Releases > Releases May 2020

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Scatter the Light
Musical Bridge MBI-20-001,
11 Tracks, 40 Minutes
This is so urban, so now, so relevant, if you think fusion is fizz without the Champagne, think again. Eileen’s latest album is as bubbly as Bollinger and as intoxicating too.
Scatter the Light is a brilliant title for a CD; if you hold one of those discs to a sunbeam it diffracts the shaft of light into shards of colour. Eileen’s intention is for her music to have a similar effect. Right from the get go, her bright light of hope sparkles as Matthew Mancuso sings on the chorus to Shine:
“As time flies it leaves my shadow behind
So I’m gonna shine…I’m gonna shine.”
That notion of holding the moment, carpe diem, pervades track after track. Leap of Faith takes a Caribbean vibe and underscores it with Eileen’s Irish fiddle. In the liner notes Eileen says of this piece “Life is one big improvisation, do what you love”.
Road Trip is a huge multi-faceted number, warming us up for Wah-Wah One Violin, a virtuoso three and a half minutes of electric fiddling, just Eileen, a fiddle and a pedal box, for me the most Irish track on the CD. In contrast there is a big band sound with New Orleans style brass on Go Tell It On The Mountain. Caitlin Maloney joins as the vocalist on Hold My Hand, Eileen’s song being inspired by her parents’ wedding photograph. The final, and for me, the take-away track You Are Strong, is in stark contrast to Hold My Hand. It moves the action North to modern day New York; it’s a chilling true-story of sexual abuse and the triumph of the female spirit above an abyss of fear, isolation and officialdom. Eileen raps the words, a device adding indignation, insight and impact. I first heard this track on the day of the Harvey Weinstein sentence. Eileen’s final words on the album distilled the history of the day into one telling phrase: “You are strong, speak your truth”. On Scatter the Light Eileen has certainly seized her day.
Seán Laffey

Dén Díobháil
Own Label, 14 Tracks, 64 Minutes
Nuadán are a traditional group from An Rinn, Co. Waterford. The band consists of Cárthach Ó Faoláin (accordion, vocals), Macdara Ó Faoláin (bouzouki, vocals), Pax Ó Faoláin (fiddle, vocals) and the newest member of the band, Iarlaith MacGabhann (flute, whistles) from Dublin. Their music is steeped in the tradition of the West Waterford Gaeltacht, but draws inspiration from many other sources. They released their debut album, Lá Laindí Lugha, in 2016 and since then they have been performing at home and abroad to great acclaim. This long-overdue follow-up is full of top-class material, well-arranged and performed, and places them firmly at the vanguard of the new wave of Irish traditional groups.
The addition of flute gives them another dimension and this is most evident when the band is in full flight; the sound is full of subtle interplay between the melody instruments and this is underpinned by gorgeous bouzouki accompaniment. While the group errs on the side of more conservative styles, they add a youthful vigour which is infectious, with a definite spring in their step on the faster tunes.
Unusually for a band of this type, all three Ó Faoláins are singers and each of them is featured on this collection. Pax’s As I Was Walking cleverly juxtaposes Irish and English lyrics, while Bóthar Chluain Mheala, sung by Macdara is a beautiful song juxtaposed with tunes at the end, carefully arranged and played with great sensitivity. It’s hard to pick out a set of tunes from the bunch; they are all top-notch, and all the material has been extensively researched, fully documented in the sleeve notes with detailed explanations and sources. This is a wonderful album full of unexpected delights. All four musicians are first-rate players with a special mention for Macdara, whose bouzouki playing is a model of empathetic accompaniment throughout.
Mark Lysaght

