Releases > Releases October 2014

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The Last Bell
Black Box Music BBM007, 12 Tracks
There is an art to carefully planning an album over time; adding layers of intricacy using tempo, tonal depth and instrumental compatibility, to produce a well–structured, professionally aesthetic sound. There is total mastery in that art if you are able to let loose on that constructed plan and trust the gang of musically like–minded, top quality musicians to interact with your vision of play and produce an exciting flow of extrinsic nuance whilst retaining the cleverly orchestrated and sophisticated arrangements that listeners have come to expect. Yes, Alan Kelly has done it again, along with his choice musical gang, with the release of their second album The Last Bell.
The core gang of Kelly with the piano accordion, Steph Geremia on flute, guitarist Tony Byrne and Alasdair White are joined by choice musicians Martin O’Neill, Ewan Vernal, Jim Higgins and Eddi Reader among others, whilst Manus Lunny adds his production skills to the mix as well as his tasteful bouzouki and guitar strings. They set the bar high from the off with the syncopated opening phrase of the Millhouse reels set at high tempo, mastering the body of sound with defined rhythms and interchanging instrumental focus with ease as they bound through The Ballinafad Fancy and captivate with a creatively arranged Lady Gordon’s.
The soft vocal of Geremia allows the pace to settle as her collaboration with Aidan Brennan, Music Makers, evokes a languidly sentimental call to ‘open your heart and let the music in’ which, as the album unfolds, is very apt advice. The inventive arrangements that weave through even the most simplistic base melody allow the tonal sophistication of each layer of instrumental to breathe and enhance whether it be through the intriguing Hopvotte set or the 7/8 tempo of the Low Flying Polo where the musical conversation ebbs and flows with a gravitational freedom. With a highly driven, well thought out instrumental soundscape along with diversity in the song choices, that includes a strong, sultry vocal from Eddi Reader on The Sleeping Policeman and the enigmatically ethereal title track After the Last Bell Rings steered beautifully by Steph Geremia; the appeal of this new release seems endless.
With the core body of work cleverly constructed and performed with vivid attention to the musical intricacies that abound within; the Alan Kelly Gang have added to that quality with a layer of inventiveness, imagination and ambition. It’s most definitely a winner.
Eileen McCabe


Omedia Films, 58 Minutes
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
Sligo County Board
Sligo Leader Partnership
I began writing this review 35,000 feet above New York en–route from Chicago to Shannon; 100 years after the key story of the fiddle masters took it fateful twist. That’s when Michael Coleman took the steamer to the USA and so began a remarkable story of Sligo fiddle playing in the new world.
That story is captured beautifully on this DVD from CCÉ. Presented by fiddler and Sligo native Oisín Mac Diarmada. He is measured and thoughtful, adding a gravitas to his role as the anchor in a production that takes in music from small pubs in Sligo to famous venues in New York. The research behind the project is as impressive as the production values that give the film 58 minutes gloss without glitz.
There are key characters of course in the story of Irish music in New York, and in the Sligo style which not only took root there but has given rise to generation after generation of excellent musicians, Brian Conway, Tony DeMarco and Dylan Foley are just three that spring to mind. In the beginning there was Michael Coleman whose style is elegantly analysed in the first 5 minutes of the movie. In short he had it all, technique, virtuosity, style, and a verve that fitted both into the new century and his adopted homeland. He didn’t get it from thin air his father was a flute player and his older brother who was by all accounts an excellent fiddler in his own right. They were early influences, as was his home which was a noted Rambling House, where the finest of musicians would meet after work on the farm for a few tunes and a drop of tea.
At 21, having no prospect of inheriting the farm, he arrived in New York and as it says in the film, he was young, fit and English speaking, the world was at his feet, his brother got the plough, but Michael had a lifetime of music. A year later James Morrison would make the same trip to New York, Coleman and Morrison were in the vanguard and soon other players would join the New York scene. Sligo music would dominate the Irish aesthetic of that city for decades, some say it still does. Recordings went back to Ireland and the style became popular here too.
The players were no shrinking violets, they made commercial recordings, and they played for dances, with crowds of 3000 per night in the dancehalls that flourished up to the Wall Street Crash. Paddy Killoran came to New York sometime in the 1920’s formed his own band and even toured Ireland with it. Then there was the direct influence they had on countless Irish/American kids. There is a section in the film which shows Morrison surrounded by a group of young fiddle players, one of those children, now all grown up, Veronica McNamara recalls, ‘he taught us tunes on the banjo, he never used the fiddle when he was teaching’. The film is littered with such insights and it would be a spoiler to reveal then in this review.
As the plane passed south over Reykjavik, I couldn’t help smiling, thinking that only a day before Dylan Foley from New York had won the Senior All Ireland Fiddle title, playing Sligo music in Sligo. Foley had the music from a long chain of players, Brian Conway, who learned his music from Martin Wynne, who had arrived in New York when Coleman and Morrison were at their zenith.
This is highly recommended and is a credit to Micheál Ó Domhnaill of Omedia and the many Sligo musicians from both sides of the Atlantic who have done so much to keep the style vibrant and as compulsive as ever. Claude Levi–Strauss argued that all cultures create their foundation myth, a mixture of real history and tribal aspiration. In the Sligo Fiddle Masters we have a myth that transcends that definition. Congratulations to Oisin MacDiarmada and the team at Omedia for telling this Sligo story with so much quiet authority and gentle enthusiasm.
Seán Laffey

