Releases > Releases November 2014

Want to see earlier releases? Visit the archive.


Current Affairs

13 Tracks, 59 Minutes

For me this CD kicks in on the fourth track, Henry Lee. The three tracks that precede it in Runa’s latest CD, Current Affairs, are lovely: an American labor song titled The Banks Are Made of Marble, the Child Ballad The Wife of Usher’s Well, and a selection of tunes they’ve titled The Hunter Set, played well and traditionally. All very nice, and singer Shannon Lambert–Ryan has a distinctive soprano that enunciates each word. It’s nice.

Then you get to Henry Lee. And Maggie Estes White adds jazz riffs, scales and frills on the fiddle in between the verses, backed by what can only be called wailing jazz trad from Dave Curley on mandolin and Fionán de Barra on guitar. Suddenly you know this is something special. The band say they make “roots music” because it looks at trad, bluegrass, American roots. That’s easy to say but…They pull it off. Dave Curley of Galway sings a gorgeous main vocal on Black River by young American songwriter Amos Lee, which has an irresistible groove to its spirituality. Lambert-Ryan sings backup on it.

Other standouts on the CD include their heart–rending cover of Kate Rusby’s Who Will Sing Me Lullabies, and of Davy Steele’s sad The Last Trip Home. The band have also dipped into original songwriting with The Ruthless Wife, by husband and wife team de Barra and Lambert–Ryan, based on the death of Shannon’s great–great grandfather in Philadelphia. It blends in perfectly with the Child Ballads.

For purists, I’ll let you know that the instrumentalists here are top rate. Throughout, Canadian Cheryl Prashker’s percussion heightens the drive of the songs. Kentuckian Estes White should inspire fiddlers everywhere to pick up some jazz riffs. Seriously, that’s inspiring.

Why resist? Pick up Runa’s latest and settle in for a treat: something fresh but grounded. It’s roots music with a dash of jazz.

Gwen Orel


Dally and Stray

Black Rose Records BRRCD005, 12 Tracks, 48 Minutes

The fifth album in over twenty years is testament to the trio of Desi Wilkinson on flute, Sean Corcoran on bouzouki and vocal and the addition of acclaimed piper Ronan Browne, in time for their second album, Black Black Black, who has been a mainstay ever since. Despite the longevity of Cran as a group, this latest album, Dally and Stray is a collaborative exploration of many layers. It’s the exploration of the origins of the culture of song, the relationship between the vocal and the instruments and the expression within the instrumental itself. As with any exploration, when it works the brilliance of the moment surpasses all others and leaves a lasting impression; what works with this album is the attention to detail in song choice and the focus on the rich texture of the tune.

The research into the songs is as attentive as the delivery of performance as Corcoran spins tales from the Belfast composer Herbert Hughes of Next Market Day and marries the lyric notation of collector Patrick Lynch with the musical notation of the legendary Edward Bunting in the ripe song, Tú Féin. The unusual haunting refrain of the O Cò Bheir Mi Leam showcases the tradition of the Scots Gaelic waulking song and there’s nothing to beat the mysticism of the pipes as they project a plaintive air against the raw vocal of Wilkinson on the compelling The Forger’s Farewell & Úna Bhán.

The wealth of knowledge imparted around the track pieces is invaluable on this album and you will certainly listen to the Willie Clancy inspired The Humours of Glin set with a different ear after reading the origin of the name. The instrumental throughout maintains a focus on paying homage to the tune, utilising the talent of play and delivering it with simplistic ease. At this stage, the trio have a surety in the niche they excel in and this album documents that on every level.

Eileen McCabe


Fiddle Music
Own Label DD1,
12 Tracks, 45 Minutes

From a rich musical background, with great players on both the Diamond and Bingham sides, Danny has been playing around Dublin and Donegal since he was old enough to tune the fiddle. He has a few previous albums under his belt, notably with the young group Morga, but this is his first solo venture, and it’s very interesting to see how he puts his own stamp on Irish traditional music. Rather than a young gun shooting from the hip, Fiddle Music is a considered collection, which seems almost retrospective, harking back to the music of old fiddlers and pipers. In fact, Danny does a very good job of emulating the likes of John Doherty, Vincent Campbell, James Byrne and other Donegal players of a previous generation. To my ear there is more Donegal than Dublin in this performance, but perhaps that’s because the old style survived longer outside the metropolis. In any case, what we have here is definitely sean nós fiddling, recreating a raw sound rarely heard these days.