The Ballads Collection
Own Label, 18 Tracks, 77 Minutes
It does exactly as it says on the cover. Yes, it gives us a ballad collection and it doesn’t disappoint. Neil Byrne & Ryan Kelly have delivered a most unique and exquisite collection of many well-known ballads and yet they appear so new, fresh and so welcoming on this new collection recently released. Alongside 12 previously released tracks are 6 rather newer ones. But none disappoint. This is a collection for everyone.
The album opens with the ever-famous Caledonia. From thereon, you don’t want to stop listening. On Raglan Road, The Green Fields of France, Summer in Dublin, the list just goes on. The songs need no introduction, but the singing, musicianship and harmonies on this collection really are such to be reckoned with. They make the entire collection contemporary
This duo, having been compared to Simon and Garfunkel, really do show their best on this new album. The well-known tracks take on a whole new lease of life with Kelly and Byrne. It’s often said to leave the classics untouched. This disappears when you hear these revived songs.
Ride on, Rock ‘n Roll Kids, Black is the Colour just take you on a trip down memory lane. And yet it doesn’t feel like a ballads collection. It feels new and it feels contemporary. It sits just right with these voices singing. Finishing off the collection are the classics, When You Were Sweet Sixteen, and Carrickfergus: this collection just stays with you. Not because it’s one of old and familiar songs, but because Byrne and Kelly have made them new, and you just want to hear them again and again.
The Ballads Collection is the absolute heart of fine music and showcases Byrne and Kelly at their complete best. This is masterful, and indeed at times rather magical too.
Grainne McCool

Feochán : The Gentle Breeze
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Flute music from County Laois: Robert Harvey is a multiple All-Ireland champion and a master of his instrument. Here he plays reels and hornpipes, jigs and airs, polkas and barndances. The album title immediately put me in mind of the late great Frankie Kennedy from Belfast, but this is a very different style of playing: Frankie had a wild roughness, by way of contrast Robert Harvey’s music has been shaped and refined by influences beyond Irish music.
This is precise controlled playing, the power-glide into Maghera Mountain, the careful tonguing on City of Savannah, the choice of showpieces such as The Primrose Polka and James Morrison’s Souvenir Hornpipe, indicate a confidence and proficiency beyond most traditional players. Feochán: The Gentle Breeze sits closer to classical music than most Irish albums, recalling the virtuosity of Morrison and his fellow New York musicians in the mid 20th century. Harvey’s version of Sleepy Maggie has that speed and punch of early recordings, with enviable technique. There’s plenty more great music here: two fine hornpipes by John Brady, Gráinne Hambly’s slip-jig The Thorn Tree, and the final lament Caoineadh Uí Néill. Robert Harvey’s flute is augmented by Eilís Lavelle on harp, Conal O’Kane on guitar, Tadhg Ó Meachair on keyboards and the bodhrán of Ciarán Maguire for a full rounded sound.
Alex Monaghan

Saints and Sinners
Own Label IRD0220, 15 Tracks, 64 Minutes
The cover of this CD shows the Rovers leader George Millar, playing poker, watched over by a Saint (from the Book of Kells) and joined on the green baize by an alligator, a Unicorn and other characters from their past. You could spend an age reading the image, or simply consult the album’s 11 tracks to paint the picture of their back-story.
The Irish Rovers are THE veterans of Irish folk music in Canada, exiled there for fifty years, they continue to delight audiences with their music, camaraderie and their devotion to the cause of folk song. Their music was always for sharing and to that end their lyrics are provided in the twenty-page liner notes.
There are songs about drink, Shanghaied Again, The Irish Whiskey Song listing brands from Powers to Bushmills, songs of exile, The Rolling Hills of My Home, the jocular An Irishman in Paris, and the autobiographical A Band Without A County. There are lyrics that will tug at the heart strings of Irish emigrants, especially Some of Ireland’s Lovely Sights, firmly in the tradition of songs that are longing for an imagined home place. There are old songs with easy melodies, pre-eminent among those is the perennial Star of the County Down. The last track is the comical, The Irish Reggae Band, a light hearted ditty sung to a Calypso beat, predating the Reggae revolution by a decade or more.
If I were to select my top trump it would be The Braidwater Mill, penned by George Millar, its chorus has the antique patina of age, telling the story of the folk who toiled in the northern flax mills. George’s masterpiece is an unsentimental social commentary, avoiding the pitfall of nostalgia, a song that can and should be covered by many more artists in the years ahead.
On Saints and Sinners The Irish Rovers are still at the table and are holding a winning hand.
Seán Laffey

