Releases > Releases September 2019

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JJCD04, 11 Tracks, 52 Minutes
Ireland’s finest I-Grass band are back again with a ripe-peach of an album. It’s all good straight from the very first track; Someday, with its close harmony singing and a positive message of hope and redemption that we are so familiar with from American music. There’s a syncopated homage to the Greyhound bus company on the humorous Big Grey Dog, with its florid solos on guitar and Gavin Strappe’s bluegrass mandolin, whilst the rhythm section keeps the bus on cruise control.
The inner emotional journey of returning home is told on Jamie McKeogh’s Sail Away, the music melding Irish fiddle with that familiar Dobro sound. Homesickness is considered on Daithi Melia’s Where I Belong, and I can see this being covered by countless singers in the future. Most of the songs here are the band’s originals; apart from Tullamore I Miss You by local songwriter Dominic Madden, again it anchors JigJam in their home place.
They show their traditional vocal talents on the song June Apple, with Cathal Guinan featuring on fiddle and Daithi Melia adding the counter break on 5-string banjo. Two tracks highlight the band’s genius for the mash up of Irish traditional music with a panoply of American genres: Red Paddy On The Ridge and Green Hills’ Gold; both are standout instrumental tracks. Devil’s Water another song from Melia, is a jazzy Texas swing homage to Irish whiskey. The album closes with another whiskey song, Tullamore to Boston, where Jamie McKeogh recounts the story of Daniel E. Williams and his creation of Tullamore D.E.W. That track distils the essence of this album; it’s wonderful stuff from here doing very well over there, cask matured quality, triple blended with a party kick to it.
Seán Laffey

Heather Down The Moor
Gael Linn CFF CD 214, 13 Tracks, Playing Time 45 Minutes
The term supergroup is perhaps over-used in some contexts, but there’s no doubting the pedigree of the Gatehouse line-up. Fiddler John McEvoy is in the very top tier and revered by his contemporaries; his wife Jacinta excels on concertina and guitar accompaniment, while John Wynne is a master flute player of long standing. All three have played together for many years and have added the wonderful vocals of Rachel Garvey to form Gatehouse. There’s a maturity and depth to their music, which is evident from the opening track, three original John McEvoy tunes, On the Edge, Blue Island and The Crooked Wood. The band is augmented by Michael McCague on bouzouki, with John Joe Kelly on bodhrán and family members Conor and Paddy on fiddle and piano respectively.
It’s also on the vocal numbers where the sparkle glows; Rachel is a fine singer and has used the studio environment to create magical harmonies. Her sources are diverse, from a reprise of The Death of Queen Jane (learned from the Bothy Band) and the popular ballad As I Roved Out to lesser-known songs such as Seán Bán (from Antaine Ó Faracháin), to the title track (learned from a Comhaltas tape!). Another standout is Mo Cheallachín Fionn, learned from the singing of Treasa Ní Cheannabháin.
Recording was done under the watchful eye of Dónal Ó’Connor who has done a superb job of capturing the essence of this super group, co-producing and co-arranging throughout. With endorsements from Matt Molloy and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh included in the sleeve notes, there is no doubting the overall quality of this album which I thoroughly enjoyed. The closing track provides a fitting finale with two more original John McEvoy tunes, The Harvest Knot and The Healing Stone, a lively end to a great CD.
Mark Lysaght

