Releases > Releases March 2023

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Lo La Records, 14 Tracks, 60 Minutes
Marking 25 years since their formation in 1997, The London Lasses have recorded all new material for this album, their sixth, while managing to include members from all incarnations of the band. Leader Karen Ryan is joined by at least nine other lasses, as well as pianist laddies Chris O’Malley and Pete Quinn, not to mention Karen and Pete’s talented daughters Katie and Annie looking to the future of Irish music in London. In ten instrumental sets and four songs, LL25 spans four centuries of Irish music, from Carolan’s Planxty Thomas Burke to very recent compositions by the likes of Tommy Fitzharris and Edel Fox. In between are pieces from Coleman, Morrison, Redican and others who recorded in the early 1900s, and the poignant song Bánchnoic Éireann Ó written in the 1700s and beautifully sung by Bróna McVittie whose distinctive Down voice also delivers the other three songs in English.
Almost all the tunes here are well documented, most with known composers: Martyn Wynne’s Number 4, Caves of Kiltannon by Paddy Canny, pieces by John Dwyer, Vincent Broderick, Joe Liddy, two by Armagh pianist Josephine Keegan, the delightful slip jig Gort na Móna by harpist Michael Rooney, and the appropriately-named reel Farewell to London by Brendan McGlinchey which almost closes out this fine collection. I say almost, because the last notes are left to Father PJ Kelly’s popular session tune The Rossmore Jetty, cheekily pushed up to A in one of the many twists The London Lasses introduce here.
A solid traditional sound from fiddles, flutes, banjo, button box, pipes and concertina is spiced by saxophone, harp, and inventive piano accompaniment on several tracks, making this both an exciting new album and a valued addition to London’s long history of Irish music.
Alex Monaghan

Storm In My Heart
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 47 Minutes
Storm In My Heart is an important recording by one of Ireland’s greatest singers, musicians and composers, John Faulkner. With contributions from seventeen high-calibre contemporaries, the album is dedicated to his daughter Nell, an eleven-track record of the genius he has shared with many over forty years.
Save Me a Place in your Heart, written with Dara Connolly, lays out the high standard and calibre that John Faulkner consistently delivers. John Prine collaborates on Tonight as We Dance, a delightful country song and story, perhaps the very core of this record, written with Peter O’Hanlon, great texture, effortless harmonies and poignantly memorising the Prine/Faulkner musical brotherhood.
Faulkner goes from pared-back to intricate in layering fiddles, uilleann pipes, clarinet, accordion, percussion, piano and every breed of string imaginable in his orchestra; great depth, innovation and nuance in the arrangements, a true professional basking in creative freedom.
Declan O’Rourke came on board for The Laird of the Land and together they retell an historic tale, compellingly done. The title track Storm in My Heart has a gospel touch, richly melodic, familiar for having been recorded by others, this version unique. Aileen is a heart wrenching lament, pipes and voice, nostalgic, philosophical, addressed to the beloved who knows “her race is run”, being implored to not “let your spirit lie”, evocative, a song apart.
John Faulkner acknowledges with gratitude all who contributed musically and to Paul Mulligan and Brendan O’Regan for their excellent sound engineering. One of the finest albums in the Irish folk music cannon, great style to the work, versatility and variety, firmly rooted in folk and Irish but genre-defiant.
Storm in My Heart, from a truly gifted, intelligent and seasoned performer is a compelling and vibrant showcase of John Faulkner’s imagination, poetry and unique song craft.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Best Of
Under One Sky Records, 30 Tracks, 132 Minutes
This compilation of 2 CDs of personally curated work marks thirty years of music making by John McCusker. A young lad who played fiddle in Glasgow Comhaltas, inspired by his Irish mother’s album collection, he has gone on to become the leading fiddler of his generation in Scotland.
There is no doubting not only his skill and musicality, but also his influence on countless other musicians. His joint albums include, Before the Ruin, with Roddy Woomble and Kris Drever (2008), Under One Sky (2009), and the enduring trio with John Doyle and Mike McGoldrick, producing two studio albums The Wishing Tree (2018) and The Reed That Bends in the Storm (2020), as well as three live albums. John is also a longstanding member of the annual Transatlantic Sessions house band.
