Releases > Releases March 2021

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Own label, 10 Tracks, 31 Minutes, 24 Seconds
Relatively new to the Irish Music Scene, Maċa, who are sisters Saoirse, Naoise, and Ciara Carty, have released their long awaited album SPIRAL which is a collection of self composed songs and tunes.
These Wexford based sisters will dazzle you with their ability to write lyrics and their arrangements show them to be accomplished traditional musicians who are effectively able to incorporate elements of other genres such as jazz and blues.
Saoirse’s lead vocals are enchanting as she tells the stories through the songs as evident with the track Call On You, which has already captivated listeners as an earlier single release. Anchored by the accomplished fiddle of Naoise, tunes such as Devil’s Den and Double Time will have your toes tappin’ and a feeling of wanting to dance in the kitchen. Ciara’s enthusiastic bodhran is impressive with her playing of whistle and flute enchanting. With Saoirse’s guitar playing providing the rhythm and a base for all, their music is impressive and calls out for us to listen for more.
The variety of songs and tunes are presented inventively with what we will come to know as the “Maċa Sound”, which no doubt will pave the way for what they hope will be live concerts, festivals and tours in the not too distant future. The title track, Spiral accomplishes all these ladies want you to know about them. They are strong, independent, and fierce about their music.
Once you have had a listen, you will know that Maċa have arrived!
Maryann McTeague Keifer

Donnelly’s Arm
Imeartas Records IMCD005, 12 Tracks, 56 Minutes
Niamh Ni Charra’s albums are always a delight, and often a surprise, as is the case with Donnelly’s Arm, simply put, it is exceptional.
The news to get the gossips going is she has found in Kevin Corbett her Dennis Cahill. Other musicians are called on, employed sparingly, Mikie Smyth (uilleann pipes), Katie Ellis brings her cello to Eanach Dhúin, Orlaith McCauliffe (flute and whistles) and Claire Sherry (banjo) each contribute to 3 tracks. The core duo have a synergy rarely heard in traditional music. Corbett’s guitar accompaniment is ground breaking, there’s an intangible intelligence here on tunes such as the first set of jigs, Kevin’s guitar leading The Copper Mines of Killarney, Niamh’s fiddle deep and rounded, Dominic Keogh’s bodhrán steady and sonorous, a track I could put on repeat for an hour.  More guitar magic on Cad é Sin Don t És Sin. Niamh taking the vocals and a fiddle break to add more richness to the tale. If it’s a story you are looking for the title track Donnelly’s Arm is actually a bunch of reels, the limb a macabre trophy that once hung on the wall of a pub in Kildare, the set of reels closes with one of my all time favourites Julia Delaney’s with added banjo. Tasty.
Niamh sings Ceol An Phíobair over an uilleann pipe drone from Mikie Smyth. The recording quality is astonishingly clear, her voice unwavering for the five minutes of the track.  The home ground is not entirely forgotten. Niamh picks up the concertina for one of the most joyful tunes in the tradition The Curlew Hills, once again in lock step with Corbett. The selection ends with a polka; sure it wouldn’t be an album from Niamh without one. There are slides too on track 5, Flush of Success, The Worn Torn Petticoat and Tom Billy’s.  They will be a must-see duo once the lockdown is lifted. Until then you can play this on endless repeat. I know I will.
Seán Laffey

Merrijig Creek WHN007, 10 Tracks, 49 Minutes
On rare occasions in writing about new CDs, I sometimes say that when the CD notes themselves are so extensive and informative, the notes themselves are worth the price. But of course, the writer and performer on Merrijig is Fintan Vallely, whose scholarly writings on Irish traditional music can be regarded as the fons et origo on the subject. This, his latest recording, consists of new tunes and arrangements by Fintan himself, and it marks his fifty-seventh year playing music on the flute. Performing with him is his cousin, Caoimhín Vallely, piano; his sister Sheena Vallely, flute; Brian Morrissey, percussion; Liz Doherty, fiddle; Dáithí Sproule, guitar; and Gerry O’Connor, fiddle. Eighteen of the twenty-seven tunes over ten sets/tracks are his own, Fintan says, and adds this interesting observation: “Like a jigsaw that begins with just two pieces, a melody starts with a few notes – maybe a favoured passage, a riff. This is gradually teased out from both ends until a phrase emerges, eventually reaching the call-and-response unit that is the first part of a tune.” The naming of the new tunes, he tells us, “follows the convention in Irish Traditional music: their titles indicate stories, history, places, significant events and people over the course of my performing life”.