Forgotten Dreams
Chasing the Dragon Audiophile Recordings VALDC006,
10 Tracks, 33 Minutes
The best way to experience Eleanor’s music is live and in recording terms this is a truly live direct cut to disc LP. Spiced with added jeopardy, there was no room for error, hesitation or deviation. Eleanor and pianist Damon Butcher have pulled it off in 10 tracks, and although the physical limitations of this kind of recording meant the instrumentation had to be reduced to duets with guitar and piano, and fiddle and piano, what has emerged is a beguiling LP of the highest musical and technical quality.
The songs of course are key and the first track lays down a gauntlet The Spanish Word for Heart is Corazon. It’s tightly constructed, each word earns its keep, phrases are witty and the language is rich without being pretentious, but that is Eleanor’s style.
There’s an instrumental on side two, Carolan’s Concerto with Eleanor playing fiddle over Damon’s piano accompaniment.
She sings her own Not Quiet Love, written during her days with EMI, there’s a cover of the Pointer Sisters’ Slow Hand infused with a hint of country and a modern version of Meeting of the Waters where Eleanor and Damon play a duet on the piano.
Eleanor’s song Fragile Wishes, written for her daughter Sarah Jane is tender and charming and I could see this being snapped up by the animation industry. Gimme Some Wine opens with the brilliant line ‘Life is as random as a deck of cards’; the song is dedicated to the painter, the late Chris Gollon with whom she worked on her Naked album. The LP closes with Damon playing blues piano as Eleanor sings about the virtues of Pink Champagne.
This will be a collector’s item, a fan favourite and a reminder of the live phenomenon that is Eleanor McEvoy.
Seán Laffey

The Wildest Rose
10 Tracks, 42 Minutes. 2019
Ten tracks from a new name to this reviewer and all but one from her own pen. It is great to be able to report that Odette does not disappoint as she offers the listener a wonderful mix of music and well thought out lyrics. The Wildest Rose opens proceedings with a lovely full sound that thankfully does not drown out her rather interesting voice.
Her self-penned The Banks of Annalee is a sort of female and English version of The Old Dungarvan Oak and it sounds wonderful painting a picture of a lovely sunny stroll. Similarly The Rolling Shores of England draws the listener into a tale that shows a singer committed to her “native sod” and ready to extol it in song. In fact the majority of the tracks on offer here sound very much like hymns to people and places with a lovely understanding of how people and places are connected and need each other. Nowhere is this more evident than on the beautiful Bless the Ground You Grow On which is my “stand out” song on offer here.
Light Up London Town shows us that it is not just the pastoral than can inspire lyrical tunes. This is a wonderful story song that is powerful in message and performance.
She leaves dry land for The Eastern Seas and shows a love of that element as well.
The only track on here not from her pen is True Lovers Farewell and Odette shows an ability to take a traditional tune and song and to make it truly her own.
Odette Michell has taken that leap and offered an album of songs that are not familiar. Many people shy away from such CDs but I urge you to give this one a listen and I am sure you will be pleased with the outcome.
Nicky Rossiter

From the East Unto the West
Appel Records APR1389, 11 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Based in Belgium but boasting born and bred Scots and Irish musicians and singers, this six-piece band has a powerful line-up of flute, uilleann pipes, fiddle, whistles, accordion and guitars to back vocals by Helen Flaherty, and enough trad firepower to pump out reels and jigs aplenty. While From the East Unto the West contains six songs, mainly traditional Scottish ballads, the tunes are just as much a part of the Shantalla experience. Echoing bands like Silly Wizard and Battlefield, each vocal track is blended with complementary instrumentals, and the straight tune tracks range from the pure drop Irish Cameronian Set to the old Welsh and Breton melodies of Ynis Avalach.
Twa Corbies and Jamie Raeburn are ancient songs with their familiar themes of lust, betrayal, exile and death. The War of the Crofters is a more modern take on human suffering, a protest song with Brian McNeill’s hallmark bite. The Midlothian Mining Song is probably a 19th-century version of the same complaint, set alongside a quirky old Irish jig. The gentle sadness of the love song A Band of Gold is matched by the low whistle lament Farewell to Charlemagne. The opening Captain Ward captures the essence of Shantalla here: a big ballad introduced by an old Irish reel, topped off with a Riverdance-style Balkan melody on pipes and fiddle with a thumping back line. This album ends with Breaking Wind, an irreverent take on one of Mike McGoldrick’s compositions but a fitting send-off to a fine collection of folk favourites.
Alex Monaghan