On Best Of his original fiddle tracks include A Trip To Roma, Wee Michael’s March, Wiseman’s, Leaving Friday Harbour and Kev’s Trip To Brittany. John has selected instrumental sets with Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle: The Wishing Tree and the Madison Square Set, and a piece with Scottish National treasure Phil Cunningham Chickadee’s Christmas. Collaborations with the finest female singers of the past three decades include Eddi Reader, Kate Rusby, Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Helen McCabe and Heidi Talbot. As for the gentlemen, he recorded Hope To See with Chris Drever, and Roddy Woomble, he also selects Lavender Hill with Roddy Woomble and veteran Home Service singer John Tams is recruited for Hush a Bye.
The mainstream media may mention his writing for TV and the work he did with Billy Connolly, and sure enough the second CD ends with a gentle Pokarekare Ana from Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand. My favourite from the thirty tracks is FooFoo The Retirement, a syncopated mash up of bass, drums and Easy Club style fiddle, sheer bliss.
Best Of is the perfect window into the past thirty years of creative groundbreaking Celtic music, and given John’s relatively young age, and the fact there are four new tracks here, I’d reckon he’s only halfway there yet. What a ride it’s going to be in the future.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 13 Tracks, 51 Minutes
Hailing from County Cork, Elle Marie O’Dwyer has released a fresh and uplifting collection of music. Each track exploring her unique voice and showcasing a unique traditional style. O’Dwyer is captivating with each track and succeeds in making each her own.
Reimagined is a collection of 13 tracks. The music is bringing new life to old songs with a new composition amid all, integrating the old with the new. The title is very apt for the collection.
Opening with Sonny in a whole new vibrant melody and bringing new life into this infamous 1970’s song. It’s straight into Caledonia, which she encapsulates beautifully with her again vibrant, unique voice. There’s something so fresh with each song. Journeying through the collection we encounter such songs as Joe McDonnell, Hard Times, My Island Home, and then we hear O’Dwyer’s own composition, The Best is Yet to Come. Mirroring life in general, it is fast, fun and funky in a traditional way. It highlights for most of us to maybe believe that the best in life really is ahead and we should look forward and not back. Accompanied on this song by Liam O’Connor it really is her take on coming out the other end of Covid.
The second half of the collection brings us songs such as I Will Love You, Feet of a Dancer, ‘Roll Back the Clouds, Faraway in Australia and Wrap the Green Flag. The bonus track is the much loved, Arms of the Angel, which like all before it is fresh and new in its own right.
O’Dwyer successfully explores her unique voice and captivating style to make this collection of music one which not only confirms the future of traditional songs, but re-imagines them in a purely fresh and unique manner.
Gráinne McCool

Despite the Wind and Rain
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 41 Minutes
Rachel Walker is best known as a Gaelic singer from Lochaber who is establishing a name for herself as a songwriter, collaborating with some of Scotland’s finest poets. With four solo recordings to her name, she has teamed up with guitarist & bouzouki player Aaron Jones and splits the singing and writing with him on Despite the Wind and Rain. Rachel’s contribution includes one song in English and four Gaelic songs co-written with lyricist Marcas Mac an Tuairneir.
Aaron has accompanied some of the finest folk singers, and also written and sung his own songs with fiddler Claire Mann and with Old Blind Dogs: here he provides five original songs in English, as well as backing vocals in Gaelic, and plays guitar and cittern. All ten songs on this concept album are inspired by women from Scottish history, from the 1300s almost to the present day: seers, scientists, suffragettes, a Celtic warrior queen and a Glasgow-born Ghanaian artist among others.
Female song collectors and anti-slavery campaigners, explorers and entrepreneurs have inspired moving words and powerful melodies. From the mystical Sgàthach to the grim Rule of Thumb, and not forgetting the wry humour of Bessie Miller with her trade wind charms, Despite the Wind and Rain is a varied and entertaining album. Both Walker and Jones have powerful voices, expressing a wide range of emotions. Their own talents on fretted strings and keyboards are supplemented here by a band of Scotland’s finest folk and classical musicians: Patsy Reid and Katrina Lee on fiddles, Rhoslyn Lawton on viola, the powerful cello of Alice Allen and the flexible Duncan Lyall on double bass and additional keys.
