as she adds to the strings with her fiddle on the Bobby Casey set dance, The Drunken Gauger.

The couple enhance their sound with guest instrumentals from Martin O’Malley, Noel O’Grady and the bodhrán stalwart Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh who combine quality play and steady pace with defined beats in Richard Dwyer’s reel set and follow the pace through to the closing reels; The Blacksmith’s Anvil and The Tinkerman’s Daughter. Highlights are the original waltzes, The Blue Road and The Inishbofin Waltz as the instrumentals dance around the tune structures with a lift.

There is a deep sense of respect for each tune throughout the album and it is significant that they dedicate the recording to the memory of their respective father’s whilst highlighting the next generation in the form of Rose on the fiddle. An invitingly, warm debut.

Eileen McCabe


The Waylaid Man

Own Label

13 Tracks, 54 Minutes

This young Monaghan musician has been around the block a few times, with At First Light, Téada, At the Racket, and other bands, mainly as an accompanist on guitar and bouzouki. The Waylaid Man concentrates on his composing talents, over thirty original tunes: marches and polkas, jigs and reels, plus a few surprises. A handful of great names have made Michael’s tunes their own here, including Nollaig Casey, Brian McGrath, John McSherry, Oisín MacDiarmada, Darragh Murphy and Ryan O’Donnell, as well as Michael’s brother Dónal McCague of course. With friends like that, why would you play the melody yourself? Michael is the glue which holds these performers together: composer, producer, arranger, and accompanist throughout. He does take the lead on a few tunes, but mostly his playing provides the steady foundation for flights of fancy on fiddle, banjo, pipes and whistles.

The opening reel At Liberty is a surprise in itself, an homage to Dublin fiddle genius Tommy Potts, with Michael composing to reflect Potts’ very individual style. Dónal does a great job of conveying the esoteric and slightly fey spirit of this piece before McGrath’s banjo joins for the more familiar rhythms of On Home Turf. Some of these compositions, in fact, are so familiar that you’d swear they were session stalwarts: Whiskey Hollow and The St Johnston Reel, for instance, are exactly the sort of thing you might hear Mick O’Connor or Tommy Peoples playing in a London or Ennis session. Maybe that will happen now, as I’m sure many of Michael’s tunes will be picked up by the trad community and trotted out all over the world. There’s a lovely American 1930’s–style barndance, and a pair of modern polkas crying out for a Munster box player. The set of Balkan sounding tunes is less likely to hit the session scene, as is the twisting slow air Wandering Seven, but both would make fine solo pieces. The contrasting styles of tune are complemented by the playing of the great young musicians here: the urbane smoothness of Casey’s fiddle, the wildness of McSherry’s pipes, and everything in between.

The closeness between Michael and Dónal McCague is particularly impressive, and their duets are among the lost striking tracks, so it’s fitting that The Waylaid Man should end on one such selection, with The Gradam Reel as Michael’s acknowledgement of Dónal’s recent award.

Full marks all round for this album, a great collaborative work.

Alex Monaghan


Timing is Everything

Own Label
12 Tracks, 45 Minutes

Time is the essence in the debut release from Siobhán Smith, the New York born fiddle player and singer who currently resides in Ireland. The classically trained instrumentalist timed this album perfectly as she draws on her influences and experiences to date to create a fusion of hybrid sound that incorporates traditional with country and a strong Americana vibe.

Produced by the inimitable Trevor Hutchinson, the album has drawn on every facet of this cultural absorption to date, whether it is showcasing the deep country of the Don Williams classic It Must Be Love or the use of Smith’s dancing talent in the percussive steps shown in the Sunday Scoops set where her whistle abounds around the carefully crafted arrangements of The Thrush in the Storm and The Road to Errogie. The deep fiddle tone in the self–composed old time waltz Teardrops on My Fiddle resonates, yet it is the combination of the emotive bow entwined with Stephen Markham’s piano that enchants in Lament for Michael and Dineen which was written for her parents. Robert Frost’s sublime poem, The Road Not Taken, is used for inspiration for a whistle instrumental that is steeped in sentiment and the Paul Brady penned song, Follow On, brings a highly diverse debut to a close.