Over his lifetime Fintan’s repertoire of tunes emerged out of long sessions in Dublin, Sligo and Clare, and others from time spent in Britain and even further afield in Australia. His detailed and lengthy notes make for fascinating reading as he draws you in with openings like the following to The Three Sisters set: “This set of three melodically-related tunes follows a trajectory which began in the enabling environment of a Varuna Writers’ Centre residency at Katoomba, close to The Three Sisters peaks of the Blue Mountains of New South Wales in October, 2013.” And he goes on to provide fascinating detail on each tune in the set.
The listening experience, of course, is one of joy and pleasure throughout, thanks to Fintan’s expertise as a flute player and arranger of tunes which he and his fellow musicians present in Merrijig.
Aidan O’Hara

An Den Dey Made Tae
Own Label, RRCO01CD, CD 13 Tracks, 52 Minutes
Strap yourself in; the faster parts of this album are like a spin in an Aerial Atom on the day you forgot your goggles. When these two brothers put their foot to the gas, get ready for a rush of adrenaline. Chris Stout remarks in the liner notes that the boys are regulars in the late night session of the Shetland Folk Festival. That after hours freewheeling way with a reel, or waltz is a corner stone of many tracks on the album.
The guitar work has a Shetland pedigree that may surprise newcomers to this tradition, similar to the pulse of Parisian jazz; the island has a long association with the percussive end of the guitar player’s rainbow.
It’s not all super-fuelled bravado, there are quiet places to savour the guitar artistry of Ryan; on track 9, Jessi, which he composed for his daughter Jessi-Jo Ann Couper. More mellow moments from Ryan, another family guitar gift this time for his son Sandy. They make a slow air of And So It Goes, a tune composed by Billy Joel. The boys take on modern Irish tunes from Brian Finnegan and Mike McGoldrick. The Coupers’ own compositions, of which there are over half a dozen on the album, are combined with standards: Ross’s The Lucky Child with their father’s tune Da Sixty Fathom Reel finishing off with Willie Hunter’s The Cape Breton Fiddler’s Welcome to Shetland (surely a close cousin of the Mason’s Apron?). Mark O’Connor’s Tom and Jerry has a sassy America swing, proving the island brothers don’t have an insular taste in tunes. Cara is a set of reels written by Ross and arranged by the brothers for this album. The final track Da Foula Reel stitches together an archive recording of their grandfather Lell Robertson playing Tully Pump, the two lads joining in seamlessly on twin fiddles while their sister Marian accompanies them on the piano.
The Couper brothers are one of a long line of world-class musicians from an island of fiddlers, ambassadors from a welcoming cultural crucible, where tunes are generously gifted and families breathe new life into the tradition every day.
Seán Laffey

The Frost Is All Over
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 45 Minutes
The Frost Is All Over by Patrick Mangan is his musically creative contribution to the year 2020. A collaborative project with wide-ranging genres from traditional Irish, original, to classical, the album is the perfect mid-pandemic balm, a beautiful distraction, a listener’s retreat.
Opening with traditional tunes The Frost is All Over set, Christmas Eve and Maud Millar with Steve Holloway’s uplifting percussion and Declan Masterson, their playing is exemplary, the tone and standard set high, well established, confident playing with precision timing and finesse. Patrick’s foreground fiddle playing is sweet, mature, among his plaudits an All-Ireland champion at age nine and soloist with Riverdance.
The album closes with The Wexford Carol, Mangan’s own composition Johanna’s Jig and The Foxhunter, another rousing set of tunes, beautifully rendered, the spanking new fitting right in with the well-known.
