Releases > Releases MAY 2019

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Fear Inis Bearachain
Clo Iar Chonnacht CICD206, 16 Tracks, 55 Minutes
This album was released in December 2018, just in time for Christmas. It is in many ways a present from Johnny Óg to his father Johnny Connolly. The latter is the well-respected box player, who hails from the island of Inis Bearachain in Conamara, hence the title of the album. Johnny Senior hasn’t been doing too well of late, being struck down with Alzheimer’s, so much so, that his playing days are sadly now behind him.
On this album, Johnny Óg pays a warm tribute to his father’s memory and music, not by way of imitation, neither is it sentimental, it is an act of love, a gentle passing of tradition from one generation to another. Oh, what music there is to hand down, lively dance music, with a strong hint of the swing and verve of 1920s American ballrooms on a pair of jigs Flanagan’s and Kimmel’s. Track ten is a medley of tunes that recall places where Johnny Senior has lived, Inis Bearachain, London and Boston. There’s a waltz lullaby Suantrai James agus Eilidh Patricia. Johnny’s own composition Tommy the Norman and The Fitzharris Fling were composed for Leitrim man Tommy Fitzharris who adds his flute to this track.
Other guests include Gary O Briain on Mandocello and Padraig Ó Dhubhghaill on guitar, Clodadh Costello on banjo and Liam O’Connor on Fiddle, a premier league team. The solo playing is exemplary, complete with the click and clack as the buttons press out the music, giving the album another dimension of handicraft, and honesty.
Music is a gift and the Connollys have shared it with each other and us for years. Give yourself a treat and gift it to your collection.
Seán Laffey

Half Day Road
Own Label LC0002, 12 Tracks, 48 Minutes
Chicago native Irish fiddler and composer extraordinaire, member of String Sisters and several previous groups, with more awards and albums to her name than I have fingers and toes to count them, Liz Carroll needs no introduction from me. Half Day Road is another score of new tunes, plus one composition from Ontario guitarist Jake Charron: Jake has recorded with a few Canadian fiddlers and is probably best known with his funky folk band The East Pointers. Accompanying the fiddle here, he adds bounce and brilliance as well as the rhythm and depth you’d expect from any good sideman.
Despite her long years at the top of Irish American music, Liz Carroll has not lost any of her vitality and verve: the opening set of reels would make Coleman proud a century on, and her atmospheric As the Crow Flies is right in the contemporary fiddle sweetspot. Save the Ham has an oldtimey feel to it, appropriate enough as the backstory is less Mrs Doyle and more Hemenway & Hall. The next two compositions are dark and spiky, suitably Scandinavian in the case of Jarl Squad, surprisingly groovy on Who Has the Conn.
Jake moves to piano for his solo air Last of the Leaves, sweet and delicate, followed by the stately Planxty Mary Fahey and a pair of high-flying compositions featuring whistle wonderwoman Joanie Madden. There’s a touch of bass and percussion from other guests, but Half Day Road is essentially fiddle and guitar, both stunningly well played: a pair of sinuous polkas, two pieces in strathspey style, and of course a final set of reels wrap up a wide-ranging collection which will keep Liz in the hearts and minds of trad fiddle fans but also moves the tradition on in the style of more upbeat groups like The East Pointers. This CD is definitely a candidate for my 2019 Top Ten.
Alex Monaghan