The key phrase from Danny’s informative sleeve notes is “an unusual setting”, employed to describe several of the sets here. Others come from his family repertoire, or from archive recordings, and are equally obscure and unknown to today’s audiences. Rodney’s Glory, a version of the widespread Princess Royal hornpipe, and Napoleon Crossing the Alps are examples of this new approach to old style settings, with even a hint of American old time. The versions of The Green Fields of America, Seán sa Cheo, Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie and The Mistress of the House are all similarly rare and retro. Even Danny’s own compositions fit into this frame: his unnamed jigs have that ancient modal mood, unhurried and enduring. There are some more contemporary tracks, including the delightful slow air The Mountain Streams, one of a handful of tracks where Danny plays over uilleann pipe drones from Ian Lynch. A few other musicians join this young fiddler in a supporting role – duetting partners Aki, Eoin Begley, and his father Dermy Diamond – and Danny also backs himself on open tuned fiddle. If you close your eyes, you could be back in a Glenties cottage of a century ago, listening to the travelling fiddlers, or sitting by the fire in a Teelin pub with the best of old local musicians.

Fiddle Music is what it’s all about, and this CD adds another impressive string to Danny Diamond’s flexible bow.

Alex Monaghan


Lyte Records LR027

8 Tracks, 53 Minutes

Moxie is an instrumental quintet from the Sligo/Limerick area, formed in 2011 by a couple of banjo players, a couple of box players, and a drummer. They brought out an impressive EP a year or so back, and Planted is their debut full–length album, which goes straight into my Top Ten for 2014. Think Beoga with bells on, Kiss meets the Kilfenora, 5 Men And A Whole Pack Of Dogs. These youngsters, late teens and early twenties, show prodigious skill in their playing, their compositions, their arrangements.

Information on their music is scarce, but there’s plenty at to look at and listen to. Banjomen Cillian and Ted Kelly, and box players Jos Kelly and Darren Roche, have tightened up their sound and polished their already outstanding technique since that early EP. There’s now a clarity and consistency, a serious side to Moxie’s music which has taken it out of pure Irish trad into the flash world of jazz and swing.

Death of the Den is a funky modern accordion number, a sort of New York Irish cafe music, which shows off the poise and panache of these rising stars, The traditional core is still there, on the Black Widow set of reels which ends with Toss the Feathers, or on the Leads medley inspired by Sharon Shannon. But there’s much more than just footstomping dance music here. Mullaghmore starts as a gentle air and builds into a pop anthem. The massive Liberty adds layer after layer in its nine minute explorations. The sinuous rhythms of Drakeman move from the renaissance world of Carolan’s harp to twenty–first century folk rock. This is a good point to mention the crucial role of percussionist Paddy Hazelton, almost always in the background but an essential part of the Moxie sound, with his strong or subtle beats and a full set of bangs, thumps and tinkles. Ranging from a rock band arrangement through more muted electronic effects to pure acoustic, this CD has very wide appeal. Every track is a triumph, starting with the eclectic sound of the title number and finishing with the full–on jigs and reels medley of 1st Degree.

You won’t be disappointed with Planted.

Alex Monaghan


Wood and Iron

Music on Guitar from Ireland and Beyond

13 Tracks, 73 Minutes

Seamie O’Dowd has for years been one of the top guitarists in Irish music. His contributions to Dervish, the Unwanted and the Mairtin O’Connor band have been immense. Now on this album he leaps into the limelight with a collection of impressive guitar pieces. I say leaps because straight from the fist track there’s an energy and urgency in his playing, an intensity even. It’s been eight years since his debut solo album Headful of Echoes, he’s not lost an ounce of verve in the intervening time. He is clearly besotted by the guitar and traditional tunes.

