Releases > Releases September 2018

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Own Label WB3CD005, 11 Tracks, 40 Minutes
We Banjo 3 is out now with their fifth album, Haven. The popular quartet is offering an album full of surprises and new directions, to be sure.
First of all, definitively, this is not by any definition a pure drop Irish album. We Banjo 3 have become an international musical phenomenon by combining Irish, bluegrass and Americana in a creative blend of blazing instrumentals and up-front vocals. Their approach has made We Banjo the fifth act in Irish music history to reach this level of popularity and market awareness. When centring on an acoustic approach, they have been up there with Athlone’s legendary John McCormack, the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, The Chieftains, Christy Moore and now, We Banjo 3.
On Haven, there are flashes of the band’s former approach to the music. But, Haven is an ambitious move to create an even greater audience on a broader scale. The lads are to be congratulated for trying this. Many groups would be both thrilled and content to ride the same formula on and on until they and their audience became thoroughly bored with it. That does not apply to these banjo boys.
All the music is written by the group. There is a lovely waltz, Marry Me Monday and some other instrumentals where we hear the We Banjo 3 we know from old. Enda Scahill on banjo is still in the lead, instrumentally. Fergal Scahill is constant in his stunning fiddle work, while Martin Howley is as sure-footed as always on mandolin/banjo with the aforementioned, David Howley showcasing his bright vocals and guitar. In most of the instrumentals, and all of the vocals, there is a whole new approach. Still acoustic. Still solidly performed. We won’t call it “pop” or any other label. All the lads are from Galway, so it is easy to say that the entire album is musically underpinned by the Irish tradition. But there are far more complex arrangements here, far more varied styles, rhythms and formats at play than simply Irish trad. This is impossible to describe in print. Hearing it, you almost instantly realize this is We Banjo 3 2.0.  Will Haven expand their international audience even further and “take them up” another level? Since the level of popularity they occupy is so rare (five acts in a hundred years), we don’t know. It will certainly not lose them a single fan. The rest will be up to that larger audience they are trying to reach. They are to be admired for the very effort. They still remain one of “the groups to watch”.
Bill Margeson

A Deep Pool, Own Label, 19 Tracks, 58 Minutes
Seamus Sands’ debut recording of solo fiddle a few years back was outstanding for several reasons, and this second album follows the same path. With his Ulster roots and Munster home, Seamus’ music spans the whole of Ireland. He’s enlisted Josephine Keegan to accompany him on piano for three tracks, and is joined by his three fiddling daughters. Two Keegan compositions and two Sands originals supplement the traditional material here, much of it drawn from sources over two centuries old and rarely heard these days. The Bogy Reel, Peggy Wants her Man, Donnellan’s Jig, The Humours of Dillonstown and a few more come from Irish and Scottish collections of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Seamus has revived them magnificently, recreating the pitch and playing style as far as possible. His fiddling is relatively straight, unadorned, short bow strokes on the dance music but long languid bowing for slow airs. Most of A Deep Pool is unaccompanied solo fiddle, and Seamus’ technique can be easily appreciated, the sparse gracenotes and double stopping curiously blending the sounds of Northern fiddlers with the likes of Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford.
Slow airs are an important part of this CD, standing alone or flowing into faster tunes in the manner of Scottish medleys. Maebh Gheal comes from one of Edward Bunting’s manuscripts, a haunting and soulful air. Slieve Donard is more formal, published in London in the early 1800s, and sounds to me like a Georgian parlour piece, perhaps written for harpsichord. The beautiful air Will They Ever Return comes from Down fiddler James O’Neill and was written down by the great Chicago collector of the same name. The Flower of Magherally is well known, not least from Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s performance on Altan’s superb Red Crow album: Sands plays it with feeling and flair, following it with his own barndance Croidte an Dúin, a slightly sombre melody.
His Caragh Reel is much more cheery, a fine bouncy wee tune, set after the delightful Trip to the Rosses by Josephine Keegan. Unusual versions of Highland Mary, The Sweets of May and The Wind that Shakes the Barley are high points here, but perhaps the best thing about this CD is the playing of Seamus’ daughters with their father. Clare, Lainey and Tiarna Sands all feature on a fine set of mazurkas, and Clare duets on two of the tracks already mentioned. This recording finishes with Seamus Sands’ solo on two more old tunes, Hand me Down the Tacklings and the unexplained Cairo Barry, both great reels, which deserve to be widely known - as indeed does A Deep Pool.
Alex Monaghan