The Road Across the Hills
Cailin Records CFM01CD
10 Tracks, 44 Minutes
Those of us from Donegal see Scotland as the place next door where family and friends live and anyway, the Donegal accents, I use the plural because there several, are just variants of those heard in Scotland. Linguistically and culturally we have much in common. In times past, however, Donegal boys and girls went as seasonal works to Scotland as tattie howkers, potato pickers, where pay was poor and living conditions worse, wretched bothies no better than huts with makeshift bedding and not much else. Then there was the tough life of the navvy whose labouring work was equally harsh but with a marginally better chance of making a bit more money.
Both ways of scraping a living are described by the renowned Donegal writer, Patrick MacGill – who laboured in Scotland, in his memoir-type novel, Children of the Dead End. Cavan fiddle player, composer and writer, Gráinne Brady, like so many Donegal youngsters did in the past, moved to Scotland, too, but, she says, “in a much more enlightened time and I am privileged to be able to make a living doing what I love to do”. Patrick’s novel about the downtrodden Irish, and poor Scottish people, too, inspired Gráinne to compose The Road Across the Hills, which she calls a musical soundtrack to the novel that really is an account of Patrick’s own life. The story relates how Dermod Flynn, as McGill calls himself, begins to discover his talents. “The story speaks for the outcasts in society,” writes Gráinne in her CD notes, “the labourers, navvies and waifs.” It provides a vivid account of the hard life of the poor workers, and she describes the music as delving into their worlds “whilst highlighting the enduring hope that drove such determination to succeed despite the odds”. “Entwining the musical tale are (spoken) words from the man himself which work as an extra layer to the soundtrack, reflecting upon the tale.” Gráinne is referring to Jack Houston, whose Donegal voice is heard reading selected words for each track. Overall this is a stirring musical experience by a talented young woman in which echoes of Irish and Scottish influences are heard in exquisite melodies and dancing mood motifs that are original and altogether pleasing.
Gráinne herself plays the fiddle on the CD and her backing musicians, playing instruments that include accordion, guitar, viola and percussion, do justice to what is an unusual and creative work by a new and exciting artist and composer.
Aidan O’Hara

Oh The Starlings
Cog Communication COGCD226, 11 Tracks, 41 Minutes
Annie Kinsella and Kieran Goss have created a poetic, lyrical and musically coalescent album in Oh The Starlings. The big themes of life, love and loss are explored, bird imagery very effective with the flight versus permanence, a whispery murmuring title track, a work of tenderness, joy, an anthem to the natural world.
A crystallised and enduring maternal bond is mourned and celebrated in Kinsella’s As Mam Lay Dying: …‘my mother I know her’, the present tense, the intimate, liminal space, the deathbed vigil observed, the plaintive refrain repeated; ‘won’t you help her to hear, pray her near…’ a daughter’s pleading evocation, could only be written from personal experience, it stands out.
The Jamaican patois Come Back Liza sounds as comfortable here as in Caribbean dialect, the accompaniment exquisite. With Michael’s Orchard, Goss and Kinsella adapt a turn-taking approach, first stanza lines are solo, then their unified and harmonised voices coming together adds something mysterious, the guitar playing brilliantly achieves a cushioned bell-like sound.
Kieran Goss, delighting audiences since the late 1980’s with his music, poetry, his affability and ability to take the best expressions of a troubled heart and make them sing with poignant, relatable emotion. In Hollywood Boulevard he weaves a familiar strand, a contemporary story and timeless narrative; the struggling artist, the phoniness of show business, the envious friends at home, a Mountains of Mourne for the 21st century. Stylistically it has shades of Gordon Lightfoot in phrasing, guitar accompaniment and perfect delivery.
Time to Go Sleeping reverts beautifully to parting, to night time when ‘angels are singing sweet lullabies’, the listener perceives as perhaps a final goodbye, to tie in lyrically with other partings, or an ordinary lullaby made extraordinary with the sweeping, prolific flourish of Kieran Goss’s quill.
Anne Marie Kennedy

