Releases > Releases May 2024

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Compass Records, 10 Tracks, 43 Minutes
This album was recorded by Manus Lunny at Stiúideo na Mara (“Seafront Studio”), An Bhráid, Tír Chonaill, Na Rosa (The Rosses), County Donegal, mixed by Matt Coles at Compass Sound Studio, Nashville, Tennessee. Donegal is Altan’s newest album and it sees the band branch out but still firmly rooted in our northernmost county. They don’t stray from the rich mother lode, but there’s perhaps far more dash, daring and adventure in this Altan album than any that have gone before.
The first track gives a big hint of what’s to come. Billed as The Yellow Tinker (Slow Reel), here Ciarán Curran’s bouzouki takes the lead; he plays a mellow Sobell instrument, and to match this, there’s Jim Higgins on percussion, Steve Cooney on bass and Graham Henderson on keyboards. The rhythm they generate becomes a circular groove, and it is intoxicating. There are other faster reels, The Donegal Selection: An Bóthar Mór/Tommy Peoples’ Reel/Is Cuma Liom; fiddles dominate here and there’s that pulsing bodhrán again from Jim Higgins. A bouzouki riff starts the set of jigs Port Árainn Mhór/Port Kitty Rua Mooney. This cleverly becomes the counterpoint to the main melody played on fiddles and accordion.
There are some fine songs on the album sung by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh such as: Liostáil mé le Sáirsint and The Barley and the Rye. She is joined by Clare Friel on Faoiseamh a Gheobhadsa, a poem set to music, written by Máirtín Ó Direáin (1910–1988), a longing for a simple life back home on the Aran islands. Clare Friel adds her voice to a song for Imbolc, the celebration of Saint Brigid and the coming of spring in Gabhaim Molta Bríde, the vocal harmonies here recalling near neighbours Clannad.
Accordionist Martin Tourish has composed new reel in honour of a sixth century Donegal saint, which comes as the last reel in the selection Miss Stewart’s/Bonnie Annie/ Hand Me Down The Tea Things/House of Baoithín. Reels close out the album and they do it in time honoured Altan style with The Letterkenny Blacksmith/John Doherty’s Favourite/Scread na Bealtaine.
Something new, something familiar and a whole lot of Donegal culture wrapped up in its ten tracks.
Seán Laffey

Storybook - The Songs of Brendan Graham
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 43 Minutes
A combination of forces draw this album together: the superb songwriting skills of Tipperary man Brendan Graham, the folk voice of Cathy Jordan and the subtle piano playing of Feargal Murray. Cathy and Feargal have been working on these songs for twenty years, making demo recordings, honing each song until it meets with their approval, and that of Brendan Graham too. Songs here will be familiar to anyone who has lived in Ireland for 30 or more years. This album opens with one of Graham’s all time classics Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears. You’ve probably never heard Cathy singing so pure, her technique is stunning, effortless and in perfect pitch, the piano and voice bring a simplicity to the song that enhances its message about the vulnerability of the exile and immigrant.
Waltzing Alone has a continental European flavour, accordion and violin in the most melodic of break. Cathy ends the song with the cadence of a piano chord. Brendan Graham’s skill set is wide, his Crucán na bPáiste an absolutely gorgeous and traditional sounding tune. Brendan writes on the website: “Until 1996, the cillín, Crucán na bPáiste, located near my home was an un-consecrated burial ground for unbaptized children in the Maumtrasna mountains.” His words are a lament for a dead child; there’s more sadness, this time for an emigrant lover in the Fair Haired Boy. There’s life and laughter in Hardanger Bow, sung as a show song, with fiddle and piano playing a prelude to a change in tempo and key, which only briefly but effectively steps into a sad minor.
Winter Fire and Snow is prefaced by a spoken word contextualisation by Macdara Woods, a poetic reading that segues gracefully into the familiar song. Listeners to Irish radio will no doubt be aware of a similar themed single from this album A Winter Blessing, which was released on the 1st of December, it had the distinction of being the most played track on RTÉ Radio 1 from 31 December 2023 to the 21st January 2024.
We’ve known for years that Brendan Graham has a way with words and music. Now with Cathy Jordan and Feargal Murray, this might just be the ultimate dream team to carry his work into the second half of this decade.
Seán Laffey

