Peter Kerlin, Ian Smith, Jens Kommnick "Triangle"
S.T.I.R. Music, 2020
Ian Smith's "Where's It All Going To End?" paints a world turned upside down, and that's pretty up-to-date, isn't it?
It is just one of many fine songs written by this Scotsman who put down roots in the Irish county Donegal.
Thus, his "Far Beyond Carrickfinn" is dedicated to the late fiddler Proinsias Ó Maonaigh (Francie Mooney)
in his immediate vicinity, father of Altan's Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.
"The Holy Hour" recalls days of yore when Irish pubs had to close on Sunday afternoons. (German writer Heinrich Böll advised in his Irish Journal
what thirsty but clever folks could do against it.) "Upon Culloden's Moor" is an anti-war song set on the famous Jacobite battlefield of Ian's native home;
"Bas In Eireann" (a battle cry meaning: Let Us Die In Ireland) introduces a character (right off of a Bernhard Cornwell novel)
who serves with the British army in the Peninsular Wars against Napoleon.
Over here in Germany, Ian Smith had been part of several Irish Folk Festival tours;
recently he had joined the Danceperados of Ireland shows.
At the same time he teamed up with singer-songwriter Peter Kerlin, who is a well-known figure
on the German folk music circuit since the 1970s. Peter's "The Shores of Donegal" is inspired by their first encounter,
when Peter holidayed in a cottage by the sea owned by Ian. Peter himself is based in the provincial town of Goslar
at the foot of the Harz mountains and "02 July 2017" is about the dramatic flood happening at that date.
Their musical collaboration is complemented by a couple of instrumental tracks, and here German multi-instrumentalist
comes into play, Peter's longtime partner
on his several solo albums.
This musical triangle is going at full speed. With stories worth telling and coming alive by magnificent lyrics,
there is an overall feeling of heartiness and a certain balm for the soul beyond all melancholy and consternation.
When I reviewed Peter and Ian live in concert,
I couldn't decide what I like best, the soft waters arising from the Harz mountains or the smoothness of the triple-distilled Irish whiskey.
P.S.: Their Triangle Tour scheduled for 2020 did not happen because of the Corona pandemic, of course, and had to be postponed. The official CD launch is now planned for April 17th, 2021 at the Kulturkraftwerk HarzEnergie in Peter's hometown of Goslar. Watch out! Tickets are expected to sell very quickly!
© Walkin' T:-)M
Poor Man's Gambit "Land of Sunshine"
Own label, 2019
This Land of Sunshine arrived at my doorstop on a sunny day, indeed,
though it was totally rain-drenched, both envelope and cardboard cover.
Well, in the age of Corona you probably must be fortunate if postal services are working at all.
Fortunatly, the rain did no harm to the silver disc and to its fine digital content either.
Poor Man's Gambit is a trio formed in 2015 out of Philadelphia's Irish music community.
Corey Purcell (button accordion, cittern, vocals) and Deirdre Lockman (fiddle, vocals)
have made themselves known as Irish step-dancers with groups such as Danú.
Federico Betti (DADGAD guitar, fiddle) is a native Italian who landed in Pennsylvania by way of Galway
(his playing with Galway band Sumbrellas is featured in the television crime series Jack Taylor).
Poor Man's Gambit start and finish off as traditional Irish musicians. There's a bouncing
"Rocky Road to Dublin," giving the Dubliners crowdpleaser a new route, followed by the twists and turns of the
Tommy Potts slip jig "The Butterfly." The title track
"The Land of Sunshine" is better known as De Dannan's "Jacket of Batteries," a stately reel written by East Galwegian button accordionist Martin Mulhaire.
There are also great renditions of traditional tunes and recent compositions from the likes of
Maurice Lennon, Andy Cutting and Josephine Keegan. Deirdre herself accounts for the jiving reel "House on the Ridge" and Corey
penned the enthralling "Bear Mountain" air. The trio risks a glimpse across the Irish Sea with the Breton "La Ridee Six Temps"
followed by Federico's "Breton Jig" hybrid. The vocal selection includes the traditional Scottish "Highland Plaidie" (originally
collected by Greig & Duncan under the name "Kilbogie" and as such recorded by Ray & Archie Fisher),
Ewan MacColl's "Ballad of Accounting", Richard Thompson's "Bee's Wing", and last but not least, John Lennon's pop music hymn "Imagine."
After all, these grounds offer more sunshine than rainfall.
© Walkin' T:-)M
Will Pound "A Day Will Come"
Lulubug Records, 2020
»A day will come when the only fields of battle will be markets opening up to trade and minds opening up to ideas. A day will come when bullets and bombs will be replaced by votes, by universal suffrage of the peoples, by the venerable arbitration of a great sovereign senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, what the Legislative Assembly is to France. A day will come when we will display cannon in museums just as we display instruments of torture today, amazed that such things could ever have been possible.« - Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
The Corona crisis has pushed the Brexit issue aside in public perception, but it surely will be brought back upon the table sooner or later.
If anything is certain it is uncertainty, but the die is cast and you have to play the game regardless. Thus,
Warwickshire-based harmonica and melodeon player Will Pound
decided not to argue but let the music speak. "A Day Will Come," the album title referring to Victor Hugo's remark, sees Will rejoicing
in the diversity and union of Europe and its musics. He provides 27 tunes, each associated with one of the member states of the European Union. Thus we get to hear
Irish jigs, a French bourrée, Swedish slangpolska, Estonian polka, Hungarian czardas, Bulgarian rachenitsa,
Italian tarantella, Spanish jota, all more or less agile and robust. Will employs both traditional tunes and his original imitations.
To bring his vision successfully to life, Will used his usual suspects (fiddler Patsy Reid
of Breabach fame,
piper and saxophonist Jude Rees of Pilgrim's Way,
guitarist Jenn Butterworth
of Songs of Separation
and the Kinnaris Quintet,
and double bass player John Parker of the Nizlopi duo)
and recruited musicians from all over the place, namely,
Irish American fiddler Liz Carroll,
German fiddler Gudrun Walther,
Scottish percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, Croatian singer Dunja Bahtijarevic and Polish slam poet Bohdan Piasecki.