Sandwiched in-between these two traditional sets there’s wide-ranging appeal and ingenious selection of side-by-side tracks from disparate musical stables; T’áimse Im Chodladh for example, a beautiful air, soothing, with Nate Lueck adeptness on strings. Multi-instrumentalist Seamie O’Dowd gifts the album with The Snows They Melt The Soonest, vocal forays and flourishes, a melodically comforting delight. Mangan’s original Tune for Joe is a standout, with Chris Ranney on piano, a fine tune, very effective arrangement, evocative and sustaining, likewise Julia LiBassi, as guest vocalist on Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, gossamer voiced, she weaves a hypnotic spell.
This is a stylish album, full of heart and thoughtfulness, put together during the fall and winter of 2020, it fulfils a worthy purpose. Made during challenging times, it is sensitive, with great variety and depth, chiming with the suffering being wreaked by coronavirus worldwide. It invites the listener along on a meditative journey, appropriately heralding a new year when the frost (and the virus) will hopefully be soon over.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Escaping the Dawn
Mountain Ash Records, 10 Tracks, 47 Minutes
It’s been a whole ten years since Rowan Leslie’s first album and now Escaping the Dawn showcases 10 original tracks all composed by Leslie himself.  A set of reels opens the collection, The Siren/ Mama Brown’s/ Code Orange and welcomes us to this new music. Immediately followed with the jigs, Papa’s Jig No. 1/ Papa’s Jig No. 2/ Jess the Wise celebrate Leslie’s father having turned 70 and Jess his little dog. There’s a vibrancy with the bodhrán and guitar as the liveliness of the tunes develop here.
The tempo then slows a little with two waltzes, A Whisper of Rosin/ Emma and Kenny’s First Dance. Another personal tune in the latter for the daughter of his long-term Dentist. Giving us the image as we listen to a couple dancing that all-important ‘first dance’. Although very much traditional at its core, there’s more to this collection of music and Leslie is playing with other genres within. With Natasha’s Anthem one is awaiting the cello to appear as if jazz is about to be visited. There’s just a fine boundary to cross with this one. Such is his ability and depth with this tune as with all the others. The title track Escaping the Dawn awakens like the dawn capturing the natural experience of early day in the music. The fiddle and accordion here capture the dawn beautifully.  The artwork on the cover from Zak Johnson captures the feel of this collection beautifully. Exquisite piece of art capturing the dawn in colour, nature and music as one and just introduces us perfectly to this emotive collection of tunes.
With ten beautiful tracks encompassing all areas of tunes, this is a lovely collection steeped in personal and emotional experience and capturing us all with the music. Escaping the Dawn will give you music to dance to and music to unwind to. It’s a collection of original tunes, which you can enjoy from dawn to dusk. You don’t have to escape the music to enjoy Escaping the Dawn. The beauty that is music is right here and it’s going nowhere.
Gráinne McCool

Ragfair Publishing, 13 Tracks, 1 Hour
Gf Morgan is a man after my own heart; he has a keen ear for a great melody and the tenacity to dig deep for the underlying stories behind their creation and inspiration.
Morgan has a fine crew on this album; fiddlers Sean Heely, Nancy Brown, and Carter Newell, uilleann piper: Chris Gray who also plays whistle, Bud Osthaus (whistle), Peter Kane (mandolin) and Connor MacLeod on the banjo. GF Morgan plays guitar and concertina and he sings.
The album is a mixture of well-known folk songs and some well crafted instrumentals. Songs include Barbara Allyne, Twa Corbies and Tommy’s Gone (based on the Welsh band Callenig’s version). A visit to his Bandcamp page is a must; you can listen to the full tracks before you buy and read Morgan’s excellent background notes. You’ll lean about Ireland’s Captain O’Kane and Scotland’s Hector the Hero, the latter air played on the guitar with a growing swell of fiddle and pipes. Hector’s story is particularly poignant and still resonates today. Hector was a Major General who committed suicide in 1903; the back-story is incredibly moving.
