Issue 27 02/2004
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Jay Ungar & Molly Mason "Relax Your Mind"
7243 5 35703 2 3; 2003; Playing time: 56.41 min
He was a Bronx kid. She grew up in Washington State. He was raised on pop
music of the 1940s and '50s. She had a fondness for traditional fiddle music
and '30s and '40s popular tunes. He hung out in Greenwich Village coffeehouses
and roamed North Carolina and Tennessee in search of traditional players. She
played clubs and colleges on the West Coast and took a liking to the jazzy sound
of the Swing Era. Finally Jay Ungar
(vocals, fiddle, mandolin) and Molly Mason
(vocals, guitar, bass) combined forces both artistically and romantically.
Presumably you've heard Jay's slow air "Ashokan Farewell" before, which became
the musical hallmark of Ken Burns' TV series "The Civil War" (and recently recorded
by The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, see review above). The piece was nominated
for an Emmy and originally inspired by Jay & Molly's Ashokan Fiddle & Dance
Camps in New York's Catskill Mountains a popular destination for enthusiasts
of traditional American music and dance. (I learned "Ashokan" in Irish music
circles long before I got it's title and that it is a contemporary composition.)
The couple assembled their all-time favorite musicians into a band called Swingology
that provide clarinet, cornet, tenor sax, piano, and a rhythm section of bass
and drums. It's country swing and country blues, no more no less, deeply rooted
in America's 1920s and 1930s. It's the spirit of Bob
Wills and his Texas Playboys, Boswell
Sisters, Delmore Brothers,
Leadbelly and Guthrie
too. I love best the selection of old-time waltzes (The Ookpik, The Blue River,
The Old Madera). So relax your mind.
Hudel "Musiques Bretonnes et D'Ailleurs!"
RSCD253; 2002; Spielzeit: 44.44 min
The band is quite new, its members well-known performers on the European folk
circuit, just to drop some names as Skeduz, Arcady, Orion, (-> FW#10,
FW#11), and Kornog (-> FW#19).
Laors Dacquay (violin, mandolin), Pol Jezequel (flute, biniou koz), Nicolas
Quemener (guitar, flute) and Hilaire Rama (bass) play traditional Breton dances
as An dro, Ridée and Plinn, the Scottishe, mazurkas, and Irish jigs.
The tunes are lovely, everything's very melodious and quite diversified (which
is not always the case with Breton music). Furthermore, Nicolas Quemener sings
a French translation of a traditional Welsh ballad ("Llywarc' hen"), and Hilaire
Rama is crazy about the island of Martinique ("Bom Siwo La"). It's a listening
pleasure, and a serious aspirant for my personell Top Five this year.
Pain d'Epices "De travers"
Label: Cake 5772; 2002; Playing time: 51.59
Compared to the above reviewed Breton band Hudel, Pain
d'Epices from the St. Etienne area strive for the re-interpretation of the
traditional dance music including elements of jazz, rock and ethnic music. The
quintet's sound is percussive, and has a whiff 1001 nights. There is a large
spectrum of different tunes from Britanny, the Auvergne and Ireland, featuring
fiddle, flute, clarinet, saxofon, and a Catalanian hautboy (i.e. oboe) that
sounds like a bombard. Another trump card relates to the arrangements, some
tracks are almost suites in miniature. Thus not only suited for the dancers.
The vocals are great too, and the harmonies tight. Nine points out of ten!