"A Day Will Come" is an exciting journey all over the European continent, there always is something new to discover and unveil.
The world is colourful and multifaceted, but
there is a common ground, not only musically. Yet we all have to relearn that borders are artificial and everything is connected.
Fortunatly, music is a great starting point to light the darkness and bring people together.
As long as there is music, not everything is lost.
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Brian McNeill "No Silence"
Scotsman Brian McNeill just turned 70 and his new album "No Silence" marks half a century in the music business.
He co-founded the Battlefield Band in 1969,
performed with Clan Alba and Feast of Fiddles,
supported the likes of Dick Gaughan
and the late Iain Mackintosh,
and recorded several solo albums.
Brian also wrote a couple of novels featuring crime-solving busker Alex Fraser
(I read "To Answer the Peacock"
on my Scottish tour twenty years ago)
and he served as the head of the traditional music course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama from 1996 until 2008.
Brian's critically acclaimed songwriting is deeply rooted in the Scottish soil.
The thousand years old "Yew Tree" at Pentcaitland, Lothian has observed Scottish history from the battle at Flodden between the English and the Scots
to John Knox, the father of the Scottish Reformation.
Clockmaker "John Harrison’s Hands" invented the marine chronometer in the 18th century so that seamen could determine the longitude.
On the other hand, a song such as "Sell Your Labour, Not Your Soul" is a rallying cry to rise and fight for solidarity and working rights
(I overheard Brian saying, "I'm an old red from way back and I don't care who knows it").
The instrumental "Modest Miss France" is a tribute to his wife, actually the first tune Brian ever wrote,
and he reinterprets the traditional ballad "The Burning of Auchendoon" as an instrumental track, too.
Tad Sargent (London-born with roots in the Irish Co. Mayo) of CrossHarbour
fame adds the occasional bodhrán and bouzouki, but multi-talented Brian provides an entire arsenal
from fiddle and concertina to mandocello and guitar. All in all, a fine hour of beautiful noise.
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Rant "The Portage"
Make Believe Records, 2019
Female fiddle quartet Rant
is the musical exchange of two fiddle players from the Highlands of Scotlands and two from the Shetland Islands.
With their sixteen strings, no more no less, Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid,
and Anna Massie create a soundscape which is both subtle and emotional.
Their altogether third album, "The Portage," is once again presenting the various possibilities in terms of melodies, harmonies, sounds, textures.
Their execution is flawless, combining the groove of traditional Scottish music with embracing classically trained violin playing and a modern approach.
There's bowing, plucking, strumming, syncopating. On two tracks Lauren takes up the lower-keyed viola with great effect; e.g.
the heart-wrenching Gaelic lament "Nach truagh mo chàs" (Hard Is My Fate).
The 10 instrumental tracks celebrate the instrument in question in general and the traditional fiddle music of Scotland in particular. You get your fair share
of reels, jigs and strathspeys; there are tunes from the iconic James Scott Skinner of Aberdeen and Tom Anderson of Lerwick as well as Irish-American fiddler Liz Carroll and
English melodeon player Andy Cutting. "Now Westlin Winds" originally is a Burns song, arranged here from the well-known version sung by Dick Gaughan.
Bethany wrote the title track, a cheerful tune named for the countryside she and Jenna grew up on the Shetlands.
Lauren composed the beautiful "Rosemarkie Man," named after a Pictish skeleton (c.500AD) which had been excavated by archaeologists
in a cave at the Black Isle peninsula in Ross-shire, northern Scotland. The four ladies are also musically exploring the links between these areas
and the shores of Scandinavia. There are tunes from Norwegian junior fiddler Julie Alapnes
and Sweden's senior Kristian Oskarsson, respectively; Jenna also composed a tribute to Swedish violinist and conductor Göran Berg,
famed for his string arrangements of traditional Swedish fiddle tunes.
"The Portage" has been recorded quick and dirty over only four days which makes for a sometimes raw but very honest experience.
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Nuadán "Dén Díobháil"
Own label, 2019
Three years after their debut album, these youngsters from the Gaelic speaking area of the Irish County Waterford (called: Déise)
are back in fine form. Pax Ó Faoláin plays the fiddle, Cárthach Ó Faoláin accordion and melodeon, Iarlaith MacGabhann the flute, and
Macdara Ó Faoláin is the man backing up with his bouzouki. The local music that has been handed down to them is kept unadulterated but given
a new life with moderate reshaping. The arrangements are dreamlike; they resist to accelerate when it's uncalled-for and remain firm
and at a leisurely pace. The tune selection includes some of the usual suspects, but also stuff off the beaten track, such as the "Chomaraigh"
waltz. Maybe this seems so because of the rather unusual tune names in Gaelic. The jig "Coigeálín Cobharthach" is better known as "The Sweet Briar", for example.
I rarely heard the march "Napoleon Crossing the Rhine" recently too.
Apart from the traditional tunes, I identify the likes of Paddy O'Brien (of Tipperary), John Dwyer and Ed Reavy,
and, last but not least, the band's own Pax Ó Faoláin. The songs cover a wide spectrum:
"Bóthar Chluain Meala" is an old sean-nós song, "Cucanandy" a lovely lilt in slip-jig time, "Sammy's Bar" written by English singer-songwriter
Cyril Tawney but delivered much slower than originally conceived.
"As I was Walking" is a macaronic song from the 18th century that sarcastically praises King George in its English verses
and is drenched in hate in its Irish stanzas. Quite fittingly, the lads add a song from the 1798 rebellion, a topic dear to every true Waterford man,
"Baile Uí Gháigín."
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Kern "The Left & The Leaving"
Own label, 2019
County Louth based trio Kern are back with their sophomore album.
After their recording debut "False Deceiver",
they had won the Temple Bar TradFest showcase in 2018 and did a major gig at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in 2019.