Morgan has an ear for a novel combination; who would have paired the Orange Blossom Morris tune with the pipe march the Battle of the Somme? But it works. The band weaves together two delicious harp tunes Logan Water and Carolan’s Blind Mary, in a Bardic mash-up of the Scottish and Irish traditions. Morgan has a way with a folk song too, he’s very much in the Tommy Makem camp in that respect. Check out the lyrics to his The Coming Of May on Bandcamp. Their Siege of Ennis, is a short track that kicks up the dust with a variant of piper Jimmy Allen’s Swallow Tails Down the Water. The title tracks Driftwood, is a flowing instrumental, written by Gf Morgan. One for those quiet afternoon musicians-only sessions.
Driftwood is a folk album full of good music, great scholarship and packed with inspiration. It has the hand of a connoisseur all over it.
Seán Laffey

Love in Secret
Own Label GLMCD5, 11 Tracks, 51 Minutes
It’s not easy to do something new on the harp - this instrument has been around for a thousand years, and for much of that time it was the premier instrument of Celtic music. The relatively recent revival of harping in Ireland and Scotland - and indeed Brittany and Wales - is now two or three generations old, and you would have thought that everything had been tried, from Alan Stivell’s folk rock to Úna Monaghan’s electronic experimentation: yet Catriona McKay has come up with original sounds here, using nothing other than the acoustic possibilities of her instrument.
This far-travelled Scottish harpist has gone back to the music of Bunting, from the Belfast harp festival of 1792, and woven ancient Irish music into a modern suite of eight pieces. The familiar melodies of Carolan and others are laid over a soundscape - at times a seascape - of cross-cutting rhythms and repeating motets, like waves crashing or seabirds calling. At one point I was reminded of galloping horses, and thought of Ceol na gCapall. Another arrangement suggested church bells.
All these effects are built of layers of harping, different tunings or de-tunings, producing something immersive, absorbing, stimulating and calming by turns. The final three tracks, although separate from the Love in Secret suite, continue this approach: Harp Like Hell is an onslaught of notes, layer after layer, like a squall at sea, successively drenching you in sound. Whisky Reels is more familiar, Shetland reels with a gentle swing. Finally, Champagne and Laybourn’s romps through a jazzy hornpipe with a bit of added fizz, emphasising fun over finesse, but a dazzling display of talent nonetheless! One for the adventurous, and for any harp fans of course.
Alex Monaghan

Rós Dearg Label, 11 Tracks, 50 Minutes
Scottish West Highlands native Rachel Walker’s new album Gaol on the Rós Dearg label showcases the wide variety of her talent in singing, composing, choral work, choreography and arrangements. Bi-lingual, the album embraces great personal themes of love and loss, also great cultural and historic events and redemption.
Rachel Walker was awarded Scottish Gaelic singer of the year 2013 and nominated composer of the year 2015. Gaol is an accomplished album of solo songs, richly layered voices, gentle instrumentation, with vocal experimentation that has subtle echoes of Clannad in the opening tracks.
Falling To Far, Hurting Too Much, is one of her introductory proclamations. A tear-jerker love song, All for You, explores honestly the implicit, inevitable hurt of rejection; ‘there’s a scar on my finger where promise burned my skin’, emotional investment in words and delivery, rhyming poetic couplets very effective, there is an ‘old wound healing’, beneath, brief respite, but in actuality the poet is still ‘scared to give my love again’. I Never Knew tackles a similar predicament, sweet lyrics and melody, the speaker jilted even though ‘I always knew your heart was never really mine’.
