Releases > Releases October 2021

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At Home with McKenna
Produced by The John McKenna Traditional Music Society
CD Category 68923211268, 18 Tracks, 54 Minutes
In this new CD featuring flute-musician Liam Kelly (from Dervish) & Sligo-born piano-player Kevin Brehony, The John McKenna Traditional Music Society in Leitrim continue their inspired and stalwart work in upholding the memory and the music of legendary Leitrim flute-player John McKenna, movingly evident in CDs like The Buck from the Mountain, which garnered respect and acclaim, not least for the meticulously researched accompanying booklet of 100 pages no less, which of course reflected the expansive music career of the man from Tarmon who in 1909 carried traditional music from Leitrim across the sea.
If that CD ever felt like a daunting production to follow, then At Home with McKenna gives wings (of ivory & cocuswood) to Liam Kelly’s flute music on John McKenna’s own pre-famine instrument, Kevin Brehony’s intuitively brilliant piano, and a sky-wide leap of imagination in an album so rich with content: the best of music, along with Leitrim poet Vincent Woods honouring and evoking John McKenna in beautiful poetry and poetic prose, and McKenna’s restored cottage in Tarmon depicted alive with music in Róisín Coughlan’s cover-painting.
And alive it was! Because under the auspices of Dave Sheridan’s recording skills, the album was made in the convivial ambiance of John’s cottage. In the mightiest of tunes linked to McKenna like Colonel Frazer, The Tailor’s Thimble, The Ballroom Favourite, the chemistry and bounce between Liam & Kevin Brehony is so natural - strong, palpable, sensitive, uplifting - flute and piano melodically rebounding around each other, that quality in the music reflecting the strong community spirit about the place.
John McKenna established the flute at a core significant juncture in Irish dance-music, then made the famous New York 78-rpm-recordings with their profound & lasting impact on the tradition. Liam deserves every bar of his reputation as a brilliant flute-musician - astonishing how he so imaginatively channels McKenna, going back to the well in almost re-learning John’s original tune versions, resulting in the kind of music that warrants Liam’s level of highly-accomplished musicianship. Context wise, Kelly is deeply aware that this music was already old and precious when McKenna took it to America.
An important album for the archives, but also an apple in the eye of your CD collection, gorgeous production, highly recommended. Hup!
Deirdre Cronin

Tara Music,
11 Tracks, 34 Minutes
A phrase commonly used in the Irish language ag dul siar ar bhóithrín na smaointe (going down memory lane) tells you where I am as I write. It goes back to 1970 when I was presenting Radio Éireann’s “Morning Airs” programme from the top floor of the GPO in Henry St., Dublin. Featured on the programme were Clannad, a group of young people from Gaoth Dóbhair (Gweedore) in the Donegal Gaeltacht. They were contemporary in sound and appearance, sang almost all their songs in Irish, and all who saw and heard them agreed they were altogether most appealing.
That was fifty years ago, the year Clannad were formed; back then they were the Brennans, Ciarán, Pól, and Máire, and their cousins the Duggan twins, Noel and Pádraig. To celebrate their golden anniversary the group has reissued Fuaim (Irish for “sound”), their sixth album that was first released in 1982. It was produced by Nicky Ryan and was the last Clannad album to feature younger sister Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, later known as Enya. It is also the only Clannad album to credit her; while she performed keyboard and backing vocals on the previous album Crann Úll, she was not credited for this. She departed shortly thereafter to begin a solo career.
Arguably Fuaim and Cran Úll were their most influential albums. These two significant re-releases have been beautifully re-mastered by Aidan Foley/Masterlabs and overseen by Pól Brennan who says, “We are very pleased that Crann Úll and Fuaim have been re-mastered and are available again on vinyl.” Through their creative and novel arrangements of memorable numbers that included Mheall Sí Lena Glórthaí Mé, Na Buachaillí Álainn and Mhòrag na Horo Gheallaidh. Incidentally, later in 1982, Clannad gained international attention with their single Theme from Harry’s Game, that became a top-five hit in Ireland and the UK. These albums are where New-age Celtic ambient music began.
The first 80 copies of Crann Úll are pressed on 180 gram Dark Grey vinyl, and the first 82 copies of Fuaim are pressed on 180 gram Simple White vinyl. Both are signed by the band and numbered exclusively. A true collector’s items available only from
Aidan O’Hara