That first track a selection of three tunes includes St. Ruth’s Bush, reminiscent of the Star of Munster in its drive and modal character, (it’s from Galway and the Aughrim Slopes Céilí Band). O’Dowd’s liner notes are the clearest I’ve seen for years, a lovely large no–nonsense font, great information, retro, harking back to the best of vinyl covers.

There are familiar tunes here too, Garret Barry’s, Lord Inchiquin, Hurry the Jug, each played with style and bearing O’Dowd’s trade mark stamp. He includes The Spanish Cloak, a track I haven’t seen on an album in 25 years. It was hackneyed in the 70’s of course, but O’Dowd knows the value of a great melody and that shines through on all the tracks here, It might be the constraints of the guitar of course, glissandos are hard to achieve so a coherent melody will carry the day. Anyone who has seen him play live will know he can mix up the trad with blues or rock I was wondering would we get those excursions into other genres here. Well not really, yes he does bend notes to a considerable degree on Lord Inchiquin, but he stays true to the spirit of the tradition throughout.

His mother is a huge influence and there are pieces credited to her. He has composed two tunes O’Dowd’s and Regans in honour of his parents, his first musical mentors. He is joined by Austrian fiddler Claudia Schwab on those tracks. Other collaborators include Cathy Jordan, Minah Hughes, Si Mullamby, Kieran Quinn and the great Tommy Emmanuel duetting with Seamie on the selection which includes the Spanish Cloak, The Donegal Reel and an unusual setting of St Anne’s Reel, virtuosity bottled and labelled: a classic vintage.

The final track Out And About is written and played by his son Stephen. Yes there’s are family links all over this album, and all the better for it, this is music that the O’Dowd’s own, as a guitar album it’s up there with the best, as an album of traditional Irish music it is worthy of every serious collection.

Seán Laffey

Own Label

PWM14, 12 Tracks, 44 Minutes

Indescribable – but I’ll give it a go. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh already has a reputation as an innovative, bleeding edge exponent of Irish music, from his collaborations with piper Mick O’Brien and Brendan Begley to his work with The Gloaming. Here he takes things a step further – a step over the edge, if you will. Caoimhín plays an outsize Hardanger fiddle here, basically a viola with extra strings, and there’s quite a Scandinavian feel to several of the tracks. Scandinavian percussionist Petter Berndalen, Irish American stepdancer Nic Gareiss, and clarinetist Sean MacErlaine join him.

There are some electronic effects, but nothing intrusive. Most of the time, in fact, not much happens: this quartet plays with silence and resonances as much as with melody. Their music is demanding – lose focus and you’ll miss it. March for a Dark Day is a good example: a few long notes, some silences, and a certain amount of shuffling percussion, combined like charcoal and chalk to create a stark picture of wintry foreboding, deep enough to absorb you if you let it. Woo Dr Hythm takes the same ingredients and makes them into something quite different, a funky little mixture of jazz riffs and Celtic cadences, which brings to mind the Cauld Blast Orchestra and the singing of Mary Jane Lamond.

This is not the future of Irish music, for several reasons. Firstly, there are too few people who could do this. Every note is carefully placed, every pause is measured, every step is perfectly weighted. Besides which, we don’t have a lot of clarinetists and percussive dancers to play with. And finally, this music demands intense concentration, from the audience as well as the performers: it wouldn’t work in a busy pub or a house party where you struggle to shush people for a five minute song. So most of us will stick to playing familiar tunes and rhythms, music which is more suited to mass participation than This is How We Fly, but we can still admire and enjoy this recording. Every track is different, from the short sad segue of The Enkies to the extended experimentation of Ellipsisses.