The Clearwater Sessions
Croissonic, 11 Tracks, 42 Minutes
The Clearwater Sessions was funded by Kickstarter and recorded in Florida at the Clear Tracks studios. This is the third album from virtuoso musicians and longstanding friends, Philippe Barnes (Wooden flute, Boehm flute and whistles) and Tom Phelan (piano). Released on St Patrick’s Day 2024 via Croissonic, the album is a selection of their favourite Scottish and Irish traditional tunes, with the duo’s original Celtic pieces.
The first track is the Clearwater Waltz; Phelan’s piano heralds Barnes’ clean flute with its pure tone, There’s a break for a piano solo before the flute re-enters, this time with hints of discordant jazzy fluttering. Midnight Accountant is an earworm, piano and flute in parallel, taken sedately, the piano accompaniment is absolutely integral to the tune here, and it would be a brave player who looked to separate the two elements. Barnes cascades upwards through the scale like a twittering blackbird before finally coming to roost on the closing bar. Barnes eschews the jazz for a sensuous, deeply traditional rendering of the Scottish song melody, which they attribute to flute player Kevin Crawford, called January Snows - emotional and plaintive, his control of long notes and poignant pauses sets this track out as something truly special.
The duo looks to new tunes in the tradition with a version of Michael Rooney’s Lands End which they employ to open a selection which includes the Fisherman’s Lilt and Elizabeth Kelly’s. Barnes takes up the whistle for the set Ali’s Reel/Teampall an Ghleanntáin/New Brighton Reel, it’s fine, accurate, razor-sharp playing here. The final track, Up, is really something different: buzzy, busy, frenetic, the piano takes us into a world of frenzied funk jazz, the flute breathy and percussive.
From Michelin Star haute cuisine to traditional bacon and cabbage, everything is on the menu from Barnes and Phelan. Some of it is spicy, some of it is exotic, and all of it is tasty.
Seán Laffey

Irish Duo
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 44 Minutes
These two have known each other for over 20 years, having met during a session in a pub in Morlaix. They are Kevin Camus on uilleann pipes and Yann Gourvil on guitar. Kevin, who started out playing Breton music, joined the band Boxty in the early 2000s before going on to accompany singers such as Gwennyn and Nolwenn Leroy and playing alongside a number of big-name artists. As for Yann, after getting his start in rock in his teens, he learnt the fiddle and guitar at the age of 20. He plays in various bands, including Nepell, a Welsh and Celtic music duo.
Both passionate about the Irish music they have heard since their early childhood, both in Brittany and in Ireland, they have created a duo that takes us to the heart of the Emerald Isle, multiplying sessions, concerts and tours, like the one they did in Ireland in the summer of 2023.
They claim to be influenced by the great bands of the 70s and 80s (Planxty, Bothy Band), then by Lúnasa, Solas and Flook. Now they have finally brought their duo to fruition with a debut album simply entitled Irish Duo. Their music is both traditional, faithful to their early influences, and highly contemporary.
There are ten tracks, some of them well-known, some of them standards: Paddy’s Trip to Scotland, Cuckoo’s Nest, May Morning Dew.
Reels, hornpipes, hop jigs and slow air follow one another with equal pleasure. Yann, with his warm, expressive voice, sings five songs, including the famous The Star of the County Down, renamed The nut-brown haired Lass for the occasion or McBride’s. The album concludes with a set of Asturian music, including El Garrotin, composed by piper José Ángel Hevia.
The whole album delivers dynamic, energetic music that has nothing to envy of that of authentic Irish bands. More than once, you’ll find yourself tapping your feet to the beat of these two virtuosos. Finally, the only criticism that can be made of this album is that it lasts only 44 minutes.
Philippe Cousin