The Bright Hollow Fog
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 54 Minutes,
A native of San Francisco, Marla Fibish has become recognised as a leading exponent of the mandolin, with an impressive list of previous recordings to her name. This solo album allows her to explore the bare bones of the material, sometimes just playing on her own with mandolin and/or mandola, but also drawing from a carefully selected group of additional musicians including her husband Bruce Victor on guitar, and fiddlers Martin Hayes and Rebecca Richman.
The mandolin has frequently been overlooked as a session instrument due to its lack of volume, but in a recording studio it can be showcased and its subtleties explored. Marla plays vintage Gibson instruments which are much admired for their superior tone. The sets of tunes mainly have minimal accompaniment and are unhurried, allowing the music to breathe. A combination of the gourd banjo and mandolin on Ard Aoibhinn/The Hunter’s Purse is a joy, and Martin Hayes provides beautiful fiddle on the opening set of reels The Humours of Derrycrossane, initially as sympathetic drones before launching into more conventional mode. Marla also includes a couple of songs, Riversmoke and the wonderfully titled Are You Digging On My Grave?
This is a beautifully crafted CD, with carefully chosen material designed to showcase the mandolin in a largely unadorned setting. The High Caul Cap combines the march with some lively polkas played with great enthusiasm by Marla with fiddler Rebecca Richman. The title track is an air learned from the late great Micho Russell, popularised as the song Building Up And Tearing England Down. But the undoubted highlight for me is the self-composed waltz Ashes of Paradise, a tribute to victims of a tragic California fire in 2018, which claimed 86 lives. This is a truly remarkable piece played with great sensitivity by Marla with Bruce Victor on guitar.
Mark Lysaght

The Woods
Own Label SRCD04, 21 Tracks, 65 Minutes
Hamish’s third sweeping concept album was commissioned by Cairngorms Connect which manages 230 square miles of wooded landscape in North East Scotland. Mountains, lochs, settlements, rivers, wildlife, and vast tracts of forest: that’s a lot to capture, but Napier’s composition is huge in both scale and vision. With twenty-seven new pieces, a dozen musicians, many ambient sounds and a wild imagination, The Woods is a mind-blowing creation, which is hard to take in without concentrated listening. Set aside an hour or two and just absorb the musical landscape. If you just listen to individual tracks, or stream snatches of this album, you might not see The Woods for the trees. A 32-page insert contains much woodland lore and celtic mysticism, and as with Hamish Napier’s previous albums the entire sleeve is beautifully decorated with monochrome illustrations.
Each track is enjoyable in its own right, of course. Most of them focus on particular trees: The Tree of Blessings for juniper, beloved of gin drinkers and Monty Python fans; The Tree of Luck with its wild yellow cherries ripening to red sweetness; The Highest Willows, a pibroch-style lament for lost species; and many more. Hamish’s flute frequently fronts the melody, but several pieces are led by bagpipes of various hues played by Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson. Strings and percussion provide a rich and changing backdrop, together with the sounds of wind and water, wildlife and woodsmen. There are gentle passages like The Tree of Knowledge, dedicated to the hazel tree, softly swaying on piano and flute. There are rousing dance tunes like the polkas The Trembling Tree and Venus of the Woods for the aspen and ash respectively. Take a stroll through The Woods, and keep your ears open.
Alex Monaghan

All Is Not Forgotten
Songprint Recordings SPR004CD, 8 Tracks, 41 Minutes
Singer-songwriter Siobhan Miller is the only three-time winner of the Best Singer at the Scots Trad Music Awards, and with this her fourth album, she could well be on her way to yet another. All Is Not Forgotten, the CD title track, is a pleasing nostalgic song about rolling back the years via long forgotten mementoes. It’s all evoked by a return to the house and the past, and delivered in a wistful longing voice by Siobhan Miller. “The grain of the table stained with old conversation. The music changed with each friend that dropped by.” Words and music are by Siobhan herself, Kris Drever, and Euan Burton.
Kris (guitar) and Euan (double bass) provide accompaniment here and there throughout the album, as do top musicians Innes White (guitar), Megan Henderson (fiddle), John Lowrie (piano), and Kim Carnie (backing vocals with Kris). There are other original songs, too, and the mood is nicely balanced by trad numbers like Selkie, and as I listened to Siobhan’s singing, I thought to myself how suited she is in voice and mood to glide effortlessly from a contemporary song to this ancient Child Ballad that is found almost everywhere English is spoken. Steve Roud writes about it under its usual title, The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, a shape-shifting song from Orkney. Sule Skerry (Sula Sgeir) is a rocky islet 25 miles west off Hoy Head in Orkney.
Now You Need Me, is a composition by Kris and Euan about young love: “Under bridges and over stones, You are my heart, you are my bones, Now you need me, Like I always needed you.” Throughout the recording the arrangements and accompaniment are consistently just right, not dominating but enhancing the musicality of Siobhan’s singing. Incidentally, there is an unexpected mood swing in the last song, Cholesterol by Adam McNaughton. He humorously mocks those who want people to eat all the right foods and avoid the fatty stuff: “Well, the way that I dine,” says Adam, “I’m in line for angina, But I love my cholesterol.”
Aidan O’Hara