I Confess
Own Label PCB111, 7 Tracks, 19 Minutes
This offering falls between a single and an old style LP with only 7 tracks. Having said that, the singer, who hails from British Columbia, gives us a very clear understanding of his music and performance ability.
This is as they used to say a “rollicking good listen”. In general the tracks are upbeat and let the listener know that a live session by this singer must be quite an experience. Most of the tracks on offer are from Chessell’s own pen and demonstrate a real writing talent, although a bit like that other folk great, Bob Dylan, he is not behind the door at using a well known air to his lyrics and this tends to work quite well on The Mother in Law.
The title track I Confess sets a foot tapping tone that puts the listener in a very receptive mood and he maintains this with the more familiar Paddle Your Own Canoe. Another of the tracks not from his pen is the old shanty that he lists as Santy Ano which no doubt some mariners may argue about. It is a strong offering with excellent vocal backing. My Old Town is a heartfelt song as he writes about the changes in life and location that will resonate throughout the world. He closes this all too short offering of a small album with Will You Dance and the tempo will have you wanting to join in the dance. We can but hope that Chessell will soon return with a full album and maybe a live performance.
Nicky Rossiter

JTL Productions MM04, 10 Tracks, 40 Minutes
There’s a melodic purity of tone in Claire Watts’ voice that reminds me of Juliet Turner. The vocal clarity alone is cause for celebration with this lovely CD, but there’s more to it. Original songs deeply rooted in the artist’s home terrain around West Clare, as in her eloquent love-letter to Miltown Malbay: I can run away to Galway, to the big city lights, but I can’t wait to come back, to your dark silent nights. But songs also finely wrought from the shared emotional landscapes that bind, and sometimes blind us; young love depicted in Panda-Eyes & Broken Skies; love more enduring illuminated by Claire’s Landmark in the title-track.
A certain stand-out quality on the album speaks volumes about Claire Watts’ living tradition across her musical life as part of a vibrant community. Her songs are creatively wrapped in all that; beautiful backing-vocals from Anne Rynne and Shona Blake are deeply linked to the trio’s ongoing adventures as Three Women Sing. Claire’s A Life Beyond the Sea touches deeply into our communal heartbreak and incomprehension around suicide. It’s fearless, and unflinching, this song-writer’s considered response around the savage finality of untimely death. But in lyrics and tone, the song is intensely gentle, so essentially sensitive. Claire credits Martin O’Malley from Malbay Studios for his musicianship and expertise. Mandolin, banjo, 12-string-guitars, cello, violin, double-bass, percussion - gorgeous music from Jon O’Connell, Sharon Howley, Chris Wood, Gerry Hegarty and Jim Higgins. This is a uniquely special CD that speaks (and sings) to the benefits of the musical heartland, the local, the Atlantic sweep. Where you learn to listen for the music in the wind.
Deirdre Cronin

The Old Grey Cobblestone: Story Songs of Old Dublin
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 39 Minutes
The path to singer-songwriter is not always straightforward, and Wicklow-based Barry Kinane served his musical apprenticeship with the rock band Glyder, touring throughout Europe and recording several CDs. Listening to his uncle Vincent’s extensive collection whetted his interest in folk music, and this led to a fascination with the art of ballad writing. He released an acclaimed collection of original songs The Hills Above The Valley in 2015, referencing his local area in Wicklow with a number of true stories he had collected over the years.
The Old Grey Cobblestone is rooted in Dublin; Barry has an extensive family history in Ireland’s capital through his father, and he has meticulously researched his background and incorporated it into several of the songs here. The results are impressive, with a rich vein of authenticity permeating the material. Kinane has researched his sources with great precision, and the songs are lyrically rich, with references to Dublin landmarks, events and people.
The opener Dublin In My Dreams is a travelogue of familiar Dublin locations, while the title track details his family’s association with the Guinness brewery. Legendary Dublin character Bang Bang is humorously commemorated in The Day Bang Bang Lost His Gun, while The Ballad of Peg Plunkett (Pimping Peg) is a bawdy tale chronicling the life story of a feisty lady of loose virtue. Apart from the standard ballad fare, which it’s easy to imagine becoming part of the repertoire of some of our better-known folk singers, there is a more sophisticated side to the writing, showcased especially on The Cooper Dunne and Blind Bard of the Liberties, both of which feature John Spillane on Spanish guitar. A Paddle In The Poddle has a relaxed swing feel as it relates a drinking expedition through Dublin. Barry sings all the songs and accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. He’s joined by Willie Headon (banjo and keyboards) who also co-produced, and Paul Kelly (ex- Fleadh Cowboys and Sharon Shannon) provides beautiful fiddle and mandolin playing throughout. The arrangements are uncluttered and designed to embellish the songs, which stand up throughout the recording and demand repeated listening.
Mark Lysaght

