Releases > Releases November 2015

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Forever Young
Eleanor Shanley Music, ESM001, 12 Tracks, 44 Minutes
Sometimes you can forget the wealth of musical collaborations that Eleanor Shanley has been a part of over the years. She’s been adding a feminine light to De Dannan for long while now and has recently been immersed in the Leitrim Equation 4 so it’s a fantastic bonus that after seventeen years she has decided to release an album with the focus solely on her captivating vocal.
Regarding Forever Young, she notes This time I set out to choose songs that are significant for me on my journey so far. Each song is special in its own way. This accounts for the immersive eclectic range of song type within which also adds to the interest of the album. She starts with the Lennon McCartney reflection of the past, In My Life, with poignant lyrics that she explains sums up the sentiment of the album for me. Her voice floats breathlessly above an exquisitely beautiful string arrangement that is layered in parts with Danny Healey’s prowess on the wind instruments, not to mention the vocal backing of Pauline Scanlon. KD Lang’s Simple showcases Eleanor’s vocal range perfectly and the quality and sweetness of tone and depth makes this version a stunningly sublime one. A personal favourite is that of the story of Billy Gray. A song written by Norman Blake and championed by Christy Moore that captures the blindness of love. The intro of keys and strings sets the tone for the integrity that is inherent in the delivery of the lyrics and Eleanor’s voice, again, shines with the intensity of the message within. Another standout is Richard Thompsons, The Dimming of the Day where the dobro of Frankie Lane and guitar of Donagh Hennessy add to the gorgeous mix of Eleanor’s and Pauline Scanlon’s harmony that just takes you away to another place. There’s a lot more to the line–up of musical friends on the album and lots more to the songs that have not been mentioned here.
I can only say it’s outstandingly worth of a listen as, after seventeen years, Forever Young has definitely been well worth the wait.
Eileen McCabe

The Northern Concertina
Own Label JORCD001, 14 Tracks, 56 Minutes
Looking like a young van Gogh in the cover painting, this Belfast based musician packs a lot of punch into his handy–sized music box. Jason O’Rourke’s playing takes a very different approach from Niall Vallely, for instance, and there’s no suggestion that The Northern Concertina is a definitive recording of an Ulster style: rather it’s the result of Jason’s musical development over almost twenty–five years, and a step on from his first solo album fifteen years ago.
I had heard relatively little of this man’s music before I received this CD, and I must say it was a very pleasant surprise – every track is enjoyable with enough variety to make things interesting, despite this being very close to a true solo album. O’Rourke sticks mainly to traditional Irish material here, with a few forays abroad and four tunes of his own. His style is rhythmic and relatively unornamented, but there’s generally a strong accompaniment in the left hand, or a countermelody in the right, to keep company with the tunes. A spot of fiddle and piano from Teresa Clarke, a touch of sax from Seonaid Murray, and a couple of very capable guitarists: otherwise it’s all concertina. The sleeve notes are very helpful, a background booklet as well as full tune details on the cardboard itself.
From Munster Bacon to Aggie Whyte’s, Jason has chosen some big tunes. The Spike Island Lasses, O’Farrell’s Welcome to Limerick, The Gooseberry Bush, Tell Her I Am and The Cuckoo Hornpipe are representative of old traditional masters. There’s a border slip–jig I know as Brose and Butter, a pair of Italian slow mazurkas, and those four new tunes from Jason. His Mongrel Jig is straight down the line, catchy enough, and his reel Aggie’s Wedding fairly bowls along. There’s a polka and a slide from him too, cheeky little numbers with notable titles: The Frozen Mouse, and To Hell with Austerity, a sentiment many of us can identify with! I’m also reminded of Munster musicians such as North Cregg or The Four Star Trio, and even The Monks of the Screw, not just by the slides and polkas but by the general bounce and bravado in O’Rourke’s playing.
This is not a young firebrand’s recording, but there’s still a spark and vibrancy to The Northern Concertina which distinguishes it from smoother or more technical performances. I like it – I think you will too.
Alex Monaghan