CAP 21691; 2003; Playing time: 53.12 min
Draupner take care of their heritage, at
least that is what arvet means. But these three young lads from Sweden's
Hälsingland took that sound deeply rooted in tradition and packaged it for the
present. Henning Andersson (violin, viola), Görgen Antonsson (violin, 5-stringed
violin) and Tomas Lindberg (guitar, mandola) play cool polskas and Schottishe
executed piping hot. Traditon meets 21th century acoustic music to satisfy the
contemporary listener. Thus it is equally in vogue but true to the past. Where
does this brilliance come from? They say that Hulten used a dead fiddler's
left pinky to rub his bow hair with, because it gave his violin more tone and
volume. Or was it: From-Olle had a special bottle from which he drank
spirits. They say that whoever drinks from Frommen's bottle becomes almost as
good as he was. A few years ago, Görgen had the honour of drinking from that
David Rovics "Return"
Reviled; 0005-2; 2003; Playing time: 57.19 min
David Rovics (-> FW#23,
FW#26) back again. This time not only
armed with his voice and his guitar, but an entire band behind him. And that
adds another dimension to his smart songs. David's troubadour folk settles inbetween
pop and country styles that could reach a big(ger) audience, but still David
preaches revolution and strikes a blow against the empire, as one of
the most tuneful songs goes. The record is dedicated in the loving memory
of Jihad, Muna and Kifah El-Ali. They were killed by mercenaries under orders
from Ariel Sharon in the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon in 1982 along with
2,000 others, mostly women and children. Most of the new songs are concerned
with Palestine, according to Michael Moore
such a nice name - the Holy Land - for a place with more evil acts per square
mile than the VIP room at Satan's annual marsh-mallow roast. For David,
on one side is the fighter jet, on the other side the stone; on one side
is the slave, on the other is the throne. He feels sick when I hear your
general say that in order to deal with the intifada, you must learn from the
tactics of another general, one Mr. Stroop in Warsaw. But David puts it
into the wider perspective too: The war between the haves and the have-nots
continues to rage, as it has for the past several thousand years, as it will
until there's sanity in the world, or until there is no more world. I'm
not that sure one has to sing a song from the perspective of 9/11 assailant
Mohamed Atta. That makes everything too rational than is bearable. In the end,
David has plans for the future: George Bush and Henry Kissinger were sent
off to the World Court. Their weapons of mass destruction were inspected and
destroyed, and the world breathed a sigh of relief. All the terrorist groups
disbanded with no empire left to hate. All the billionaires had to learn how
to share, and Bill Gates was told to quit his whining when he said it wasn't
fair. His mansion became a collective farm. And I learned how to play the accordion
- after the revolution.
Ever Reviled Records
Chris Jones & Steve Baker "Smoke and Noise"
Music; 319.1303.242; 2003; Playing time: 67.25 min
Chris Jones (guitar, vocals) and Steve
Baker (blues harp) take over the "Bourgeois Town" of Fulda to lay down some
live tracks in the smoke and the noise of the German "Backstage" club, covering
a fruitful ten year collaboration. It's literally rock'n'roll without a band.
Both are extraordinary musicians and know how to play. Both, on their own as
well as blending together. Most songs have been written by Chris. They cover
a wide range of styles - country blues, folk, almost rock, ballads -, and a
brilliant songwriter he is at times. Additionally there's the odd by Huddie
Leadbetter, Lowell George,
and finally the traditional "St. James Infirmary Blues". For the musos
key, guitar tuning and kind of harp for each song is given.
Acoustic Music Records
Robb Johnson "Clockwork Music"
IRR048; 2003; Playing time: 50.46 min
It seems he still exists, I saw him just the other day, the next Bob Dylan
is well on his way, sings Robb Johnson
(-> FW#25, FW#26).
Robb might resemble Bob in his early days, but I'd rather think of the great
English songwriting legend Leon Rosselson (-> FW#26).
He would call himself a "chansonier," possibly we experience a new genre emerging,
"English chanson." The term describes the style rather appropriately, it's more
Brecht & Weill than Baez & Dylan. I must have had the wrong guitar, now I
do the blues in the former DDR. All the songs were written on his German
tours over the last three years in, around or on the way to & from Ilmenau
in Thuringia, Eastern Germany. Not so renowned as the neighbouring city of Rudolstadt
with its big folk & world music festival (-> FW#26).
Robb faced the Karl Marx statue in Chemnitz (former Karl-Marx-Stadt): The
workers of the world keep working, turning base to gold, waiting for the sun
to rise & the wind to change. He paid a visit to the concentration camp
Buchenwald near Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Weimar: Just outside the wire,
to entertain the wives & children of the officers, the built a small zoo. The
commandant had to put up signs ordering the guards not to tease the animals.
But his chansons do not only apply to Germany, they are Pan-European. At least
millions said "Stop the War": We got Muslims, we got Christians, we got pagans,
we got Jews, we got atheists, anarchists, socialists, we even got a Liberal
or two, we got pensioners, we got pushchairs, we got the actress & the bishop,
we got respectable housewives from suburbia who've never done this sort of thing
before, with the International Sex Workers of the World united, on the day we
all said Stop The War. Robb plays the guitar, with double bass by Miranda
Sykes (-> FW#9, FW#25,
FW#26), and cello and violin by Saskia
Tomkins. The backside of the back cover (don't know how to call it properly)
shows the label of "Jäcklein Bier" from Ilmenau, and it might have been an inspiration.