Own Label, 15 Tracks, 49 Minutes
Avourneen are a band based in Denver Colorado and their music blends traditional tunes with new music and songs from the band members. Adam Goldstein imbibed his initial love of Irish music from a cassette of Irish drinking songs when he was about 18 years old. Kenny Martinez came to the traditional songs via English folk music and finally CL Morden arrived via more classical music. Aeryn Parker came to the music through a punk Irish band.
From this diverse range of backgrounds and influences the current CD is a tribute to their love of good music and a willingness to experiment.
They open proceedings with The Mermaid and win your attention straight away although it is a bit more of a “genteel” rendition than we are used to. Their takes on tracks like Follow Me Up to Carlow, Step it Out Mary and The Lowlands of Holland are similarly less raucous than usual but this in turn allows us to give more attention to the lyrics that can sometimes be lost in more traditional versions.
Their musical expertise shines through on instrumental tracks like The Mason’s Apron, Out on the Ocean and Temperance.
Banks of the Liffey is a song from three of the band members themselves and is a nice lilting piece that tells a tale with some lovely musical accompaniment. The title track Sparrow is probably the strongest song on offer on the album.
Coming a close second is their version of The Rising of the Moon,  the original composition Cork March is embedded in the middle of that song. Similarly they combine I Wish I Was Back Home in Derry with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Green Bushes.
They close with a lovely piece called Ookpik Waltz without any indication of what that odd word means. If you enjoy your Irish music with a little bit of an original twist this is the CD for you.
Nicky Rossiter

Natural Invention
Own Label GSCD 007, 10 Tracks, 56 Minutes
Peter Knight came to fame as the fiddler with Steeleye Span in what many would refer to as their heyday, certainly during their most acclaimed artistic and critical period. Jumping ship to pursue other commitments and projects most notably the band Gigspanner, he has created a musical vehicle for both his improvisational bent as much as his traditional expertise.
Now having played as a trio for the last decade, the latest endeavour from Gigspanner is the foundation of the Gigspanner Big Band and a composite package it is too. Adding the duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, singer/melodeon player John Spiers into the fray with percussionist Sacha Trochet and guitarist/bassist Roger Flack, it’s a powerfully vibrant act with one eye on the traditional clock for source material and the other firmly focussed on the improvisational element of the music echoing Jazz, Classical and World music styles.
This is not surprising given Peter Knight’s experience rubbing shoulders with jazz players like Trevor Watts in improvised sounds and traditional musicians like Martin Byrnes. The traditional sources are well mined on Natural Invention with songs like Betsy Bell and Mary Grey, Long a Growing, Searching for Lambs, The Snows They Melt the Soonest and the shanty Haul on the Bowline included. Phillip Henry’s dobro underscores Hannah Martin’s vocal on Awake Awake creating a transatlantic Americana type sound while Long a Growing opens with a plucked violin behind John Spiers’ laconic vocal and eerie underscores from dobro, fiddle, cello and bass clarinet, and Betsy Bell and Mary Grey’s clipped pace and rhythmic subtleties adds to the eclectic mix on show.
The Gigspanner Big Band makes a sound that is big and broadminded yet intimately subtle and pensive when required, making English folk music for the new decade putting them at the head of the posse.
John O’Regan

