Issue 29 09/2004
FolkWorld CD Reviews (2)
Danny Kyle & Billy Connelly, photo by The Mollis
Cynthia Hart "Let Me Make Music In Your Life"
Label: Hartsong Publishing & Recording; (CH4575);
2004; Playing time: 48 mins, 09 secs
This is lady is a new name to me. And judging by this record a welcome addition
to the cast of characters that populate the workings of the inside of my head.
She is an American who (judging by the photo on the CD cover) looks a bit like
Bette Midler. And having played the CD, I can say she SOUNDS even more like
her. And in MY book, that is praise indeed.
She's had a long and distinguished apprenticeship as a singer with a host of
illustrious names. Cynthia has shared the stage with: The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd
Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Steve Miller, ZZ Top, Bob Seger, James Taylor, The Byrds
and Tina Turner to name only half of them. And you can tell. She tackles the
lyrics with the confidence of seasoned professional. (Mind you, it helps that
they are all - bar one - her own compositions, and she has clearly written them
from the heart. She is joined by some distinguished musicians. The sound they
produce smacks more of the sophisticated M.O.R/Concert Hall sound, than the
corner folk club.
Although there is more than a touch of New Age about her philosophy, there is
nothing particularly earthy about this album. Indeed, quite the opposite. It
has a dreamy, (almost ethereal) quality, yet remains both positive and uplifting.
As to the quality of the songs, I confess to thinking that these songs are perhaps
"too personal to Cynthia" for them to be easily covered by other artistes. And
I am not sure that they lend themselves to instant recall, which very good songs
almost invariably do.
But that said, she sings them well, and the album is handsomely produced by
Homepage of the artist: www.cynthiahartsongs.com
Detlef Bunk "Two Stones"
Label: Acoustic Music Records; (Best.Nr. 319.1322.242;
2004; Playing time: 43 mins, 30 secs
This is the third album by this German acoustic guitarist. It is very brave
of solo guitarists to make wholly instrumental albums: the question is here
whether Detlef Bunk has succeeded in getting beyond the "audience of guitar
players" and managed to make an impact on the non-musicians out there.
You see, there are guitar players like John James who could make the jump and
capture the musically illiterate, because he had that ability to project his
humour and his vivacity into his playing. Then there are other guitarists like
say, the late Isaac Guillory, who were always called "a guitarist's guitarist"
, worshipped by the cognoscenti, but seemingly unable to project himself across
the footlights to the non-guitar buff.
Where does Detlef Bunk appear on that graph? Is he a James or a Guillory? Well,
on the strength of this album, somewhere between the two.
Truth is that although his playing is marvellously assured, it is a little too
introspective for my liking.
Here on this record he is ably assisted by (I think mainly German) session men
on harp, piano, fretless bass, percussion, dobro and bass clarinet. And a fine
job they all make of it. But it is just a bit too reserved for my liking. (Which
is strange, because judging by his photo, Detlef looks a fairly extrovert guy,
yet he seems so restrained. Like he is a Porsche 911, driving through an inner
city, with regular traffic lights meaning he cannot put his foot down to the
Strangely, when he switches to his sitar, for tracks 6-8 (collectively known
as "Magic Door"), he really comes alive. He could well have passed for a Ravi
Shankar understudy. Certainly, as someone who is old enough to remember George
Harrison playing the sitar, I have to say that Mr. Bunk attacks it with so much
But it is not a sitar album: it is a guitar one. And as a guitar instrumental
album, I have to say it will please students of the instrument, not least because,
what I perceive as a slight lack of IMPACT, they will regard as tasteful understatement!
And who is to say that they are not right?
Homepage of the artist: www.detlefbunk.de
Alistair Hulett & Dave Swarbrick "Saturday
Johnny & Jimmy The Rat"
Jump Up Records; (JUMP UP 007); 2004; Playing time: 39 mins, 44 secs
This is a re-release of a 1996 recording, with artwork and layout revised for
the digi-pak format, and some notes in German.
One is reminded just how good a pairing these two were: Hulett fitted "Swarb"
like a glove. Every bit as made-to-measure as Martin Carthy.
Throughout the album we are also constantly mindful of the fact that we are
in the presence of a most authoritative singer (in Alistair) and a fiddle player
extraordinaire (in Swarb). A fiddle player who leaves his DNA all over the place.