Own Label, 11 Tracks, 42 Minutes
Gf Morgan’s recent album, Magenta, is a savvy blend of guitar tunes, songs and airs, from Scottish, Irish and Celtic influences. There’s depth and richness in the playing, an atmospheric album of gentle music and song from a seasoned artist.
His version of An Mhaighdean Mhara (traditional), made famous by the Chieftains in Barry Lyndon, and Archie Fischer’s song Southwind, is an elegant coupling of tunes from different genres and eras.
He does justice to the old ballad, folk song tradition with his rendition of Henry Martyne and as a composer, his own The Candle and The Moth is a delightful tune. In the liner notes he tells us that watching the moth drawn to the candle’s flame, was “so very reminiscent of human endeavours in love and life”, but you’d need an artist’s eye, fluid pen and creative access to a new melody to make it such an appealing tune.
Josefin’s Waltz by Roger Tallroths is mesmerising, like a soundtrack to something bucolic, pastoral and flowing. Morgan pares it back, light accompaniment, almost skeletal at times, he allows the original melody to shine.
Slán le Cara Maith is a rousing set of tunes, a clever mix, drawn from ancient mythology, 18th Century poetry from Peadar Ó Doirnín set to music by Sean O’Riada, wrapped up in a rousing finish with Inisheer by Thomas Walsh. There’s genuine contentment in the playing, tunes that linger, old music that has survived and connects Celtic communities to other cultures, continuing to be spread across continents as Mr. Morgan is doing here.
The newly composed Magenta from the title leaves the listener with a harmonious wrap up, great richness and depth in the material, and throughout the recording you’ll find thoughtful, contemplative music, authoritative guitar playing with just the right, deft arrangements.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Own Label, 10 Tracks, 47 Minutes
This is the debut solo album from County Kilkenny born singer songwriter and Dallahan frontman and founding member, Jack Badcock. Released on May 3rd 2024, it was recorded at Glo Worm Studio in Glasgow with a band consisting of Euan Vernal (bass), Louis Abbott (drums and percussion), Tom Gibbs (Rhodes piano and clarinet), Conor Smith on pedal steel, Roo Geddes (violin), Ryan Murphy (uilleann pipes) and Dallahan bandmate Andrew Waite (accordion). Scottish singer songwriters provide backing and additional vocals including Siobhan Miller and Beth Malcolm, Josie Duncan and Joy Dunlop.
Life in Three Dimensions is an extended opening track at over 8 minutes with shades of Hamlet in its line: “Fortune has bestowed on me the very gift that is to be”. This introduces us to his high tenor voice, the running piano and finger style guitar, then 3 minutes in there’s the first shift as the drummer hits the snare. There is one point where the track almost seems to end, things quieten down, before Jack becomes reflective with the line: “I’ve been picking up and putting down what I already knew.”
He goes beyond himself into the back pages of history on The English Samurai, the saxophone is prominent here in a story about William Adams, an English navigator who sailed with a Dutch trading fleet to the far East and landed in Japan in 1600. He became a vassal under the Shogun, Tokugawa and became the first Samurai from England.
For political clout and searing observation Badcock proffers: How You Raise a Child, which unpicks the mythology of the American dream. Jack’s most upbeat track The Ghost of Leland Birch with a catchy chorus: Let’s drink a toast to the host we love the most, is where Badcock’s Irish roots come to the fore. He sets words of the poem written by his cousin to a catchy tune. Birch was a poitín maker near to Rathdowney, County Laois.
The last track Entropy with its pizzicato & string bending fiddle brings the album to a jazzy close. This is bordering on Michael Bublé territory, and on reflection over the scope of the album, I can see Jack Badcock living in that same smooth musical ecosystem, clever rhymes and ideas with universal appeal and occasionally a cutting bite are the nebulae of Badcock’s Cosmography.
Seán Laffey

MERCURE D’ORLÉANS - Danses de la Renaissance
L’Autre Distribution CX768, 21 Tracks, 38.45 Minutes
Pascal Bournet is a French musician who has often favoured a classical approach to the guitar. He has an impressive discography of over thirty albums.
Having already turned his attention to world music with a repertoire ranging from North Africa to Latin America and Asia, from Spain to Italy and even more recently to Ireland, this time he has set his sights on dance music at the Court of Brittany in the 16th century. And more specifically, Mercure d’Orléans.
Mercure d’Orléans was a patron of the arts who supported artists and welcomed them to his castle in Nantes, where he was governor of Brittany in the late 1500s. The origin of this music remains a mystery, as it is not known exactly who composed it. Mercure d’Orléans himself, or more likely a young lute player living at Court close to his protector.
This delicate, superb album gives pride of place to the Baroque music in vogue at the time of the Renaissance. In 1977, the Association of the French lute players had already compiled a rich collection of the works of Mercure d’Orléans, transposing them into tablature. Pascal Bournet has taken up this work, adapting the tunes for the guitar, his favourite instrument.
As a musician of great talent, Pascal demonstrates an admirable mastery of his instrument, leaving the music all the space it needs to express itself.
21 tracks follow one another in a hushed, spidery atmosphere. The main dances of the period are present. First, the Ballet, with its slow tempo, traditionally played at the opening of the ball. Then there’s the Courante, a dance of French or Italian origin played in two fast and then more moderate beats. The Branle, danced in a circle, holding hands. Then the Volte, a three-beat dance. And finally, the Gaillarde, an energetic jumping dance.
Throughout the album’s forty minutes or so, P. Bournet’s talent and mastery shine through, like a rose blooming in the morning dew. And if I add that the recording is of the highest quality, you’ll know everything about this magnificent album.
Philippe Cousin