Alvin Youngblood Hart "Down in the alley"
International; DOT 0203; 2002; Playing time: 43.07 min
The new album of California-born and now Memphis-based A. Y. Hart is a celebration
of the giants of pre-war blues, played completely solo on historical instruments.
Hart treats the guitars in a manner very similar to the old authorities. Feeling
and a natural rawness are more important than exact timing. He seems most comfortable
with delta blues songs like Charley Pattons Tom Rushen Blues or Memphis-situated
Furry Lewis´ Judge Bouche (the 1928 orignal is titled Judge Harsh Blues) but
Bootlegger´s Blues, where he imitates a whole stringband overdubbing himself
on mandolin and banjo is equally great. You can feel the enthusiasm for the
music all over the album. Of course there are some selections on which AYH isn´t
able to match the qualities of the original recordings. Leadbelly´s playing
on Alberta has an unequalled resonant rhythmic power (but no one was ever able
to sound like him in this way), the forceful chaotic drive of Sleepy John Estes´
Broke and hungry is missing (like the piano, played by Jab Jones on the original
from 1929) and for my taste he would have done better not to try Skip James´
Devil got my woman. But then again, you won´t get a better chance to listen
to much of this great music played on original instruments with a feeling for
the sensibilities of the country-blues in modern sound quality.
Chad Dughi "Freedom Fries"
Label: Own label; IMPS/TRANE 002; 2003; Playing
time: 57.43 min
Chad Dughi was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, plays rootsy american music, has travelled
North America and parts of Europe and seems to spend most of his time actually
in Ireland, playing with the creme of Irish folk musicians. Freedom fries is
his second album. Andy Irvine, John Prine and Steve Earle praise him, and the
press-echo especially in Ireland is much the same. If you listen to his actual
album, you don´t wonder why. The opener is the joyful swinging standard What
a little moonlight can do, followed by the haunting original Southwest Lonesome
Blues. Five Woody Guthrie songs of different popularity come next, followed
by four Duhgi-originals. The album is closed by four selections of different
origin (one by Chad, one by Woodie, two standards). The way of sequencing seems
to be unconventional but listening to the album as a whole it makes good sense.
The program is build like a concert with two longer sets in the middle, framed
by starting and finishing part with more diversity. Chad sings and plays the
guitar with authority. There is an unforced streetwise voice and fingerpicking
accompaniment with no tricking around but with a great rhythmic punch and thump-work.
Woodwinds, fiddle and a guesting Arty McGlynn on guitar are examples for adding
colours in a very effective way. Damian Evans on double bass is present on all
tracks but one. This album is highly recommended for all friends of American
roots music. Included are liner notes by the artist. In form of diary notices
they reflect the singer's life on the road but also give insights in his feelings
about the political situation before the war against Iraq.
Loudon Wainwright III "So damn happy"
SANCD 197; 2003; Playing time: 60.11 min
Veteran Loudon Wainwright III presents his humourous but thoughtful version
of the singer/songwriter idiom (which is manifested in both his lyrics and in
the music) in a live context, recorded in the winter of 2002. Fans will be damn
happy to get a live recording and also to hear five new songs as will be the
neophytes to get a good introduction into this man's work, not featuring songs
from his whole career but of the period since 1990. It´s mostly pure Loudon
Wainwright with some guest appearances including Richard Thompson, Van Dyke
Parks and David Mansfield. There is a lot of laughter on the recording as well
as announcements by the artist, who still is a great performer and entertainer,
in fine voice and not running dry of ideas. Commentates the New York Observer,
"Mr. Wainwright is one of the few artists who has actually gotten better as
he´s gotten older."
Sanctuary Records, Loudon
M. Ward "Transfiguration of Vincent"
Group; LC 11552; 2003; Playing time: 44.17 min
M. Ward is a singer/songwriter from Portland who now has his third solo album
out. Listening to him some authors seem to think of Tom Waits. I think that
Sad, sad song (or the song in which the words sad,sad song are used - it´s the
third selection and on the package the third selection is named Vincent O´Brien,
the second Sad, sad song) sounds like a Doors-song and Duet for guitars # 3
makes me think of (yes!) Werner Lämmerhirt, so we now have some very different
points of reference. So what about his actual album Transfiguration of Vincent?