There is nobody like him.
With Hulett though, there remains the uncanny vocal resemblance to Dick Gaughan.
It is not a problem for me (though I know it is for a friend of mine): I just
see it as one of those curious - almost freakish - things. A bit like Mary Humphreys
sounding so like Norma Waterson, yes, even down to the same East Yorkshire inflections,
even though she does not come from that part of the UK.
Most of the songs are penned by Alistair. They are decent enough songs, but
I preferred his treatment of the two traditional ballads. Of his own work, I
reckoned "In The Days of '49" was by some distance the most satisfying. A committed,
gritty performance of a song that pulls no punches and lays Hulett's strong
left-wing views out for all to see.
Such views however led him to write the weakest song on the album, the last
track "The Old Divide and Rule". Now this was recorded in 1996. It calls on
the Scottish working class to put aside sectarian differences and realise the
enemy is the British Ruling Class. ("British" I fancy here is code for "Hooray
Henrys" living in South East England and Tory Lairds in the Highlands!)
Ah, but the year after this CD was recorded, the Labour Party won the UK General
Election with their biggest ever majority, and for the last 7 years have ruled
Britain, by both devolving Scottish government to Edinburgh, and having a UK
Cabinet over-represented by Scotsmen. Indeed a former Scottish communist (John
Reid) has been Tony Blair's "safe pair of hands" when troubles have arisen.
And what has happened? Well, the very day I write this review, it has just been
announced that in the 7 years of the Labour Government, the gap has widened
between the rich and the poor THROUGHOUT the UK.
So Alistair, stick to the wonderful singing: lay less emphasis on the political
Contact to label: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel:/Fax:
0421-4988535 Postal Address: Jump Up Records, Postfach 11 04 47, 28207 Bremen
Iron & Wine: "Our Endless Numbered Days"
Pop; (SPCD630); 2004
It must be 25 years since I last smoked marijuana, and even longer since I was
taken-in by that engaging old scoundrel Dr. Timothy Leary, and experimented
with his beloved LSD.
Well, today, I just got my dugs mixed up. Instead of experiencing an "acid flashback",
I could have sworn I underwent a cannabis one. (Yes I know that officially they
don't exist, but I'll take some convincing that this is not what I have just
I have been spaced-out by one Samuel Bean (who makes up 90% of "Iron & Wine"
with some co-conspirators making up the remaining 10%). The day has gone in
a haze. Yet the best sniffer dog in the world would not find any illegal substance
on my premises.
For the fact is that Sam Bean must be some sort of genius, because he has got
me wobbling about on my feet, like the hashish was far too strong. And I'd like
to work out how he has done it: truly it's a mystery to me.
When I look at the lyrics, in isolation, I say "So what? They are okay, but
nothing special." Melodically, the songs are likewise. So clearly there is another
And there I have hit upon it. The fact that it is something that transcends
the material. And that "something" is of course Beam's incredibly "sotto voce"
delivery. It is strangely hypnotic and lulls you to sleep.
Indeed, so quiet is he, that he seems for all the world like he is a kid brother
of Art Garfunkel: but Art is the RAUCOUS one!
If you want an album that is the perfect "seduction music" and Norah Jones's
CD is no longer working its magic for you in that department, then buy this.
Now, that reminds me: one day I will summon up the energy to buy one myself.
But right now I feel too "stoned" to type. Sam Beam! You couldn't have put me
flat on my back any easier Sam even if your first name had been JIM. (Ha!)
I think I can safely say that this was one of the most unusual albums to come
my way in a while.
Contact to label: PO Box 20367, Seattle, WA 98102
James Thurgood: "Handy Little Rig"
Label: Dogface Records; (No cat #); 2004;
Playing time: 50 mins, 30 secs
This album bears the secondary title "Celtic & Old-Time Harmonica from the Maritimes".
Straight away it got my attention.
For the fact is that I enjoy most nearly everything I get to review from the
Maritime Provinces of Canada, anyway. But the magic word here was "harmonica".