The Dawn of Motion
Moxiemuso Records,
11 Tracks, 44 Minutes
The new look six-piece Moxie are really motoring on their latest album. Based along the West of Ireland the band use The Dawn of Motion not only to give a prominent platform to their new singer, the Carthage born Julia Spanu, but as a gold edged calling card for the new direction they are taking.
This is the most commercial offering Moxie has made to date, with 2020s pop rubbing its lithe shoulders with sophisticated Irish traditional music. The mix is both stylish and surprising, no more so than on the opening track the macaronic Is Ainm Dom, sung in Irish and Arabic by Spanu. It’s a remarkable cross-cultural work in itself, and no wonder it was the chosen single from the album and the band’s promo video. Julia Spanu sings with a combination of precise abandon and emotional abandon. She isn’t afraid to let her voice fly over the musicians, presenting a quality of vocal freedom we seldom hear outside of the sean-nós tradition.
Moxie’s instrumentals are often mesmerising in their application of repetitive motifs, with a trademark style of building to a big climax, whilst retaining the initial riff. The songs are different; here the new Moxie delves into the world of multi-layered sounds that are so prevalent in today’s sonically-rich popular culture. There are quieter moments too, on Kaki, whilst the piano predominates the closing Myakka. Spanu’s voice is at its most delicate on the traditional Donegal song Brid Óg.
Moxie have always been a hard band to pigeonhole, now they are in motion, they are even harder to pin down. Moxie are clearly enjoying their newfound direction. The Dawn of Motion is an album for adventurous ears.
Seán Laffey

Breaking Bach
Old Bridge Music OBMCD23,
12 Tracks, 42 Minutes
In the future when we re-evaluate the cultural impact of the Pandemic, this album will be a shoo-in for any discussion of what was achieved by acoustic musicians in these troubled times.
Veteran guitar player, Chris Newman is more than versatile, having mastered Bluegrass and Swing Jazz professional, well before he became a leading light in Celtic music. Here he masters another genre altogether, the classical music of Johannes Sebastian Bach.
Bach is without doubt the most important composer of the 18th century, his 1722 Well Tempered Klavier is the bedrock on which modern tuning systems and chord progressions are based. That work, in all 24 keys, was more than an academic exercise, it was musical. Melody is the front and centre of many of Bach’s pieces, but their inherent complexity means that you have to be an advanced player to even attempt them.
Newman is certainly an advanced practitioner, the big surprise is he learnt all the pieces on this lockdown project by ear; it was a painstaking bar by bar exercise. He also arranged and transposed them, choosing to play this music on the flat-picked steel-string guitar. That alone is both a first for this music and a major technical achievement, as some of Bach’s works not only feature tumbling runs but also complex counterpoint and cross rhythms, hard to do with a one-line plectrum. Judge for yourself the skill involved as Newman transposes an Excerpt From Cello Suite No 1 In G Major, to D major. This is perhaps the best known of Bach’s cello works, having appeared many times as background music and on TV commercials. Newman is kaleidoscopic on the six-minute opening Allegro Excerpt from Violin Sonata in G, playing here with complete musicality and joy. This feeling permeates throughout the entire album, with the works flowing effortlessly into one another, for example in the three-part Violin Partita in D minor. Newman’s interpretations have a sense of direction, this music always has somewhere to go.  Chris has done the heavy lifting and with many of the tracks under 3 minutes, it wouldn’t be beyond a competent guitarist to learn these pieces from his Breaking Bach album. Newman shows that with time, enthusiasm, diligent work and a lifetime of talent behind you, it’s more than possible to break new ground.
Seán Laffey

From Sliabh Moscó to Cathair Pheadair
Own Label,
20 Tracks, 79 Minutes
I’ve been telling every muso I’ve met over the past month about this album from the Russian band Polca an Rí. Why? Let’s step beyond the curiosity and novelty of a band based thousands of miles from Ireland and listen to their music. Coming under the infectious influence of Breandán O’Beaglaoich in 2010, the group have taken to the music of Sliabh Luachra as if they were born and bred within a mile of Dan O’Connell’s pub.
This is way beyond the Sliabh Luachra default of the €42 Cheque, Polca an Rí have opened a full bank account with jigs: Miss Galvin’s/The Quaker, reels: The Green Fields of Rossbeigh & The Earl’s Chair, Rolling in the Ryegrass & The Foxhunters, polkas too, of course, Jim Keefe’s/Ballvourney/Johnny Mickey Barry’s, and John Walsh’s. They eschew the balalaika and domra for fiddles, button box, harp, uilleann pipes and the driving Irish bouzouki of Evegeny Kazenkov (described in the notes as the Steve Cooney of Moscow).
Those liner notes are detailed and colourful, tunes are well researched and each player gets a page of biography. The text reveals even more about Irish music in Russia; I learned that there is an active set-dance scene, with resident musicians from at least 6 regional centres across the Federation, and some of those appear as guests on this album. That social scene ensures the tunes recorded here are eminently danceable.
If you are eager to learn the canon of Sliabh Luachra music this is as good a primer as anything I’ve heard in the past 25 years. If this CD was playing in a tourist office in Tralee, Dingle or Killarney, you’d never know these lads weren’t local. I wonder if someone in Ballyferriter can return the compliment by learning the music of Otova Yo?
Seán Laffey