Starting with a moody instrumental called Transfiguration # 1 it is an intensive
but nevertheless silent album. Influences of folk and blues, jazz and country
can be felt, but on a whole I think he is sounding like an alternative/independen
musician who listened careful to roots music. The result is heavy on the melancholic
ways of American music. It´s the right companion for nights when you don´t find
sleep. The only cover version is David Bowie's Let´s dance which is slowed down
and treated in M. Ward's melancholy way, sounding great.
Mike Whellans "Almost 42nd Street"
COMD 2092; 2003; Playing time: 53.42 min
You think there are no more one-man-bands in blues after Juke Boy Bonner, Dr.
Ross and Jesse Fuller? Well, you have to search where you wouldn´t expect...
Mike Whellans is a well known figure in Scottish folk music, played with Aly
Bain and with a reformed version of the Boys of the Lough, but his musical passion
was the blues, and since many years he is following this passion. His new album
contains 5 originals and 9 cover versions taken from very different sources
as Woody Guthrie, Blind Willie McTell, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed or J. B. Hutto.
On McTell's Warm it up to me he shows the folky side of the idiom, remembering
on Jesse Fuller (favoring the harp instead of the kazoo which I don´t miss),
but mostly he sounds more like a blues man in the style of Jimmy Reed, favouring
the electric guitar. The vocals fit well with the music for Mike sounds authentic
and not fighting to hard for a "black" voice. This is no "deep" blues but goodtime
music. There is very little overdubbing on this album - most of the tracks were
done live. Three tracks have piano contributions by Graham Scott. It must be
a delight to see Mike Whellans perform live, so look out for him.
Richard Gilpin "33"
Recordings; RG002; 2003; Playing time: 54.14 min
Richard Gilpin (-> FW#23)
hails from the troubled Northern Irish town of Belfast: I was born in 1969
the youngest of three. There were honky tonk women and love that was free. Yeah
it was a great year for the first man on the moon and me. A country-rock
tune with a Dylanesque harmonica opening. Now Richard Giplin is based in Donegal
and assembled a solid backing band and additionally luminaries such as Maire
Breatnach (-> FW#25) and Cathal Hayden
(-> FW#14). The singer/songwriter in
the pop, rock and country mould has his own thoughts: 33... My age when I
began this recording, when I wrote many of the songs, allegedly the age of Jesus
Christ when he was crucified and the rate per minute that a vinyl record turns.
Meditating on Christ: Now those in power might use his name to silence those
who don't agree, to seal their wars, to settle scores. Three scores and ten
he did not see, they took his life at 33. In this land of saints and scholars
this bible belt is choking me, upon the trees they nail his words to, but some
words you'll never see like "Love your enemies." But maybe I don't understand,
I'm just a man of 33. Enough time anyway to give us even more profound songs.
Papa Roncon & Katanga "Marimba Magic"
RIEN CD 43; 2003; Playing time: 48.20 min
Often was written about the African roots of the Afro-American music, and the
focus was mostly on North America. Here we have music from South America, and
the listening experience is stunning. You hear authentic African music from
nowhere else than from the rain forests of Ecuador! The beginnings of the black
community living here are adventurous: in the sixteenth century shipwrecked
slaves on the way to Panama fled and reached the Ecuadorian coast where they
founded the first free republic of Esmeraldas. Naturally the words are in Spanish
- a strange listening experience. Papa Roncon is Guillermo Ayovi Erazo, who
comes from the village of Borbon in the North of Ecuador, a place where they
have electricity since five years and where still no aphalt street is to be
found. Invited by the UNESCO he visited Paris and was a guest at the EXPO 2000
in Hanover, but not at the Marimba special at Rudolstadt 2003. He not only plays
(his instruments are the marimba and the guitar), sings and dances but also
is a crafter of instruments. The small ensemble Katanga is Papa Roncon plus
Catalina Mina Quintero and Rosa Huila Valencia on percussion and vocals, the
former sometimes taking the lead. The album was recorded in Quito with nature
sounds added later, recorded on Dat by producer and annotator Astrid Pape, but
everything sounds natural, like a local celebration. The whole album seems more
than a labour of love than a release to earn money. The notes not only talk
about the music but also about the situation in the region. Curious friends
of percussion music or authentic traditions will be delighted by this publication.
Label: Green Linnet; GLCD1224; 2003
Album number four is a little more laid back than Lúnasa's previous recordings.