Barry Kieran is a prized fiddler, deeply rooted in the traditional music of Oriel, i.e. the historical area roughly comprising
the Irish counties Louth und Monaghan. Brendan McCreanor is a virtuosic uilleann piper, steeped in the tradition too, but also with a keen sense
for updating the tunes, rhythms, styles and idioms that have been handed down. Fiddle and pipes seemlessly blend with each other with tunes both
old (such as the "Farewell to Connaught" reel) and new ("Queen of Rangoon" by Finnegan & McSherry).
Kieran composed a rousing march/jig set, McCreanor the smart "Martin Young's Polka".
Last but not least, S.J. McArdle is a singer-songwriter with gravelly vocals and some gut-wrenching original songs about emigration and the hometown blues,
which proudly stand side by side with Kern's take on the traditional drinking song "Bold Doherty" and the anti-war ballad "Bonny Light Horseman" (which is sometimes referred to as the national
anthem of the town of Drogheda). So let's describe it as traditional Irish music that is drifting into the singer-songwriter domain.
Altogether, they throw a new and bright light at their native music thanks to a broad artistic background.
"The Left & The Leaving" has been produced by Trevor Hutchinson (of Waterboys and Lúnasa fame) who plays double bass throughout the album.
There are also guest spots featuring fiddler Dónal O'Connor (Ulaid, At First Light) and bodhrán player Eamonn Moloney (Full Set, Aoife Scott Band).
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David Foley & Jack Smedley "Time to Fly"
Head East Records, 2020
Way back in 2008, David Foley (whistles, flute and guitar) and Jack Smedley (fiddle) met in Glasgow while studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
David's very first school though was Glasgow's Irish music scene and Jack, originally from Cullen in the north-east of the country,
was raised on a diet of traditional fiddle music from the Scottish Highlands.
Both are playing in critically acclaimed music group Rura, who went on playing the great venues and festivals worldwide
after winning the Danny Kyle Open Stage in 2011.
David and Jack had their very first duo show at Celtic Connections 2018. With them the delight in playing together meets skill and craftsmanship.
"Time to Fly" is a recording back to basics with a stripped-down and intimate sound;
just two musicians and their instruments - and the restrained rhythmical backup of Jenn Butterworth (guitar), James Lindsay (double bass)
and John Lowrie (drums). It is also a vehicle to put their original tunes into the limelight,
which have been amassed over the years and remained more or less un-played (apart from "Cat P’s" already recorded by Rura in 2018).
It is a collection of tunes inspired by people and places:
the fragile "So long, Lefty" was written by David for Jack who fell ill on tour with Rura in Germany and was left behind;
"Alex Thyberg of Järvsö" is an homage to a great Swedish folk musician;
"Marioni's" recalls the odd story of a French soldier who deserted to a remote Scottish cave during World War II.
David and Jack hope to do another tour, band commitments permitting, once the Corona lockdown is history.
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Shaskeen "Live and Kicking" [Double CD]
This traditional Irish music group is named after a popular reel; I have heard it from the likes of Belfast flautist
up to Sligo's group Téada.
More frequently referred to as "Lady Ann Montgomery", Michael Coleman recorded it twice as "The Shaskeen" (which apparently is a tributary of the River Shannon).
The Shaskeen group has been celebrating their 50 years anniversary. It had been founded in the midst of the folk music revival in London,
before relocating to Co. Galway to become one of the most popular bands on the set dancing circuit in the Irish west.
"People went out that time four or five nights a week," recalls founding member Tom Cussen, "There was a huge amount of live music."
Tom Cussen is the only one of the first generation still playing with the band, he is probably best known as the maker of Clareen Banjos
(www.banjo.ie). Up until the late 1980s Shaskeen was quite busy,
they even played in Moscow in 1990. The line-up changed all the time,
with Seán Keane
and Seán Tyrell coming in as singers.
Charlie Harris was their accordionist for fourteen years; Eamonn Cotter still is their longtime flutist,
also a renowned craftsman (www.cotterfluteworkshop.com). Geraldine Cotter is a
well-known pianist who has published the first tutor backing up traditional Irish music on keys
(www.geraldinecotter.ie). Shaskeen survived 50 years, adjusted themselves
to changing musical tastes and turned their act into concert style performances. This double CD has been recorded live at two concerts
in the Glens Centre Manorhamilton in October 2019 and St. Patrick's Hall Corofin in January 2020, totalling 24 tracks of traditional Irish dance music and song.
Shaskeen is in full swing and alive and kicking; since then singer Pat Costello
and piper Pat Broderick
(a nephew of Vincent Broderick)
have joined the angel's choir. Back then, there were nine nimble players on fiddle, flute, box, banjo, piano, etc. performing
reels (particularly reels) and the odd jig, march and slow air. Shaskeen showcase a full group sound as well as
trios, duos and solos. The song selection features four guest singers (including Katie Theasby (www.katietheasby.com)) and classic ballads old and new, for example,
Seán McCarthy "Shanagolden", the McPeake's "Will You Go Lassie Go", Frank & Seán O'Meara's "Grace", Dougie MacLean's "Caledonia".
"Owl Feather" is a composition by country and bluegrass musician John Hartford.
Pat Costello also recites Padraic Colum's poem "The Old Woman of the Road" as an introduction to Delia Murphy's song "Dan O'Hara".
In the end, this is all about enthusiasm and authenticity. No novelties fair, but the pure drop and plenty of craic.
I give it standing ovations.
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Mitchell and Vincent "The Preservation of Fire"
Own label, 2019
"Tradition is not the worship of ashes," according to Gustav Mahler, "but the preservation of fire." And so is the title David J. Mitchell (guitar) and Graham Vincent (fiddle) have chosen for their third album. Mitchell and Vincent are an English duo from Dorset and Somerset. They first met performing in a ceilidh band called Fiddlestix, and found out that they both were trained luthiers and played their self-made instruments. Plus a common ground in their tastes, they started playing as a duo nearly a decade ago and have performed all around Britain by now. They love the barnstorming tunes from their Irish neighbourhood, remodelling compositions from Junior Crehan up to Diarmaid Moynihan. The final track is a twelve minutes medley of traditional tunes that leave no stone unturned and no foot still on the ground. Graham is in possession of a gentle voice, quite suitable for traditional songs such as "Hard Times of Old England", "As I Roved Out" and "Twas on an April Morning". Less fragile is their self-penned satirical comment on the Brexit issue, "Oh Albion!" Nostalgia is faced with reality!
»Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but ... Keeping the folk music tradition fully alive by continuing to play it while also being creative and enjoying what can be done with this great body of material, that is available for everyone, to make it work for us now. Also of course being aware of where it comes from but not being held fast to just preserving the 'idea' of what it was because the music itself is strong and has evolved over time (from what we can tell from recordings and that which was written down at certain points in history) and it is interesting how different people have interpreted it in so many different ways and yet it is still recognisable. This is just our small contribution! We play a whole range of tunes and songs that have just stood out to us as great fun to play, try out ideas with and put together in sets (to make larger whole pieces of music in themselves) as so many of us do; that range from several hundred years old to the present day. We have people say we play very traditionally yet also with a contemporary style! As well as the classic, "I didn't think I liked folk music but I liked what you were doing!" (this is after music that dates back the 1700s just played on fiddle and guitar!) enjoyed by folkies and non-folkies alike! As long as we and they like it then that will do for us! It is all about enjoying the music as well as keeping all those great melodies and words alive and well.« (Mitchell and Vincent)
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Francis & Áine O'Connor "They Didn't Come Home Until Morning"
Own label, 2019
Áine O'Connor (nee O'Connell) originally comes from the neighbourhood of Macroom in Co. Cork, the only daughter of the renowned fiddler Connie
O'Connell, who taught her the expressive rhythms of the local 'Sliabh Luachra' style.
Her husband Francis is from West Limerick and plays the flute in the rather relaxed vein of the area.
Geographically close by, musically sometimes worlds apart. Nevertheless, their artistic marriage for twenty years works quite well.
Their debut duo album mirrors the influences and inspirations they are drawing from, namely, the duets of
Sliabh Luachra fiddlers Connie O'Connell (born 1943) and Denis McMahon (1941-2018) as well as
Limerick fiddler Moss Murphy (1939-2016) and flutist John Joe Harnett (1919-1984). Francis and Áine
are revisiting some of the tune sets these masters were playing. There are some well-known tunes, but also many I haven't encountered before.
Some have unusual settings, some have extra parts (for example the Padraig O'Keeffe's six-part version of the reel "Kiss the Maid behind the Barrel"), and some
are at risk of extinction. It is a journey back into a different musical age, but Francis and Áine cheerfully ramble into the future as well.
A significant amount of tunes has been composed by Francis himself. For example, as kind of consolidating family ties, Connie O'Connell's homage for his wife Annie,
"An Leac Bheag" (The Little Slab), is followed by Francis' reel "Molly Hogan's," recalling a childhood friendship.
Brian Mooney of Caladh Nua fame
is on bouzouki; the extensive sleeve notes give details about the tunes and the duet playing.
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Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach "Live in Concert"
Own label, 2020
Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach is a fiddle and piano duo from Scotland, both being experienced musicians with Westward the Light and Tannara, respectively. Joseph Peach also played the accordion with harpist Becca Skeoch. As a duo they catapulted themselves into the finals of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. Last year they showcased a suite of newly composed music, inspired by St. Kilda Island far off in the North Atlantic and the evacuation of its inhabitants almost ninety years ago. Their music is deeply rooted in the traditions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, however, with a good deal of spontanity and improvisation. Charlie Grey is a sophisticated but powerful fiddle player. Joseph Peach's piano backing is jazzy and surprising at times, consistently exhibiting good sense and a good taste though. "Live in Concert" has been recorded at two gigs, namely Glasgow's City Halls during Celtic Connections (January 2020) and Wick's Lyth Art Centre (November 2019), Scotland's northernmost arts venue. On play were a mix of traditional tunes with Charlie and Joseph's own compositions thrown in for good measure. "Còig Peathraichean Chinn Tàile" (Five Sisters of Kintail) is a beautiful and enthralling prelude; the climaxing ten-minute "Is it the Priest?" is fireworks around a classic Bothy Band tune. Sandwiched inbetween are pipe marches and strathspeys, first and foremost bursting of energy.
Charlie and Joseph say, »The release comes at an unprecedented time in the world, days of huge upheaval and uncertainty for many. The album is releasing on a pay what you can afford basis, in the hope that the music may provide some enjoyment and escapism in these turbulent times, but also that in the face of such disruption those who can afford to might lend their support to the duo.« Check it out @ cgjpmusic.bandcamp.com/album/live-in-concert!
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Aidan Connolly & John Daly "Away On Up The Road"
Own label, 2019
Aidan Connolly is a fiddler (and full-time primary school teacher) from Rathfarnham in Dublin, who has been especially influenced
by fiddlers Paddy Cronin, Paddy Canny and Denis Murphy thanks to a mother from Co. Kerry. Add a certain Dublin accent to his execution
and you get a particular Aidan Connolly style of playing, In 2016, he released the critically acclaimed debut album, "Be Off." Afterwards
he took up residence in Valencia, performing on the Spanish and Irish folk music circuit ever since.
Last year, Aidan collaborated with fiddler John Daly, merging two distinctive fiddle styles who nevertheless easily blend with each other.
"Away On Up The Rold" offers a vibrant and copious soundscape, last but not least, underpinned by Jack Talty's first-rate piano backing.
The tunes, some old bedfellows, some one-night stands, were picked up from all over the Emerald Isle and further afield.
I can identify the names of Paddy Fahey of East Galway, Ed Reavy of Philadelphia and Jerry Holland of Nova Scotia.
John himself wrote the gorgeous jig, "Chicago Abbey". He is a true renaissance man in terms of traditional styles, having absorbed the music of Kerry and Limerick as well as Leitrim and Irish America.