Own Label HEISK01,
10 Tracks, 40 Minutes
Long awaited, delayed by you-know-what, this debut album builds on HEISK’s appearances before the pandemic, their streamed performances during the pandemic, and their finishing touches after the pandemic (fingers crossed)! In bold shades of lemon, cerise and indigo, HEISK the album captures HEISK the band - six established Scottish musicians playing exciting, modern but traditionally-informed music of the highest calibre which impacts listeners from the ears to the toes, usually but not always via the brain, and also seems to twitch the smile muscles every time. This is happy music, endorphin-rich, with the buzz of summer and the kick of Scotland’s central belt.
HEISK the band draws on the music scenes of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and is one of several superb all-female ensembles coming out of those twin cities. With unusual generosity, only about one third of the material here is written by band members - the rest comes from across Scotland, Norway, Canada, the USA, and of course Ecuador. Every track is full of energy, and expertly arranged for fiddles, accordion, electroharp, keyboards and drums.
A party band, a show band, an apocalyptic ceilidh, these ladies would fit right into a fire festival or a cool club gig. The urgent dance rhythms of Kayak Crisis and Grethy Cloots are smoothly swapped for the rippling pipe jig muscles of Angus or the complex European beat of Fløteren. The retro groove of Disco takes us back to a previous generation, while Rushin’ is bang up to date.
The timeless beauty of Charlie’s twists a brief eddy into the stream, a welcome break-out, before the final rapid sequence of seriously funky driving tunes and sparkling performances. This will be a hard act to follow!
Alex Monaghan

The Guesthouse Sessions
Trad Records, TRAD016,
14 Tracks, 54 Minutes
Flanders based Naragonia come in a few flavours, from a duo to a quartet, to the bonus: a duo with friends. On this album the box playing husband and wife duo of Toon Van Mierlo and Pascale Rubens are joined by 10 guests, hence the name of the album. Each track began as a live-steam collaboration and was then sent to Jeroen Geerinck at Trad Records to create this recording. (Great job Jeroen!)
The duo play Castagnari accordions, which Toon told me are bomb proof, admitting he’d dropped his a few times and it’s still as good as new. Naragonia’s button box music is unlike anything we hear in Ireland. They explore the more emotive, less energetic compass of their instruments. Their daughter Charlotte joins then on The Swallow a very contemporary folk song sung in English, (there is some evocative saxophone playing on this track). More songs, in the same laid back gentle vein, Songlines (with Belgian pop singer Guy Swinnen) and We Map The Stars. This relaxed feeling carries into Alio featuring the dreamy Oud of Tristan Driessens, with its vibrato and tremolo and moody exchanges with the accordions. Jos Petrol is the most traditional Flemish sounding track as Belgian bagpipes blast out the main melody.
On Biebzra there’s a high tension drum underneath the boxes; it’s a big production, contrasted by the simplicity of the next track F.C Burns, a slow simmering interlude before they engage the red energy button again on Centiem En Z’n Pot, (definite shades of Flook colouring the tune here). The final track Jackie, is a deep, slow, meditative moment, a gentle closing of the covers.
Naragonia’s music is new, principally written during lockdown, mediated by cyber technology, composed for friends, and played with friends. Give the album a listen, as Guy Swinnen sings, once you find the song-line you’ll never lose your way.
Seán Laffey

Mackerel Sky
Own Label,
13 Tracks, 62 Minutes
With a tempting prelude, a wide variety of pipe music, and a tricksy final track, Mackerel Sky is full of pleasant surprises. This young Perthshire piper has been successful in solo competitions and in the pipe band world, and also plays a mean whistle. Most of the material here is his own compositions such as Cave D’Unang (followed by the traditional Dark Lowers the Night retreat march) and a pair of pipey jigs to the much more contemporary whistle reel Ofgang’s and The Town of Venasque, a 3/4 strathspey. John Dew is setting out his stall as both piper and composer with this debut album.
Pipes and whistles are supplemented by the guitar of Dylan Cairns and the bodhrán of Eoghainn Beaton, but the depth in much of this music comes from multi-tracking, layering pipe harmonies and countermelodies, producing a quite hypnotic groove on the 10/8 title track, and a full band wall of sound for Merlin’s Leap.
Flawless piping and solid guitar accompaniment are high in the mix, while Eoghainn’s contribution is more discreet. Even so, the drumming is strikingly good, tabla-like treble taps and a bass that can sound like a water drum to create an attractive global sound. The final three tracks are almost a suite on the theme of pipe salutes – echoes of Lewis psalm harmonies on The Prince’s Salute, quick-fire piping and careful guitar discords behind three modern reels, and finally the challenge of a classical piobaireachd The Marquis of Argyll’s Salute for almost nine minutes of solo piping.
A new approach, fresh material, and a promise of more to enjoy in the future, that’s Mackerel Sky.
Alex Monaghan