Though Humble the Banquet
MOSCD1115, 2 Tracks, 9 Minutes
Two tracks here from Eleanor’s most recent album, or more correctly, two mixes of the same song, one presented as the single mix runs to a second under four minutes and the album mix is a generous helping over five minutes. The shorter single being an ideal length for daytime radio. The album in question is McEvoy’s The Thomas Moore Project, her reworking of the music of the prolific 19th century Irish songwriter.
There was a time when Thomas Moore songs were the staple of Irish Radio, but there has been a generation with scant exposure to his genius. McEvoy helps redress this slight and has created a very contemporary take on Though Humble the Banquet. Eleanor has had an almost lifelong obsession with the work and career of Thomas Moore, who was undoubtedly the most successful Irish songwriter and singer of the 19th Century, that success measured in terms of his output, his popularity and the riches, which that fame brought him.  Yet in this song, composed as the Georgians gave way to the young Victorians, Eleanor wears the hodden grey of the humble host, a simple musician opening her house and home to provide the best of welcomes her meagre earnings can provide. As such it certainly hit a chord with Moore’s public and it is still relevant in our own austere age. The song was in his fourth volume of Irish Melodies, National Aires and Sacred Songs, published in 1843 by Longman et al of London; the series went to 10 volumes.
Eleanor is joined on this track by Damon Butcher from The Beautiful South on keyboards, Eamonn Nolan from The RTÉ Concert Orchestra on flugelhorn, Eoghan O’ Neill from Moving Hearts, on bass and Guy Rickerby from Riverdance, Duke Special and The RTE Concert Orchestra on drums and percussion. The most prominent instruments are the drums adding a steady walking pulse and the flugelhorn playing a set of gentle riffs. McEvoy’s voice is clear and her delivery is done in breathy talking style, which adds an intimate welcoming touch to the work.
Seán Laffey

Up She Flew
Black Box Music BBM 009, 13 Tracks, 48 Minutes
This is the second solo recording from Steph Geremia. A striking feature is the effortless flow with which she plays; she executes her music with such ease and panache. There’s a lovely warmth to her tone, a traditional style, and yet a mesmerising, addictive glow and distinctive individuality to her sound. It’s refreshing to hear such a sweet blend of music here on flute, but also from all of the many wonderful support musicians. There are high quality arrangements here from the combined talents of Aaron Jones, Seamie O’Dowd, Jim Murray, Alan Kelly, Ben Gunnery, Jim Higgins, Martin Brunsden, Michael Rooney and Donal O’Connor, who co-produced the album. The repertoire is well-chosen reflecting some personal compositions as well as North Connaught influences, and a number of newly composed tunes from composers including Joe Liddy, Maurice Lennon and Martin Wynne. The transition between tunes is flawless; the musical flow is delightful, often providing subtle yet unexpected twists and turns. A beautifully haunting rendition of Path Across the Ocean is the song on the recording exhibiting the endearing vocal of Geremia. The air is augmented with some exquisite flute harmonies.
And her versatile talents don’t end there; there’s a couple of tracks featuring her impressive talents on soprano saxophone, adding yet another dimension to the soundscape. Tune types of all varieties are well represented and there’s an accompanying book to go with the recording with two transcriptions of each tune - one with and one without ornamentation. A top quality album, which carefully strikes a magical balance between tradition and innovation. The hard-core traditional tracks, which will delight the traditional connoisseur, whilst those from the modern approach – reflecting hints of orchestration, create a rich musical dessert for the innovative ear. There is something here for everyone – a must have for your collection!
Edel Mc Laughlin

Songs From Behind Bars
Gypsy ChickenBox Records, 10 Tracks, 38 Minutes
Prosecco Socialist are a slightly unlikely trio comprising ex-Beautiful South guitarist David Rotheray, Mike Greaves (both originally from Hull) and Irish singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy. Rotheray opened a pub called The People’s Republic in his hometown, and many of the songs here are based on the various exploits of his customers – hence the title of the CD. Although the locations are north-East England, there’s a strong country tinge to the music, strangely apt, as there is a lot of romanticisation of the various life experiences described.
Greaves has a sandpaper voice that permeates the album, perfectly suited to the deadpan delivery of the songs, and McEvoy instinctively empathises and harmonises throughout. Song writing on the ten tracks is mostly Rotheray in collaboration with Greaves or McEvoy, providing a consistency in style, with a relaxed mood evident throughout. Some of the titles are good pointers to the subject matter: The Man Who Faked His Own Life is the opener, relating the tale of the pub bore with photographic “evidence” of his fantasy world; The Night May Still Be Young (But I Am Not) needs little further explanation. This Dog’s Just For Christmas (Not For Life) is a sort of anti-Xmas song with Lennon and Pogues echoes, albeit with semi-spoken lyrics. That’s Just For The Tourists is a nice duet between Greaves and McEvoy, and perhaps the best wine is saved till last with the wonderful When You’re Lonesome Too, written and sung by Greaves, a heartfelt warning to the younger listener.
Mark Lysaght