It’s a Long Way from St. John’s
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 52 Minutes
July 1st is Canada Day and the country goes en fête for the occasion each year. However, that same date is marked in Canada’s most easterly island province, Newfoundland, for another reason. The Newfoundland Regiment was decimated that day in 1916 at the battle of the Somme. The regiment’s tragic advance at Beaumont Hamel that morning became an enduring symbol of its valour and of its terrible wartime sacrifices. The events of that day were forever seared into the cultural memory of the Newfoundland and Labrador people.
When he heard the story of the Blue Puttees, the regiment’s nickname, from the Church Lad’s Brigade leggings they wore, Conamara man, Danny O’Flaherty, was so affected by it all, he sat down, and with his wife, Khaetidawne Quirk, penned a number of songs and verses, and they’re all here in his CD. It’s a Long Way from St. John’s; written to commemorate “and pay homage to the Blue Puttees and their families” Danny says. I know well the emotions that are felt by Newfoundlanders when they recall what happened to their men and boys at the Somme, and what the couple have done will surely be appreciated by people all over the island.
Before going to war, the Blue Puttees marched along Water Street in St John’s, the provincial capital, singing It’s a long way to Tipperary, indeed, many people from Tipp settled in Newfoundland, and hence the title track, words taken from the chorus: “It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way from St. John’s.” The CD songs note the happenings that are familiar to all who had loved ones in that war and that viewers of the many programmes on TV learned about over these past four years of the centenary commemorations.
The song titles themselves give us a clue what to expect, for example: Forget Me Nots (memories of the regiment’s departure; Ladies Knitting by the Score (the women knitted thousands of socks and mittens for the soldiers); I Was There (about Armine Gosling, Newfoundland’s leading suffragette, who was with the Red Cross motor ambulance in France); and Sable is Marching salutes the regiment’s mascot, Sable Chief, a Newfoundland dog that ‘marched’ with the men during the war.
Rounding off his notes, Danny provides a quote from my friend, Professor John Mannion – another Galway man, who taught at Memorial University in St John’s. Of Khaetidawne’s and Danny’s songs, he says: “They stand as a memorial, not just to the fallen, but to mothers, wives, children, sweethearts, families and friends left behind.”
Aidan O’Hara

I Haven’t Even Started Yet
BeardFire Studios, 5 Tracks, 18 Minutes
I Haven’t Even Started Yet is the debut EP from Ciarán Moran. The EP boasts 5 tracks and all consistent in a direct rawness and fierce honesty throughout. Honesty because of the very real issues he deals with in his songs and words.
The EP opens with the story, or rather stories, of an imagined woman, named Audrey. Immediately we’re introduced to this husky, raw and authentic voice of Moran. I instantly thought of Springsteen on my first hearing.
We competently flow into the second track, I won’t Give Up which again exuberates a very honest sound and very determined message. Prisoner follows and here we go inside the mind of the Prisoner in question. Follow Your Soul is a deep and meaningful track before the abusive finale of Mother where domestic violence is made very real.
This is a very contemporary and yet original collection. It encapsulates you from the very beginning. The truth and honesty of some very real, and very difficult issues are showcased and explored in this collection of music. And you just know that he really hasn’t ‘even started yet’.
Grainne McCool

Own Label, 12 Tracks, 48 Minutes
This four-piece group hail from Australia while their musical influences are universal; they are Anthony, Sile and Bernadette O’Neill and Kerry McManus (Irish roots for sure). The album of a dozen tracks comprises the compositions of a wide range of internationally known writers and performers. Having said that Saoirse (pardon the pun) sets these works free with innovative arrangements and performances. This free-spirited interpretation bursts forth on the opening track Cunla and Mouth Music and it is evident throughout the album. I doubt you will hear more upbeat versions of these standards of just about every folk group.
They slow the pace on track two Mother’s Song composed by group member Sile Neil which demonstrates a great emerging writing talent. Not to be outdone Bernadette O’Neill, another group member, has penned the beautiful Black Night and the rendition here is excellent, making it one of the “stand out” tracks on offer. She repeats her writing talent on the stirring O’Reilly’s Lament recounting an episode of Irish history - The Easter Rising - to great effect. This track would be an ideal single if such things were played on radio anymore.
This writing talent shows the self-sufficiency of this group while the cover versions show that a good group can take another writer’s work and add a new dimension. In this instance their take on Eric Bogle’s Leaving the Land with female vocalist to the fore is a revelation making the sentiments all the more evocative.
In a similar fashion they take the classic Richard Thomson song The Dimming of the Day and haunt the listener with the beautifully modulated harmony singing that greatly enhance enjoyment of the song. Having mesmerised the listener with their vocal ability they also throw in some instrumental tracks to further showcase their talents on The Woodford Whistler and The Star of Munster. Having heard the Encore I am sorry to have missed the three earlier Saoirse albums.
Nicky Rossiter