The majority of the material here is written by this foursome in various combinations, but there are three tracks based on traditional melodies: Céad Moladh, Lonesome Road and a selection of reels including Big Pat’s and Dan Breen’s. There can be no doubting the skill of Ó Raghallaigh and friends as they delicately trip through variations and harmonies. Their handling of traditional tunes sheds useful illumination on their own more modern compositions, but some people will still struggle to make sense of Flight to Light or Pelargonens Död. I like this music, both as entertainment and as a challenge.

I won’t be listening to it in the car, though: I’ll keep it for times when I can give it the attention it deserves.

Alex Monaghan


Our Dear Dark Mountain With the Sky Over It

Own Label DMR 01

15 Tracks, 56 Minutes

This album developed out of Sean McElwain’s PhD studies at the Dundalk Institute of Technology, where he investigated the music of Monaghan. The title comes from Eamonn Murray who was active in the area in the 1930’s. This is music of Sliabh Beagh, mountainy country, and as Sean’s grandmother was fond of saying “the people go, but the hills remain”, this project brings back the musical echoes of people of the locality.

Sponsored by Monaghan County council Heritage Office and the Arts Council, it took some seven years of detailed research and the final 8 months of concentrated recording. McElwain is joined by a group of musicians who clearly share his passion for the older music of Monaghan. Michael Rooney (concertina), Darren Breslin (button accordion), Laura Beagon (fiddle),Conor McCague (banjo), Brian McGrath (piano,banjo) Michael McCague (guitar, bouzouki), with vocals from Caitríona Sherlock and Monica Beagon–Treanor. Sean makes a special mention of the contribution of Dónal McCague saying he is “A fantastic musician with immense knowledge and ability that has added immeasurably to this project.”

The band had their work cut out for them, as this is an exemplary regional repertoire, with melodies coming form the collection of the last blind fiddler from area: Mick ‘Dall’ Rooney (1824–1864). The tune selection is varied with flings and hornpipes and a pipes lullaby adding to the more common forms of reel and jig. The pacing is easy and laconic. The banjo led Owen Connolly’s Fling is gentle jog in the Monaghan countryside. I was delighted that the song My Charming Edward Boyle is sung a cappella by Monica Beagon, she has a fine mature voice and the song does not need an inch of accompaniment. Likewise Caitriona Sherlock sings the Maid Sweet Kilmore, a song noted by Eammon Murray as coming from 1860, she has a youthful spring–water–clear voice recorded here with the utmost fidelity.

There are driving reels, O’Connells, local jigs, the slow burning Lord Rossmore’s Tally–Ho in the Morning and more hornpipes and flings than you’d normally find on a traditional music CD. The settings are thoroughly modern with string accompaniment, Sean McElwain is a noted bouzouki player and his instrument is present but never dominant on many tracks.

The liner notes and the CD cover design are a joy in themselves, an antidote to the curse of de–contectualised downloads with years of study behind this album, there’s sure to be more marvellous music from Monaghan and in McElaine and his co–conspirators we ought be hearing more of this rich tradition in the years ahead.

Seán Laffey


In Two Minds

Own Label LGBH2012

Brían Ó hAirt is a native of Saint Louis Missouri, the youngest and first ever American to win the Sgiath Uí Dhálaigh Shield at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in 2002. He was a founder of Sean–nós Milwaukee and produced with John Gleeson the album Sean–nós Cois Locha. Len Graham from Glenarm, a respected gifted artist in writing, singing, song collecting, known from the Glens of Antrim to San Francisco, the young artist and the master bring us a labour of love.

The choice of material Green Grows The Laurel, The Frost is all Over, and One Morning in May which takes me back to the Stray Leaf Folk Club in Mullaghbawn on hearing this great song and the singing of the late Eithne Ní Uallacháin with La Lugh. Both singers here bring pieces to the project but there is a respectful nod to the mature singer, with many of the songs coming from his sojourns travelling the roads of Ulster and sharing songs at the firesides of old friends: Joe Holmes, Robert Cinnamond, Dan Harry Roe O’Kane and Eddie Butcher.

This CD is an understated, simple pleasure, like a book you can’t put down. A selection of rhythms, duets and solos, lilting, dancing, whistle and spoons.