Recorded in a relaxed Californian setting with almost no guest musicians, each
of the eleven tracks is given room to breathe. There's a bit less yang, and
a bit more ying, as they say in the Golden State, but every track in these forty-three
minutes is a precious nugget.
Cregg's Pipes reworks a Bothy Band favourite and adds a pair of quirky little-known
reels. Welcome Home combines a Donegal jig with a sumptuous Junior Crehan tune
and a jaunty new reel from Donogh Hennessy. Harp and Shamrock slows down a couple
of recent compositions, and Fest Noz picks up the pace again in fine Breton
style. Spoil the Dance is a set of three great reels given the famous Lúnasa
low whistle treatment, finishing off with Cillian Vallely's pipes rampant. Kevin
Crawford's flute is enchanting on the slow air A Stór mo Chroí, and the Dublin
to Dingle set combines slip jigs and polkas with all the flair for which Lúnasa
are justly famous. Lady Ellen and Cotati Nights feature new tunes from band
members, with some particularly fine fiddling from Seán Smyth. The album winds
down with the Shooglenifty classic Two-Fifty to Vigo, a gorgeous tune given
a mellow interpretation here, and then the Temple Hill finale with Trevor Hutchinson's
trademark basslines and the full Lúnasa sound plus a wee tickle from drummer
And there you have it. Another near-perfect CD from Ireland's best instrumental
band. So far, the lads have avoided adding a female singer (today's ultimate
fashion accessory). When you're this good you don't need to be trendy.
Patsy Reid "With Complements"
Label: Own Label APMR901 13 tracks, 53 min
Born and bred in Perthshire, Patsy Reid won two Glenfiddich fiddle titles before
starting a music degree in Glasgow. Here she's joined by several friends who
have shaped her style: Irish harpist Declan Hegarty, Battlefield fiddler Alasdair
White on bouzouki here, and pianists including Cape Breton's Harvey Beaton,
Dundee's Gill Simpson, and Keith Morrison from Lewis who doubles up on guitar.
Patsy plays fiddle and viola, and takes over at the piano for one track just
to show the others how it's done.
The overall sound on this debut CD is fairly traditional, fiddle and piano on
most tracks, and the North East repertoire is well represented with tunes by
Gow, Marshall and Skinner. There's more than a hint of Cape Breton music too,
with a couple of lovely Brenda Stubbert tunes (not the ones everyone plays)
and several traditional medleys with that scintillating Maritime piano style.
Add a good handful of Irish tunes, many learnt from Martin Hayes, and a stonking
Shetland set, and the CD is starting to fill up. Patsy still squeezes in a couple
of New England fiddle tunes, plus two of her own compositions: the lovely waltz
Fiona, and the spirited reel Midnight Cruise to Inverie.
The most impressive thing about this recording is the way Patsy can change the
sound of her fiddle. At times her tone is exquisite: on Hector the Hero, a tune
trotted out by everyone from Tommy Peoples to Wolfstone, the sweetness is almost
unbearable. At other times, tone takes a back seat while rhythm and energy do
the driving: listen to the snap in Athole Brose, and the power in Da Ness O'
Soond. Other memorable moments are the lively versions of Cooley's Jig and Miss
Sarah MacFadyen, the perfectly paced rendition of that great reel The Otter's
Holt, and the glorious combination of fiddle and harp on the slow air Archibald
MacDonald of Kepoch which bravely opens this album. My warmest compliments to
Patsy on a very impressive debut.
Homepage of the artist: www.patsyreid.com,
contact to artist: firstname.lastname@example.org
Djal "Extra Bal"
Label: MusTraDem MTD326, 10 tracks, 62 min
They're French, they're fresh, and they're fun. They're also fabulous musicians.
Based in Grenoble, Djal combine influences from jazz and Arab music (ubiquitous
in France just now) with traditional material from the Savoie region and beyond.