A Chomaraigh Aoibhinn Ó
Liosbeg Records, Single, 4 Minutes, 42 Seconds
At this year’s RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards held in Vicar Street last March, Séamus & Caoimhe Ní Fhlatharta came away with the Best Emerging Artist Award, and deservedly so. From Ard Mhór, County Galway, the siblings are becoming leading voices in the current wave of singers in Irish.
This is a track taken from the latest album Airneán by the band Notify, an ensemble that features Pádraig Rynne (concertina), Tara Breen (fiddle), Davie Ryan (drums), Rory McCarthy (piano & Rhodes), Adam Taylor (electric bass) and Hugh Dillon (acoustic & electric guitars).
The song was previously recorded by Karan Casey who had the song from Anne Mulqueen. It extols the beauties of the Comeragh Mountains, that wild upland country that separates Dungarvan from Clonmel. Not then a song from the siblings’ native Connemara.
On this track, Caoimhe takes the lead line before Séamus comes in on vocal harmony. The song would easily fit into a new age ambient Celtic compilation, its slow pace and compelling melody matching anything that has been done by the Brennan sisters. Watch out for Séamus & Caoimhe, they have already appeared on the influential and cutting edge TV show Other Voices and their recent RTÉ Radio 1 Award will propel them further into the limelight. Teaming up as guest singers with Notify adds another dimension to their music.
Mature beyond their calendar ages, they are at the vanguard of a new sense of Irish identity. Their website was at the building stage when we went to press; the single is available on Apple iTunes.
Seán Laffey

The Stern Task of Living
Own label, 15 Tracks, 53 Minutes
HIBSEN, the duo, are Gráinne Hunt and Jim Murphy. Highly accomplished singers, musicians and composers, they have recently made an homage to James Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners.
The Stern Task of Living stays true to his characters and plot lines, songs that are like mini-plays, especially when using Dublin vernacular.
Joyce’s stories all spin on epiphanies, light-bulb moments, where the characters suffer desperation, loneliness, drink or futility; his men and women want something else from life. There are chance encounters, dangerous liaisons and fleeting glimpses of hope, but mostly the characters stagnate.
Produced and engineered by Alex Borwick at Black Mountain recording studio, Hunt and Murphy’s musical interpretation of the stories is compelling. Giving the stories new life, in Eveline, a girl fleeing an over-controlling parent meets a sailor but she “was scared”, afraid to leave, afraid to stay. The sailor promises to “give you new life, in Buenos Aires I’ll make you my wife”, with a catchy refrain, “come away with me”, played over the plaintiff, haunting screeches of seagulls at the docks, very effective.
A schoolboy’s misery and unrequited love is explored in Araby, a lovely melody. Comic moments in Grace with Mr. Kernan who was “once a man of success”, but alas “was too fond of the sauce”, his companions try to sell him a church retreat to atone for his sins.
The Dead is an outstanding piece of work with protagonist Gabriel Conroy being overshadowed by Gretta as she laments privately the great love of her life, the dead Michael Furey, confessing that she often thinks of him, that the memory of him, “never fades”.
With stellar accompaniment from Laura Ryder, Lynda O’Connor, Beth McNinch and Shaw Sweeney among others, The Stern Task of Living is a truly melodic, intelligent and poetic response to one of Ireland’s great writers.
Their Bandcamp page contains the tracks and the lyrics of their new songs, well worth a visit.
Gráinne McCool

The Truth & Other Stories
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 42 Minutes
Singer-songwriter Brigid O’Neill’s new album delivers a collection of 11 songs and showcases a melodic voice that shows her soaring vocals from beginning to end. The warm melodies and harmonies blend always to a euphonious sound.
Her genre expanse explores folk, country, jazz, blues and appeals to generations of listeners. A unique and brave musician that never shies away from truth and reality. There’s no hiding under a stone and O’Neill allows the music to become stories intertwined in the reality of everyday life and heartache and celebrates that everyday within each song.
The Truth & Other Stories boasts a series of songs that catapult us through the days  of lockdown, yet this is very much a contemporary collection post-covid. We are forced to delve right in and draw upon the realities of life and its ups and downs. The calm, composing voice of O’Neill weaves intricately amidst a melody of stories that bring us the truth and the reality of life, but never without hope for the future.
Opening with Live A Little Lie Oh we are immediately transported into a melody of soaring vocals that deliver a friendly yet vivid perspective of reality. Slowing right down, this is followed by Easy and we are forced to slow ourselves as we listen and look through a piano chaos of lost love searching for hope. The album continues as it takes us on a journey through which we do find hope and that personal freedom. Many of the releases we sought during the lockdown. O’Neill captures it beautifully and rounds it all off with the guidance of an acoustic guitar in Pilot’s Weather.
A collection of songs that delves right into the very psyche of the human condition and transcends a time of desolation with insight and wonder. This album reaffirms what Shakespeare once said, ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’
Gráinne McCool