This album is a fusion of the layers of music, lyric, composition and dance that is representative of the cultural influences inherent in Smith’s life to date; add to this the production quality of Hutchinson and the exquisite artistry of Lizzy Doe on the sleeve design (she also did the design on Niamh Dunne’s Portraits) and it’s clear that the time is right now for Siobhán Smith.

Eileen McCabe


Dot the Dragon’s Eyes, Own Label, HJC2013, 12 Tracks, 51 Minutes

I looked back at what I wrote about Hanneke’s last album: “sweet, precise, gentle and powerful by turns”. Well, she’s done it again. Dot the Dragon’s Eyes is simply beautiful, a fabulous combination of new and old tunes from this formidable Boston fiddler and composer. If you haven’t heard Hanneke’s music before, there’s no excuse now. Her new CD is one of the most polished and enjoyable recordings I’ve heard this year. Ranging from almost classical through modern Americana to the total traditional Scottish repertoire of her upbringing, Hanneke draws every nuance of energy and soul from her fiddle, bringing this music to life and fully justifying the album title.

To Dot the Dragon’s Eyes means to add the final crowning touch that breathes life into a work of art. The opening track here does exactly that, reminding us of the fiddle’s demonic powers. This Cassel composition sits between bluegrass and Beijing, with a thunderous accompaniment on bass and guitar which adds to its sense of the supernatural. Hanneke follows up with a pair of dreamy modern celtic jigs, more Irish American than anything else, beautifully played over contrasting bowed bass and keyboards. Her sublime waltz The Captain is delicately arranged for a string ensemble, without any of the syrupy over–playing which often mars the melding of folk and classical: this example is simple perfection, a real spine– tingler. Another flick of the wrist, and we launch into a sassy reel full of warmth and exuberance, complete with cello cameos.

Jig for Christina brings a quite different mood, both elegant and teasing. The slow reel Eliana Grace picks up pace for Dancing with Bryce before the bittersweet Marathon which commemorates the 2013 Boston bomb attack. An air and a slow strathspey, both executed with classical precision, precede a pair of post–Riverdance jigs which pass through Balkan music and almost return to the syncopated complexity of the Baroque. Religulous builds on this blend of classical and contemporary, adding angelic wordless vocals, while Patience has such a deep and uplifting spirit that I’m guessing it wasn’t inspired by the card game. Dianne’s Waltz, a deceptively simple yet touching melody, introduces yet another tone: trumpet, or maybe flugelhorn, superbly played by Jerry Sabatini. For her finale, Hanneke returns to the compositions of Dan R MacDonald and John MacAskill, a medley of Scottish classics with the distinctive Cassel stamp of perfect arrangement and precise fiddling. Savage and tender, seriously beautiful and beautifully constructed, Dot the Dragon’s Eyes is unmistakably a work of art with an inner life of its own. Check out for more information on all her recordings.

Alex Monaghan


Never Alone

Circin Rua CR08CD

3 Discs 45 Tracks

The good news for fans of the Galway singer Seán Keane is that he is back on the road gigging. With one of the most distinctive and versatile voices in Irish music, Seán is a master, he nails down any song he takes under his wing. From The Beatles Blackbird, to the traditional American Shenandoah, and the show stopper Isle of Hope (I recall he brought an audience to rears with that song during a performance at the Goderich Festival in Canada). He can tackle contemporary, folk and country with ease, yet never once losing his essential artistry. No matter what he chooses to sing, he is always Seán Keane.