Own Label HCD01, 13 Tracks, 51 Minutes
If you take your traditional songs neat then this is a bottle of cask aged single malt. Perhaps it is a Bushmills for Helen draws on a Northern repository of English language material on this absorbing album.
Helen is one of the very musical Diamond family, (her brother Danny recorded this album in 2017). She is a regular at the Góilin singers club in Dublin, whom she thanks warmly for their support and encouragement.
Like the best singers she has a style that is both recognisably of a type yet is distinctly her own. Some of the songs are well known, often over-cooked by ballad groups such as Brennan on the Moor. Helen’s version is more complex; she invests the narrative with a sense of a shared secret, taking us back to a time when songs were the Sky News of their day.
Songs from the Ulster tradition are to the fore, with The Maid on the Mourne Shore, The Mountain Streams and The Magherafelt Mayfair as key examples. She sources songs from the bible of Northern material, the Sam Henry Collection, and references the singing of Paddy Tunney as an inspiration.
She has an engaging decorated style of singing. It all sounds so easy and relaxed, such is the level of her accomplishment. The Irish Traditional Music Archive was a key resource for Helen and she writes in the notes of hearing a recording of Robert Cinnamond in the archive.
Irish songs in the English language have languished for the past two decades, yet it is evident in the singing of Helen Diamond that they have a quality and value that ought to be heard far more often. Congratulations to An Chomhairle Ealaíon, the Irish Arts Council, who sponsored the production of this album. I can see this album becoming a must visit benchmark for singers in the future.

Seán Laffey

We Will Rise
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 44 Minutes
Remember the days when folk music was truly a social medium? On this album the very talented Folklaw brings us back to that golden era or maybe they bring that golden era into the 21st century. Whichever way we choose to see it this is a CD that will entertain, educate and entrance even the casual listener who skips the liner notes.
The notes tell us that the title track album charts the life of Mary McArthur who campaigned not just for women’s rights but also the first minimum wage. Other tracks bring us more modern messages and like all great folk groups they leave the message to let us smile or even laugh.
The somewhat humorously titled Folky Pirates actually brings on those serious messages about the modern world with all its buzz words and destructive habits. Similarly One Day at a Time confronts that other scourge of the frantic modern world, mental health issues.
They lighten the mix somewhat with tracks like Baby You’ve Changed and Crazy for the Girl which run more into the romantic themes of more mainstream music.
Ireland gets a look in with Rocks of the Burren recalling that “joy” of the folk band, the travelling. This also inspires the enigmatically named Negen which the notes tell us refers to a boat deck from European tours.
Last Days of Summer is one of my personal favourites on an album of excellent tracks. The full sound has a spirit lifting feel from its first notes to the last. Having said that Hills of Our Minds gives it a good run for the accolade of a favourite with its lovely lyrics and arrangement.
Folklaw write their own material and they demonstrate that gold standard of folk music in magically combining social comment and conscience with a talent for producing songs that inform us while we bask in the enjoyment of the sounds.
Nicky Rossiter