Caisteal Ghaoilean is a powerful number, a Gaelic call to arms, an heroic anthem with rich male voices. Composed by Walker and Floraidh Nic Pháil, the song commemorates a 17c historic overthrow, bravery and temerity saluted powerfully with the optimistic promise, ‘buaidh no bás’, (conquest or death). The prayer-song A Pháidirinn A Dhúisg Mo Dheóir is a highlight, piano outstanding, Walker’s crystal clear vocals and the backing chorus a soothing cascade of musical depth, a beautiful alchemy, likewise her own voice illuminates, especially in the acapella verses in Thug mí Gaol Dhut, Thug mi Grádh dhut. Guests include Aaron Jones, accompanist and backing singer, also the very accomplished string quartet Brodick who are superb throughout.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Love so Strong
Brechin All Records CDBAR035, 11 Tracks, 42 Minutes
“Music is my life. I share it with you for your enjoyment and pleasure.” That’s the kind invitation Ayrshire singer songwriter Davie Anderson extends to us on the cover of his debut album Love so Strong. He provides for us eleven songs altogether, seven of them his own compositions and the other four his version of some classic traditional Scots songs and the well-known Irish ballad, Carrickfergus. While Davie also tells us that his choice of material in song ranges over “Folk, Americana, Rockabilly and Blues”, what’s on offer in his new CD is mostly trad folk and contemporary folk genres, with the whole lot nicely seasoned by Robert Burns’s Red, Red Rose and Parcel o’ Rogues, and Hamish Henderson’’s Freedom-Come-All-Ye.
“My influences are many and varied,” says Davie, “from Big Country, through Buddy Holly and on to Robert Burns.” But to my ears, what Davie has on offer in Love so Strong is more a product of the ballad group era, and echoing somewhat of nostalgia for that fantastic time when it seemed like every other youngster had a guitar, banjo or tin whistle. Mind you, Davie had an early start at his musical home in Ayrshire where his mother, Barbara, who played the piano, inspired in him a love for “the tunes of Caledonia”. The beautiful tune, Barbara’s Waltz, was composed by Davie in her honour.
The singer and his songs - along with his own guitar playing - is well supported by accomplished musicians Sandy Brechin (accordion), Geoff Brown (keys/synth), Ally Smith (strings), Jimmy Murdoch (bass), Iain Stewart (piano), Tomm Kerr (drums), Frank Harkin (keys), India Rose (piano & backing vocals), and John Duffy (bouzouki).
Aidan O’Hara

Bow Fiddle Records, 10 Tracks, 43 Minutes
Ron Jappy was before the pandemic, an in-demand accompanist on the Scottish traditional circuit. Originally from Moray he began his musical life as a fiddler and has toured professionally playing that instrument. His accompaniment credentials are many; folks he’s backed include Rachel Hair, The Scott Wood Band and Skerryvore.
This album has a large cast of characters; there are 14-featured artists in all. Ron playing guitar on most tracks and highlighting his fiddle playing on A Day to Remember and Shalom.
Most of the tracks are full-on band productions, from the opening Trouble to Ron’s own Ashley Park, expect a fiddle lead, a big splash from the percussion and a flowing harmonic underbelly. Ron’s A Day to Remember is somewhat different, his fiddle and Alistair Iain Paterson’s piano weaving gently through the piece. Mairead Nan Cuiread is a sombre moody song in Gaelic, sung by Ainsley Hamill; the song builds over a simple but aggressive drum riff, the song climaxing on a huge choral explosion.
Interlude does indeed seem to be incidental music, whilst tactical Penguin is a tune that is going places, with its opening salvo from an electric guitar and a repeated fiddle motif, I can see crowds dancing to this the next time we are allowed back in a crowded dance hall.