The album artwork is surprisingly gentle and attractive, and there are excellent notes on each track as well as lyrics available online for all the songs.
Alex Monaghan

Peat Sounds
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 49 Minutes
The title of this album is deliberately self-deprecating but did not prepare me for its undoubted quality. Ciaran “Brownie” Guinan is a member of a well-known musical family from Ferbane, County Offaly, and this is his second solo outing, consisting of a mixture of original material and songs from the local archives. It’s a very strong collection of songs, inspired by his deep connection with his local area. He has an attractive vocal style, always relaxed and never forced, and opens the album with Shannon Harbour Home, an ode to his mother’s home place. The music on this is contemporary and beautifully played, with saxophone and pedal steel to the fore. He also adapts traditional songs, either sticking faithfully to the original as on The Fields Around Ferbane or giving them a fresh treatment on The Turfman from Turraun with some bluesy banjo to the fore, or The Ballad of Barry Lowe, from a poem written by the late Tony Holleran with an up-tempo country-rock treatment.
He has assembled a fine collection of musicians with producer Des Sheerin at the helm. Some of the playing is really top-class, notably pedal steel and electric guitars (Jonathon Milligan), and saxophone (John Byrne), which adds a lot to the listening experience. The Boora Railway Line has some lovely lead guitar by Willie Kiernan, with more than a passing nod to Mark Knopfler. There’s plenty of humour in songs like Cloghan Traffic Lights and That’s Your Mouldboard Baby. The Town I left Behind breathes new life into the old Johnny McEvoy classic.
The Rose of Ballinahown is a lovely treatment of a poem by the late John M. Doyle, whose lyrics provided Ciaran with great inspiration; here, keyboards (Ray McLaughlin) and low whistle (John Byrne) intertwine beautifully. The closing track is an expansive homage to his hometown – The Town of Ferbane is a lyrical master class incorporating an international cast of characters. A really delightful album full of unexpected gems.
Mark Lysaght

Illustrated Short Stories
12 Tracks, 38 Minutes
Twin sisters from the South West of England, Charlotte and Laura Carrivick love bluegrass, old time and Americana music. On this album they display a fine talent for song writing in those genres and a mastery of a number of instruments, which they play in an authentic folk-style, such as the Dobro, lap steel guitar, tenor guitar and five-string banjo. They never try to mimic a southern Appalachian drawl and yet their songs have the potential to cross the broad Atlantic and become naturalised over there.
Charlotte takes the lion’s share of the lead vocals, Laura adding harmony alongside her fiddle to round out the melodies. The album opens with In The Odstock Churchyard, a story about a Gypsy funeral, a family feud, destructive horticulture and a curse on the vicar. Crying To The Moon is the most English sounding song on the album; its themes are infidelity and death, themes that also permeate American folk music.
Charlotte hits the highest notes on The Gorge with Laura adding bluegrass colour on her lap steel. Her banjo is played in a minor key for the song War Games, a reflection on childhood conditioning of masculinity, with the lines “sticks and stones for swords and guns the harmless toys of childhood…”
They bring in an electric guitar on Ever Really, which revolves around the sentiment that some things are “too big to keep inside the confines of your mind, better out than in.”
They touch on environment and extinction in Last of My Kind. Laura is the lead voice on Amsterdam, with Charlotte adding a strummed mandolin. They head for old timey country on Sally In The Woods, playing banjo and fiddle; is it about a lost child, a malevolent phantom, we are left uneasy in the car, momentarily safe from the dark woods beyond.
The album closes with the instrumental duet Digging Up The Rosebush, an old time breakdown on fiddle and mandolin. Great songs, polished playing and voices that mesh in sibling harmony. It’s a keeper all right.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 10 Tracks, 48 Minutes
Best known as an author of books for both adults and children, Terence Blacker has also developed his career as a songwriter of note in the last decade. This is his fifth album and a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Playing For Time released in 2020. Thematically, the material mainly reflects issues in relation to the pandemic and other world events of the past two years.