Cluain Amhran/Meadow Of Song
Own Label supported by Fioas Na Gaeilge
10 Tracks, 34 Minutes

Elaine Cormican, singer and multi–instrumentalist, originally from Cappataggle, Co. Galway, is blessed with a pure voice ideally suited for presenting traditional songs in Irish or English, and she’s very much at home in both languages. This is evident right from the start in the very first song on Cluain Amhrán, her first solo CD. It’s Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó – known in English as Pretty Girl Milking her Cow – one my own favourites. Incidentally, that English language version is attributed to Tom Moore and enjoyed a revival when an updated swing version was sung by Judy Garland in the 1940 film Little Nellie Kelly.
The fact that Elaine had come across this Irish language version she sings from having perused Douglas Hyde’s Amhráin Chúige Chonnacht added considerably to my enjoyment of her performance, because I’d never heard it sung before. Hyde’s work is a great source for any singer of songs in Irish, and there are more treasures awaiting the searcher in his Love Songs of Connacht, as well.
Elaine is no stranger to the world of recorded music, having had long and happy relationship with a member of the celebrated all– female group Liadan who have toured extensively worldwide and performed as special guests with the Chieftains in Carnegie Hall. Her choice of songs for this CD and the way they’re handled, she tells us, is wider and more varied that those found on Liadan recordings. “There was no point in having a recording, I felt, that was another version of Liadan.”
The CD features a selection of diverse traditional songs, both in English and Irish, which are complemented by delicate, original arrangements. “I got An Páistín Fionn from a collection entitled, An Smólach, says Elaine. She adds that in hunting through older recordings she happily came across The Love Token by the renowned Dublin singer, Frank Harte.
Here and there throughout the album Elaine’s husband, Eoin Coughlin, works his magic on guitar and bouzouki and he’s a dab hand as an instrumentalist and in the song arrangements, making listening to Cluain Amhrán an altogether enjoyable experience.
Aidan O’Hara


Cold Old Fire
12 Tracks, 69 Minutes
Self–proclaimed Dublin folk miscreants Lynched have finally released their debut album, Cold Old Fire, after a number of years on the music scene, carving a distinctive, dark edge to the songs of their city. If you like you folk songs pretty and harmless this album will scare the pants of you.
The opening, Henry My Son captures the dark brooding manifesto of brothers Daragh and Ian Lynch (hence the band name), with their seemingly unassuming droning Dublin drawl kicking off the album of 12 tracks (well, 13 if you include the hidden, eh, ‘track’ at the end of Love Is Kind). Henry My Son begins in their characteristic sound, slowly and modally, before evolving into the more familiar raucous street song air.
Although the band started out as a sibling duo, the lads are now joined by Radie Peat and Cormac Mac Diarmada, both on vocals and a smattering of instrumentation, primarily concertina and fiddle respectively.
While all four are firmly set in the fixings of Dublin’s traditional music and singing scene, they bring a fresh attitude to that music and song they have grown up learning and playing, a sometimes haunting trance enveloping what is in fact billed as a folk–punk album (that’s how Lynched began their musical outings back in the Noughties), notably to be found on What Put The Blood and The Old Man From Over The Sea. Don’t let the word punk put you off, it’s a long way from nihilistic John Lydon, and as the Editor says they sound like the Gothic grandchildren of Johnny Moynihan…
The title track, Cold Old Fire, is the band’s own creation, co–written by Daragh and also Cian Lawless, which decries the response to the recession in their home city, with a building intensity of the chorus each time it comes round. While some songs Sweet Daffodil Mulligan and Father Had A Knife, are full of humour. The rest of the album zones in on the dedicated vocal arrangements which elevate Lynched to an altogether more interesting place within traditional singing, not least on The Tri–Coloured House.
Such dedication to the art of the song can also be felt in the sleeve notes, which catalogue as much as possible the origins of each track on Cold Old Fire, recorded by Danny Diamond at the Irish Traditional Music Archive, it is being hailed as the most significant folk song album of the past quarter century.
Derek Copley

