Releases > Releases May 2015

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The Widening Gyre
Compass Records 7 4640 2
14 Tracks, 59 Minutes,

Finding new musical paths yet retaining the soulful integrity that makes their taste of music so special is what Altan are all about at the moment, and they definitely chose the right musical avenue with their latest studio album; The Widening Gyre. With a new album line–up that includes the piano accordion of Martin Tourish and a host of traditional and American influence, the band have harnessed Compass Records stalwart, Garry West, into production and emerged with an album of Nashville tinged Altan at their best.
Taken from The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats, the title is named for the reflection of life and the embracing of the new and this emulates exactly what Altan have done with the album.
They have kept the essence of what Altan personifies, through the inclusion of sets like Maggie’s Pancakes and The Tin key where the defined Donegal & Scottish influences are driven by the salient fiddle and guitars with a high energy force. The fantastic A Tune for Mairéad and Anna Ní Mhaonaigh, by Dáithí Sproule, demonstrates the sentimental subtlety that can only be applied by such talent on strings.
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh is the spin in Altan’s musical wheel and, whilst she showcases her trademark vocal charm in her traditional way, with songs like Far Beyond Carrickfinn (with additional vocal from Eddie Reader) spiriting you away to an emotive faraway place in a time gone by; there’s a twist. The twist with this album is the meeting of minds as Appalachian and traditional influences explore their intertwined relationship of the past unlocking a musicality that creates a spark of delightful listening. No Ash will Burn strikes a riveting contrast of vocal between Ní Mhaonaigh and Bruce Molsky that compels an intent ear to listen. This languid waltz suddenly hightails into what is one of the standout tunes on the album, Buffalo Gals, Leather Britches and Leslie’s Reel which is such a high intensity flavoursome set of energetic strings meeting the hurtling, intricate nuance of the banjo that you know nothing could surpass it.
That’s the album the whole way through. Altan are just at the start of their next chapter and having shown their inimitable metal with The Widening Gyre; they have set the standard at an all time high.
Eileen McCabe

Moyne Road
Own Label, Bon 2,
11 Tracks, 49 Minutes

This seven piece band has been musically lashing it out in style since 2011. With a debut album and a multitude of awards under their belt, they have just released their second album, Moyne Road, with which they’ve retained their core musicality yet complemented that instrumental force with a crafted selection of original songs that are delivered with a perfectly layered, harmonic panache.
The Day is Mine, written by Barry Lyons, utilises the full strength of group vocal with long notes coated with harmony and enforced by a powering instrumental that creates an emotive upsurge of sound that is raw and compelling.
The standout from start to finish though is the beautifully rendered, Roads, written by Barry with Maithu and Natalie that melts into exquisite arrangements with a sublime combination of subtlety and force, delivered with emotive precision.
The instrumental alone speaks volumes of the talent that exists within the group. The opening notes of Cashmere delivers a fabulous build–up of beats that allow for an interchange in flute and fiddle before the whole ensemble combines with dramatic vitality and standout piping from TG4 Gradam Young Musician recipient, Maithu Ó” Casaide.
A beautifully executed Hardyman set that contrasts the purity of the whistle with the devilish combination of string and pipes whilst fusing a definitive rhythm with a soaring melody that has so many intriguing layers that it will be played again and again.
A comparison could be made to a young Planxty as The Bonny Men ensure that their driving arrangements showcase what each member can do individually. With their musical imagination and a definitive confidence to explore each sound to its absolute limit, this is an album that will be a resounding success.
Eileen McCabe

Make a Note
Own Label CFCD0013,
11 Tracks, 47 Minutes

A second CD from this Manchester fiddler, now based in Florida, Make a Note is slighty shorter than Farrell’s debut On the Move and this difference is easily explained by the fact that his first album included two tunes not composed by Colin Farrell whereas this one contains none at all. Every melody here is Colin’s own, although I imagine the arrangements were a more collaborative affair, with over a dozen other musicians contributing to this recording. The ensemble playing is exceptionally tight, and the whole production is extremely slick – almost as though this were a project by Colin’s Hollywood namesake.
Farrell’s tunes are very close to the Irish tradition, with a modern Irish American touch at times. Many of them could be cousins of much older reel and jigs, although the airs do have a more contemporary feel. It’s hard to pick out highlights, as the stream of music is very even and consistent, but I was particularly impressed by The Black Sheep and The Mangerton Suite. It’s also notable that this CD opens with two sets of whistle tunes: it turns out Farrell is almost as fine a whistle–player as he is a fiddler. No surprise, then, that when Lúnasa were looking for a successor to the great Seán Smyth they chose Colin Farrell as the new face of fiddle virtuosity. Kevin Crawford and Trevor Hutchinson are among the guests here too. So if you want a good idea of what may be coming on the next Lúnasa album, my guess is it won’t be too far from Make a Note.
Alex Monaghan

