Releases > Releases September 2015

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The Return of Spring
Own Label BABMCD2015
14 Tracks, 45 Minutes

Listening back to the last CD from this quartet – Grace Notes, released in 1991, almost a quarter of a century ago, it’s clear that their approach of tastefully arranging traditional material, emphasising the beauty with comfortable tempos and relaxed virtuosity, has continued into this 2015 recording. There’s no change to the line–up: fiddlers Séamus and Manus McGuire on bows, with buttons from Jackie Daly on accordion, and frets from Garry O’Briain. Whilst the lion’s share is still firmly traditional, they’ve had plenty of time to write a few new pieces for this album.
Spring is a time of new growth on old wood. The material on The Return of Spring ranges from almost classical McGuire and O’Briain compositions to solid Munster favourites, via the flamboyant fiddle tradition of Sligo. Oyster Island is a charming lyrical waltz close to American country swing, while Sweet Aibhilín is more akin to Irish music hall waltzes. They dip into the rare roots of recorded traditional music with The Prohibition and The Contradiction a brace of reels from the discs of Michael Coleman. Early records by Paddy Killoran and James Morrison are also remembered on tracks here. The Glenside Cottage is another rarity, although the reels either side of it are session standards. There’s a strong Sliabh Luachra accent to the jig set Bill the Weaver, as well as The Templeglantine Slides and two fine sets of polkas.
I particularly enjoyed the slow airs An Fuiseogín Dearg and An Ceo Draiochta, both from 19th century collections. The first is played on fiddle over a contemporary guitar line, and reminds me strongly of the Bothy Band song Do You Love an Apple? The second air is much more mystical, and does have words which I’ve never heard sung. Buttons & Bows finish with a low pitched set of reels: the well known Dairy Maid and Larry Redican’s The Plough and the Stars, preceded by the intriguingly titled Purring Village Ladies. There are some great new tunes on this album, and a few unusual settings of old favourites, so you can just sit back and enjoy some excellent unhurried Irish music.
Alex Monaghan

Heart on a String
Own Label, 14 Tracks, 62 Minutes
A fiddler from New Jersey, a pupil of Brian Conway, Haley recorded this album at the age of twelve. Put that aside for now, because you’d never tell by listening: Heart on a String is as polished and professional, and as full of power and passion, as any debut CD. The fiddling’s not perfect – but it’s not far off. There’s a pair of virtuoso hornpipes which may be a stretch too far for Haley right now, and a squeak or two on Tatter Jack Walsh, but the positives in Haley’s playing far outweigh any quibbles. Playing Irish traditional music in a stateside version of the Sligo style made famous by Coleman, McGann and others, Haley also stamps her own personality on the music. She slides and rolls, bridges and bends the notes like a fairground fiddler, all the time staying true to the melody and rhythm of these old tunes.
Haley tackles some challenging pieces here: Finbar Dwyer’s, Dr Gilbert’s and Lord Gordon’s for example, each reel more impressive than the one before. There’s some fun stuff too, James Gannon’s Barndance and The Boys of Malin rattling out of her fiddle with a skip in their step. The two slow airs on this recording are an added delight, The Dear Irish Boy and Lament for Staker Wallace both played with feeling and fine technique. On all the other tracks Haley is accompanied by her brother Dylan, currently 17 years old, who does a good job of following his sister and keeping the beat: although to be honest, she’s soon going to need a more experienced accompanist.
Haley and Dylan have also composed a couple of the tunes here, a soulful jig called The Comet and a funky little reel named Into the Frying Pan, both nicely arranged and introduced. The virtuosity continues to the very end with The Contradiction Reel, a handful for even the most mature fiddler. So let me remind you: Haley was twelve when she made this CD, having come second in several All Ireland under 12 competitions and won the fiddle competition in 2013, which raises two questions. Firstly, how much better will this young lady’s fiddling get in the next few years? And secondly, who on earth beat this prodigious player into second place?!
Alex Monaghan