The Berries
Beltane Records BelCD 113, 11 Tracks, 48 Minutes
You may remember Jim Malcolm’s warm, slightly jazzy, clear voice from Old Blind Dogs. But you may have missed Susie Malcolm, his wife, an award-winning singer in her own right. The Berries is a follow-up to their Spring Will Follow On. The couple trade taking the lead and harmonizing. Jim’s guitar and harmonica, fiddle from Pete Clark, whistles and bodhrán from Marc Duff, Susie’s clarsach, and uncredited trumpet and piano accompany her pure, clear voice, a bit like Altan’s Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, and his warm vibrato.
Evocative photographs of travellers grace the album, and lyrics (very important as the dialect is strong). The album shifts back and forth from the now to then, from dark to light. Robert Burns’ Lassie Lie Near Me, a post-Culloden love song, has an ethereal, medieval quality.
Many of the songs feature the travelling tradition, and a vanished rural Scotland. Lonely in the Bothy, written by Susie’s father, Charlie Allan, looks at how the once-full Bothy of unmarried men is nearly empty. It’s sad to hear, as she sings simply “It’s lonely at nicht in the bothy.” But other songs cheer you right up, including the The Guise o’Tough, with a nonsense chorus, which Susie notes is an Aberdeenshire bothy ballad. A funny song by Karine Polwart looks at dating.
Lady Dysie, a tragic song Jim notes he got from Jean Redpath. The story begins like Willie O’Winsbury, but does not end like it. Jim takes the lead here, in an arrangement that has the melancholy and interesting chords of a Pentangle arrangement, with rhythmic tambourine. Susie joins in on every other verse, and when it goes truly dark her harmonies go higher. It’s chilling. But the Malcolms do not let you stay sad. The closing The Twa Gadgies by, Jim notes, Joe Aitken, almost makes you want to tramp the roads yourself, and be truly free.
Gwen Orel

Stardust and Bone
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 57 Minutes
With a striking cover image of his own face, singer-songwriter Fintan McHugh’s latest recording Stardust and Bone lyrically matches the minimalist, bare, almost archaeological depiction of the human face. The cheek, chin, jaw and skull age-dusted, eyes wide, preparing the listener for an introspective take on all things existential.
Fintan McHugh asks contemplative, stimulating and intelligent questions: From There is Nothing, the confessional, ‘I’m a seeker, I’ve searched everywhere…’ poetically, he delves into the constraints of love and isolation along the male mortal journey.
Musically, there are shades of Andy Irvine with superb guitar, ten-string cittern and harmonica, the verses woven tastefully, arrangements not getting in the way of his word elegance. In Born To Do, told in the third person, ‘he needs more time to figure things out/says he without a doubt ever crossing his mind/that there may be nothing to find,’ phrase repetition effective.
There’s a Spanish or Latin influence in The Long Weave and a small child’s careless joy juxtaposed with the trials of adulthood is explored in Play Play Play, with sage advice, ‘never forget to play/keep your inner child alive every day’. A deeply personal essay dealing with the dark side of human nature, plaintive harmonica, in Sad Belly Sad Night, the poet wishes he ‘could cry it all out in one go’. The title song Stardust and Bone, is a penetrative love song, ‘I miss you in my lonesome freedom/it pierces down to my Spartan core.’
Fintan has a most distinctive voice, it’s a true Irish folk voice. There is not one hint of a mid-Atlantic accent on this album, which makes this such a refreshing recording. It’s a treat to hear a singer comfortable in their own speech, confidently delivering each song unvarnished by imitation or artifice. He sings in the higher register on the title track, whereas on Part of the Path, his voice is lower. His guitar on The Long Weave has echoes of Dick Gaughan; there’s a touch of the late Vin Garbutt in his phrasing of My Little Moonhead.  Fintan interweaves his vocals with harmonica breaks on What’s It Going to Be and Play Play Play, altogether more Andy Irvine than Bob Dylan.
The album has a gentle, rhythmic flavour, the writer’s innermost thoughts documented, a modern and sensitive man using elegant word-smithery and melody to distract from the sometimes heavy life-themes. Songs that entice the listener towards self-examination, also arousing curiosity about the writer, curiosity that should be satisfied with attending a Fintan McHugh live performance.
Anne Marie Kennedy