The title track highlights our tendency to ignore the natural world through being too absorbed with trivia, and is delivered in a relaxed jazz ragtime style with some virtuoso piano playing from Dom Pipkin; his talents are featured extensively throughout. Producer Lukas Drinkwater colours in other musical spaces on bass, keyboards and percussion, with Terence himself taking centre stage on acoustic guitar and vocals. Each song is lyrically rich, with some very clever observations on the human condition.
The songs are mainly inspired by external events, but Other People’s Lives is a personal reflection on Terence’s father, along with other family and friends. There’s an underlying thread of optimism in most of the material, with a “must keep going and it will all work out” theme, an essential survival device in recent years! Lyrics are at times quite sardonic and humorous, with Everyday Hero making a wry political statement and Moanin’ Joe poking fun at a fictional misery-guts. The Couple Next Door is a reflection on aging that is quite endearing; with the music hall frivolity of The Way of the World providing a light-hearted romp through middle-aged angst, with lovely piano from Pipkin.
His song writing has been compared to Jake Thackray and Loudon Wainwright III, and I also hear echoes of Ray Davies in some of the songs – overall, this is a fine collection of original material of particular interest to budding songwriters.
Mark Lysaght

Until The Rivers Run Dry
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 36 Minutes
This is Cork based John Blek’s eighth studio album and will surely be welcomed by his legion of fans, and with his intense touring schedule there are many of them. Recorded in early 2022 and will be released officially on February 10th 2023, and I’m sure it will be a hit at his many gigs this year.
As befits a studio album, his work is multi-layered and carefully crafted, a remarkable achievement given the album was recorded in just 10 days. His collaborators are Colm Mac Con Iomaire (of the Frames) on fiddle, Kit Downes on piano, Chris McCarthy plays double bass and Davey Ryan is on drums. This is alt-folk that resonates with mid-century pop-rock influences. John’s songs are given headroom to breathe and his arrangements are memorable and melodic. On Half Life there’s a syncopated entry, the piano and percussion play in parenthesis around the lyrics.
His song writing is brimming with well-chosen phrases, in St John’s Eve, he sings “the day is dragging its heels”, referring to the longest day of the year when traditionally bonfires were lit across Ireland to mark the height of summer. He turns to the electric guitar on ‘Til The Rivers Run Dry, the fiddle moving into the expansive sound-scape as they conjure around the eternal theme of everlasting love. He channels his inner Springsteen on Love Lorne. Then on Restless Sea he imagines what it is like to be travelling away from the shore to a point where the colours of the coast fade into the monotonous hue of the ocean. Back to the theme of love on Lyrics and Air, he sees his love like the music and instruments of a band in perfect harmony. Joined by Cathy Davey, their voices are perfect foils for each other, making this the most commercial of the selections on this album.
Finally to the last track Floating Aimlessly, a sensuous clarinet, steel strung guitar and synth, happily surrendering the album to love and fate.
Seán Laffey

Next Stop Christmas
Own Label, 15 Tracks 41 Minutes
Yes this is a Christmas album from West of Eden, following on from their Celtic Christmas (2010) and Another Celtic Christmas (2016). They formed in Gothenburg Sweden in 1995; they play a blend of sophisticated, accomplished Celtic folk rock, which is often inspired by Irish music. Husband and wife Martin and Jenny Schaub are the band’s principal songwriters, and they are clearly accomplished wordsmiths.
The initial We Shall Sing Together is a call and response song with Jenny on lead vocals and a big chorus of voices amplifying the answers. On their new party song Must Be Santa, responses grow in cumulative length. Another brisk number is Perfect Winter’s Morning, its seasonal staccato coming from the sticks hitting the rim of the drum.
Jenny has a sweet yet powerful voice, she hits some very high notes on Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Mid Winter; it’s a modern cover of the famous song. Listen out for the electric guitar solo some three quarters of the way through on this updated version of Holst’s 1906 tune.