John has also become an expert in the art of Shetland fiddler Willie Hunter, illustrated here by his take on slow airs such as
the "Fetlar Lullaby" (by shepherd Sinclair Shewan, 1864-1931) and "Mrs Ann Jamieson's Favourite" (by schoolmaster Charles Grant of Banffshire, 1806-92,
a pupil of William Marshall and later companion of James Scott Skinner).
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Paul Harrigan "Music From the White Stone"
White Stone Records, 2019
Paul Harrigan has been raised in a musical clan on the Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal, north west of Ireland.
He probably is one in a million having won the All-Ireland on both uilleann pipes and the piano accordion.
Temporarily, he joined the Terry Woods Band and the Hell Fire Club collaboration of Shane McGowan of The Pogues and Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners.
He still is a popular tutor, who set up the Ceol na Coille School of Irish Traditional Music in Letterkenny.
Eventually, Paul has released an album of uilleann pipe playing, having sourced tunes
from the living fiddle repertoire of Inishowen and Donegal, the manuscripts of Derry-born folk music collector Honoria Galwey (1830-1925),
and a couple of original compositions such as the agile slip jig "Bealach na nDálach"
and the graceful hornpipe "Eadar Feabhal is Súileach". The latter can be translated as Twixt Foyle and Swilly, that's where Paul's home is located.
He took many tunes associated with the fiddle and made them work on the pipes. His execution is eclectic, nevertheless always sensitive and elegant.
He cannot deny though that there is a vivid background of blues, jazz and rock music as well.
Paul is supported by Tim Edey (guitar), Joleen McLaughlin (harp) of Henry Girls fame and his sister Roisin McGrory (fiddle), furthermore on one occasion
by his wife Una Ní Bhriain (fiddle) and his daughter Aobha Ní Aragáin (banjo).
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Kirsten Allstaff "Four/4"
Own label, 2019
This is the sophomore release from north Clare-based flutist Kirsten Allstaff, a native from Scotland who lives in the West of Ireland in
Co. Clare. This is indeed her second and not fourth solo recording, the album's title referring to an excess of reels, I counted fifteen in total,
that popular dance tune in 4/4 time hammered down at more than 100 bpm.
Living in Clare is clearly in evidence, though the area is know for a smooth and gentle execution of the reel.
The album is kicking off with Scots fiddler Neil Gow's "Athole Brose", originally composed as a strathspey though
known as a reel all over in Ireland ("Dogs Among the Bushes"). Scottish lullabies ("Oran Na Maighdean Mhara, the Song of the Mermaid")
mix with Irish jigs and reels. We encounter Mr. Gow again on two occasions, his "Lament for his Brother" is the origin
of the Irish jig "The Gallowglass", Kirsten named her debut album after.
"The Watchmaker" is a popular tune played all over Ireland, listen closely to recognise a strathspey of Gow's called "Neil Gow's Wife".
In addition, the recording conjures up the names of Ed Reavy and Hamish Moore, Billy McComiskey and Brendan Mulvihill.
"The Plevin" is a composition by Breton guitarist Soïg Siberil; Kirsten herself wrote the "Taiga Waltz",
the would-be soundtrack to a wildlife documentary imagining a vast countryside. The album finishes off with the famous "Tico Tico",
a Brazilian choro song written by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917. It is both a surprise and a delight, as are Kirsten's guest musicians:
David Lombardi (fiddle), Jean Damei (guitar), Maija Koskenalusta (piano) and John Joe Kelly (bodhrán).
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Robert Harvey "Feochán - The Gentle Breeze"
Roundwood Records, 2020
Robert Harvey is a flutist from Mountrath in Co. Laois and a seven-times All-Ireland champion.
He can boast of first class honours from Trinity College Dublin and Conservatory of Music and Drama and a President's Gold Medal for Academic Excellence.
His professional musical career started when he was selected by Dónal Lunny in 2010 for the TG4 casting show "Lorg Lunny". The newly formed band named Ciorras
released an album afterwards and toured internationally. More recently, Robert recorded on Michael Rooney's "Macalla Suite",
an orchestral suite composed for the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising in
"Feochán" now is Robert's debut solo album, named after an easygoing traditional polka which can be translated as The Gentle Breeze.
It is a display of reels, slip jigs, hornpipes, polkas, a barndance disguised as a polka (Scottish accordionist Robert Brown's "The Primrose") and slow airs.
Most of them are taken from the popular tune collections such as O'Neill's,
plus some recent compositions from the likes of Martin Hayes, Liz Carroll, Tommy Peoples and Grainne Hambly thrown in for good measure.
The original jig "Tyrellstown House" was a product of aleatoric composition, with Robert using phrases from existing jigs in the studio.
His playing is as gentle and breezy as the album's title suggests. He is accompanied by Eilís Lavelle (harp),
Conal O'Kane (guitar), Tadhg Ó Meachair (piano, harmonium) and Ciarán Maguire (bodhrán),
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Shane Meehan "'twill do"
Own label, 2019
Though now living in Cork, Shane Meehan is a fiddler from Leitrim, where he got his musical education. He was first
taught by his grandfather John and grew up playing alongside traditional musicians such as Dave Sheridan, Oliver Loughlin and Padraig McGovern.
Shane also names influences such as Ben Lennon, Bríd Harper and the American recordings of the Sligo greats.
Shane is still young, he was even younger when Lúnasa descended on Leitrim to record with local musicians. The
subsequent album, "The Leitrim Equation",
featured two reels composed by Shane, "The Courthouse Reel, Dave Donahue's".
In 2013, he was a member of the Moylurg Céilí Band who won the All-Ireland finals;
their album "The Rest is History" features another tune set of Shane's. His playing has a very precise and self-controlled articulation.
There is traditional stuff linked to Michael Coleman and Larry Redican as well as from the pen of Connie O'Connell (see above) and Charlie Lennon.
"'twill do" features 16 tracks with 19 original tunes in total, all are quite appealing because Shane doesn't stick to any particular formula.