If you need a gentle moment, single malt melody then Shalom will fill your glass. To wake you from your reverie the album ends with another big production, this time the song A Place Like Home. Ron Jappy shows his skill not just on many instruments but also as a visionary arranger. In his hands the Celtic big band remains a formidable musical concept.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 11 Tracks, 52 Minutes
Having endured the highs and lows of a professional career including a period spent in the USA, in recent years George Murphy has returned to his roots and established a seven-piece backing group called The Rising Sons. It’s an interesting line-up which includes electric guitar and bass guitar, as well as more traditional instruments such as fiddle, banjo and whistles as well as the ubiquitous bodhrán. In the centre of it all is George himself on vocals and guitar, a compelling figure with a big voice and an ability to interpret a range of material, ranging from traditional ballad fare to more contemporary songs. Recorded live in Ballymun in front of an enthusiastic audience, the opener Hot Asphalt sets the mood, George’s acapella introduction prefacing a spirited rendition of the Luke Kelly classic, followed by the more relaxed Lifeboat Mona from the same source. But his repertoire has expanded into wider territory, and here he tackles material such as Buffy Saint-Marie’s Universal Soldier and John Lennon’s Working Class Hero with real aplomb. The Rising Sons provide some quality accompaniment, and arrangements are well-constructed, allowing space for individual members to contribute variety and dynamics. Joey “The Bass” Hughes is clearly a seasoned musician who understands how to anchor the songs, and fiddle player Luke Cosgrave provides classy touches throughout.
There’s genuine strength in depth here, as David Brown takes a lead vocal on Rainy Night In Soho and Tommy Whelan on electric guitar unleashes the Horslips factor on The Star of the County Down as well as The Rocky Road. You get the impression that this band could develop into something really special, with the star attraction being George Murphy’s undoubted vocal class. Another potential area is original material, with the self-penned Hands Of Time (dedicated to his daughter Lily) and Shadowman (with Donnacha Fox) sitting comfortably alongside the other songs.
Mark Lysaght

Culburnie Records, 15 Tracks, 1 Hour
First the title; Syzygy means ‘to join two entities without losing the individual characteristics of either one’. On this album we have two instruments that should be joined at the hip but are rarely heard in folk music. Yet there is enough sonic separation in the DNA of the instruments to ensure syzygy, Fraser’s fiddle and Haas’s cello dig deep into many roots, Classical, Scottish and to a lesser extent Celtic music to make something new, deeply moving and far beyond the novel curiosity it might become in less accomplished hands. And yes they enhance the syzygy inherent in the coupling, but also in places meld the music so much that there is some anti-syzygy at foot here. I’m reminded of the 18th century tale from the Larks of Dean, a group of farm labourers who played a similar array of instruments in the bleak Pennines 20 miles north of Manchester. When castigated for playing hornpipes (instead of worthy Chapel hymns) one of the bands was said to have replied, “There is never any idleness in music”. The work that Fraser and Haas have poured into this project is surely a labour of love, a labour that has been building over 6 albums and twenty years of syzygy. The result is a number of master-pieces in the true sense of the word, considered and carefully crafted music.
Take The Dreamer and the Jester, it opens with the raw un-planished materials, a simple slowly repeated phrase, the cello enriching the sound, lifting the emotional tension with just the right amount of percussive bowing, the second half of the piece becoming a rapid interchange as the fiddle step back to allow the cello to take up the tune, Haas ending the composition with just the hint of a Celtic slow air on the cello. Moccasin Walk/AckleyLake is as near to a Scottish dance selection as you’ll find on the album. Whereas Iain of Hundalee, bearing the trademark qualities of an ancient Gaelic slow air, stately and majestic but never overdressed, neither is it hodden grey. Never too ornate to lose our admiration. Broadway for Greg and Tim has musical theatre fingerprints dusted over some of its sections, its passages punctuated by riffs on the cello, plucked strings opening the door for little hummable melodies, before it closes on the sweetest of high notes. The most ambitiously experimental track is Sweglish/Modally Challenged, with a regal opening section and its determined thrusting second half. The duo put so much into every track. This is music to keep your ears on tip-toes, embossed by shifts in tempo, musical ping pong between the high and low registers, and passages that sound classical merging with feint echoes of folk fiddling. Technically dazzling at all times, the album is a map of new directions for the duo, offering more than one way forward, to a space where both voices can be heard in a conversational conjunction of melodic separation. There’s nothing idle at all about this album.
Seán Laffey

NEW Scotland
Own Label, 15 Tracks, 55 Minutes
Nova Scotia based multi-instrumentalist and in particular on this album a fiddle and bass player, Brad Reid celebrates ancestral Scottish music in New Scotland, an album of tunes, songs and lilting, his sound primarily rooted in the Scottish tradition with lots of other influences allowed in.