Gael’s Vision 40th Anniversary Edition
CD and DVD package
P and Q Celtic Arts. P&Q003, 15 Tracks, 58 Minutes
I had the pleasure of writing the liner notes for this album, so I got to immerse myself in the Joe O’Donnell story.
Usually when an album reaches its 40th anniversary the results are either an updated version or a remix enhanced by bonus tracks and additional work, in this case apply all of the above, plus a live DVD of a concert of the album for good measure.
Limerick born violinist Joe O’Donnell has always occupied the experimental periphery of the Irish rock and folk stories, being both ahead of his time and seriously accomplished as a musician and composer. Those aspects of his work were obvious from his time with Sweet Street Sect in Limerick and Orange Machine in Dublin and later UK sojourns with Trees, East of Eden, Gay and Terry Woods and Headstone and Rory Gallagher. When he stepped into the solo limelight in 1977 with the ambitious concept album Gael’s Vision (originally called Gaodhal’s Vision) he became historian as well as musical trend-setter. The album told the story of the mythic Milesians an ancient predecessor of the Gaels who journeyed from Egypt to Ireland. Musically it touched every sound post from O’Carolan and Sean O’Riada to the Mahavishnu Orchestra and all points in-between.
Now 40 years on Joe O’Donnell injects new life into the Vision’s potent bones. His electric violin glides and swoops, by turn filling the space on Caravan, Tara, The Crossing and The Battle. At once poignant and melodic and likewise flamboyantly progressive it pulses with a creative energy and supported admirably by Shkayla, it shimmers with a timeless beauty and radiance that confirms its classic status.
John O Regan

The Legacy of Stephen Grier
McGuire Lee Music MCGLMCD022018  16 Tracks, 46 Minutes
When we refer to a recording as having ‘high production values’ it might be useful to note what it is we have in mind. Certainly the quality of the sound, the arrangements, the choice of material, and the performance of the musicians. But also there’s the CD package, design and layout, and not least, the accompanying notes. Finally, there are all those who have contributed to the making of the recording: the performers, arrangers, and authorities commenting and providing background information.
It is indeed a great pleasure to get a CD that has all these high value elements, and that’s what we have in The Legacy of Stephen Grier, from two of Ireland’s most respected musicians, fiddle player Séamus McGuire and flute player John Lee. The recording offers us, “A selection of music from one of Ireland’s treasured nineteenth-century collections”. And what a package of delights is there, with what music authority Jackie Small says is “an enduring joy to our contemporary ears” in a “charming potpourri of music”.
Certainly the musical recording stands on its own and while it “wakes the soul, and lifts it high” in some numbers, its rhythm and beat also set the toes tapping in others. Besides Seamus’s violin and viola, and John’s flute, the instrumentation includes Garry Ó Briain’s mandocello, guitar and piano; Floriane Blancke on harp; and Manus McGuire in fiddle. But added to the enjoyment are the notes to an amazingly wide selection of airs and tunes. Conor Ward and John Quinn are leading traditional music authorities in the region of south Leitrim and Longford called Conmhaicne, and along with Jackie Small, they provide authoritative commentaries on the tunes. Conor tells us that Stephen Grier’s 12 manuscripts constitute one of the most comprehensive collections of 19th century Ireland c. 1,000 tunes. The booklet notes tell us the very first tune, Planxty No. 12 from Grier’s collection, is “likely to be a Carolan composition, previously unrecognised”. There are airs, including The Poor Soldier Boy, composed by Samuel Lover; jigs, polkas, marches and reels.
There’s much more to be said, but there is a feast of music and reading in this first-class production and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a recording you’ll want to have ready to hand and you will enjoy it every time you hear it.
Aidan O’Hara