Don’t expect complex instrumental arrangements, the production values are high of course, and the music is for the most part unaccompanied singing, both solo and in unison. This treasure has been intricately designed like a jig saw puzzle, every piece fits. My guilty pleasure The Rambling Irish Man, Brian’s vocal on Molly Bán is textured lightly with a graw for the story here–tells. On Blow Ye Winds Len sings in his strong unique northern voice a five versed song, the third verse found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford University and in the final verse the town of Belfast gets a second mention on the album.

In short a young head with a pure passion for Irish traditional singing and a grá for the language has teamed up with the master of the Ulster Song Tradition. Distilled magic on a disc.

Josephine Mulvenna


For Freedom Alone

The Wars of Independence

CDTRAX1314 2014

18 Tracks, 51 Minutes

Anniversaries eh? We all recall that The Great War started in 1914. The Irish are well versed in the Battle of Clontarf being fought in 1014. Now with another inimitable compilation / themed CD Greentrax remind us that The Battle of Bannockburn took place 700 years ago this year.

This label is becoming the expert at such commemorative albums thanks to the combination of an excellent catalogue and the Scottish trait of writing great songs about historic events.

As might be expected the album opens with the words of Robbie Burns performed by Arthur Johnstone on Scots Wha Hae followed by Ian Anderson speaking an excerpt from The Declaration of Arbroath.

For those whose knowledge of Scottish history begins and ends with Braveheart this CD will broaden the horizon with some beautiful songs elaborating the life and achievements of William Wallace. One of the best and most haunting of these is The Lament of Wallace performed by Sylvia Barnes and Sandy Stanage.

This is followed immediately by Alastair McDonald giving a more rousing rendition of the life of Wallace on his own composition William Wallace.

But Wallace was not the only Scottish hero and the man most schoolchildren may only know from the “spider tale” – told on The Spider Legend – is well fleshed out on songs like De Bruce, De Bruce a poem from the 1800’s set to music and performed by Ian Bruce as well as on Bruce’s Address to his Captains Before Bannockburn taken from a 13000 line poem dating from the 1300’s.

The Battle of Bannockburn is recalled narratively on Sword of Bannockburn and perhaps even more evocatively on the instrumental Bannockburn, by Alasdair Fraser with Skyedance.

The Corries are featured twice on the album. Initially they tell the tale of The Black Dougla’ and later they are tasked with performing the unofficial Scottish anthem, Flower of Scotland and they bring a tear to even non–Scots eyes on both.

The upcoming referendum on Scottish independence is referenced on an instrumental piece called The Referendum by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas and is swiftly followed by Dick Gaughan performing his own Both Sides the Tweed with lines that one hopes will be heeded regardless of the vote “Let friendship and honour unite, and flourish both sides the Tweed”.

As well as an excellent album you get a beautifully written short history of the wars in the accompanying insert booklet with the background of each track. Well done once again Greentrax.

Nicky Rossiter


Live in Denmark

19 Tracks

Of all instruments, the squeeze–box in its many forms, from concertina to cordavox, covers the widest geographical area while hardly ever gaining entrée to symphonic soirées. But there are compensations, big time.

The back story here is a gem: Mette Kathrine Jensen plays five–row button accordion and Kristian Bugge plays fiddle. On a US trip to South Dakota and Iowa, they came across a colony of Danish émigrés, who had food just like granny’s, and loads of tunes as well.

Best of all, they found Dwight Lamb, and on their return they fixed him up with a single–row accordion. And when they got him to Denmark last year they recorded a session with guest guitar and trombone. Sounds strange at first, but it really works well. It’s noted that Dwight also plays fiddle left–handed, “over the top” they call it, Missouri valley style.

So box players especially should check out Dwight Lamb: now aged 80 he has a great store of polkas and waltzes, and like Irish music, there’s a real sense of joy in finding lost treasures, and of a homecoming in unexpected places. Not since Antonin Dvorak visited the émigré Czech community in Spillsville, Iowa, have I heard of anything like it. And it proves there is a place for trombones in folk music.

John Brophy