Brightest Sky Blue
Own Label, 10 Tracks, 51 Minutes

I first came across Matt Griffin at a very late night session after a BBC Folk Awards Show in London in the millennium year. By 2002 he was in the London Irish Band Misé. The band was made up of second generation Irish, with backgrounds in Kerry and by 2004 Matt had brought his guitar back home to Dingle, where he has been a stalwart on the session scene ever since.
On this album he teams up with singer Teresa Horgan, a lady very much in demand as a singer and flute player having featured on albums by the Outside Track and The Full Set. Her style is one of emotional immersion, very much in the Pauline Scanlon tradition, (who appears on the album as a backing singer).
The title track is one of my favourite modern songs, by the Gweedore based singer songwriter Ian Smith. Here Teresa adds lush harmonies and the fiddle and viola of Karen Hickey delivers poignancy to the developing narrative of a jilted bachelor who is socially exiled in his own home. Talking of modern classics May the Kindness by Dave Wood could become a standard and would make a great close to any ballad session. There is steel in Leon Rosselson’s The Diggers, a polemic on the English short–lived 1649 experiment with Republicanism.
The Appalachian Fair Flowers of the Valley, begins with a classical string instrumental, the song is sung gently, as the dark story unfolds about a serial knife murderer. Teresa begins the Breton instrumental track Dans En Dró in a similar metre to Fair Flowers, before bursting into the Roscommon Reel, (complete with a subtle piano backing from sound engineer Tony O Flaherty).
Brightest Blue Sky is an album of haunting melodies, sensitive arrangements, nods to the halcyon days of the1970s folk revival and bang up to the minute Irish interpretations of surprising numbers such as Paul Simon’s Kathy’s Song that Teresa had from Sligo singer Mai Hernon. There’s wonderful music in Dingle and Horgan and Griffin are at the forefront of it. If you own this album you’ll be on the road to the Blennerville gateway in no time.
Seán Laffey

Siobhán Kennedy

Own Label
14 Tracks, 51 Minutes

Siobhán is a sometime member of Lá Lugh, and plays currently in the German–based group Iontach.Her pictures all show her playing concert flute left–handed, but pictures can’t give any idea of the richness of the repertoire or just how good a player she is: strong tone but nothing forced or hurried.
The word Séid means ‘to blow’, but beware the Gaelic deviousness. To blow under someone means to mock or satirise, surely not intended here. Siobhan plays a range of flutes and whistles, for example on I’m waiting For You she takes to the F low whistle and the B flat flute. She adds B flat whistle and flute on a selection of Paddy O’Brien melodies; The Arra Mountains and an unusual version of the Tailor’s Thimble.
The sleeve notes are detailed and giving an insight into her sources and inspiration. Words are supplied for both the Halsway Carol and Turn The Road songs. She sings three vocals: the Halsway Carol to a melody from the hurdy–gurdy player Nigel Eaton. There is a fine children’s song about a pet hen, An Peata Circe, where she is multi–tracked adding harmonies and vocal tricks. The Turn of the Road is a sensitive poem from the folk comedy song writer Les Barker. This has been recorded by June Tabor and by Eithne Ni Uallachain, the song is set to the traditional air Casadh and should become a standard at Irish weddings: Here’s a stanza;
Love, will you hold me
Through all my life’s evenings?
Love, will you take the road
Right to the end?
Talking of marital fealty, most of the tunes are accompanied by her husband Jens Kommnick on guitar, piano or both (he adds a sparkling bouzouki backing to the Sandmount reel selection). Compared with the lightness and shading that a flute allows, a piano can seem very regimented. But listen to the version of Bruach na Carraige Báine followed by the  showy hornpipe The Favourite, and you can appreciate the range of material that Siobhán and Jens can handle with flawless technique and her breathing the never draws attention to itself. Another example is The Roving Pedlar, with tempo judged nicely.
Like the story of the Gobán Saor, turn to this collection and it could shorten many a road for you.
John Brophy