Music of Irish Drawing Rooms
14 Tracks, 49 Minutes
Karin Leitner, flute/ whistle & Teresa O’Donnell, harp and voice, join together here to play music that has graced many of the big houses in Ireland.
It was back in 1970 that the first Festival of Music in Great Irish Houses took place in Castletown House, Celbridge, County Kildare. And they’re heading for the jubilee next year. Their music is mainly classical repertoire, and that’s how Karin Leitner, who comes from Austria, first got involved. Many of those Big Houses had music rooms (Russborough, for example, has two pianos) but it’s unclear what if anything was played there in former times.
Karin liked the idea of using ancient houses for historic music, and this is her second album of flute and harp at such venues. On her website she is shown using a wooden flute, but with covered tone-holes, so it’s probably Boehm system. The results, though, are very fine: she has a strong clear tone through all three octaves of the instrument. The flute players among you should marvel at her breath control.
Irish tunes My Lagan Love, She Moved Through the Fair and Carolan’s George Brabazon are served first. The music is a melange of everything from Carolan and Gossec to Percy French (The Pride of Petrovore), probably the happy mix you’d get anywhere. Historically, when Handel came to Dublin, he let it be known that he thought Eileen Aroon (his spelling) was one of the finest airs ever written. A century later, it was only the showmanship of Tom Moore that stopped the music from being forgotten and lost. On this collection Teresa has a very good version of Mo Ghile Mear. I somehow doubt that a Jacobite song in Irish would have got much air time in many of the drawing-rooms, but now of course it is enjoyed as much for its melody than for its political message.
The album closes with Karin showing her mastery of clarity and consistency in what must have surely been a favourite tune of the big house The Lark in the Clear Air. Karin and Teresa’s album is the most companionable collection without the historical tensions; it proves the power of music to put to rights past woes, and for all ye timber flute merchants, it’s an example to be envied.
John Brophy

Thomas MacDonagh Poet and Patriot
Own Label, 24 Tracks, 70 Minutes
Cloughjordan-born musician Martin Butler, who lives in Boston and John Owens have collaborated with poets, essayists and musicians to make a CD that celebrates the private and public life of Irish patriot Thomas MacDonagh. This audio anthology sets out ambitiously with The Poems of a Good Man telling the listener that ‘here you will find exactly what kind of man he was’. The content is varied, from lamentation to eulogy, a celebration of MacDonagh’s life, regret at his unfulfilled dreams, his tragic execution. The various accents and dialects bring aural variety, the instrumentation well placed and timely, innovative use of birdsong and rifle blast among other sound effects. Mayday is a lonesome piece, the speaker wishing to be ‘on the hill beyond the wood…when the winds from Slieve Bloom set the branches there a quiver…over the wide hill a hawk floats and the leavers are dumb’, the whistled finish and foot tap very effective, similarly In an Island with strings well played, arrangement dramatic.
Birdsong, violin and pipes combine in I Heard a Music Sweet Today, the instrumentation uplifting with Tommy McCarthy’s Babóg an excellent choice of melody. There are soul searching stanzas, some delivered with theatricality, others straightforwardly spoken, rhyming couplets work well throughout, in Free on the Road the ensuing hornpipes strike a perfect balance. James Stephen’s personal essay is a highlight, ‘when are you lads going to stop writing and do something’, a vital addition to this body of work, tying in nicely with W.B. Yeats’ Easter 1916, the poet who watched the Rising unfold while (only) writing. Francis Ledwidge’s Lament for Thomas MacDonagh appropriately ends the recording, softly spoken, loss the primary sentiment, loss of MacDonagh’s young life, loss for Ledgwidge too, he perhaps wishing he could have swapped places with his hero? The low whistle, pipes and keyboard provide a memorable, commemorative salute.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Amongst Friends
Own Label, 11 Tracks, 49 Minutes
The sleeve notes and the album title say it all and, given the fuss-free vibe of Derry piper Joe McHugh’s new album Amongst Friends, the title is indeed a perfect synopsis for its musical contents.
Joined by his son Fintan on guitar and vocals, David Aebli on bouzouki and guitar, and Vanessa Loerkens on fiddle, Amongst Friends has a diverse selection of arrangements behind solid performances of a variety of tunes ranging from Junior Crehan’s Her Long Flowing Hair Hanging Down Her Back, to Maud Millar and some compositions too from the likes of Robbie Overson and John Sheahan. In fact, John Sheahan’s composition Amongst Friends is the influence for the album title, a tune which, along with some of his other well-known compositions, could certainly put Sheahan upon an O’Carolan-style ‘pedestal’ within the tradition, owing to its Baroque-style.
McHugh balances his input between his clear and focused uilleann piping and whistles, covering a broad range across the tradition, no doubt drawing from many sources since he first started learning the pipes in his native Derry.
The album opens with a slow air to ease the fingers in and is taken from the great source Séamus Ennis, playing Valencia Harbour. Indeed, the picture of McHugh, which adorns the newly-released 11-track album, has a stark resemblance to the great Fingal master, as does the authenticity of his piping. It’s a short rendition of the slow air, which is taken over on track two by a more nuanced, contemporary arrangement on The Sheep in the Boat jig set, with Joe on low whistle.
Owing to the nature which comes across in the album, it is not a solo showboating exercise, but rather Joe is at ease coming in after a few bars on the odd track, like The East Clare set which puts fiddle to the fore, or the lone song of the album, The Banks of the Clyde sung by Fintan, allowing Joe to play around with his friends, mixing melody and counter-melody, creating subtle textures behind the core of the album: well-played, fuss-free traditional music.
Derek Copley