Paul Smyth
Traditional Irish Music
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 43 Minutes
Originally from Mayo, Paul now lives in Ballina, County Tipperary, at the point where Lough Derg pours into the Shannon. He’s well connected being one of the famous musical Smyths, Cora, Breda and Seán are cousins and his father, to whom he dedicates this album was the Seosamh MacGabhann the celebrated Children’s author. Talent is in the genes and it’s in the playing too.
The opening track is a flowing compilation of Paddy O’ Brien’s One That Was Lost, Palm Sunday and Peadar O’ Riada’s Sport, the first two tunes establish Smyth’s credentials, played solo, there’s a depth and roundness to Palm Sunday and Tommy Hayes joins in on a supple bodhrán for the closing and uplifting classic combination of flute and drum,
Smyth plumbs the emotional depth of the flute on Caoineadh Eoghan Rua, backed by a sparse guitar accompaniment from Ged Foley, which reminds me of the approach Dennis Cahill takes with Martin Hayes. Ged (who produced the album in Kinvara), joins Paul on, Murphy’s Hornpipe this time on fiddle, it’s a rolling tune, taken at a trot, every note audible, no rushing gallop here. Paul is joined by David Flynn on guitar for the stately set dance Down The Hill, such gravitas in their duet here. The liveliest selection is the final track The Flags of Dublin, The Laurel Tree and the Cloone, backed by Mary Corry on piano, it ends with an exclamation mark: a triplet from Tommy Hayes.
A thoroughly enjoyable album, one for flute player to immerse themselves in and a lesson for accompanists everywhere, less is more, whatever you do let the lead player shine.
Seán Laffey

Back There
Glenshee Music 2015 GSR005, 11 Tracks, 40 Minutes

It’s one of those moments that touched my soul while recording an outside broadcast for Celtic Bridge. It was the artist Fil Campbell singing The Connemara Shore. In this just released CD Back There, Fil and Tom paint a picture of moments in life from childhood innocence to lost love, emigration and heart ache. This latest jewel presents us listeners pure dedication to their music and on two songs Come Rain or Come Shine and My Cavan Girl the respected percussionist Tom McFarland steps up to the mic on lead vocal. Brendan Monaghan’s easily recognisable low whistle totally compliments and on this contemporary album the addition of Danny McGreevy’s Uilleann Pipes, fiddle and accordion brings to the fore the folk ambiance that is the bed rock of Fil Campbell’s early days in west Fermanagh.
The opening song Back There Fil draws us into Fil’s world instantly. She has a soothing mellow voice that soars to the highest notes with such clarity. In the up tempo songs there’s a happiness that brings a smile, Ian Smith’s The Brightest Sky Blue plunges into the depths of mistrust and lost love, in Shine Diamonds she celebrates those that make our days easier and brighter, there’s even an inclusion of our four legged friends.
With musicians including master guitarist Gerard Thompson, the brilliant Seamus Brett, James Blennerhassett and cellist Nuala Curran the accompaniment is subtle and top drawer. It’s in the song Best Wishes that Fil shines with a passionate, sublime vocal. John Fitzpatrick has arranged the strings sympathetically to capture this beauty. Make the Morning Shine sums up this partnership. I connect with The White Beach, the last song on this gem, a story from their County Down home where as a child I watched the seals on the rocks there, a brief moment’s escape from Belfast. In this story the father takes the child by the hand to walk the strand once more.
Fil and Tom have sealed those memories in song on this gift.
Josephine Mulvenna

Birds Never Cease
Three Rivers Records, 14 Tracks, 47 Minutes
This is folk music from Waterford, an album rich in songs old and new, as befits Waterford. The town has a thriving folk scene, there are singing sessions, a folk club and the ghost of Liam Clancy hums through its crowded street. So it is no surprise to find a folk album coming out of Ireland’s oldest city. The big surprise is the album wasn’t made in Helvic but in Nashville. There’s a Nashville polish to the production here, there’s no muddiness or fuzziness in the techniques, hats off to Thomas Jutz for his sound engineering.
Folk fans are always on the look out for new material so what Liam and Eoin serve up a mixture of classic ballads such as Bunclody, Richard Thompson’s Crazy Man Michael and Paxton’s Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound. That’s three top drawer songs and the lads nail them perfectly. With Martin guitars and a mandolin at their disposal and the chops to match the luthier’s quality they bring out the best in each song.
Eoin would be known for his banjo playing and there is one track, The Heather Breeze/Darling Girl where he lets rip, it comes early in the programme, number 3 which leaves the rest of the album open to Liam’s songs. Liam is a song–writer, he shades towards bluegrass Americana on Dead Man’s Trail and later on Joanne has a brush of old-timey in its genes. I liked the swaying rhythm of Girl On A Train, with Eoin playing whistle, it’s an up to the minute story, as fresh as a morning, all about a girl lost in her mobile phone and missing the view from the window.
Will any of these songs stick around? Bunclody is here to stay and of all the songs on the new songs on this album, I’d personally like to learn the final track Postcards From Home, great lyrics, great imagery and a tune you’d whistle at the bus stop.
Seán Laffey