Kap Syd Label, KAPCD007,
13 Tracks, 51 Minutes
The emergence of Swedish folk music was strongly associated with the fiddle and nyckelharpa in the early 19th century and the fiddle was again the focal instrument in the traditional spelmanslag that gained momentum throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. A significant folk music revival in the 60’s and 70’s brought new instrumental into the fold in the form of mandola, guitar, flute and saxophone among others and also revived the Swedish bagpipes, hurdy gurdy and harjedalspipa. The expansion of instrumentation brought a shift in the Swedish musical tradition from solo melody to music in an ensemble form; a form which Ralsgard and Tullberg have married by the effortless intertwining of individual flute instrumental in their new album +1. The concept pertains to the album title in that the duo have invited a musical guest (a Plus One) into each track on the album to add spice to the already flavoursome flute sound.
The pair, who previously released their debut Traditional Folk Music from Sweden to high regard, showcase their own work in this new album with Ralsgard’s Hund Med Hela Tre Ben performed with a heady conviction where the defining rhythms march boldly into Engelsk Gimp taken from the Bast collection of tunes; the lightness and purity of flute soaring above the deeper more grounded string instrumental before gliding chirpily into Tre Engelskor. A highlight is the breathy echoed opening in Lisa Bollings Vispolska where the wind instrumental weaves and circles around the layers of languid sound. The pair close the album with a soft introduction to the flowing Farmors Brudvals; a fitting end to a full showcase of sound that encapsulates the heart of the Swedish tradition yet allows room for exploration both with instrumental and arrangements. Another credit to the folk music of Sweden and Denmark from flute connoisseurs; Ralsgard and Tullberg.
Eileen McCabe

Songs from Twisting River
West of Music WOMCD8
12 Tracks, 48 Minutes
The latest collection from the Gotenburg based outfit West of Eden sees the Swedish Celtic inspired collective transferred into the Yorkshire hills of Barnsley. The key here is the Rusby connection as not only does Songs from Twisting River have the guest appearance from the nightingale Kate Rusby and her partner Damien O’Kane mans the production seat. The album also was recorded in Pure Records Studios and engineered by Joe Rusby.
However the album idea to cut in England was West of Eden’s as describes their independent attitude that has helped them survive changing fashions, line ups and musical trends. The mood is low key and acoustic but it still bristles and pulses with the characteristic energy and brio in Spelling Song and River Fowey. Jenny Scahub’s vocals still have the Sandy Denny touch in the clarity and mood but her enunciation has a crisp Scandinavian burr that separates her from the pack on Bird of Passage and Sycamore Bay. Martin Scahub’s vocals on Song for a Rover blend well into the Celtic/Bluegrass/ Thompsonesque map while Kate Rusby guests on The Bee that Stung and Michael McGoldrick blows his flute and whistles occasionally and Ron Block from Union Station hangs a Bluegrass banjo around Black Boat. Musically and lyrically the album breathes a fresh consciousness of space and remove that revives West of Eden’s approach.
The touches of sweetness and light are the obvious attractions on Songs from Twisting River but there’s plenty of iron still intact behind their Swedish velvet.
John O’Regan

Tell You in Earnest
Own Label ESLCD 011,
10 Tracks, 45 Minutes
No stranger to the recording process; the husband/wife duo of Matt and Shannon Heaton have released their fifth album together entitled Tell You in Earnest; a body of lyrical work based upon conversational dialogue on a variety of levels. The couple, who have cemented a musical partnership in the Boston traditional music scene, have a wealth of world music experience that, as well as Irish, includes jazz, tango and Shannon’s fascination with the musical Thai tradition, all of which creatively influence the core traditional Irish tang of Tell You in Earnest.
The Thai influence appears in the form of the beautifully rendered Mon Rak Dawk Kam Tai where Shannon’s voice blends perfectly with the mellow tones of Mark Block’s cello as they transmit the tale of the emotion of young love through Ying and Chai. The Heatons’ vocal unites with familiar ease on Matt’s composition Easy Come, Easy Go which is underpinned by an absorbing flute instrumental. The song itself evokes a centuries old folk vibe that contains an almost timeless quality; the dialogue as relevant in the past ages as it is now.
The brilliant inclusion of Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning contemporises the stark, practical romantic dialogue of the 90’s and evokes imagery of the reality of the present day courtship whilst the slowed down version of Mrs McGrath taken from Colm O’ Lochlainn’s Irish Street Ballads tells the sad story of a son returning from war to his mother who laments the loss of his legs. The conversation is as stark as Thompson’s Vincent Black but served with a softer melancholy which resonates.
The Heatons have created a fusion of the various emotions that emanate from the spoken word, the relationships between family and loved ones and the dialogue that exists within the presentation of this conversation on an instrumental level. Executed with an ease of familiarity both in vocal and melody; Tell You in Earnest delivers on all levels.
Eileen McCabe

