Releases > Releases November 2017

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THE PRODIGALS
Brothers
Grab Entertainments GECD1109, 13 Tracks, 51 minutes
www.prodigals.com
Brothers marks the first new release from New York’s Prodigals since 2010’s Momentum.  Their first album in six years has seen group leader, accordionist, vocalist and founder Gregory Grene overcome personal tragedy in the loss of his brother Andrew in Haiti, and a period of rebuilding the band with a new line up but original members, and a return to active gigging.
Brothers remembers both Andrew and ex Prodigals/Micky Finns singer Ray Kelly, who contributed much to the band’s spit-and-vinegar brand of Celtic Rock, or as the Village Voice dubbed it, “Jig-Punk”. The familial links continue with Andrew’s son Alex joining the band on fiddle, and his inclusion adds greater instrumental virtuosity and gives a melodic foil to Gregory Grene’s accordion out front.
Dave Fahy from Galway adds acoustic guitar, and his vocal crunch and squall balance Grene’s sweeter sounding voice. Musically Brothers is a balanced, mature affair, but there is plenty of spit and gravel beneath the reserved veneer. Opener Home to You boasts a contagious hook line and Scottish march rhythm, while Candle and Snow Falls On Derrycark pay homage to those departed. A raucous take on Kansas City shows the band can still rock, with Fahy’s sprightly delivery recalling Ray Kelly and Colm O’Brien’s hard–tack vocal, matching the powerful rhythm section beneath, and he equally handles the traditional Newry Highwayman with aplomb.
The instrumental set Jessie Hannah finds melodic interplay with the Grenes trading licks and bassist Triton Dimitrov and returning drummer Brian Tracey nail the sound solidly. While Jug of Punch and Mountain Dew may sound obvious, they rise shining brightly here, as does Tell Me Ma and Patrick Kavanagh’s If Ever You Go To Dublin Town.
The Prodigals are still the rip-roarers of old, yet a new maturity and elegance seeps through their ranks; they are battle scarred but unbroken. The Prodigals have returned, and Brothers is the proof.
John O’Regan


FLORIANE BLANCKE
Kaleidoscope
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 42 Minutes
www.dermotandflo.com
The album opens by taking us on a Trip to Achill. We step aboard a single melody line on the harp; the track soon expands with Trevor Hutchinson’s double bass warmly filling out the bottom end and deepening the soundscape to provide the room for Joanie Madden’s whistle to create a high pitched ceiling on Dooagh Bay. Brendan O’Regan’s bouzouki chimes along as the full ensemble sound builds. Good start I noted and then went off to dissect the tracks a little further.
Creg Na Vagabones, opens on piano, named after the village where Garry O’Briain lives. He adds guitar to this track, which distils into a melancholy sweetness. Floriane’s harp comes in almost ghost like as Trevor Hutchinson draws a rasping bow across the double bass. This settles into a satisfying yet simple melody.
Acoustic guitar and vocals are to the fore on Crazy Man Michael, the Richard Thompson song he wrote in collaboration with the late Dave Swarbrick. Floriane conjures up that first setting of the song. Swarbrick wrote the tune on piano, and Floriane sings the words over her own keyboard accompaniment with Dermot Byrne adding passages on the accordion.
Floriane sets the 1932 poem by Mary Elizabth Frye Don’t Stand At My Grave and Weep, to a country tune, Brendan O Regan adding a bluegrass mandolin; this could be the commercial track of the album and would cross many genres on Irish radio.
Floriane takes us back to her classical roots, herself on piano and Dermot Byrne on accordion, as they capture Debussy’s Passepeid IV from his 1905 Suite Bergamesque. It has been previously given a bluegrass swing by the Punch Brothers, but here Dermot and Flo treat us to a full Paris–breakfast, the chantilly, the lightness and intensity of a Fauvist painting, bold strokes of sound, playful attacks, changes of tempo, turns, twists and surprises. The album ends with Baile na bPuc on harp, composed by Floriane and Tim Edey, in memory of the landscape of the Dingle peninsula. The full arrangement unfolds with Claire Egan’s fiddle and an ethereal choral; it is a gentle close to an inspired and inspiring album.
Seán Laffey