Brendan Keenan
Gael Linn CEFCD106, 14 Tracks, 39 Minutes
This album was first released in 1984 and is now available in CD format. Produced by Donal Lunny, the fourteen tracks give focus to the intensity of play of the whistle, low whistle and pipe playing of Brendan Keenan, a member of that symbolically musically gifted Keenan clan. With a musical pedigree that includes seven generations of piping prowess, which incorporated great–grandfather Pat Keenan, grand– father Tom, and brother Paddy of Bothy Band fame. Brendan made this recording his own with his attention to the emotive nature of each tune. As well as Donal Lunny on guitar, bouzouki, bodhrán and synthesiser, Brendan is joined by his brother Thomas on flute and Marie Noelle Bureau on guitar. Each add their own flavour yet its Brendan’s rawness and fluidity of play that holds centre stage here.
That rawness of play is in the interpretive whirlwind of whistle in the Sunshine Hornpipe that is followed by a compelling arrangement on the haunting and evocative Cad é sin don té sin. The inimitable piper’s version of Jenny’s Chickens drives with a forcefulness that is powered by the backing of Marie Noelle Bureau and Lunny on strings. The fluidity of piping on Saddle the Pony is contrasted by the sweetness and pacing given to The Hunt as the combined flutes are subtly enhanced by delicate strings.
These tunes and the captivating style of play that has been absorbed by generations still holds its own in the realms of the digital age and it’s fantastic that Brendan’s playing is now able to be enjoyed by this new audience.
Eileen McCabe

Gráinne Holland
Gael-linn, CEFCD208,
11 Tracks, 51 Minutes
The first song on Gráinne Holland’s new CD, Gaelré, is an Irish language version of Down the Moor, a song associated with Robert Burns. He claims he got it from Jean Glover whom he rather unkindly dismisses as follows:This song is the composition of a Jean Glover, a girl who was not only a whore but also a thief; and in one or other character has visited most of the correction houses in the west. She was born, I believe, in Kilmarnock. I took the song down from her singing as she was strolling the country with a sleight-of-hand blackguard.Most ungallant of you, Mr. Burns, and you in receipt of a lovely song from the lass. Shame on you!
Gráinne’s version is called Síos an Sliabh, a translation by Seán Bán Mac Grianna from Rann na Feirste in the Donegal Gaeltacht. The fact that the poet did so attests to the popularity of the Scottish song in Ulster. Indeed, I first heard it sung by Delia Murphy and she said she got it from an Ulster singer. Incidentally, Seán Bán was the subject of a TG4 documentary called Amhrán an Fhir Bháin that Gráinne produced a few years ago. The presentation of the song and the arrangement is perfect for this song, and Gráinne is well–served – as are we the listeners – by a fine body of musicians throughout this fine recording: Seán Óg Graham, Michael McCague, Brendan Mulholland, John McSherry, Conor McCreanor, Michael McCluskey, Neil Martin and Dónal O’ Connor who also was the recording’s producer.
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan says of Gráinne’s love of Irish music: I commend Gráinne for her devotion, for singing and raising the profile of these songs with the heart and spirit of her generation, for it is in this way that we will preserve our songs, our language and our culture for the generations to come.A true and well–deserved commendation.
My first awareness of Gráinne’s passion for the creation of new contemporary settings for traditional Gaelic song was from her 2011 Teanga na nGael CD that I reviewed here in January 2012. Her love of Irish music and song began at an early age and she grew up speaking Irish and English in Belfast where she attended the first Gaelic-medium school in that city. It was here that her love of traditional song was fostered. Among Gráinne’s other fine performances on the album are her singing of An Drúcht Geal Ceo, An Droighneán Donn, and Airde Cuain.
Aidan O’Hara

Manannan’s Cloak
Own Label EOTR04
10 Tracks, 42 Minutes
Combining Manx fiddle phenomenon Tomàs Callister with accordionist Jamie Smith of Mabon and his bandmate Adam Rhodes on bouzouki, Barrule plays with energy and skill. The trio is augmented by guests such as uilleann piper Calum Stewart and singer Paul McKenna, giving a very full sound and plenty of variety, from the almost too fast set of opening jigs to their slow and sultry version of William Taylor. Barrule have an eclectic pan–celtic approach which allows them to combine elements of Scots, Irish, Welsh and other traditions in their music. Manannan is a Manx sea god capable of drawing a cloak of mist round the island to shield it from its enemies, and there are several watery references throughout this album.
There are four songs on Manannan’s Cloak, one in English and three in the revived Manx language, with themes of evil women, murderous men, contemporary socio-economic policy, and the importance of herring. The sleeve notes provide translations, and also open up to make a band poster. All the songs are carefully arranged with hints of Welsh and Balkan music, sometimes dovetailed with other melodies in the Quebec style. The other six tracks here are instrumental – the Wheel of Fire jigs, a ferocious set of slides and polkas, some driving Callister reels to finish, and three slower pieces in between. Airs are certainly not an afterthought for Barrule - each one is structured and harmonized, beautifully played and thoughtfully backed. Some old tunes, some new by band members and others, there’s a wealth of fine Manx music on this recording which was almost all unknown to me.
This glimpse inside Manannan’s Cloak has been a surprise and a delight.
Alex Monaghan