Various Performers
Children of the Smoke
La Banda Ltd., LBCD001, 15 Tracks, 55 Minutes
Recently I wrote in these columns about the group Cran’s new CD and how they’ve made it so accessible and interactive. Well, now there’s a CD just out that goes more than one step further: it’s Struileag – Children of the Smoke and while you can still purchase the CD, the production itself is accessible on line, free! How’s that for value? My Scots Gaelic is improving, but I was stumped by the word Struileag which the producers helpfully explain as, “An imaginary boat passed around at a ceilidh or other gathering. When you have sung or told a story, you’d say, “Cuiream struileag seachad orm gu…” which means, “I pass on the struileag to…” for the next person to do a turn.
And that’s what happens on this exciting new multimedia 75–minute show – all in Gàidhlig – a pulsating presentation that celebrates and explores the importance of the native language and its links to culture and identity. Children of the Smoke is surely a significant highpoint of Scotland’s Year of Homecoming 2014 and has been described by Margaret Mary Murray, Head of Service BBC Alba, as “A Watershed moment in Gaelic Music.” The composer and artistic director, Jim Sutherland, and his multi–talented performers and production crew have worked hard and long to bring us more than an unforgettable ‘moment’ in Scotland’s rich Gaelic Arts and Culture: it’s a spectacular presentation highlighting Alba’s great treasure of music, song and dance, that rightly focuses on that glorious land and its most attractive and distinctive features – language and music.
The cast is a Who’s Who of established and up–and–coming Scottish musicians, singers and dancers, and their belief in the presentation’s theme and message is displayed all the way through in their commitment to this fast–moving and inspiring presentation. The setting is in and around a ship that carries the performers and us, the audience, on an epic journey into the world of the Gael, a people scattered across the globe. I found it very moving on several levels, not least for the production’s handling of the evocative migrant theme of the Gael, and for the new music and words, all interwoven through the dreamlike flow of dance, and the sudden pulsating and dynamics of sound and movement throughout. Track 1’s opening archive piece of old voices is followed by a spine–tingling rendition of the title track sung by one of Scotland’s most glorious voices – that of the Ness (Lewis) singer Fiona Mackenzie.
It would have pleased this writer, and no doubt all the listeners and viewers to have had access to the song words, but alas, I couldn’t find them anywhere. But don’t let that spoil your enjoyment, because, it can all be seen here at:–Show/live. Yes, live on line, free! Enjoy.
Aidan O’Hara

The Cure For Anything
Own Label
14 Tracks, 58 Minutes
The cover of the album shows a bunch of steam punk musicians dwarfed by a brown back drop, as if the Borrowers were here to party under the floor boards. Indeed this band knows how to throw a hooley, the outfits too are part of the act, a quick look at numerous You tube videos will show you this Dutch based band in full flight and what a joyful crowd they are , visually arresting and musically full of high pressure steam.
Harmony Glen are Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij, Nienke Bijker, Vincent Pompe van Meerdervoort, Dominique Bentvelsen, Niels Duindam, Mike Bruinsma and this is their fifth album and the first one to have been made in a full scale professional recording studio. The album is linked to their live theatre shows, hence the costumes on the cover.
It’s hard to slot the band into any one niche, they are at ease with straight trad Abu Dhabi , work a cool Celtic Rock groove Rest My Little Son, trace around the bucolic hippy edges of post–Childe ballads Harmony Glen, reminiscent of bands like Mellow Candle from the 1970s. They also have a penchant for old timey inflected songs Lay Down Rosie.
They feature fiddle, box and a superb banjo, all three holding onto a whirling melodic centre, the banjo leads in fine style on the Charaltan’s Barnacle. There are strong Irish sets and moves towards continental swing with the first part of Thelonius’s Fancy. Flight of the Mimosa is a modern “Carolan” composition. Vocally there’s a mix of the new age blended with rootsy Americana and even a Napoleonic era sea shanty Pleasant and Delightful complete with watery sounds. Is that why there is a sepia tinged picture of Delacroix’s Shipwreck in the liner notes? They end with After Darkness, which, wouldn’t be out of place in Nashville.
This is an album that is neither all at sea or wrecked by the rocks, yes it borrows from a number of styles and genres, however, it brings it all together onto a rolling raft of Irish Celtic Folk. A very entertaining hour (almost) of larger than life music. Now if they really are the Borrowers, you’ll not be able to keep your shoes from jigging when they rattle the Delft on the press. Go on. Look behind the skirting, there’s one heck of a party going on!
Seán Laffey