CALUM STEWART
TALES FROM THE NORTH
EMCD02, 10 Tracks, 39 Minutes
www.calum-stewart.com
Calum Stewart is an uilleann piper from the Northern extreme of the Scottish mainland, and that sense of place pervades much of his newly composed work which this album is full of. Calum plays a married set of uilleann pipes, chanter by Benedict Koehler, drones by David Williams, and regulators by Eamonn Curran.
That same attention to detail, that assembling of the sound also applies to the musicians who guest on the album: Eamon Doorley and Adam Rhodes on bouzoukis, Ronnan Pellen on the ten string Cittern, Yann le Bozec on Double Bass, with Lauren MacColl, James Alexander on fiddles, Gilles Le Bigot, Tony Byrne, Adam Brown with their Guitars and with Ross Saunders on shakers and stomp box. The personnel indicate straight away that this is sophisticated fare with a heart turned towards Ireland and the big sounds of European Celtic Music vibrating in the head like distant rumbling thunder.
There is mesmeric repetition on Sueno’s Stone, very much after the school of John McSherry and Mike McGoldrick, with the cittern taking a leading role in the accompaniment. Sueno’s Stone is named after the largest Pictish decorated stone in Scotland, pre–dating the Norse chieftain Sueno by a few centuries. The Angels Share (the title refers to the spirits that evaporate when whiskey is in bond) has Calum’s fingers flying over the chanter with little staccato stops, as he takes a splash of spring water with his own dram called Copper Stills, then a big tune to finish the Gladstone by J Scott Skinner. For many this has become an adopted Donegal reel after being featured on Altan’s Island Angel album back in 1993. Calum lights up the track with his blistering finger work, and a full–bodied expulsion of music as the drones throw down the anchor to bring the Gladstone to rest.
Elsewhere, Randolph’s Leap is a two part composition, taking over two tracks; the first is tight and concentrated, the second more wild, as if the hero Randolph has launched himself into the chasm of the Findhorn glen, braving the rushing torrent and surviving to escape to some kind of Pyrrhic victory (the actual 14th century story is a lot more complicated, but Calum gets the feeling just right to match the folklore of the location).
The most Scottish sounding piece on the album is the slow air Music of Spey that Calum plays on a Colin Goldie Low whistle. This is an album inspired by landscape, folklore and history, but it isn’t about nostalgia. Stewart’s music has its feet firmly planted in the 21st century. No wonder his piping skills are in such high demand. His website has the full sheet music to the new tunes too, well worth a visit.
Seán Laffey


DAVID INGERSON
My Lovely Mountain Home, Own Label, 15 Tracks, 57 Minutes, www.reverbnation.com/davidingerson
The pretty picture on the cover of American singer, David Ingerson’s new CD, My Lovely Mountain Home, could fool you into thinking that what’s inside deals with sentimental thoughts of home and the little ‘cottage with the roses round the door’ scenario. Not so, and on listening to the opening words of the title track, one is jolted out of any possible onset of gentle reverie or quiet musings:
“To all intended immigrants, I penned this simple lay
From one who lies in hospital three thousand miles away
To warn them of the dangers that they might weep and see
The fate of a young Irishman in that great land of the free.”
The second verse starts, “I left my lovely mountain home, near to Slieve Gallen braes”, and continues in the verses that follow to detail what led up to the sad fate of the emigrant, and it contrasts sharply and poignantly with his memories of the lovely home he left behind. David has visited Ireland twelve times, for more than a month each time, and has attended dozens of traditional singing and music festivals as well as hundreds of singing sessions there. He has been singing traditional Irish songs for over 35 years, collecting, researching and performing, and he is totally at home in the Irish style of singing. There is great variety in song type and mood in the 15 songs David offers, and even though he used to play a number of instruments in different styles, including jazz sax, clarinet, and on the opera stage, he sings a cappella throughout.
The songs are from the Irish tradition, three of them in the Irish language. Titles include, Paddy’s Panacea (Stick to the Craytur) and Paddy, the Cockney and the Ass, both of which he got from Tom Lenihan in Clare.  Then there’s The Creggan White Hare, about which he says, “I first heard a partial rendition of it from an anonymous singer in a session in Moy, County Tyrone.” David went to some length to record singers in their natural element, to get the ‘raw bar’, unaccompanied song without refinement.
The CD notes come with song words and background information, and are a major contribution to the album’s high production values. His note on one of Munster’s ‘big songs’, Amhrán na Leabhar (Song of the Books), shows his regard for the culture that produces such gems and his appreciation of their musical and literary sophistication: “They are deep and heavy, packed with images and meaning, historically significant, and both musically and poetically sophisticated and powerful. Songs of this sort call to me.” David does justice to the songs in both languages, and in his way of presenting them – very pleasing.
Aidan O’Hara