English Folk Field Recordings Volume 2
From Here Records, SITWO11CD, 14 Tracks, 50 Minutes
The debate about place is nothing new to Irish musicians. However in England, where there has been three centuries of displacement, largely through the concentration of population in industrial towns and cities, place can often be reduced to whimsical nostalgia.
Radical folk group Stick in the Wheel, who come from the East End of London, want to challenge that notion and have set about recording singers and musicians on their own turf; the result is music they call “from here”. Simply recorded, in front rooms, back stages, and mixed on location by Ian Carter; it has intimacy, immediacy and integrity.
Presented in a simple no-nonsense matt card folder, with the excellent liner notes printed on one sheet of blue-gray paper, in the tradition of a 19th century broadside, the notes detail the provenance of songs and tunes.
Songs form the majority of the album’s tracks, from the traditional Barbara Allen, to the Sandgate Dandling song. The Almsgiver is a long song, whereas Grace Petrie’s A Young Woman’s Tale is a left-wing synopsis of English politics since the millennium.
Rachel Unthank, Nancy Kerr, Juner Tabor for example are established folk voices. They sit alongside work from Richard Dawson, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne (who sings the old musical hall classic Two Lovely Black Eyes) and others.
Kathryn Tickell has an outstanding version of Bonnie Pit Laddie/Lad of Alnwicck on Northumbrian Small pipes. C. Joynes plays a rambling medley of Morris tunes on a slack tuned guitar. Kat and Phil Tyler add Appalachian banjo to the American song Ladle/Richmond.
The album is like an after-hours sing-a-round at a village lock-in. If I have a favourite track, it has to be Chris Woods’ So Much to Defend; it’s political, it’s subtle, it’s carefully worded, it’s a bossa-nova, and it just might give the rest of us an inkling about middle England’s attitude to Brexit.
Seán Laffey


Eighth Nerve Audio, 8Nerve004 12 Tracks, 50 Minutes
As I write this, my son Brian and his wife, Fiona Mackenzie & two daughters are winging their way to Norway where they spend as much time as possible. And why? For much the same reason as the woman whose new CD, Owerset, I just now have to hand. Scottish-born Sarah-Jane Summers is also in love with Norway, its music and its language. And to prove it she has come up with a series of tunes, airs and dances of amazing variety reflecting the Norse/Viking, Gael and Scots ties that bind.
Such mood and rhythm in the pieces, some slow and thoughtful, with soundscapes of colour and reflection, exemplified in the majestic opening track, Gall-Ghàidheil/Norse-Gaels; others full of bounce and joy as in Fitakaleerie, which she tells us is ‘a dance performed in a sitting position with ale-cog in hand’ and that might explain what I perceive as a distinct Russian flavour in the composition. The title tracks, Owerset I and Owerset II, Sarah-Jane explains, is the Scots for translate and “comes from Old Norse, the modern Norwegian word being oversette”. She goes on: “Here, a polska is played in a Swedish style by Bridget & Leif before being ‘translated’ into a more Scottish style. Then it takes its own journey onwards…” The two musicians are Bridget Marsden (fiddle) and Leif Ottosson (accordion), and like Sarah-Jane, highly accomplished performers – as indeed are the other accompanying musicians.
Sarah-Jane’s unique skills have led her to perform at folk, jazz, rock, contemporary music and ‘noise festivals’ worldwide with some of the biggest names in the Scottish and Norwegian music scenes. She’s a tradition-bearer of the old Highland style of fiddling, and was taught by the late, great Donald Riddell (1908-1992), who learnt his fiddling from a relative of hers, Alexander Grant of Battangorm (1856-1942). She is now based in Norway and holds a Masters degree in Norwegian traditional music and free improvisation from The Norwegian State Academy of Music.
This magnificent Owerset recording, celebrating our three cultures and musical heritage in a unique and exciting way, grew out of a New Voices commission for Celtic Connections 2018. The performance was a huge success, sold out, with many hailing it to have been one of the best New Voices commissions ever. I agree, and I’ll add that I haven’t heard so exciting and thrilling a recording in a long time and urge you to check it out and treat yourself.
Aidan O’Hara