And what made this so unusual, was to see the material Thurgood's expert mouth
harp tackled. A selection of slow airs, strathspeys, reels, hornpipes, jigs
& waltzes. Oh sure, harmonica players delivering gutsy, vibrant blues, well
… delightful though they are, they are really almost "two a penny"! But this
was an unusual marriage of instrument and material.
And he pulled it off very well, ably assisted by his fellow Nova Scotia born
Kevin Roach on guitar. I never tired of it, even though the whole album is virtually
all instrumental. However, I must confess that when he chose to sing a traditional
ballad "My Gallant Brigantine", he sang with such an intelligence (really extracting
maximum meaning from the song) that he had me wanting more.
Maybe next time James, you can add a few more vocals to the mix.
There is a fine liner booklet with this CD. One of the best sets of liner notes
I have seen in a while. I wish the album well.
Homepage of the artist: www.cdbaby.com/cd/thurgood,
contact to label: Dogface Records, 11 Cherry Lane, Wolfville, NS, Canada.
Kathy Kallick: "Reason & Rhyme"
Creek Records; No.; (CCCD-0215); 2003; Playing time: 58.mins, 50 secs
This is an album by a mainstay of the (San Francisco) Bay area's folk scene.
She surrounds herself with some of the tastiest local musicians and has come
up with nearly an hour of quality music. Mostly the songs on this CD are entirely
self-penned, but there are a couple of traditional songs and also a Kate Wolf
Kathy Kallick is not a name known to most of us British folkies. However, on
the strength of this CD, the sooner she is embraced by us, the better. A fine
singer with a delivery and vocal timbre very similar to Peggy Seeger.
The songs run the gamut in subject matter. She is not afraid to write about
dark subjects: "Take Care of Your Little Girls" deals with child-abuse. "Hard
to Let Go" with the subject of the passage of time, and the fact we are every
day that one day nearer the grave. None of these are great songs, but they are
very brave attempts: a deal better than many songs I hear in my normal day.
The song I liked the best of her own compositions was "What A Night". But how
much of this was due to the song's intrinsic merits, and how much to the stunningly
good performance, I am not sure.
Throughout, the musicianship on the album had been top drawer, but here on the
penultimate track, we suddenly struck gold. Previously the two guitarists had
shared the duties. Scott Nygaard would dazzle on one track, then put his guitar
down and let Nina Gerber pick up hers. She would then match him in excellence.
And so they went on. One minute Scott, the next minute Nina.
But on track 14 they came together, and my goodness, what a moment of musical
epiphany! The way the two guitars weave their way around one another, yet always
have as first priority the need to support and help project Kallick's vocal
delivery, well it is nothing short of sublime.
Mentioning these two very tasty guitarists though is not quite fair: there are
no less than 13 backing musicians and singers (including some illustrious names
like Peter Rowan), and all are a notch above the norm. I particularly liked
the simpatico vocal harmony of Herb Pedersen.
The other standout track was her version of Kate Wolf's "Trumpet Vine". Made
me realise (yet again) what a great loss to the world of folk was Kate's early
departure from this life.
Contact to label: email@example.com;
P O Box 3161, Roanoke VA 24015 USA
Dai Woosnam, Grimsby, England.
Tad Marks: "Our Crazy Love Affair"
Label: Crop Circle Records; (CC043); 2003;
Playing time: 45 mins, 08 secs.
In my batch of albums Folkworld sent me for review, this was the one I played
last of all. No particular reason: I just review them in the order they come
out of the package. And having played it three times, I have to say that it
was the one from this batch that I am likely to play the most.
Tad Marks is something of a virtuoso fiddle player. He composes melodically
inventive instrumentals too: there are a few on this album. ("The March To Gettysburg"
caught my imagination, especially when he told us in his notes that this tune
was prompted by the American troops setting course for Baghdad!)
Now, for those of you who do not know him, here is some biographical data. Tad
has played with some illustrious names: for instance he has played in the Del
McCoury Band. But that said, I had no idea he was such a pleasant singer, nor
such a competent lyric writer. But as if to prove he is not a total Renaissance
Man, he here puts his songwriting pen down to play two traditional instrumentals,
and then turns his attention to a song by those twin masters, Harold Arlen &
The general feel of the album is bluegrass/good timey, and is well worth a purchase.