Their instrumentation includes fiddle, flute, hurdy-gurdy, button box, bouzouki,
recorder, bass, bombarde, dulcimer, guitar, and various drums. The overall sound
is rich and varied, with plenty of punch and the added depth of a seven-piece
This is a live recording, made at a home gig with an atmosphere halfway between
a barn dance and a rave. There's a primal energy on tracks like Hollwenn and
the opening set of three bourés. Michel Bordeleau'S great Québecois Reel des
4 Fers en l'Air is given an inspired treatment, and it's followed by a trio
of jigs with more than a touch of Irish about them. Gavottes, rondeaus and other
Breton dances are mixed in among the standard French forms. With the exception
of Michel' reel and a couple of polkas, all the tunes are by band members. Most
of the tracks here are up-tempo dance music, but there are some gorgeous slow
numbers. Ivoirine is a stately air, and the waltz Masque Rouge is one I intend
Improvisation is one of Djal's strengths. Several of its members have one foot
in jazz, and their extended solos are a joy to hear. Yann Gourdon's demonic
hurdy-gurdy is awesome on Hollwenn and elsewhere. Christophe Sacchettini's flutes
are pure magic, and Daniel Gourdon's fiddle brings an eerie swirling quality
to several tracks. The rhythm section is also worth a mention: imaginative,
incisive and irresistibly intoxicating. All in all, this is an excellent CD
and a wonderful example of the best French music. Available from www.mustradem.com
and ADA distribution.
Peatbog Faeries "Welcome To Dunvegas"
Label: Peatbog Records CDBOG 001; 11 tracks,
How do you describe the indescribable? The Peatbog Faeries have to be heard
to be believed. Six crazy mixed-up guys from Skye, their blend of Celtic music
and weirdness has now been distilled onto three fascinating albums, all well
worth a listen. There are similarities to Shooglenifty, The Pogues, Martyn Bennett,
Paul Mounsey and mainstream pop, but nothing really comes close. For one thing,
you never know what you might catch.
On the other hand, if you have a taste for the unusual, especially when it has
bagpipes in it, you'll probably be hooked. Welcome To Dunvegas is a mosaic of
pipe and fiddle tunes, earthy dance rhythms, keyboard effects, dodgy vocals
and various unidentified noises. Sometimes the foreground is filled with tunes
from the Irish and Scottish traditions, sometimes with modern melodies, and
occasionally with Gaelic singing. The rest of the time, anything goes. Stepping
back from Wacko King Hako, Phat Controller and Ironing Maiden, the big picture
is of a good-time band with enormous creativity.
Technically, the production on this album is spot on and the musicianship is
excellent. Peter Morrison is particularly impressive on pipes and whistles:
crisp and percussive on Teuchstar, light and lyrical on Shifting Peat & Feet,
just two of seven Morrison-penned tunes here. Roddy Neilson's fiddle matches
the pipes note for note on Teuchstar, and sparkles on his own composition Skeabost
Monsoon. The engine room of bass, drums and guitars is red hot. Morning Dew
is probably the best illustration of what the Peatbogs (never the Faeries!)
are all about: a powerful Irish reel over a slow tango beat, with general weird
background effects. Marvellous stuff. Move your mouse over to www.peatbogfaeries.com
for the lowdown and the downloads.
Todd Denman & Aniar "Soulstice"
Label: Aniar Records ANR 006 12 tracks, 52
Give this a listen - it takes the right line between trad and trendy, and it's
great fun too. Todd Denman is an excellent uilleann piper based in California,
with several fine albums under his belt. He's joined here by Tina Lech on fiddle,
Flynn Cohen on guitars, and Eamonn Flynn of "Commitments" fame on keyboards.
The mix of trad Irish, American R&B, and post-Hearts experimentation is just
right here, turning good music into great entertainment. The intro to Con Cassidy's
is a fine example of this, with throbbing guitar and moody blues keyboards giving
way to driving pipes and fiddle. The live show must be worth seeing too.
Todd's pipes and whistles occupy most of the foreground, and rightly so: his
playing is sweet and sensitive, a joy to hear. Comparisons with Paddy Keenan
and Davy Spillane would not be totally exaggerated. Rakish Paddy, To Limerick
We Will Go, and the concluding set of polkas all demonstrate world-class piping.
Todd leaves plenty of space for the other musicians, too: there's lovely controlled
fiddle on Jimmy Devine's March 6, underpinned by eerie whistle and sepulchral
organ, then Tina cuts loose with a beautifully bouncy treatment of The Oak Tree
while the guys turn up the funk. Magic stuff indeed.