Own Label, 11 Tracks, 39 Minutes

These guys have the touch when it comes to sharing their musicality to the world. The touch is in the attentive delicacy that is applied to certain tunes or the driving treatment of others. The touch is also in the sweetness of tone in the vocal as Méabh Ni Bheagloich weaves a musical spell, along with the strings of Matt Griffin on their new release; Cuisle.
Having played regularly together since Matt moved over in 2009 to settle firmly in the wilds of the driving West Kerry tradition; the pair have created fourteen tracks of delightful listening that includes a perfect balance of instrumental and vocal that will keep you entertained from start to finish.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and with the inherent talent of her father, the Bold Kerryman, Seamus Begley, Méabh’s vocal shines brightly on her first song on the album; Cill Chais. Joined by Seamus the familial closeness of inflection and tone can be heard throughout as the soothing sound belies the nature of the lyrics that laments the 16th Century death of Margaret Butler who helped shelter the Catholics during the English Deforestation of Ireland. Another vocal inclusion is the impactful anti- war song, The Sun is Burning, which Méabh says she took from her father who learnt it off the legend that is Luke Kelly.
The quality of vocal is matched by the instrumental tracks as the distinctive West Kerry style is prominent in the Sleamhnán Sheáin Dan Nell set as well as the snappy polkas of the Finnegan’s Wake set. The duo are able to soften accordingly when an emotive touch is given to the adapted waltz, Farewell to Whisky, that starts with the stunning simplicity of some beautiful strings. Matt has the ability to adapt to each tune and make the strings his own whilst Méabh glides seamlessly over and around on the box.
This is a gem of an album that gives the best of the buckets of musical talent that both Méabh and Matt showcase in style.
Eileen McCabe

Wick to Wickham
CDTRAX381 2015
10 Tracks, 41 Minutes

Gunn is a fiddle player of the first order and having recorded previously with The Gordon Gunn Band we welcome him back with this new album of 10 tune sets.
As a noted composer himself the CD allows us to hear an eclectic mix of Gunn’s own work interspersed with traditional arrangements and the sounds of some of the best contemporary composers.
As with all instrumental offerings the ten sets allow us to hear no less than 23 different pieces of music and there is not a dud among them from Woodlea Mount on through to The Black Stairs.
As usual it is the more familiar items from the traditional genre that first catch the ear and this is exemplified in tunes like Over the Moors to Maggie although Gunn does put a bit more swing to it than is familiar.
It is often more difficult for the reviewer and casual listener to tune in to the newer tunes that are essential to keep the music scene alive and vibrant.
As ever if we take the time and give a fair listen we find new gems that in ten years time will be as familiar as the most traditional of airs.
One of these is the track The Black Stairs from Gunn’s own pen as well as his Rob of the Strath.
This is a varied selection of good music that will delight as a listener explores different ways of approaching the familiar while revelling in finding new tunes that will linger.
Nicky Rossiter

Open Skies
Own Label BT1509, 12 Tracks, 46 Minutes

Many of us are familiar with the Belfast group, Blackthorn, who’ve been on the go since 1970. But the group I’m writing about now is Canadian, based in Beautiful British Columbia as that large Western Canadian province likes to call itself, and rightly so. As I write, my son, Sean, looks over my shoulder and sees I’m looking at a picture of the group on line. I know them, he declares. In fact, when he sojourned in Vancouver a few years ago he sang a couple of times with one of the group’s members, Michael Viens. It’s a small world isn’t it?
Blackthorn, a Canadian Celtic folk band, came together in 1989 when traditional music of the sort they now play wasn’t all that common in Vancouver. Early highlights included performing at Vancouver’s Celtica Festival in 1990 along with De Dannan and Andy M. Stewart, and performing and recording with the World Champion SFU Pipe Band. Since then the group has travelled a long road through the world of traditional and contemporary Celtic music, performing concerts and at Celtic and Folk Festivals and Highland Games throughout Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest.
Their fifth and latest CD, Open Skies, features an impressive assortment of their adaptations of traditional folk songs and original compositions. Fiddle player, Rosie Carver from Saskatchewan composed the title track which she was inspired to write on a tour of her home province whose motto isLand of the Living Skies. Michael Vien’s heritage is represented by the two songs he is featured on: Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie, a Robbie Burns song, and he learned V’là l’bon went growing up in Maillardville, B.C. He sings regularly as a Voyageur canoe guide.
The members of Blackthorn are nothing if not versatile, and are as accomplished a group of musicians and singers as I’ve heard in a long time. They play a wide range of instruments and their performances and arrangements – not least their wonderful harmonies – are a delight throughout. Their repertoire is rooted in the musical traditions of Scotland, Ireland, England and French Canada, and the happy outcome of their fondness of these traditions makes listening to this, their latest offering, an altogether pleasurable experience.
Aidan O’Hara