Homepage of the artist: www.tadmarks.com,
contact to artist: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tad
marks, 14102-A Monticello Drive, Cooksville, Md. 21723
Annbjørg Lien "Aliens Alive "
Label: Grappa GRCD 4178 12 tracks, 70 minutes
I love this CD. It has beauty, power, passion and guts. Particularly guts. Annbjørg
Lien is probably the best known young Norwegian fiddler, mainly because she
is a fabulous musician. She plays the Hardanger fiddle (a sort of double-strength
fiddle) and the nyckelharpa (essence of fiddle, like a bowed hurdy-gurdy or
an Indian Dilruba). Lien mixes the traditional and the experimental, and she
gets away with it beautifully. The dozen tracks here add up to seventy minutes
of excellent music. As you may know, I'm not a big fan of fusion and the like:
however, I'm prepared to make an exception when it's as powerful and exciting
as Aliens Alive.
The opening track is a five-minute Hardanger solo, putting this awesome beast
through its paces. If that doesn't twist your viscera, stop now: you obviously
don't have the guts for this music. Track 2, Loki, starts the fun with a blend
of nyckelharpa and modern instruments, eerily evoking the Norse god of mischief
through a mix of primal lyrics and stunning instrumental effects. The medley
Origins is in a similar vein: driving fiddle giving way to sepulchral vocals,
plus some modern dance sounds, all woven around a sumptuous tune. Keep your
ears open for the fabulous flute solo from Hans Fredrik Jacobsen. Traditional
tunes and Lien/Rasch compositions flow together without a ripple.
The Water Lily introduces a gentler mood, fiddle and flute over a simple accompaniment.
Then, after a brief tongue-in-cheek flirtation with Greig, it's back to the
hard stuff: traditional Hardanger fiddle music grabbed by the throat and whirled
round the room, to the rhythm of Roger Tallroth's guitar. Two more Lien/Rasch
dance tunes make up the Larry Goes Log-Driving set, still earthy and full of
fire, but with the ethereal purity of those high-pitched resonances in the upper
reaches of the fiddle's compass. Intoxicating and entrancing.
Luseblus is a Lien composition in the style of a traditional reel or polka,
low down and gritty, another visceral tune. It's followed by perhaps the most
modern arrangement on the album, somewhere between New Age and film music, an
easy listening piece with its own particular beauty. Next comes Inoque, filled
with the sounds of the Norwegian rainforest (I'm guessing here, because the
one thing this CD lacks is good sleeve notes!), and then the title medley which
is another triumphant combination of traditional tunes and Lien/Rasch innovations.
And so it ends. The final track, a traditional air which translates as Fykerud's
Farewell to America, is another solo fiddle masterpiece: one of those unforgettable
Scandinavian tunes like Til Far or Josefins Vals, the perfect end to a perfect
hour. Like I said, I love this CD. It's also a live recording, and has some
extra magical moments as a result. If you can find Annbjørg Lien live, grab
the opportunity. If not, Aliens Alive is probably the best substitute and you
can probably find it at www.grappa.no if nowhere else.
Troy MacGillivray "Boomerang"
Label: Own Label TROLLEY-02 10 tracks, 47
Right from the start, this is powerful music and no mistake. Fiddler and pianist
Troy MacGillivray kicks off with one of his own tunes, and follows through with
a medley of strathspeys and reels from the Scottish and Irish traditions, including
high-energy classics Lady Anne Montgomery and The Bonnie Lass of Fisherrow,
the driven bow backed up by great Cape Breton piano. With the introductions
over, Troy sticks to piano for two tracks: more strathspeys and reels, and a
set of Dan R MacDonald jigs played as they should be, with guitar accompaniment
this time. The title tune Boomerang ends track three in excellent style.
Back to the fiddle for a march, strathspey and reel set, ending with an electrifying
change of pace into Steve Cooney's Gone Skidooing and Jerry Holland's
Reel For Carl: young Troy has taste as well as talent.
And so this album unfolds. The Cape Breton repertoire is put through its paces
on piano and fiddle by this lad from Antigonish in the very heart of Cape Breton,
and he reveals rare brilliance in tunes which are unfamiliar to me: the Mountain
Ranger hornpipe, the slow air Tweedside Lasses, Yester House Strathspey,
and the aptly-named Traditional Jig to pick some of the highlights. There
are several of Troy's compositions too, not out of place among tunes by William
Marshall, Scott Skinner, Glenn Graham, and of course Dan R.