Now is the Hour
Own label KCB102
13 Tracks, 43 minutes

Two clicks on the wood block and the Kilfenora are off and running with a driving selection of reels which They Call the Test of Time, (Morning Dew, Denis Murphy’s and Hould the Reins). On a careful listen there’s more to this than the standard dance band set up, a line–up featuring double bass and cello wouldn’t be the usual deep end of the dance pool for instance. The Kilfenora undoubtedly are a force of nature, with 12 players in the band, a posse of 6 extras and over 100 years of history they are a Clare institution. With such a wide array of talents and instruments to call on it is a wonder that they haven’t made this kind of album before.
Under their musical director of the banjo player John Lynch, the band has begun to move into the concert circuit. The liner notes, are dominated by a montage of photographs from Colin Healy, the band are dressed in the height of fashion, the boys in dapper dark suits in the girls in shiny cerise dresses they ooze class. They are a visual treat. I got the feeling that this album would be an ideal souvenir of a sit down night with the Kilfenora, a distillation of what they do on stage. Not that they have forgotten their Parish hall root as there are plenty of tracks here that you could dance a couple of sets to. Familiar pulsing foot stomping tunes demanded by dancers rub shoulders with more lyrical pieces appreciated by seated audiences. Tim Edey’s Little Bird is perhaps the most laid back piece on the album, one that would have you swaying in your chair. The addition of Don Stiffe as a vocalist is a smart move for a band with ambitions to move into the concert world. Stiffe is an adept stylist. He shines on The Rocks of Bawn and makes a good job of the country inflected Lost Little Children from the pen of Tim O’Brien. He is less successful on My Hearts Tonight in Ireland, the piece is buoyed up by a jaunty bouzouki from Mick Conneely, but Stiffe doesn’t catch the melancholy in Andy Irvine’s original. He sails very close to sentimentality on the final track Now is the Hour, but I suspect this is a show stopper with a live audience and would be a tear jerker for many a show filled with the waifs an strays of the Diaspora.
So this is a mixed album, from the straight no nonsense dance music of the The Duke of Leinster to more laconic numbers such as Ralph McTell’s From Clare to Here. Fans of Céilí bands need have no fear, the Kilfenora may be dabbling with the concert stage, but their dance band DNA casts a warm glow on practically every track.
Seán Laffey


Chuck Norris Project
Own Label
12 Tracks, 56 Minutes
Belfast born band leader Pat McGarvey came upon the idea in during the last US presidential election when Mr Norris & his wife released a campaign video urging voters to come out for Mitt Romney saying that a vote for Obama would lead to “a thousand years of darkness”, a statement he felt unhelpful to the debate. This is a rather unusual concept album especially in a folk idiom in that tracks are named after the films of the eponymous actor. Having said that there are no car chases, fights or explosions other than of ideas and sounds. The track names are said to inspire thoughts on the politics of the present as their ‘back handed’ compliment to an actor who opposed Obama in the 2012 election.
As such the songs which may not be toe tappers do bear close listening for the very real and urgent messages contained to grater or lesser effect in each track. Slaughter in San Francisco is a very strong case in point with its reference to school shootings while unfortunately Delta has its own resonances in Ireland and other “developed” nations with the message about zero hour contracts and disorganised labour.
President’s Man wonders about the gender or orientation of the incumbent in The White House and if it will make a difference. It was only on listening to Expendable Too that the name of the band actually struck me as in union in the sense of labour organisation.
The writing and arrangements on this CD are excellent as and the lyrics are intelligent and thought provoking. In many ways it is a reminder of the original purpose of the protest folk movement but with a very 21st century spin although the sentiments could have come from Woody Guthrie or later Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger.
This is not an album that will get that much air time but is well worth seeking out, for a ready to wear genre think… Edinburgh Mumford and Sons with an axe to grind.
Nicky Rossiter