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh provides guest vocals for two songs. The Bay of Biscaye
is a classic English dead sailor song, hauntingly delivered by Muireann's powerful
voice and Todd's overdubbed pipes. It flows perfectly into March 6. Mál Bhánis
a great old song given a sparse but effective treatment here. The second half
of this CD is all instrumental, with well-known and obscure tunes including
the Leitrim reel Bring Her To The Shelter in a sumptuous slow version with all
the trimmings, and Todd's Rising Head Reel which I believe owes much to Addie
Harper's Barrowburn Reel. The title track is another highlight, an improvisation
combining uilleann firepower and organ effects. The last track is a cracker
too. As they say in San Fran, it's all good. Available from www.aniar.com
and the usual specialist outlets.
Natalie MacMaster "Blueprint"
Label: Rounder Records 7056 13 tracks, 57
You instantly know you're listening to a MacMaster. The power, the lift and
the sheer exuberance are there in spades, all the hallmarks of this great Cape
Breton fiddling family. Three of Natalie's own tunes prelude a heart-stopping
switch into the piping masterpiece Mrs MacPherson which ends the first stomping
set of reels and strathspeys. Track 2 takes Phil Cunningham's Appropriate Dipstick
to new heights, with some fabulous fingerwork from Matt MacIsaac who is a revelation
throughout on electric and acoustic pipes.
It's no accident that this album appears on the Rounder label. Natalie is joined
on most tracks by names from the bluegrass hall of fame: Bela Fleck and Alison
Brown on banjos, Sam Bush on mandolin, fiddler Darol Anger, and the best dobro
player ever in Jerry Douglas. There are a couple of vocal tracks too, written
by Natalie and sung by John Cowan and Kate Quinn, but it's the instrumentals
that really score for me. Plenty of great reels and jigs, of course, but that's
not all. Natalie has taken Phil Cunningham's slow air Eternal Friendship, which
left me cold before, and turned it into a bluegrass hymn of outstanding beauty.
She follows this with a brilliant version of the Canadian classic Carignan Clog
that any fiddler would be proud of. Then there's Josefin's Waltzfrom Sweden,
one of my favourites ever since Dervish picked it up, alternating earthy bass
with angelic mandolin from Matt Flinner.
The soul of this recording is still in those Scots and Irish reels, though.
They shine out like beacons in the sea of bluegrass picking and Nashville production.
Tarbolton Lodge, The Silver Spear, Lad O'Beirne's, Lord Gordon's Reel, Ed Reavy's
The Street Player, and Jerry Holland's Reel for Carl all make an appearance,
often at the end of a set when Natalie maybe wants firmer ground under her fiddle.
Nashville's fine for a visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Blueprint is a truly MacMasterful CD, full of life and spirit. Don't miss it.
Michael Cooney "A Stone's Throw"
Label: Own Label 12 tracks, 49 minutes
Michael Cooney hails from Tipperary but plays his pipes as though he'd been
born within earshot of Dublin's Pipers Club. There's a synergy in his playing
between the controlled Dublin style of Rowsome or Ennis and the more flowing
music of Clancy and Touhey. There's even a hint of the traveller wildness of
the Dorans and Keenans: listen to Fred Finn's Reel. Michael immersed himself
in all styles of piping from a young age, served his apprenticeship in America,
and is now back in Ireland as a master piper. He's joined here by such luminaries
as Kevin Burke on fiddle and Ged Foley on guitar.
From the off there's jigs and reels in abundance, tunes from the traditional
piping repertoire: The Gold Ring, The Pipe on the Hob, Sean Reid's and others.
Track 2 combines the heavyweight reel O'Connell's Trip to Parliament with the
lighter Micho Russel's, and then takes a refreshing twist with the mournful
modal Famous Ballymote. The slow air Green Fields of Canada is a very pleasant
surprise, neglected by pipers since Liam O'Flynn's recording with Planxty. Michael
does this haunting melody full justice, and the accompaniment on slide guitar
from Tom Hall is highly effective.
The Cooney family tradition of Highland piping is evident in Donald MacLean's
Farewell and Johnny Cope, both great pipe tunes from Scotland. America is represented
by a passionate performance of Midnight on the Water which closes this album.
In between there are Irish tunes aplenty. My favourites are a highly rhythmic
treatment of Na Ceannabhán Bhána, a cheerful swagger through Frankie Gavin's
curiously named jig The Doberman's Wallet, and the set of reels containing Cooley's
No. 2 and Kieran Hanrahan's characterful Gold Stud.
A Stone's Throw is very respectable recording debut from a piper I hope to hear
more of. Available from the usual specialist outlets, or direct from Michael
in virtual Tipperary.
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