"John's Cap" is in loving memory of his grandfather; Shane composed it in the key of G minor of which John Meehan was very fond of and
named it after the flat cap John always used to wear. Shane's reel "Coleman's Trip to America" recalls the pioneering work in the first half of the 20th century,
another reel is dedicated to Tommy Peoples and a barndance to "Tailor Lennon" (that is Charlie's brother Ben).
Shane is supported throughout the album by Macdara Ó'Faoláin (bouzouki) and Kevin Brehony (piano).
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Katie Grennan "The Second Story"
Own label, 2017
Katie's second story is three years old, but it's never too late. She started out on classical violin at the age of four and played
in several youth orchestras all over Pennsylvania during her childhood. She early fell in love with traditional Irish music and commenced
a dancing career qualifying for both American and Irish championships. As a dancer as well as a fiddler, Katie supported artists
trespassing Pittsburgh, including fellow fiddler Eileen Ivers, and groups such as Cherish the Ladies and The Chieftains. At the time being, she is playing
and teaching music in Chicago, where she is involved with different bands and projects. In addition,
Katie is touring with the group Gaelic Storm of "Titanic" fame. Her "Second Story"
(as a matter of fact, the title refers to the Irish music session at The Galway Arms in Chicago which takes place on the second floor)
features accordionist John Williams, cellist Dave Eggar and guitarists David Curley and Jimmy Moore to create deeply rooted but contemporary Irish music.
Proceedings are kicking off with three original tunes from Katie recalling incidents and places. The jigs and reels are both old and new,
halfway through Katie takes a break with "The Coolin" slow air and a Carolan piece, whose title has not been passed down, but is known as
"Carolan's Welcome" since The Chieftains entertained Pope John Paul II with it. The album has been devised with step dancers in mind; it
concludes with five tracks, also introducing Jamie Reynolds (piano) and Steve Holloway (bodhrán), that are set at competition speed to practice to.
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Fiana Ní Chonaill "Dathanna an Cheoil"
Own label, 2016
Fiana Ní Chonaill is a harpist from the Irish County Limerick .
The title of her debut album "Dathanna an Cheoil" translates as "The Colours of Music" and it is intended to display the entire range of Irish harp music these days.
Most of the selected tunes have been played up and down the country for ages, both jaunty dance music and enthralling slow airs,
including Turlough O'Carolan compositions in all their Baroque opulence. "Mrs Bermingham" has been recorded a few times,
but I never heard "Lady Laetitia Burke" and only seen it in notation yet. There is a modern reel and jig from the late fiddler Joe Liddy (1916-1992),
respectively, and tin whistle player Seán Potts (1930-2014) of Ceoltoirí Chualann and Chieftains fame
accounts for an awesome piping tune in 3/4 time (that's what its title "Cuimhne an Phíobaire" says), which fits quite well with the harp.
The rest of Fiana's selections is traditional as can be: the beautiful slow air "A Stór Mo Chroí",
the thundering "March of the Min na Toitean Bull," and the jolly swing of hornpipes, jigs and reels.
It is almost a solo harp album, Fiana's instrument is briefly joined by Alan Reid's bouzouki and Niall Carey's bodhrán, who
leave no impression that is distracting from her elaborate and vibrant performance.
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Steve Cooney "Ceol Ársa Cláirsí: Tunes of the Irish Harpers for Solo Guitar"
Own label, 2019
Born in Melbourne with ancestry in Counties Tipperary, Cavan and Galway, Steve Cooney came to Ireland in 1980 and struck roots in a rich musical environment. It is said that he took part in more than two hundred record productions, as engineer and producer as well as guitar and bass player. Backing up traditional musicians such as accordionist Séamus Begley, he helped introducing a new vocabulary for enthusiastic guitarists. It took half a lifetime to release an album of his own. So here we are: ancient Irish harp tunes played on the acoustic solo guitar! Steve Cooney paid a visit to Belfast's Queens University, where the renowned Bunting manuscripts are kept, and tracked down melodies that were played at the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792. He set these early manuscripts in relation to the current performance practice and today's transmission from harpist to harpist. You probably know the popular compositions from Turlough O'Carolan such as "Eleanor Plunkett" and "Sí Beag Sí Mór". Equally famous is Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Cathain's "Tabhair Dom do Lámh" (Give Me Your Hand). Steve seems particularly fond of the work of Thomas Connellan (or Conlan), including "Molly St. George," which comprises one of the oldest harp tunes with extant lyrics. "Caide Sin don té Sin" is known as a song celebrating a hedonistic lifestyle; today it is usually played in a minor key but Cooney chose an antique major key version. "An Cúilfhionn," widely performed and recorded, is equally interesting; Steve contrasted two variations, first of all the 18th century version of its composer Cornelius Lyons and secondly a more recent one by the Donegal fiddler John Doherty. Cooney's subtle arrangements stay true to the ancient melodies, his genius brings us into the halls of the Gaelic chieftains with its bardic entertainment and resurrects a lost world. At the same time he is able to communicate that this music is of timeless beauty and will live as long as there are hardworking artists and an attentive audience.
Cooney says, "As a guitar player, it’s important for me to recognise that we - as guitar players - have the potential to access the great depth of the Gaelic harp tradition: we pluck strings with our fingers as do the harpers. The tonal sensations are also similar – the steel strung guitar shares elements of tonality with the old wire strung harps. We don’t need to feel limited to strumming the guitar as ‘accompanists’ or ‘backers’… if we put in a small amount of work to get inside the harpers’ mindset we can be a part of their world. The Brehon law givers considered the harp the only instrument of noble status, and by making a study of that practice we can share in the nobility of that ancient tradition."
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John Doyle "The Path of Stones"
Compass Records, 2020
After listening to "The Path of Stones", my first impression had been that there eventually is a worthy successor to Andy Irvine.
(Yes, I'm aware that Andy is alive and kicking!)
There's everything: catchy songs, great playing, and something to say.