Own Label 12 Tracks, 42 Minutes

Dingle born and bred, Deirdre plays harp and also sings one song on this debut solo recording. She’s joined by Steve Cooney, Gerry O’Beirne, Aoife Granville, Cuan Granville, Brendan McCreanor and Tony O’ Flaherty, but the album notes don’t say how or where. Her choice of music is wide–ranging, from the old Kerry tradition to modern compositions by writers on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a few of her own pieces. Starting with a pair of pugnacious Cooney polkas, the man himself on guitar I assume, Deirdre puts plenty of energy into her harping. Paddy Fahy’s opens a set of jigs which are joyous and jagged by turns, followed by a couple of original planxties which show the gentler side of the harp. Imram continues its journey through reels and jigs, airs and marches, and the song An baile atá lámh leí siúd included to keep Deirdre’s father happy.
This is a long way from the pretty harp style of previous generations, and even in the slower pieces Deirdre doesn’t draw out the angelic potential of her instrument. Instead she powers through, producing grand resonances and occasional jarring dissonances, impossible to ignore. Along with older pieces such as The Black Stripper and Flora MacDonald from the Goodman Collection, she has chosen challenging music by Aidan O’Rourke, Mark Simos and Jim Sutherland, very much in the modern folk idiom. Gordon MacLean of Mull has unusual rhythms and rests which work well on harp and pipes here. The two reels by Josephine Keegan and Brian Rooney seem to have swapped places with the air Down the Hill, probably the gentlest track on Imram. The final pair of Canadian and Scottish pieces may show where Deirdre’s harp is headed – deep bass notes in Nathalatch and intricate high runs in Border Crossing, thoroughly modern melodies. The one thing which comes across in Deirdre’s playing, more than her technical skill or musical flair, is a warmth and intimacy which is rare on any recording.
This CD is up close and personal in a way many albums miss. There’s even an online taster track to convince you.
Alex Monaghan

Crossing the Liffey
11 Tracks, 42 Minutes

This album is a mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces from a talented group. It opens with a set of tunes under the set title of The Hungry Rock which includes the beautifully titled jig The Mouse in the Mug, can’t you just picture that? From jigs they segue into a set of reels called M & M Reel. The first vocal offering is from the pen of John Spillane and is called Set You Free and I hope the lads will forgive me for saying the vocalist sounds very much like Mr Spillane.
Having opened with jigs and given us reels naturally we progress to a march coupled with a reel on the excellent set imaginatively called March and Reel before reverting to confuse us with a track called Slip Jigs and Reels that turns out to be a great vocal offering from the pen of Steve Tiltson that tells a great story with verve as we get murder, emigration, a bit of the old western and much more in tale lasting less than four minutes. Irish and Breton mix seamlessly on La Costa de Galicia and Paidin O Raifeartaigh, a couple of well performed jigs.
Their version of Brennan on the Moor is beautifully rendered in a less vigorous arrangement than the iconic Clancy Brothers offering. In so doing they give us a chance to hear and appreciate the story all the more. They take us to New Zealand for the tale of sadly unsuccessful gold prospectors on a song written by Paul Metsers called Farewell to the Gold. It is almost cinematic in the picture it paints of those adventurers.
This is an album that mixes a fair offering of instrumental and vocal tracks.
Nicky Rossiter

Cabra Tracks
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 36 Minutes

Cabra for those who don’t know the area is located between the Phoenix Park and Glasnevin Cemetery. It is north side Dublin, once an area of poor farmland, for the past century it has succumbed to urban development, housing and industry now dominates the landscape. It is this that fascinates Mick Fitzgerald, and the honest working class no–airs–or–graces nature of the place. Famous for soccer players
(Johnny Giles was born here as was ex–manager of Bohemians Roddy Collins). Fitzgerald’s music reflects the nature of the place perfectly, so don’t expect bucolic. No, there is Rock–A–Billy, burlesque and a brass band. It Isn’t Over Till It’s Over, hints at Mick’s other life as an actor, the song is accompanied by the Mullingar Gougers Brass band who also appear on Jackie Was Good.Opening Time Sam Hall, is sung not by Fitzgerald but by Brigie Heffernan, it is a song about a chipper and its busy time as the pubs empty. Northern Star is pop in conception, with electric guitar and drums, but it has a dark interior tackling issues about the early stages of Dementia.
Thrupence in the Morning is the most traditional sounding piece with Austin Dwyer on accordion and Gerry Murry on fiddle, the track is a modal tune well fitted to the words about herding cattle in the early morning, a practice common in Irish cities before the 1970s. The most lyrical and romantic track comes from his Tipsy Sailor days and it shifts the action south of the Liffey, called the Black Dodder I can see this being adopted by ballad bands across the country.
The album comes with a lavishly illustrated set of liner notes with all the words to the songs, however, in places the illustration obscures the text, certainly on Thrupence in the Morning. This definitely is not an airbrushed portrait of Cabra, and indeed Dublin in general is seen ‘warts and all’. For me the one standout number was Hungry City. Here’s a couple of lines for you:
Hungry City Ragged and Gritty
Where once a good dream could be found.
As a bitter emigration ballad it’s up there with the best of them.
The album is available from Claddagh records and there are sample tracks at so you can listen before you buy.
Seán Laffey