Three Winter Solstice tunes hang like jewelled baubles and another similar sparkle comes from The Jacobite. All are less than 1 minute long, with Winter Solstice III having the most Celtic sound thanks to a flute leading its melody. A longer piece Christmas in Carrack is sung over a snare drum, it’s a tale of punch and whiskey, and the company of friends. The title track looks to a rail journey and a much-anticipated trip home for the annual re-connection with family. That theme is revisited on the final track, Next Stop Christmas (Mind The Gap) where the homecoming is ultimately achieved.
My take away number has to be The Bells of St Stephens, beginning with a clarion peel; it offers hope for many more Christmases to come.
When Christmas jumper time comes round again, this album will be on my kitchen playlist. Mark it on your calendars now.
Seán Laffey

Lady Maisery Records LMCD05, 11 Tracks, 50 Minutes
Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans are Lady Maisery, three singers who also bring harp, banjo, accordion, electric guitar, viola, percussion, harmonium and organ to this album. Feted in the English folk scene for 10 years, Tender was recorded in Sheffield and is their first studio album since 2016.
Rain on a roof ushers in the title track, set in the security of the dry indoors. The harp lays a riff, an under-melody over which three voices consider the modern condition. When the storm lifts there will be a morning departure and housebound neighbours might just catch you dancing.
Bird I Don’t Know pictures a bird flitting through an urban landscape; we hear it, but can’t determine what it is. The viola sets the mood with a big sound, akin to a pipe drone, almost Scandinavian in its insistent purpose. Echoes has an undercurrent of breathing, its subject is the ageing process, dementia and the fogging of memory, where an echo is “throwing words against the wall” like King Lear raging against the storm and only hearing ourselves bouncing back rhetoric from an unkind world.
Issues of female safety are raised in Tracy Chapman’s 300 Miles, asking, is it safe to walk the streets alone? The answer is pragmatic, “I’ll take safe and terror free”. The banjo gets louder as the song moves to a massive ending overpowering us with decibels.
Personal safety again in Hyperballad, with handclaps and acappela harmony, whereas Scientist looks to the bigger issue of climate change, and the fear of reading the data first hand, seeing warnings of warming and trying to find hope in the evidence. Lal Waterson’s Child Among The Weeds lays a duty on us to offer a spiritual lullaby to those in need. Mountains feature in at least 3 of the songs, as a metaphor in Rest Now, a song for a Kurdish feminist who was killed fighting against ISIS. “Rest Now” is repeated as a mantra that asks activists to take their ease and look to “the edge lands where dawn is breaking”.
For many of the songs on Tender, you have to dig deep for meaning, the narrative is often opaque, even ambivalent. Discovering those messages brings the listener into the tribe. Listen carefully and you will understand.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 10 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Irish band Seo Linn makes musical waves with beloved songs in their upcoming release, Anuas. The band includes Stiofán Ó Fearail (guitars, lead vocals), Daithí Ó Ruaidh (keyboard, synth, saxophone, harmonicas, whistle, vocals), Kevin Shortall (accordion, percussion, vocals), and Keith Ó Briain (bass, mandolin, guitars, percussion, vocals).
Anuas opens with an all-out percussive rendition of Cailleach An Airgid (The Hag with the Money) before toning down the usual Puirt A Beul style to capture the song’s meaning in Fionnghuala. Solo voice and harmonies against a slow-moving drone are chilling at best in the love song, Casadh an tSúgáin (The Twisting of the Straw Rope). Molly na gCuach follows an all-instrumental and vocal version of this lover’s lament. Kevin’s unhurried mix of two old airs in Eanáir Bhán (White January) against a ghostly setting will take listeners back to haunting sea melodies.
The famous Siúil a Rún, sung in Gaelic and English, gradually builds in intensity to recreate the Jacobite-Williamite conflict. An Poc Ar Buile is bound to be a new favourite with their minor interpretation. Ethereal droning backdrop against evocative solo voice and harmonies raises another Jacobite favourite, Mo Ghile Mear, to a new listening level. Óró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile builds slowly to morph into hard rock before closing with a stirring sean nós rendition of Amhrán Mhuínse.
Undoubtedly, Seo Linn will make great strides as they share their love for the Irish language and extensive musical styles worldwide!
Anita Lock