So if you are a fan, you probably have most of these tracks already. 39 of the 45 selections on this CD have been released before, The rest he has freshly recorded at Pat Coyne’s Mountain View Studio in Cong. With support from Úna Ni Lochlainnn on fiddle, viola and backing vocals, Fergal Scahill on violin, mandolin and guitar, Pat Coyne on guitar, Stephen Doherty (piano) and backing vocals form Monica Canney. It is as polished an album as you would expect. Not only is Seán a fine singer but also an accomplished flute, whistle and pipe player

The sub title of the album is a song for every year; yes it has been 45 years since he first made a winning appearance, aged 7 at a Fleadh Ceoil. The album’s title is a fond remembrance of Seán’s late wife Virginia Keane, one of the nicest ladies in the music business. An album for fans old and new and if like me you get yours signed at one of Seán’s concerts an album to cherish forever.

Seán Laffey



14 Tracks, Appel Rekords APR1347

Pipes, saxophone, whistles, guitar, accordion, bouzouki and bodhrán. Almost a formula for an Irish trad band, maybe an At the Racket sound you might be thinking. Well have another listen. This is music from Flemish Belgium, and Hot Griselda are one of the most interesting bands to come out of the tiny Kingdom.

Sporting two sets of uilleann pipes and that Belgian invention the saxophone they bring a bunch of new ideas to the tried and tested band formula. The beats here are more Flanders than Fanarafore, they play with time signatures and pulsing dance music in for example the choppy Abdull’s Fancy which establishes the pipes early as the key sound on this album. The bridge on that tune is a tightly held rein of bouzouki playing which merges into a whistle selection as good as anything by Brian Finnegan or Kevin Crawford.

The middle tune on the Ancient Mariner’s set mixes steady high strings with serpentine chanter work. The pipes have a lovely popping quality about tem and whoever set them up has a great ear for the instrument.

If you like Irish pipes and are not afraid to embrace a modern take on the music then this is a highly recommended album. There is wildness in some of the piping that is astounding and make no mistake this is a cat that has had the cream. Meow indeed.

Seán Laffey


Finally Tuned

Own Label, 13 Tracks

I first met Randy Clepper at the Cincinnati Irish Festival about 12 years ago, back then he was playing hammered dulcimer and had an extensive repertoire of Irish dance tunes. So it was with some surprise that I put this CD into my player to find that here he has gone over to the bouzouki and the guitar. His band mate John Sherman plays guitar and tenor banjo, so it’s very much a string based sound here, with percussion from guests Paul Foley Jr. on bodhrán and Mark Alan Wade on marimbula.

Of the 13 tracks eight feature reels and there are also are jigs, slides, a barndance and a Galician tune. The duo have gone for variety with compositions that are decidedly neo–traditional such as Farewell to Chernobyl, to the stock session tunes like, Christmas Eve, to well–known show stoppers My Love is in America, Geese in the Bog, and the slide Merrily Kissed the Quaker’s Wife. They also visit a tune that is synonymous with eight string instruments Dave Richardson’s Caliope House. The guitar leads the Rolling Waves jig with a lyrical and resonant bass adding a depth to the lighter dance melody. The New Irish Barn Dance is deceptively simple, with the rolling swagger typical of 1920’s Irish dance music in America. Triplets and trills are sparingly used on the banjo as the bouzouki walks along with a counter point that is worth getting to grips with. The Bunch of Green Rushes is full of minor menace, running in staccato fashion against the bodhrán it builds to segue into The Old Bush. My favourite track is the Miser’s Pockets where the bouzouki and guitar are stitched together in a melody that swings along with a rich undertow of darkness before it brightens up into a driven Bean Ti A Lar reel.

OK, the verdict, I loved the album, I’m a huge fan of both bouzouki and banjo and the duo here play both sensitively and with great authority. The bouzouki isn’t simply restricted to a thundering accompaniment and Clepper’s style is a fine one to try if you are new to the zook. The tenor banjo playing is direct and forthright, as they say in the USA, Sherman owns the music.