Own Label
13 Tracks, 47 Minutes
Seasons are a family band play a variety of Celtic music they describe as progressive folk. They are Mary–Kate Spring Lee on Celtic harp, vocals, hammered dulcimer, Peter Winter Lee–hammered dulcimer, bodhrán, guitar, vocals Mary–Teresa Summer Lee–Celtic Harp, mandolin, percussion, Mary–Grace Autumn Lee–Celtic harp, hammered dulcimer, Mary–Clare Chun Lee–violin with their special guest: Luke Joseph Winter Lee on bodhrán, cello.
Based in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, the Seasons have been making trails in Celtic music since 2006, this is their 6th album to date. They are happy to carry the Christian message in their work and have been featured in Catholic Digest, Christianity Today, and Grapevine Online.
So what do they sound like? Vocally this is music infused with the high-lonesome sound of the Appalachians, it goes with the territory, Harrisburg is a major gap in that ridged chain of geology. Musically the dominant instrument, (perhaps because we are so unfamiliar with it here, perhaps because there are three players in the band) is the hammered dulcimer. Brighter and with more attack than a piano, it works especially well on The Tumbleweed complete with shimmering passes on the harp and a pulse on the guitar.
The harp and dulcimer chatter on Ferry to Holyhead, a staccato rhythm echoing Welsh dance music (is there a connection here, Pennsylvania was originally called New Wales). The opening track Cambridge Town begins with a rock riff on acoustic guitar and a rasping fiddle. Prayer for St, Francis is sparse and heartfelt. They have an unusual version of the Wise Maid, with a repetitive slap beat on strings and waves of harp, dulcimer and fiddle, the tune by the way isn’t the famous Joe Cooley Wise Maid reel, I’d love to know where they sourced this version. The CD ends with some pure American guitar and voice on The Betrothal.
Seasons are a family band grounded in roots music and this album highlights their impressively distinctive way with an original song.
Seán Laffey

Mountain Rose
12 Tracks, 39 Minutes

Greta, Willow and Solana are sisters and multi–talented in regard of the instruments played and other musical accomplishments. The one that might not feature too prominently on this album is the dancing but we are in for a treat experiencing the rest.
The album is a well–balanced mixture of the well–known and the relatively new. Over the dozen tracks they travel the globe giving beautiful renditions of tunes and songs that showcase the individual and collective talents.
The open with the wonderful Queen of Argyll and set the tone for what is to follow. They show the harmonic vocals on I Courted a Sailor which although telling an old tale was new to my ear. There appears to a certain love of songs of the sea and sailors with tracks like The Boatman’s Call and Grace O’Malley included. Not that they exclude the landlubbers as exemplified with the spirited rendition of Cat in a Bush and the brilliantly toe tapping Saint Anne’s Reel even if their arrangement is slightly different than we are used to.
Chaos in La Casa starts gently but the title gives the plot away as it soon picks up the pace. To slow things down and allow us catch our breaths there is the beautiful Mountain Rose Waltz followed by Auld Lang Syne in a lovely vocal piece by the sisters.
I was delighted to hear their version of All Through the Night featured here as it is so common in choral versions. The CD closes with a track called It Was Beautiful and it sums up Mountain Rose a beautiful collection of tunes and songs beautifully performed and packaged.
Nicky Rossiter

The Jeremiahs
10 Tracks, 45 Minutes

This group who are new to me and give little away on the CD insert are certainly accomplished musicians and performers but I feel they take a bit of a gamble opening their album with an instrumental. Good and all as Luggites is the buying public can be a bit of a hard sell when sampling a new name.
Having said this track two Mary will draw in the new listener on a well–performed and presented song. The track Mayday again showcases the versatility of the performers.
For a lovely story song it is hard to beat Forgotten Sons where the vocalist has that prerequisite of a voice that lets us appreciate the lyrics to perfection. The track 25 O’Clock is an amalgam of instrumental offerings that will greatly please the ear of the casual listener or the seasoned performer. Hogeye Man is a little confusing in the changes of tempo but again it works if the listener gives it fair hearing.
There is always a standout track on an album and for me The King of Rome is the one from this group. From the title I expected something about the Pope. Imagine my surprise when it turns out to be a sort of ode to pigeon racers and an epic tale of a long distance race from Italy. It is also a poignant fable of what the ordinary man needs to make a life interesting. Having said that it works brilliantly. The North Sea Holes is a more upbeat track and is very enjoyable as we hear tales of the unsung heroes providing the fish we eat without thinking.The album closes with another instrumental called The Midnight Muse.
This is a CD of good music well played but I feel that it needs a bit more promotion in the area of inserts or information on the tracks and performers.
Nicky Rossiter