I’ll Always Be Around
Own Label,
1 Track, 3 Minutes
Ger Kirrane is an accomplished singer, musician and composer from Dublin, originally classically trained on piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, but he plays several instruments across a range of styles. Over the last twenty years he has toured with several big-name groups, and he also formed the traditional Irish group Claddagh, well-known on the festival circuit. Like so many musicians, the pandemic restrictions brought his busy live schedule to an abrupt halt. He has used his unexpected break from touring to record his own material, and teamed up with producer Brendan Carthy at Orchard Recording Studio in Enniscorthy, collaborating with a range of international session musicians to complete his debut album Silver Linings which will be released later this year.
This single is a taster for the album and features Fionnuala Curran on vocals along with Ger in an engaging duet performance. A plaintive fiddle by Kristin Weber introduces the song, which has some lovely interplay between the singers in a tale of two ex-lovers who still have feelings for each other. It’s a strong lyric, and the tasteful arrangement is anchored by Ger on piano and acoustic guitar, with Brendan Carthy on bass and drum, a one-man rhythm section! Jay O’Sullivan also features on electric guitar, and the production is first-class, with attention to detail in every aspect, which gives a clear sense of dynamics in the performance.
This is a winning team and proves the value of collaborating with an experienced producer who can really bring out the best in a song by carefully mixing the various instruments and voices. Ger and Brendan have certainly found a winning formula here. The song oozes class and will no doubt get plenty of airplay until the album is released. It certainly whets the appetite for more of the same.
Mark Lysaght

Go Danish GO13121CD,
13 Tracks, 43 Minutes
Another tasty treat from the Go Danish label. On the platter is this album from the 5-row accordion player Mette Kathrine. She is joined here by musical friends; husband Johs Stærk, guitar and mandolin, Vegar Vårdal, fiddle, Ditte Fromseier Hockings, fiddle, Julian Svejgaard Jørgensen, piano, Kamilla Sørensen, organ, Kristian Bugge, fiddle and Morten Alfred Høirup, guitar.
She writes (in Danish and English) that she came late to composing. It’s probably because she began on the fiddle that she has such a winning way with a new melody. First out the gate is a set of tunes that remind me of the voicing of Scottish music, Jysk Jig/Peders Fodesldagpolsk and the Torden Reel. She explains that the Polska was written as a birthday present for her brother in law.
Hymme Til En Mor is a tribute for her mother, the inspiration came after her own son Emil was born. Family pervades many of the tracks, with titles dedicated to specific family members. Heirlooms too, what to do with the dilemma of inherited and tacky family Christmas decorations? Solution, Mette locked the cupboard door and wrote a Christmas Polonaise.
The grá of innocent family fun floods through this album, her tunes comfortably fitting traditional forms like an old pair of winter-woolly socks. I especially liked the swaying melody of Klodesschottish and the change of pace in the fiddle led and piano punched Reel Emil, it’s one Cape Breton Fiddlers could adopt as their own. No wonder Mette is smiling on page 7 of the liner notes, she pays homage to the origins of dance music with Nyeste Valse (Newest Waltz), inspired by Erik Jensen’s The Waltzt That Is Brand New (she found it in a book from the 1790s when the waltz was the daring couple’s choice as it scandalously swept into Europe’s social scene).
A Danish and coffee is a great way to kick-start your day. Play Mette’s Familiealbum at breakfast and your family will be set up for anything the world can throw at them.
Seán Laffey

Crooked Jack
Own Label,
1 Track, 4 Minutes
Crooked Jack is a Dominic Behan song that is well-known in the Irish ballad tradition, the melody is borrowed from The Star of the County Down. (Behan published the song in 1965 under his nom de plume of Wolfe Stephens). The song describes the brutality of life for Irish labourers working on building projects in the UK, especially the Scottish hydro dams. Here, Roy Buckley uses a rock arrangement to underpin the emotive lyrics, which he delivers with a strong, deep voice, giving the song plenty of emotion.
The band are hand-picked and deliver an impressive performance; Roy himself plays acoustic guitar, with some great tin whistle from Brian Morrissey. The original recording was done with Lawrence White on electric guitar and keyboards, but he sadly passed away during the project. It’s a big sound, and production by Keith Clancy and Aidan O’Mahony is first-rate.
Roy is of course no stranger to the Irish charts, having made No. 1 in 2020 with Dark Rosaleen and again with Devil Rose earlier this year. He has been described by long-time admirer Phil Coulter as “the last of the great balladeers”, and songwriter Pete St. John is also a fan. With names like that singing his praises, it’s easy to see why Roy looks like topping the charts again with Crooked Jack.
Mark Lysaght