John Doyle went a long way since starting off with Irish-American group Solas in the mid 1990s.
Since then he played with outfits such as
Usher's Island (featuring Andy Irvine, ah!, Donal Lunny, Mike McGoldrick and Paddy Glackin),
collaborated with the likes of Karan Casey,
McGoldrick and McCusker,
and created some decent solo works.
John leads us here onto a path paved with mature songwriting. All but one had been written by John himself; the exception is
"The Rambler from Clare" based on an emigration ballad from the period of the 1798 rebellion.
Song titles such as "Her Long Hair Flowing Down" and "Sing Merrily to Me" though appear to have been around for ages.
"Lady Wynde" might have jumped straight from the pages of Francis Child's Ballads.
For good measure he has thrown in some jigs, reels and a fine slow air, informed by the various strands of traditional Irish music and his long-lasting
experience as a traditional Irish guitar player.
It illustrates his showmanship on guitar, bouzouki, mandola, mandolin and even some fiddle and keyboards.
John is in fine company: Dervish's Cathy Jordan (vocals, bodhrán),
Rick Epping (harmonica), John McCusker (fiddle), Mike McGoldrick (flute) and Duncan Wickel (cello)
are creating a soundscape that recalls the best of Planxty.
Altogether, John's current creative peak displays an all-round talent
as a masterly composer, vocalist and instrumentalist in equal measure.
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Paul Watchorn "Reflections"
Own label, 2019
It is probably not well known that Paul Watchorn once had been a professional snooker player, but the
passion for Irish folk music had drawn him away from the green table into the more colourful world of music.
He comes from a musical family indeed, for example, his brother Patsy sang with The Dublin City Ramblers
and The Dubliners as well as having a high-flying solo career.
Paul himself had played stages big and small with a five-string banjo in his hand and an Irish folk song on his lips.
He had been part of Derek Warfield's The Wolfetones and currently plays with The Dublin Legends,
that peculiar moppet of The Dubliners.
His solo album reflects on his favourite Irish folk songs. Most are of the rollicking variety,
"Hills of Connemara", "Galway Races", "Waxies Dargle", "Pub With No Beer", to name just a few.
A bit of pathos with Ron Hayes' "Sonny's Dream", nostalgia with Thomas Moore's "Cavan Girl",
social criticism with "Hot Asphalt" and John B. Keane's "Many Young Men of Twenty" from the theatre play of the same name.
After all, there are no big surprises, but that's fine with me. I didn't expect any revelations and I'm entertained.
Paul only strays away from the beaten track on the final track, teaming up with Swiss-based ska and folkrock band
The Vad Vuc (www.vadvuc.ch)
for a striking rendition of Irish-American comic ballad "Finnegan's Wake" and swapping bilingual lyrics.
Unfortunatly this silver disc is anything you can get at the time being and you can't undergo any live experience.
If it wasn't for that mean old hag named Corona, Paul Watchorn would have been all over Europe now with The Dublin Legends to belt out one song or another.
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Maggie MacInnes "Port Bàn"
Marram Music, 2019
Maggie MacInnes had been born in Glasgow but comes from a long line of singers from the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides.
She had been involved in groups such as Ossian and Fuaim before starting a successful career of her own.
In 2004 she was voted Best Gaelic Singer of the Year in the BBC Scots Trad Music Awards. In 2019 she was flown in to Germany
to perform at a Burns Supper; I became acquainted with her because of her collaboration with Northern Irish singer-songwriter Colum Sands
exploring the cultural links between Scotland and Ireland.
I haven't told you yet that Maggie is the daughter of the acclaimed traditional singer Flora MacNeil,
and her sixth solo album "Port Bàn"
(meaning both fair port or fair tune, it is the name of the bay beside Maggie’s family home on Barra)
is dedicated to her late mother who passed away in 2015.
Flora had taught Maggie all of the Gaelic songs on the album, many have been in the family for generations.
Songs of love and lost such as "Gràdh Geal Mo Chrìdh" (Eriskay Love Lilt) and "Bheir Mo Shoraidh Thar Ghunaidh"
had brought Flora to international attention and fame in the 1950s. There is a praise poem for a Gaelic chieftain
("Chraobh Nan Ùbhal"), mouth music and waulking songs. Robert Burns must never be missing,
he is covered by the love song "The Bonnie Lass Of Albany" and the Jacobite anti-war song "The Highland Widow's Lament".
Maggie is able to make all these different songs her own and let them appear unweathered again.
She has got some great help to bring it to life: the record has been produced by Angus Lyon,
she has worked with Brian McAlpine (piano and accordion) and Anna Massie (guitar) for ages,
her two sons Ruaraidh and Calum join in on fiddle, guitar and some backing vocals.
So it seems that the MacNeil-MacInnes tradition is in safe hands and the next generation is ready
to leave Port Bàn once more for stormy international waters.
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Ronan Le Bars "Strink Mor"
Paker Prod, 2020
Ronan le Bars is a household name in the realms of traditional Breton music. Since the early 1990s, when the second folk revival took off,
he had been present alongside veteran artists such as Gilles Servat and Alan Stivell,
bands such as Pennoù Skoulm and Glaz, and Dan Ar Braz's Heritage of the Celts.
These days he is a member of The Celtic Social Club
and fronts his own Ronan Le Bars Group.
This indicates that his musical interests lie beyond Mor Breizh (i.e. the English Channel);
he has mastered the uilleann pipes indeed, the characteristic bagpipes of Ireland whose
bag is inflated by means of a small set of bellows strapped around the waist and the arm.
Most of the tunes on "Strink Mor" have been written by Ronan including a gorgeous take on a well-known Sting song, "Breton Man in New York,"
plus some traditional fare and a toñ plinn taken up from Daniel Philippe.
The "Tapas Nocturnes" are merging a traditional Galician tune with an original composition of Ronan's.
He is a great composer of tunes rooted in the tradition but with a view for the present and future.
His playing then is both gracious and vibrant.