Boomerang is Troy MacGillivray's second abum. It shows a mature pair
of hands, gifted enough to take old material and breathe new life into it, but
confident enough to stay within their tradition. This CD is solid Cape Breton
throughout, raw dance music built on traditional foundations and brought to
life by a master: fiddle, piano and guitar played the old-fashioned way, no
apologies, no pretentions. Take it or leave it. Either way, check out www.troymacgillivray.com
for free samples and more information.
Label: Own Label BKCD 001 11 tracks, 49 minutes
Along with half a dozen players worldwide, this London musician is one of the
young challengers for Gerry O'Connor's crown as king of the tenor banjo. Brian's
exciting, dynamic playing is founded on excellent technique in the modern style:
triplets, runs, and the occasional chord. Some tracks are in an older vein:
The Cuckoo's Nest and The Japanese Hornpipe fit into the current
wave of '20s emulation, with a big dollop of Hot Club swing added to the mix.
Brian's full-on approach works very well here, producing one of the highlights
of this album.
Brian is accompanied by Paddy Gallagher (guitar and bouzouki) and the ubiquitous
John Blake (piano and flute). Sister Martina makes an appearance on fiddle too.
Amid the jigs and reels, Brian slips in hornpipes and even a planxty. Many old
tunes get a good dusting off on this CD: the lovely old Monaghan Jig
and Eddie Kelly's, the reel Dowd's Favourite which ends track
1, Tom Billy's Jig and several more. There's a brilliant example of improvisation
on Coleman's Cross, where John's flute sticks steadfastly to the traditional
melody while Brian's banjo ducks and weaves all around the tune. Only one of
Brian's own tunes appears here, and judging from its title Brian Kelly's
Number 1 may be his only composition. This is no bad thing: few new tunes
are as good as what the tradition can offer. That said, Brian's reel is a quirky
and elusive number with a certain charm and grace which may well ensure its
survival in the tradition. The recording finishes with an ensemble romp through
some well-known reels, great fun and great music.
Despite its low profile, Brian Kelly's debut album is a top quality performance.
And the really good news is that this CD was recorded a couple of years ago,
so we can look forward to hearing an even better second album before long! To
get hold of this rare recording while it's still available, or to find out what
Brian's up to these days, pay www.brian-kelly.com
a visit. Essential listening for banjo fans and Irish music lovers alike.
Brian McNamara "Fort of the Jewels"
Label: Drumlin Records BMNCD2 16 tracks, 54
Brian McNamara is a Leitrim piper who was featured on the excellent McNamara
family CD Leitrim's Hidden Treasure in 1998, and since then he's established
quite a reputation as a player and tutor. This is his second solo album, packed
with pipe tunes from South Leitrim and beyond, played in Brian's distinctive
style. From track 1 it's obvious that the music here is first class. The packaging
is spot on too, with excellent notes and graphics.
Brian plays in a precise and measured way, taking things at a reasonable pace
so all the intricacies of his fingerwork are plain to hear. His technique is
more akin to the closed, staccato style of Rowsome or Ennis than the fluid open
traveller style, but the notes are nicely spaced, giving an open weave to the
music. Brian isn't wedded to the staccato style by any means: the slow air Dún
na Séad shows all the marks of traveller piping with its wild blasts
of sound and haunting slides. One of the things which makes Brian McNamara such
a fine piper is his intuitive feel for the music, and he adapts his style to
suit the tune rather than the other way round. The opening set of jigs includes
a free-flowing interpretation of Charlie Lennon's Handsome Young Maidens,
and a couple of minutes later there's a crisp controlled canter through the
snappy slip-jig Top The Candle, perfect for each melody.
Brian is joined on several tracks by young harpist Gráinne Hambly, and
this combination evokes the ancient glories of Irish music. There are also three
powerful duet tracks with fellow piper Benedict Koehler, who also made one of
the sets Brian plays here: pipe duets are rare in recorded music, and these
are a treat indeed. The tunes are mostly well known: Mrs Crotty's Hornpipe,
Hardiman the Fiddler, Ormond Sound and the like - but the playing is rich
and intoxicating. The two pipers mix and match perfectly, complementing and
exhorting each other on The Arra Mountains and a wonderfully impromptu
version of The Connaught Heifers.