Marty Moonshine McKernan and Don Banjo Smith
Own Label,
14 Tracks, 45 Minutes.
Last August I spent some pleasant hours in the musician’s food tent at the Milwaukee Irish Fest.
It was more than a just a diner, Barry Stapleton had decorated the space with a collection of photographs and song–sheet covers, charting an American take on Irish culture. This album would have not been out of place as back ground music in Barry’s exhibition.
This CD began was a concept almost 15 years ago, like all good ideas it was simple, ‘why not record an album of songs, with each one having the word Rose in its title?’ Begin with a short list: The Rose of Tralee, Rose of Mooncoin, The Banks of the Roses, Red is the Rose. Then pull in songs from out of Ireland; Roseville Fair, Rose of Allendale, and Robbie Burn’s My Love is Like a Red Red Rose.
The production values are high and the clarity of the diction on each track will make this an easy sing along and learning album too. Instruments featured are the tenor banjo of Don Smith with McKenna adding in guitar, five string banjo, mandolin, bass and ukuleles. Guest musicians include Jean Cassels on guitar and harmony vocals, Peggy Greene on accordion, whistles and vocals, Lyn Panico on vocals and James Sattler on fiddle.
The album pays homage to two giants of folk music in the USA; Pete Seeger and Tommy Makem. Due credit is given to the original songwriters with thumbnail sketches of the writer’s contribution to the folk ballad pantheon included in the track notes. This is radio friendly material, McKernan and Smith have rounded voices, which blend effortlessly with their tasteful arrangements, in what has been described as a melodic and mature collection of songs.
Their material would be very well–known to Irish American audiences and fans of the ballad boom here in Ireland. As an example of how to dress the songs without drowning them in drink this is up there with the best of them. A collection of timeless old songs rambles through the Rose Sessions; all blooms and no thorns.
Seán Laffey

Ian Carmichael
SplitRock Music
12 Tracks, 43 Minutes
Ian Carmichael’s album Ten Years On brings to mind Mark Twain’s comment on seeing his first minstrel show in Hannibal, Missouri, in the 1840’s – “it burst upon us as a glad and stunning surprise”.
At the time a banjo craze was sweeping the US and also Europe through these minstrel shows, and the man at the forefront was one Joel Sweeney from Appomattox, Virginia, with family roots in Mayo. Eventually Joel even made it to Ireland. The surprise is that it’s taken another 150 years or so for traditional music in this part of the world to truly embrace the five–string banjo.
Through this release, his first solo album, Ian Carmichael joins the front rank of those exploring the possibilities of the five–string in a rich mix of trad tune types. Ian is the ideal candidate to play at the crossroads of Irish, Scottish and bluegrass. Brought up in the Scottish highlands, his musical journey took him through years of bluegrass festivals in the US, back to sessions in Edinburgh in the early 90’s and on to become a staple of the northern Irish trad scene from a base in County Armagh.
Ten Years On is a celebration of highly–accomplished picking married to a thorough understanding of the music and a great ear for a tune, whether found or composed. A personal favourite is Bothy, a brilliant bit of work with guitarist Paul McSherry, composed in a salmon fishing hut in Clachtoll in the west highlands. But there’s lots more where that came from.
The understated and deft opening track, a Scottish reel and an Irish one, sets out the stall. It’s not about musical grandstanding, but an exploration of a lifetime’s work in music. That track is followed by the composition Trampolines, a super bluegrass–influenced tune backed by renowned roots player Frankie Lane. Pipe Set is a pretty remarkable rendition of highland pipe tunes on the five string, and Coloured Aristocracy is a beautiful solo interpretation of an old–time fiddle tune.
If a musician is known by the company he keeps, Ian is well–served on this CD. Brendan O’Regan produces and contributes to various tracks on bouzouki and more. Garry O’Briain features on guitar, Paul O’Driscoll on double bass and Tommy Hayes on percussion, all as tasty as you’d expect.
Accordion supremo, Dermot Byrne pops up on the final and title track, Ten Years On, which Ian wrote for his wife, the dancer and flute player Mary Fox.
The tune is an appropriate finale – it’s not just Ian’s roots that are showing in this expressive recording but the flowering of the five string in the fertile soil around Maghery on the shores of Lough Neagh.
Twain would approve. After all, he said if you want genuine music, “invoke the glory–beaming banjo!”
Martin McGinley