Ronan's comrade-in-arms are: Pierre Stephan (fiddle, mandolin), Nicolas Quemener (guitars),
Aymeric Le Martelod (keyboards) and Julien Stévenin (bass guitars).
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Appalachian Road Show "Tribulation"
Billy Blue Records, 2020
The Appalachian Road Show is the collaboration of banjoist Barry Abernathy, fiddler Jim VanCleve,
mandolinist Darrell Webb, bassist Todd Phillips, all veterans in the music business, and introducing
guitarist Zeb Snyder. They immersed themselves in the native culture they were born and raised with,
learned songs and musical instruments, sang in churches and on front porches, attended music contests and festivals.
Their hometurf is the land between the Appalachian mountains of Virginia and the coal mines of Kentucky
(Darrell Webb's father had been a bluegrass musician and coalminer who died from black lung).
Though they are re-imagining the old music for the next generation, the output can be described as both vibrant and authentic.
Linked by some spoken word introductions about the sound and spirit of Appalachia, they are singing about
the trials and tribulations the people were facing while settling the area.
Frank Proffit is "Goin’ Across the Mountain" (he was sixteen when he walked barefooted across the mountains to see his first town).
Stephen Foster prays that "Hard Times Come Again No More"; Tim Eriksen wishes that the "Wars Were All Over".
"Sales Tax on the Women" by the Dixon Brothers reflects the working conditions during the Great Depression;
Jesse Fuller's "99 Years and One Dark Day" pictures life in prison.
"Don’t Want to Die in the Storm" is an African-American spiritual;
"Beneath That Willow Tree" eventually is one of the old British ballads dating back to the 16th/17th centuries that was taken over the Atlantic by the early colonizers.
After all, the band members affirm that the "Appalachian Road Show is meant to be more of a cultural experience rather than simply just a collection
of songs. If we were to eventually be viewed as unofficial ambassadors of Appalachian culture, that would be an honor."
P.S.: "About the time we started to release this record, the COVID-19 epidemic started reaching the top of the national news. Next thing we know, we're living in hard times, trials and tribulations." NPR's Art Silverman spoke to Jim VanCleve and Barry Abernathy about releasing an album of old songs of hardship into a world in crisis (www.npr.org).
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Rachael Sage "Character"
MPress Records, 2020
»I don't think I understood the full meaning of the word ‘character’ until I was suddenly required to redefine my own. If there is a silver-lining in all of this, it's that I have a much deeper relationship to gratitude. I've come to realize that music is the most powerful healing tool I have ever encountered. It has quite literally saved my life, and I intend for the rest of my career to be a long, slow dance of gratitude.« - Rachael Sage
New York's singer-songwriter Rachael Sage, who might be pigeonholed somewhere inbetween alternative and adult pop
has recorded her latest album "Character" after recovering from carcinosis. Thus it has become a kind of meaningful song cycle
reflecting on the meaning of gratitude, faith, compassion, resilience, mindfulness, hope, optimism and, last but not least, authenticity and identity.
Rachael created something uplifting and empowering, e.g. the latest single and video, the rather lively "Blue Sky Days",
is meant to support anybody who has a hard time. Incidentally, it has become a major issue for millions of people because of COVID-19.
She also recorded a cover of Neil Young's protest song "Ohio" (upset by the killing of four students at Kent State University in 1970),
as though she had foreseen the recent unrest in the United States.
"Character" is a meditation and a better remedy than most of that New Age fiddle-faddle. The music embraces both intimate ballads
with poetic and passionate lyrics and meaty folkpop (with Rachael showcasing some rocking electric guitar). The album would not be complete
without another cover, a string-quartet take on Ani DiFranco's "Both Hands".
Once upon a time Rachael had been the opener for Ani on her very first tour; during her chemo therapy she
listened to the song again as part of a playlist that kept her going.
"Character" comes in a hardcover book package, including a separate EP with bare acoustic renditions of some select songs.
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Rachael has been doing twice-weekly Facebook livestreams, dubbed "Stay In With Sage" (#stayinwithsage). The singer-songwriter, who was in the middle of a tour when the pandemic began to unfold, says: »I've done a few of these virtual concerts now, and I have quickly determined just how powerful it can be to show up in this way. I'm a musician, an entertainer and even a bit of a comedian, but I was wondering if it was appropriate to share these abilities right now, with so much fear and suffering in our midst. I came to the conclusion fairly quickly that it's not only appropriate, but vital. I want these livestreams to celebrate joy, our collective humanity, and to be a safe place where anyone can drop in, listen and relax.«
Listeners can tune in to these regular livestreams via her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/rachaelsagepage).
Sean Taylor "Live in London"
Sean Taylor has toured almost continuously for the past two decades. He played in pubs, clubs, churches, living rooms, concert halls, and one or the other festival. In between, he traveled by train through the country, where he found the leisure to write his songs. It could be the smallest experience that inspired his miniatures. His tenth album in total is now finally a live album, recorded last October at the Green Note in Camden Town, and it is both an introduction to and an overview of Sean's artistic work. In addition, he throws in a few covers with a wink, such as Skip James' "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues". The encore is a medley that cites his own piece dedicated to Robbie Basho and Davy Graham's "Anji" as an introduction to Percy Mayfield's "Hit the Road Jack". From the guitar gods to popular tunes, that's how to describe Sean's range in a nutshell. At the center of the concert, however, are songs from his current album "Path Into Blue": the title track deals with the subject of depression, "This Is England" describes the state of the British nation (including Brexit), "Little Donny" is about the racist, misogynistic US President. Sean Taylor is an artist who belongs onto the stage, a high-profile singer-songwriter, guitarist, entertainer, and his live album was recorded just in time before the world went into lockdown. Will we ever be able to experience that again?
P.S.: A small addendum, please have a listen to Sean's contribution to COVID-19, "Herd Immunity":
All hail Boris the butcher Welcome to our ‘Little England’ nightmare Incompetence, arrogance, negligence and cruelty Is the twisted heart of government ... The government chose Brexit over breathing ... YouTube | BandCamp