Music Generation Louth, 10 Tracks, 37 Minutes
This work was commissioned by Music Generation Louth and Oriel Centre Dundalk, written to be performed by Nós Nua - Youth Folk Orchestra with Mohsen Amini, Benedict Morris, Kay Webster, Deirdre Ní Bhuachalla & Kerrianne McArdle & Conal Duffy. Mohsen is a key figure here, he composed the pieces, arranged the suite, worked with the young people and produced the album.
The CD was a finite run and in the words of Homestore “when they are gone they are gone”. However you can hear the tracks and download them from Bandcamp. The CD comes with a six-page gatefold case with artwork by Christo Makatita.
Causeway tells the story of The Giant’s Causeway - one of the ancient myths that has connected Scotland to Ireland for thousands of years.
The suite comprises 10 movements and tells the story of the encounter between two fierce giants, Irish giant Finn McCool (or Fionn Mac Cumhaill), Scottish giant Benandonner and Finn’s wife Úna, the true hero of the story. The first track is named after the Scottish giant, a simple tune is embellished and developed over 6 minutes. The title track is number 5 in the suite, a mass of strings begin the piece, to leave space for a solo harp before the orchestra returns, playing a continuato under the harp’s main motif.
The shortest track at a few seconds over 1 minute long is Deception, it owes its urgency to the tenor banjo and a fast riff. Things become more lyrical and light on the Road Home; here a concertina (is it Mohsen playing?) brightens the mood, and gets us ready for the finale of Fingal’s Cave, a pairing of plucking banjo and staccato harp here,with flutes and whistles chasing the tune to its triumphant close.
This album should be taken as a whole. Although each section works on its own, the pleasure and the intent is to hear it in its linear evolution as it tells one of the oldest stories in Irish mythology. The young musicians of Louth will have a lasting legacy and memento of some fabulous music making. Music Generation Louth recruit new players every year and now with the assistance of some of the finest professional musicians such as Mohsen Amini, there’s no limit to what they can achieve.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 13 Tracks, 62 Minutes
Jack Houston is a fiddler from Burt Donegal, he attended college in Scotland and has immersed himself in the music of both Donegal and Scotland, and is an active participant in traditional music in both countries. Ómós is his debut album; the title translates to ‘tribute’ in English, and as Jack says on his Bandcamp page the album is “a tribute to the people and places that have helped to shape me as a musician, and as a person”.
Some of the tune titles refer to places such as the medley Aileach, named for an Iron-Age ring fort in Burt, Inishowen. This is followed by Turas go Sliabh Sneacht which is associated with the Buncrana fiddler, Dinny McLaughlin, the tune named after the highest mountain on the Inishowen peninsula. There is some unadorned raw bar Donegal fiddling in the first tune in the set on Bun na hAbhann (King of the Pipers/The Wedding Jig/The Jig of Madness). Things get more complex in the other two tunes with a counterpoint second fiddle and percussive strings. Inis Eoghain is a solo set of three reels (The Bohullion Challenger/Inis Eoghain 100/Five Finger Strand). Taken at a lively lick, they are his musical homage to his homeplace of the Inishhowen peninsula. This is a tour de force, fast tunes, yes, but an unwavering rhythm with no deviation or speeding up, a class act.
His seven years living in Scotland is commemorated on a set called Glaschú (Pipe Major Donald MacLean of Lewis/Hamish Hepburn’s Fond Farewell to the Cowan St Céilí Band/Kirsty’s Jig). His fiddle and an unnamed guitarist bring this tune to life, with some harmonic second fiddling on the second tune, I hear the bright tones of a mandolin and a harmonica on Kirsty’s Jig.
He mixes some European influences into the track K​ò​lumkillí, Donegal meets Iceland, the tune’s metre here will remind you of The Stranglers Golden Brown. Jack takes us back home to Ireland with track 12 Earagail, with the tunes The Donegal Reel/Earagail/The Moving Clouds.
From the pure drop to modern group playing, Houston brings an always assured bow and a musical intelligence to all he touches, recommended whether you live in Donegal or not.
Seán Laffey