As anyone who has heard Irish music in Ohio knows, it is high calibre without being high velocity, and Clapper and Sherman hit the target every time in this album.

Seán Laffey



Culburnie Records CUL124, 16 Tracks, 58 Minutes

This is the fourth album from the stunning strings of the formidable music duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas and what a delectable release it is. The string duo on (mainly) fiddle and cello respectively are joined by an abundance of quality guests including the likes of the esteemed Donald Shaw and James MacIntosh who enhance the already expressive ensemble.

The Corrie Man set opens the album and striking definition intersperses with fluidity as the layers build into a crescendo of strings, buttons and brass, a perfect blend of instrumental that sets a standard for the rest of the music. It does not disappoint. A spell of sound is cast and takes a journey to the elegantly orchestral Howard’s Booster Style before gliding through the picatto intro of Farley Bridge. The hugely exciting commissioned piece, Connie Suite, encompasses an amalgam of sentiment. The standout is the textured sound of Pier Walk Waltz and the closing piece in the suite; the cleverly arranged Ouagadougou Boogie. The music travels on to the haunting love song Braigh Lochiall slowly marching into John Alick Beaton of Teanassie where the combined strings twist and turn with an emotive finesse. The Referendum encompasses a languidly lively, instrumental opening that intensifies into a hypnotic collaboration of sound. The tune, composed by Fraser, denotes the occasion of the visit of Scotland’s First Minister to his fiddle course on the Isle of Skye, as well as in anticipation of the upcoming Scottish referendum.

It’s easy to get lost among the abundance of strings as they exquisitely soar from piece to piece. The creative refinement is absorbing and magical. The title is apt for this album; it’s an abundance of enriching pleasure.

Eileen McCabe


Young But Growing

13 Tracks, 67 Minutes

Well that band name certainly stands out and the album is well worth a listen. One does not need to get to track two Cork City to realise the singer is from the Rebel County because there is very John Spillane sound on Inis Dom. Aidan shows a great song writing talent on the tracks on offer here with his own words on all but two. Even then he enlists no lesser beings than Yeats and Wordsworth to provide the lyrics. The offerings are generally very laid back with great attention paid to the words on offer and all tracks bear close attention from the true folk fan.

One can imagine the band enthralling audiences in the intimacy of the folk club or attentive pub session. Among the excellent tracks on offer are Lullaby and The Emigrant.

One of the more interesting offerings is the track called You’re Not the Only One For Me which gives an unusual take on a sort of love song. Like so many albums on offer in the genre this one will not jump out at the casual purchaser but then again many of the artistes we know today had initial releases that took some time to grow on you. Give it a go you will not be disappointed.

Nicky Rossiter


None the Wiser


9 Tracks, 41 Minutes

This relatively short album is the epitome of an old style folk session. The delivery is quiet in the most part and the content is written to strike chords with the listeners. The opening title track is a sort of wry commentary on the lives we live today references religion, loans, kids on car trips and everything in between.

A sort of religious theme carries forward into Jerusalem as he reconsiders Blake’s sentiments in that classic that became so well known when set to music. On A Whole Life Lived, Wood reminds us that when we get older we recall what was said in our youth gets repeated by ourselves in later life reflecting the circularity of our lives.

The Little Carpenter is not from his pen but it fits so well into his repertoire that it well might have been. It is as so many folk songs a tale of love between disparate beings. The heroine chooses her lover for love rather than riches.

The longest track on offer at over six minutes is Thou Shalt and once again Wood gives us a 21st century version of songs that epitomised the folk boom of the 1960s but is now updated to reflect our recent recession.

On I Am he uses the words John Clare composed during his final years in an asylum. As such it a rather poignant song well delivered. He closes this CD with The Wolfless Years and returns to the theme of recession but now with his hopes for the future.

This is not an album that will have your toes tapping. However it is one for the lover of serious songs on serious topics with the occasional flash of humour.

Nicky Rossitter