Highlights? Too many to list. The blaring Bs on Redican's Mother, those
opening jigs starting with Paddy From Portlaw and ending with the fabulously
titled I Love You Not And I Care Not, presumably an early draft of What's
Love Got To Do With It? Only one third of Fort of the Jewels is given
over to reels, leaving plenty of room for pieces like The Humours of Glynn
and the hornpipe The Not So Bashful Bachelor which ends this most enjoyable
and satisfying album. The reels, when they come, are all the better for the
wait: a sumptuous version of Patsy Touhey's Favourite, the swaggering
Spike Island Lasses with percussive chanter and singing regulators, and
a gentle build-up to the sparkling Sandy Over The Lea on the flat pipes.
If you can't find this CD in the shops, try www.piperbrian.com
- and check out the other Drumlin recordings too.
Borders Young Fiddlers - BYF
Label: Isle Records ISLE 01CD 16 tracks, 68
Terrible name for a band, but at least it's descriptive. BYF presents
five young fiddlers from the Scottish borders, whose musical abilities are well
ahead of their years. Most of the album is ensemble pieces, with a tight and
full sound, similar to Fiddlers Bid or the Bowhouse Quintet - and equally polished.
Young doesn't mean unprofessional or inexperienced here: these fiddlers would
give most older musicians a run for their money in that respect. Some of the
credit for this must go to Sandy Watson, father of fiddling siblings Lori and
Innes: Sandy made the whole project happen.
There's a hidden agenda here, and I suppose a justification for the band's name.
The borders style of fiddling is close to extinction, despite previous attempts
to revive it, and these young players have learnt from some of the last players
in the old borders tradition. Part of the reason for this recording is to rekindle
interest in the borders style, and to provide a benchmark for younger players.
So what is the borders style? Like the repertoire, it's a cross-over between
the Scottish and English traditions: the raw, rhythmic, sparsely ornamented
style of Northumberland meets the snap and roll of dominant Scottish fiddling.
This marriage of convenience produces some marvellous music, as The Eildon
Hills are stripped bare of their fripperies, or The Duke of Roxburgh
benefits from added bite.
There are other influences at work here too. You can't produce great young fiddleres
in a vacuum - although I can think of many a session where putting the fiddlers
in a vacuum would have improved things - so these rising stars are familiar
with the music of Scotland, Ireland and beyond. This comes through in the score
of own compositions here: slow airs such as Leaving Mull or the American-tinged
Lori's Waltz, off-beat reels like Treelights and The Commentator,
and jigs with names like Summer on the Tweed and What's All That About?
They've also adopted some Scandinavian tunes, and the ringing open strings which
go with them: Slow March and Auld Graden Kirn owe more to Sweden
than to Scotland.
This CD also contains a multimedia presentation of the music and musicians,
with history, notes, and written music for all the tunes here. It will be fabulous
if their efforts contribute to a revival of borders fiddling, but in any case
Lori and Innes Watson, Rachel Cross, Allan Hyslop and Shona Mooney are names
to watch out for. BYF is long on quality and quantity, and speaks of
great things to come. More information is available at www.islemusicscotland.com,
which also has a mail-order service.
Chris Stout "First o' the Darkenin'"
Label: Greentrax CDTRAX257 8 tracks, 46 minutes
Every track on this recording is a beauty. Reminds me of the classic Chinese
dish "Eight Jewels": all different, all tasty, creating a very satisfying whole.
It's all here, from the hot'n'spicy sax and fiddle duet on Hillswick
to the sweet succulence of Hamnataing.
Chris Stout is one of Shetland's finest young fiddlers. He also has a background
in classical and electro-acoustic music, and has fingers in so many musical
pies that you begin to wonder if he has more than the usual complement of digits.
This would also explain the ease with which he navigates the fingerboard. Maybe
there's some fiddler crab in his genetic make-up. As a founder of young Shetland
band Fiddlers' Bid, and a member of several other groups including Salsa Celtica,
Chris has appeared on numerous albums. For his solo debut he's teamed up with
some very talented buddies: Fraser Fifield on sax, harpist Catriona McKay, guitarist
Malcolm Stitt, and Euan Vernal on bass. It's really more of a band album, but
apparently Chris needs the royalties.