Own Label, 6 Tracks, 26 Minutes
The band The Cedartowns is fronted by Mary Nugent who was probably best known in the past for her excellent live renditions of songs from the Mary Black songbook. On this album we get a number of her originals alongside others from fellow band member Tom Kenna. It is a relatively short CD with only a half dozen tracks but the accomplished performers manage to pack quite a punch into that short space. They open with Mary’s composition Shelter and then slide smoothly into another piece from her pen called Julie that has a very much more jaunty style, a bit like Dragonfly from the Eddi Reader repertoire but this is quite distinctly a new song that will have your foot tapping. The first of Tom Kenna’s compositions is a beautiful story song called I Give You My Dreams and it is ideally suited to his singing style. The band then gets very international in the intriguing song Let the Water Run that opens with a very Middle Eastern feel. Nugent has a voice that is ideally suited to a song where we need to hear and understand the lyrics to get its full impact.
Afternoon Wine continues this feeling and again the combination of voice, lyrics and arrangement with instrumentation is spot on. The band brings matters to a conclusion with Do You Believe. This is a very upbeat almost “showbandy” rock and roll song that would feel equally at home in the 1960s or the current decade.
Because of the quality of writing and performance I was left wanting even more. And that is a good sign of any album.
Nicky Rossiter

Faha Rain
Raelach Records RR014, 11 Tracks, 48 Minutes
Here veteran percussionist and founder member of Stockton’s Wing, Tommy Hayes teams up with Sarode player, Australian Matthew Noone in a duo called An Tara; not named for the famous hill in Meath, but a Sanskrit phrase which translates as ‘the space between’. Their music is an intersection where Irish and Indian boundaries inter-mingle, in a musical mix of reels and ragas.
The Sarode is an Indian lute, a kind of a fretless banjo with a set of sympathetic strings. Noone uses it to carry the melody, whilst Hayes brings his bodhrán, marimba, mbira, shakers and a whole box of ethnic percussion to add rhythmic textures to the selections on offer.
For instance in the Junior Crehan tunes Hills Of Coore/Her Lovely Hair Was Flowing Down Her Back, I found this to be like musical Sudoko, the answers are there, and the more time you spend with the album the more familiar each traditional tune becomes. The opening track, a Noone composition named after his home place in Clare, has the quality of an Irish slow jig as if it was played on a slack tuned slide guitar. Tommy’s percussion leads into Noone’s Wisdom, the Sarode building melodic textures, yet being subservient to Hayes. Track 9 Lament is paradoxically upbeat and entirely devoid of melancholy.
On the Morning Dew Hayes plays a high-tension bodhrán; Noone’s melody ringing out at the end of each bar, it is the simplest track on the whole album. One gets the feeling if Martin Hayes could pay bottleneck blues guitar this is how we’d hear Irish music. The Sarode creates that essential Nyah that is so hard to achieve with fretted strings. The album ends with a song written by Matthew Noone, called Rosie’s Lullaby, the album’s producer, Jack Talty stepping in with little passages of piano.
Yet another intriguing album from Raelach, and a sure sign of the musical ingenuity that is currently flourishing in Clare.
Seán Laffey