Reid’s unique, modern day interpretation of music that originated with Scottish highland clearances, other migratory patterns and waves of Scottish settlements in Canada is a happy bounce, enabled by strong musicianship and arrangements. There’s a rich panoply of rhythmic dance tunes, timely playing, excellent in pitch and phrasing. From a geographically close, culturally similar region, Northumberland Shores is a delightful tune, hints of nostalgia in the soft melody. Hills of Glenorchy is a rouser, with Brad foremost on fiddle, Dave Mac Isaac’s guitar superbly rhythmic, a compelling dance tune, the Braes of Dunvegan also a lively evocation to dance and Glasgow Gate traditional yet innovative.
This culturally significant recording which connects the tangled paths of his emigrant ancestors to his own passion for their music is a fine harmonic soundscape, great variety and a few surprises, like the rare treat in a contemporary CD, a lilting track. Reid lilts two reels, the very popular Irish tune Lucy Campbell’s followed by Sandy Cameron’s. With very effective foot-tapping percussion, his vocal ornamentation is excellent, his range well suited.  This is a unique album, traditional Scottish with a good dollop of jazz, classical, modern music and a stellar line up of accompanists; solid guitar and double bass backing by Mac Isaac and Jamie Gatti, adding great depth, as does the steady pulse of Tom Roach’s congas.
Seamus Heaney said ‘the love of place and lamentation against exile from a cherished territory is a typical strain in the Celtic sensibility’, applicable to the impetus behind and journey motifs Brad Reid chose for this fine album.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Cancion de Amor
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 48 Minutes
It really is hard to know where to begin in extolling the many excellent musical and presentation features of Cancion de Amor, the new recording by singer, Eleanor Shanley, and guitarist John Feeley. The thirteen-track album features many beautiful songs, including the Brendan Graham original, Cancion de Amor, a song gifted to Eleanor and John who are privileged to be the first to release it. Eleanor remembers, “We both fell in love with Cancion de Amor on our first listen and were thrilled when Brendan gave it to us for the record. John is our country’s finest classical guitarist and we both believe Cancion de Amor is perfect and indeed enhances our creative partnership on this record.” The album features many other original songs including Bernadette McMahon’s glorious Child Of Mine and the beautiful Sand and Water by Beth Nielsen Chapman together with some newly composed pieces of music by John, that include The Cloths Of Heaven and The Immigrant’s Song. Others, including Siúil A Rún, My Bonny Light Horseman and Dumbarton’s Drums are joint arrangements by John and Eleanor. The ConTempo String Quartet also feature strongly on this album. Known so well not only in Ballinasloe and Co. Galway but also nationally, this quartet enhances this album’s beautiful sound.
The detailed CD notes are most helpful and supply us with useful and relevant information. For example, regarding Carolan’s Farewell allegedly the last piece the harper composed, we’re told that “it is a beautiful melody and quite sophisticated in its melodic breadth and depth of expression”. We’re also told that the arrangement for guitar and string quartet was commissioned by Lyric FM Radio. About the recording, John says, “Working in different genres has always attracted me and it was intriguing to explore these alongside Eleanor”, and she says of working with John, “Ireland’s greatest classical guitar player” was for her “a labour of love”. And the happy outcome is evident throughout in this quality recording.
Aidan O’Hara

A Pocket Full of Acorns
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Named after Nine Barrow Down in the Purbeck hills of Dorset, one of England’s most southern counties, Ninebarrow is a duo of Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere. Joined by Lee MacKenzie (cello), John Parker (double bass) and Evan Carsson (percussion). The album will be released on their website on March 5th 2021.