The material on First o' the Darkenin' is as Shetland as the title suggests.
There are reels aplenty, haunting slow airs, and a couple of magical Scandinavian
numbers. There's also plenty of modern vibe and groove, and a healthy dose of
improvisation. It's clear that the band had great fun recording this CD, and
the result is pure alchemy on several tracks: the high-energy fusion of Double
Helix, the full-blooded abandon of new Irish reels Punch in the Dark
and Piper on Horseback, and the whole range of vivid emotions on Scandanonymous.
The title track is a perfect example of an experiment gone right, as Chris applies
his modern technical wizardry to evoke a Shetland twilight, with dramatic results.
He follows it with one of four own compositions here: Baak High, a powerful
combination of several styles with that irresistible Shetland swing just below
Whether it's the earthy Nordic fiddle of Da Day Dawn or the crystal purity
of a Norwegian hymn tune, Chris Stout's music holds the attention like a charm.
This has to be one of the most captivating albums in recent years, one I'll
listen to over and over. An absolute masterpiece.
Maeve Donnelly & Peadar O'Loughlin "The Thing
Label: Claddagh Records CCFCD36 15 tracks,
Change and change about. Last time I reviewed a recording by fluter Peadar O'Loughlin
(Touch Me If You Dare), it was a duet album with Ronan Browne: fiddler
Maeve Donnelly guested on a couple of tracks. This time, Maeve and Peadar are
the duo with Ronan guesting on flute and whistle. Either way round, the three
of them make great music. Piano accompaniment is supplied on most tracks by
There are some lovely flowing reels and bouncy jigs here from Peadar's West
Clare repertoire: Dan Breen's and The West Clare Reel are well
known but given a fresh feel. Ryan's Rant was one of the first tunes
I learnt on the whistle, and it's powerfully paired with Eileen Curran.
Among the jigs, Jimmy Kennedy's and Henchy's Delight are indeed
delightful, and there are lovely versions of Paddy O'Brien's and Queen
Of The Rushes. The pair of old Clare polkas Johnny Gorman's and Leather
Away The Wattle-O are a rare treat, as are the spirited versions of The
Templehouse and Kiss The Maid Behind The Barrel, two well-worn session
tunes which brush up beautifully in these hands.
The five pages of tune notes by piper Pat Mitchell are a unique enhancement
of this CD, giving sources and pedigrees in as much detail as anyone could wish.
For the student of Irish music, there's plenty to follow up here: manuscripts,
recordings, players and collectors, and a fascinating story or two. For the
less studious, the stories and names are entertaining in their own right.
The mathematically minded among you will have noticed that the average track
length on The Thing Itself is a mere 2 minutes and 48 seconds. That's
short by modern standards, especially given the slow tempo on most tracks. Time
was when recorded Irish music was played as fast as possible, to get as many
turns done before the wire ran out. Nowadays we don't have that problem, but
the music is often played as fast as possible anyway, so it's lovely to hear
some of these tunes slowed down to a more relaxed pace. On the other hand, a
few more tunes wouldn't go amiss: most tracks here have only two, and the contrast
and combination of tunes is one of the great things about Irish dance music.
But that's really the only thing wrong with this album, and I can't in fairness
complain if Maeve and Peadar leave me wanting more.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver "Beyond The Shadows"
Label: Sugar Hill Records SUGCD3753
There are two kinds of great bluegrass, the flash instrumental kind and the
close-harmony vocal kind. This album has both, but it's strongly biased towards
vocals. Although I prefer instrumentals, Beyond The Shadows is still
one of my favourite bluegrass albums, perhaps because it was one of the first
recordings in this genre which really grabbed my attention. Released in 1986
in black, it's great to see this bluegrass classic finally available on CD.
At just under 33 minutes, Beyond The Shadows is quite brief by today's
standards, but it's the quality that counts.
Doyle Lawson and his band deliver exquisite arrangements of twelve gospel songs,
which can be appreciated at least as much for their music as for their sentiments.
The vocal harmonies are staggering: rich, varied, powerful and imaginative.