In Troubled Times
Own Label, 15 Tracks, 68 Minutes
A Touch of Blarney’s In Troubled Times features a number of artists who are currently active in the Chicago area. Featured here are Gavin Coyle, Liam Durkin, Megon McDonough, Riley Pettrone, Ian Brown, The Chancey Brothers and Connie Marshall.
This CD fits into a long, almost parallel tradition of Irish Music in America. Indeed for the vast majority of Irish immigrants this was defacto Irish music since the time of Chauncey Olcott. It is music made for the stage and the concert platform; it is music with a sense of history and an eye to social conditions of the left behind and those enjoying freedom in the USA. Yet it isn’t the hectoring polemic music of the Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan generation. The majority of the tracks on the album deal with the never fully answered Irish question of self-determination.
With songs such as The Wearing of the Green, The Patriot Game, Grace, Kevin Barry, The Sniper’s Promise, songs that are indeed from troubled times. With these songs, audiences, who are themselves a few generations out from their Irish roots, are exposed to the sharp edges of our history. Many of those listeners will go on to explore the music even further, and from it they will gain a deeper understanding: can you know the Patriot Game without the counterbalance of Seán South From Garry Owen? (Same incident, different perspectives). Of course there is another Irish song tradition in America, the comic one, with its own deep roots traced back beyond the Mulligan Guards; here we have Steve O’Donnell’s Wake. It was known in Boston in the early 1890’s; it has the smell of Vaudeville on it, the chorus is a howl: “There were biters, there were fighters, and Irish dynamiters, There was beer, gin, whiskey, wine and cake, There were men in high positions, there were Irish politicians, And they all got drunk at Steve O’Donnell’s wake.”
The flyer for the album states, “It is the traditional folk music of a people whose spirit bruised but unbroken has been etched on the Irish character”. A night with a Touch of Blarney must be one big heartfelt Irish party. This album certainly is.
Seán Laffey

Celtic Ways
Guitarscope MLB78IRL, 16 Tracks, 41 Minutes
Pascal Bournet is a prolific recording artist. An accomplished guitarist, he has explored a wide array of musical genres and has a fondness for the compositions of Carolan, which he has visited on previous albums. The guitar in the right hands does have a harp like quality with the resonance of sympathetically vibrating strings filling out the wider sound. Bournet is a formidably proficient teacher and player, veteran of French jazz clubs and pupil of Leo Brouwer; his Real Reel track is a jazzy excursion into Irish music.
Pascal brings impeccable technique to this album with an aesthetic that is an amalgam of the Celtic and Classical traditions. There is, dear children, a forgotten verb, to record. No, not bootlegging (shameful thought): recording means teaching a caged bird to sing, and the feadóg used to help was called a recorder. Track 14 Birdlike Version Courte demonstrates this perfectly with the guitar adding a bass dance over the high-flying trilling recorder of Benoít Sauvé. What we now call a recorder, a fipple flute if you will, is a venerable instrument, references date back to the crusades, and Henry VIII had 76 in his collection. But it doesn’t figure in Irish music. Indeed, the lack of crossover between the two cultures is quite remarkable.
We have one galliard, Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn from a masque, and one basse-dance, the Munster Cloak, said to have arrived in 1588, and that’s the lot. On the other side there is Calleno (Cailín ó Cois tSiúire mé, I’m a girl from beside the river Siur). It sounded Italian and ultra fashionable. And that’s the lot. Lilliburlero is a special case.
So here we have Pascal Bournet with a small ensemble, including aforementioned recorder, undoing the oversights of history. You can hear re-workings of Carolan’s Lord Inchiquin and the Farewell to Music in the final track. His Travelling in the Past 1 echoes the sound of the old wire strung harp with two guitars and an octave mandola. He follows this with Travelling In The Past 2; it’s a big contrast as there is an alto flute gyrating through free form jazzy improvisations over the guitar accompaniment.
Gig on Jig breaks out with a burst of energy on an enthusiastic and confident violin from Dominique Valgalier, after it opens with a flourish of percussion from Hector “Tachi” Gomez. It’s an intriguing album, not quite like modern Irish music, but perhaps edging closer to what might have echoed in an Ascendancy Palladian pile in the time of Queen Anne. I hope this Consort can make it to a fleadh sometime soon. If you have an old Spanish guitar lying around this album should inspire you to take it up once again.
John Brophy