Walking Into White
Waterbug Records WBG119
14 Tracks, 34 Minutes

Its album number four for the UK based, singer songwriter, Sarah McQuaid who has just released Walking Into White. For this album, Sarah ventured from Cornwall, England to Cornwall, New York to work with producers Adam Pierce and Jeremy Backofen; an unexplored territory that veers away from the mainly raw, solo element yet allows for experimentation with the recording process and backing arrangements. Some of it works, some off it falls slightly away yet hardly deters from the vocal delivery that we have come to expect.
McQuaid has an intensity of vocal, dark, textured and honeyed that can be likened to the impact of a triple expresso. It leaves you with the feeling you have just reached the other side of an emotional furnace where every thought, feeling and sense of being has smouldered through her songs.
Take the three songs inspired by Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, Where the Wind Blows tells the story through a child’s eyes of the frenetic fear when you are out of control; in this case on a sled on a frozen lake. McQuaid uses the pacing frenzy and vocal rush to epitomise the blind fear experienced at that moment and then contrasts this as she steps back a pace when performing The Tide and reflects on the languidness on waiting for the tide to rise.
The third Ransome inspired song is also the title song; Walking Into White. The vocal humidity and brass accompaniment embody the helplessness of not being able to see ahead in the fog which, as Sarah says, ‘is like a parable for life’.
The whole album expresses the eclectic influences from McQuaid’s life intertwined with a symbiotic, emotive edge. With a maelstrom of intensity within; it’s a totally enthralling listen.
Eileen McCabe

Own Label, BT001, 14 Tracks
They are so close geographically yet when it comes to musical style they both retain t[heir own distinctive flair. I’m talking about the musical technique of North Tipperary and East Clare. The two areas are steeped in the tradition and have long been connected by the bridge over the River Shannon in the picturesque village of Killaloe, where also plays host to the birthplace of the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru at the Fort of Kincora, also known as Beal Boruma. It is this link, this connection that has given three of the tradition’s musical royalty the idea for the name; The Boruma Trio.
Eileen O’Brien, on fiddle and vocal, is a stalwart for the preservation of the musical style of North Tipp, Tulla accordionist, Andrew MacNamara is firmly ensconced in the C#/D box playing style of East Clare and the wider Clare connection of Dr Geraldine Cotter plays mediator on piano and whistle as they showcase this wonderful fusion in their new release; Gléas.
The marriage of the three instruments produces a beautifully powerful tone where each meet head to head yet somehow give the other space so the individual characteristics of play shine through and the result is a relaxed, easy flow where the power of the straight melody excels in its true form. An example is The Happy Man set where the group rest comfortably within the framework of the melody allowing the intricacies of individual style to emerge naturally, tied together by the definitive rhythm of the piano. Individually, the talents of the trio are showcased excellently with a hauntingly evocative Beinsin Luachra effected on the whistle by Geraldine, the compellingly forthright box style of Andrew stands prominently in the Down the Broom set and another highlight is the Air for Denis, composed by Eileen and performed by the three with poignancy and deep emotion.
This music has natural beauty where the love of the tune and both the preservation and blending of style plays host to a thoroughly enjoyable listen.
Eileen McCabe

Lovers Always Win
Brambus Records 2014782
17 Tracks, 58 Minutes
The man who is loved for his engaging tones, appealing performances and his ability to roll through genres and make them all ‘Monaghan’ has released a retrospective compilation of work that encompasses a mighty seventeen tracks in total. The easy listening musical man has taken previously recorded work and created a remixed catalogue of well–produced sound. This sound ranges from the poignant delivery of I Never got to Know You to the catchy, foot tapping, rocky version of The One I Left Behind and each song emits its own emotion that Monaghan is brilliantly adept at transmitting to his audience. Songs such as Caledonian Girl have created a niche that is abundant in soothing qualities that belie edginess and deliver on reflective and engaging sentiment.
It’s really surprising that this singer songwriter is not getting the recognition at home that he appears to be getting from further afield. Both Monaghan and this latest album Lovers Always Win are bursting with original lyricism and a well–executed instrumental combined with a quality of production that would be befitting of both mainstream and a multitude of niche radio airwaves.
Brendan has a voice that creates appeal and can enchant with tales of sorrow or joy in a soulful or folk rock setting. The root of the charm though is in the Irish inflection and the empathy within and no matter the genre that Brendan decides to sail at any given time, he will always capture the heart of the listener.
That’s a quality in performance that can only come from within and Brendan Monaghan has it in spades.
Always an endearing listen.
Eileen McCabe