Just for the Records JFR732, 8 Tracks, 30 Minutes
Some lively and very accomplished Irish music from Norway with Anders Lillebo on piano accordion, who crowd-funded the recording of this 8 track album.
A short while ago Anders took a sabbatical and moved back to the countryside taking up residence in a house where his grandfather was born. After a lifetime of touring and absorbing music from jazz to Irish Trad, Anders’ sojourn in the countryside gave him time to breathe musically and find his voice, in doing so he came to an Irish accent. In the liner notes he sums up his epiphany as: “It isn’t really about the music you play but who you are and what you bring to the music.” Anders brings an international backing band of Norwegian Olav Rossebø (fiddle & mandolin), Englishman James Taylor (guitar) and Arthur Stones (bouzouki & banjo) from Ireland. They have created a dynamic, fast paced album of some cracking dance tunes. Such as the selection Tiny the Trooper/John Brady’s and the Coolea, a slick combination of slip jig and jigs. More driving jigs on Condon’s Frolics, Humours of Ballingarr/Killiglass Lake augmented by feisty banjo.
There’s some Norwegian music with Lardal Waltzes, with the mandolin upfront, however the overall character of the album is Irish. One can only imagine the long nights of tunes as the Nordic winter set in. Perhaps that homecoming was a case of splendid isolation; it’s certainly resulted in a splendid album. Check Anders’ website. There are 30-second clips from each track; it’s sure to whet your appetite.
Seán Laffey

The Calling
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 42 Minutes
Here is an original singer-songwriter from Sligo, surely one of the most eclectic musical counties in Ireland. Dean has put in the time, played the gigs and worked as support to some of Ireland’s top professional musicians. He’s been at the game for a long time now having recorded his first single almost twenty years ago. That longevity and maturity counts when it comes to the craft of song writing.
The Calling was recorded in 2016 at Edenvella Studios and mixed and mastered by Ian Caple, who has worked with such artists as Kate Bush, Ryan Adams & Tricky.
Dean’s song Boy opens with a choral shout and a riffing guitar backed simple drum beat, and that understated percussion is a feature of many of the tracks on this album. Faith in You is more of an atmospheric shimmer, the guitar sliding and echoing as Dean sings, “I’ve got a woman I can’t stand to be two feet away from.” Guardian Angel is constructed from interplay of pauses and statements, the words inhabiting a rich melody and the instrumental filling in an unpretentious space between the verses. If you are looking for a sing-along favourite then track seven Turquoise Sea has the potential to be a catchy number that will haunt you for a month or two. The final track Head in Hands is a contemplative coda, beginning with a gentle guitar, somewhat in the style of Luka Bloom, and that’s a compliment.
The Calling is his debut album and it ought to be a breakthrough for Dean. It certainly will ironclad his career and I can see many more luminaries of the business calling on his services.
Seán Laffey

Idir Muir Agus Sliabh
Cló Iar Chonnacht CICD207, 12 Tracks, 52 Minutes
Diane is steeped in the Donegal singing tradition, born and raised in the Gaeltacht where she still lives and works. Over the years she has honed her craft and has achieved national recognition by winning the Oireachtas female traditional singing competition in 2015. Encouraged and mentored by her great friend (and acclaimed singer and academic) Dr. Lillis Ó’Laoire, this CD is a delight from start to finish.
Drawing on her impressive store of songs, she invigorates them with her expressive and emotive vocals, each track invested with care and attention in terms of arrangement and performance. There is a stellar list of musicians here, including Michael McGoldrick, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, cellist Neil Martin, pianist Donald Shaw, Martin Crossin on pipes and whistles and Charlie McKerron on fiddle. An A-list rhythm section of Liam Bradley and James Blennerhassett is also in attendance.
This impressive array of talent is superbly directed by producer and arranger Manus Lunny, who also contributes guitar, bouzouki and background vocals. There’s a real sense of contemporary sensibility here, without taking away from the traditional authenticity. It’s a delicate balance, but there’s an effervescence and sense of dynamics that creates a sparkle to complement the vocals throughout.
Personal highlights include the haunting Cnoc na Naomh, and beautifully sparse readings of Lough Erne’s Shore and Báinín Mhín a Leá, the latter featuring some beautiful fiddle playing from Charlie McKerron. All three are slow songs, but there are plenty of up-tempo tracks to balance out the CD. The closing piece, Toraigh Álainn, is a heartfelt tribute to the area from where much of the inspiration for the music came, and the twelve tracks here are all invested with genuine love for Donegal traditional song which has spread internationally over the years, due to the efforts of wonderful singers such as Diane.
Mark Lysaght