Eoin Glackin
10 Tracks, 33 Minutes
Dublin born Eoin Glackin cites his musical influences as Dylan, Springsteen and The Beatles. But plenty of others claim such things, don’t they? However, halfway through his new album, you know Eoin has been paying attention to his heroes. He knows a few things about song structure, economy of words and catchy hooks.
Eoin also brings traditional sounds into the contemporary arena. There’s lovely fiddle playing throughout the record, weaving in and out of the piano and drums, creating some beautiful patterns. It’s not too far away from The Adventures. I can imagine this mix could go wild in concert. I kept trying to compare Eoin’s voice with established artists, but found that process tricky. He’s supported Damien Dempsey, so he’s clearly carrying echoes from those moments. Another reviewer said he’s like Coldplay’s Chris Martin. I note that comparison, but it didn’t jump out at me. Having said all that, Last Night In This Town made me think of Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople! Eoin has also been likened to a young Springsteen. He becomes most like The Boss on Morning Take Us Easy, which could’ve been a track from Greetings From Asbury Park. But enough of this banter! If we can’t pin Eoin down completely, that’s good. He’s developing his own identity. Eoin is poetic – another lesson learned from his heroes. He describes a world where you don’t have to dance to the tune of ‘your dealers and your DJs’, where ‘good hope gave way to software’, where one character falls before an altar and is washed in ‘good water’, and the wind blows through ‘whispering hills and crying avenues’. People are struggling in places like ‘cheap movie sets’, all trying to find ‘the right road heading home’. On the most joyous track of all, Hello Caroline, romantic Ireland rises up with the lines, ‘we’ll go dance in the water along the coast and sleep beneath the clouds’.
To say Eoin’s album is refreshing would be a cliché. But in a marketplace crowded with manufactured pop, it’s a welcome break.
Clive Price

Siunta Music SM2207, 14 Tracks, 52 Minutes

Virtuoso guitarist Jens Kommnick has created an absorbing album here. The fourteen tracks cover some ground; we’d all recognise An Rógaire Dubh / The Homecoming Jig / Rory Kennedy’s now wouldn’t we? What about Dantz og Proportion 3 / Le Canal en Octobre / Oles Seekarte, yes they were new to me too. To say Jens is in love with the fretted world would only scratch the surface of his musicianship. The CD shows he has command of a wide variety of fretted instruments; the guitar, mandolin, bouzouki and the 11 – course Renaissance lute. Now add in cello, whistles, recorders, uilleann pipes and piano (on Cedar House). He’s mastered those too and gives credit to the master luthiers who built his instruments.
That guitar is a Lowden and in Jens’ hands it has all resonance of a Weissenborn without the twangy slide. His Lowden has a huge voice and an echoing presence, which Jens brings to the fore on Casadh Na Gráige (The Turn of the Road). His wife Siobhan sings this on her album Séid. He selects another tune from Siobhan’s repertoire, Nigel Eaton’s Halsway Schottische, the original was a bouree but Jens shifts it to the 2/2 metre.
Wojciech Dlugoral’s Chorea Polonica dates from the mid 1600s and is a stately Polish piece coupled here with the recorder tune Bergerette Sans Rosch from Antwerp based Tilman Susato’s composition of 1570.Jens also tackles Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto in F on a range of Celtic instruments, playing it with tremendous gusto, he side steps the De Dannan trick of making classical music sound like it was composed in a shed in Spiddal. Many guitar albums get lost in American roots and this album from Kommnick is an antidote to the herd mentality. Not only does he pay his dues to the European tradition but in his hands tunes like the Humours Tulla, and his own Ann Kathrins Walzer and Silky Moon sing out in sparkling perfection.
Seán Laffey