ANDERS LILLEBO
Departure – Traditional Music from Ireland
Just For The Records. JFR730, 13 Tracks, 48 Minutes
www.anderslillebomusic.com
Norwegian piano accordion player Anders Lillebo’s debut album has been a long time in the making, he admits as much in the liner notes. Having fallen in love with Irish Music he has taken his time selecting and perfecting the tunes for this album. Anders tells us it has been a frustrating journey, but for the listener that extended gestation period has produced an album of fine playing, beautifully articulated music notes and considered arrangements. With Jack Talty (piano) Caoimhín Ó Fearghail (guitar and bouzouki) and Tommy Hayes on percussion you can see he has a handpicked dream team, add in Matthew Berrill on clarinet on two tracks and you have an accomplished house band.
There are reels, Shamrock Hill/The Humours of Castle Fin/Kit O’Connor’s, jigs The Nightingale, Health to Ladies, a pair of hop jigs in The Surround paired with Cucanandy and a waltz called Liam and Dianas’s (a wedding present perhaps?). Most of the tracks were recorded by Jack Talty, except those by Esbjörn Hazelius (the Donal Lunny of Sweden) who takes charge of two tracks and adds his own fiddle and Nordic–bouzouki to the selection Jimmy’s Return /Farewell to London and the polska Vrakar.
Anders tackles two giants of the squeeze box in the tunes The Road to Eyries (composed by John Dwyer) and Phil Cunningham’s Wing Commander Donald McKenzie’s, which Anders pairs with an opening blast of Cuz Teehan’s. He does of course pull off the David and goliath manoeuvre. The piano accordion is a rare beast in Irish traditional music, and there are relatively few albums recorded on the instrument. Anders is adding to the thin end of the library, and this is an album that deserves to be consulted frequently. Anders spent two years in Galway where he obviously absorbed a huge amount of traditional music; he is now back in Oslo, carrying a torch for Irish Traditional music in the far north. The album might be called Departure but on the quality of the music here, Anders has arrived!
Seán Laffey


SAOIRSE MHÓR
Ghosts of Tomorrow
LC13476, 11 Tracks, 48 Minutes
www.saoirsemhor.com
Irish–born but now living in southern Germany, Saoirse Mhór has achieved considerable success as a member of the band Fleadh, and this is his third solo recording with eleven original songs. They span a range of reflections, usually on the darker side of life, but sometimes with a wry sense of humour, which doesn’t compromise the authenticity of each song. The material is guitar–based acoustic folk; with some quality playing to complement Saoirse’s assured vocals. But what really distinguishes this offering is the songs themselves, written to address some serious themes and with lyrics of real quality and depth.
On the CD, he has teamed up with accomplished musicians including Andrew Cadie (fiddle) and guitarist Michael Busch, with Katie Doherty providing backing vocals as part of the core team. Production is by Andy Horn, who also plays bass and percussion. The album features not only a blend of new inspiring songs, but also reprises the award–winning The Cleggan Bay Disaster, the title track of the 2013 Fleadh CD, with the members of Fleadh contributing their talents here. This is a lively tune, in contrast to the rest of the songs, which are more reflective.
The new material address some ambitious lyrical themes with aplomb – he’s crafted some lovely songs and the CD contains some outstanding examples such as Tree of Oak, Sleeping and Working, Hill of Plenty, Thursday Asks and the title track which I really enjoyed. Andrew Cadie’s fiddle is a constant delight, and the guitar interplay is carefully arranged and executed throughout. Overall, this is a delightful CD, which rewards repeated listening, and the quality of Saoirse’s song writing is very impressive. The overall production is first–class, with an assured balance and dynamic range for each track, and lyrics you can actually hear! Full marks to all involved.
Mark Lysaght


KIERAH RAYMOND
Strong Bow, Irish Madness, 12 Tracks, 53 Minutes
www.irishmadness.com
On her fourth album, this Canadian fiddler is pushing Scottish and Irish music towards pop and rock, and doing it very well. Her technique is now very polished, and she has chosen some excellent tunes: Superfly by Kevin O’Neil, Farewell to Whalley Range by Mike McGoldrick, Jock Brown’s Favourite by the late Gordon Duncan, and a stack of traditional favourites such as Rakish Paddy, Bog an Lochan and Fair Haired Molly.
In keeping with Kierah’s rock inclinations, there is little here which steps outside the simple 4/4 rhythms of standard pop music. Her jig Jimmy Flynn’s seems to want to break back into reel time, and after Whalley Range it’s straight back to a straight beat with Jarlath Henderson’s Cracking Fiddle.
Backed by guitar, drums and keyboards, the traditional tunes jog along nicely and Kierah’s own compositions fit into the general Celtic vibe: it’s obvious that they’ve come from the tradition, although they do have their own character. Catch Me If You Can, Mac’s Russian Red, Amber Eyes, Conundrum and the title tune of her previous album Stonemason’s Daughter all have that driving Celtic dance music backbone, topped with other influences of course. Dee Armstrong’s waltz Charlotte’s Web introduces another complex rhythm, and is followed by the title tune of this CD which overlays some funky beats on a basic reel, finally shifting into the Irish classic The New Customs House played straight and hard. There’s one song in the middle of Strong Bow, which is nothing to do with archery or cider by the way, it’s all about that fiddle.
The rest of this CD is instrumental, and while the song is a nice contrast I think Kierah’s greatest strength is clearly in the tunes. She ends on a mix of Irish, Scottish, and her own compositions, a powerful blend.
Alex Monaghan