This is an album of sensitive songs, sumptuous harmonies, and restrained accompaniment principally on keyboards and various strings. Féted by the great and good of the UK folk scene, garnering accolades from Kate Rusby and Mike Harding, each citing the duo’s way with words and their ability to write new songs in old idioms.  The title track a Pocket Full of Acorns was inspired by the realization that their touring had created a huge carbon footprint. To counter this they were given a 3-acre field to plant up as a future forest. Carrying a pocket full of acorns is a long tradition, planting then randomly, ensuring that there will be life-giving oaks in the world. Zunshine in Winter, a dialect poem set to music, speaks of hope of a coming spring. Hey John Barleycorn is the eternal story of the triumph of the little everyman against the odds of time, told in simple tale of ale, where the rise of the smallest grain becomes a lifesaver, which it certainly was before water was fit to drink. Their native Dorset is a place of ports and of embarkation, the longing for the dream beyond the limpid horizon, haunting those who tread the paths above the chalky cliffs of Purbeck Limestone. Aptly Ninebarrow include two sea songs here, an a-capella Sailor’s Farewell Shanty and an accompanied Sailor’s All, which says we are all sailors until we find our own safe harbour.
For Ninebarrow’s new folk songs tell it like it is, their mastery of metaphor and music, their awareness of their own places and their impact not only on the souls of their fans but on the planet itself makes this music that is very 2021.
Seán Laffey

Half Light
Own Label, 5 Tracks, 19 Minutes, 15 seconds
For those of you who are followers of Andrew Finn Magill’s prolific projects, you’re in for a refreshing surprise when you hear his latest release, Half Light EP (July 2020). Magill (All-Ireland Fiddle finalist) is known for his solo works, such as Roots and Branches, and his Brazilian influences (he speaks fluent Portuguese, by the way).
The North Carolinian is also recognized for collaborating with other wonderfully talented local and international musicians. Half Light is one perfect example. Magill teamed up with Seán Gray, the multi-instrumentalist Scottish musician (flute, whistle, guitar, vocals) from the Paul McKenna Band, to produce a fantastic fusion of Scottish, Irish, and jazz influences.The five-track extended play features instrumental (largely fiddle and guitar) and vocal works (Gray) written by both artists. The album opens with Half Light. Inspired by a poem from W. B. Yeats, Half Light takes listeners to another level as Magill and Gray blend their musical expertise to create a vibrantly rhythmic sound that includes Gray’s electric guitar playing.
Magill’s Resolution is reminiscent of works from Branches, but more musically in-depth, while 100 Days elicits meditation. The slower-moving Leaving Home (Gray) evokes a sense of belonging–or lack thereof– regarding the tension between the UK and the European Union. The Honest Dog is another of Gray’s songs, inspired by a poem from Scottish Jacobite poet William Hamilton of Bangour village. Magill and Gray’s synergism has produced nothing less than a gratifying album from beginning to end.
Anita Lock

One Foot Across The Ocean
Own Label 8 Tracks, 34 Minutes
Milwaukee’s Tallymoore, Sean Ward on lead vocals and mandolin, Limerick born Dave Kennedy on guitar and vocals, fiddler Patrick Wade, and Pete Ward on piano and vocals, have released One Foot Across the Ocean. A collection of Irish Folk with a sprinkling of Americana and Canadian selections, this album will immediately pull you in with its stunning and inventive instrumental arrangements and complex harmonies. Tallymoore has always been known for its lively playing and strong from the heart ballads. The album not only does not disappoint, it sky rockets above anything they have recorded prior to this. Four band member composed songs tell stories of emigration, the challenges and consequences of being a leader of men, a lover’s warning of being tricked into becoming shipbound, and desperate despair saved by music always in the heart. Add in a drop dead gorgeous version of the American classic Shenandoah and a Tallymoore stamped Star of the County Down and you will be captivated.
The opening song, I’m Alone will have you playing it to listen to the magnificent mandolin and fiddle intro. Sean and Patrick get the album smashingly started with it.  Dave’s guitar and Pete’s piano provide gripping base and support throughout each song and set. The mesmerizing three part harmonies of Northwest Passage are reason alone for replaying the album.
With One Foot Across the Ocean Tallymoore have proven themselves capable and worthy of having their music up among the best of contemporary Irish and folk music bands.
Maryann McTeague Keifer