The instrumental backing is world class, with names like Russell Moore (IIIrd
Tyme Out) and the Vestal brothers. Mandolin, guitar, banjo and bass produce
a very full sound, despite the lack of a fiddle.
From the foot-stomping fever of Babylon's Falling to the gentle melancholy
of The Long Long Journey, Doyle Lawson and his band ring the emotional
changes with skill and flair. This is bluegrass perfection, subtle harmonies
and counterpoint alternating with fast and furious picking. Every Time I
Feel the Spirit and the closing My Lord Delivered Me are rousing
chorus songs second to none, sung in praise of alcohol and obstetrics. The title
track is a gorgeous bitter-sweet waltz, at the other end of the bluegrass continuum,
and this recording also manages to cover most points in between.
Whether you're a fan of gospel or not, if you appreciate good acoustic music
this CD is definitely worth a listen. Unlike most great recordings, it should
be easily obtainable. One to treasure, but remember: you can't take it with
Ivan Drever & Duncan Chisholm "A Long December
Label: Highlander Music HRMCD011 11 tracks,
This duo is one of Scotland's hidden treasures. Singer and multi-instrumentalist
Ivan Drever hit the big time with Wolfstone, and has earned an enviable reputation
as a song-writer too. Fiddler Duncan Chisholm is one of the longest-serving
members of Wolfstone as well as a founder of Blazing Fiddles, and is a marvellous
interpreter of Ivan's compositions. Together this pair conjure magic from a
simple formula: brilliant songs and tunes, no-nonsense arrangements, and flawless
execution. This is their second duo recording, and I'm told there'll be a version
on DVD as soon as the graphical details are sorted out. Recorded at Duncan's
home near Inverness, the warmth and relaxation of highland hospitality pervades
Ivan contributes five of his own songs, the well-known Brave Souls and
four less well known numbers including the title track. The Viking Bride
is an enchanting ballad in the powerful Scandinavian style of Ivan's Orkney
home. Song For Yesterday sets a vivid description of homesickness to
a haunting tune, and I Will Be There is a love song for all seasons.
Ivan's tune The Flower of Kristiansand is one of many beautiful airs
that he has written for the women in his life, played perfectly on cittern and
fiddle here. Sadly, there are no notes on any of the tracks, and no lyrics provided
for the songs, but that's about the only thing wrong with this CD.
The other five tracks are all instrumentals, fiddle-led with a solid guitar
backing. There's a gobsmacking set of reels which sandwiches The Bunny's
Hat between two Irish classics. There's a pair of Scottish pipe marches,
Farewell to Clachantrushal and the ever-popular Jim Christie of Wick,
followed by Charlie McKerron's reel The Rizla. Even better, there are
three more slow airs including the late great Johnny Cunningham's opus Night
In That Land and two traditional Scottish melodies. Coinneach Glas An
Fhomair is a solo fiddle masterpiece, and a strong contender for best track.
You couldn't wish for tighter playing or better arrangements. The material on
this recording is of the highest quality, and there's no finer duo than Ivan
and Duncan to while away A Long December Night. Forty-one minutes is
a bit on the short side, but you can always play the CD twice, and more material
is promised on the DVD. Available from www.highlandermusic.com,
or drop William Crawford a line at this hot little Inverness label: email@example.com
to you. Visit www.duncanchisholm.com
while you're about it.
Allan Henderson "Estd 1976"
Label: Macmeanmna SKYECD 24 12 tracks, 52
Okay, so he's only 28. Big deal, just because he's mastered three instruments
(fiddle, pipes and piano) and written loads of brilliant tunes (fifteen on this
album). It's taken him two years to finish his debut CD, so he does have his
faults ... but that means he started it when he was only 26! Prodigious little
Anyway, leaving middle-aged envy aside, Allan Henderson has been no slouch in
his short life. He and sister Ingrid produced a couple of albums in their teens,
and Allan has been involved in several major musical projects since, including
supergroup Blazing Fiddles. The music on this CD is brimming with energy and
passion, fiery traditional reels on track 1 contrasting with a gorgeous piano
version of Farewell My Love. A couple of sets of Allan's own tunes follow,
jaunty little numbers which grow on you like the well-named Fungus Reel.
Sleeve notes notwithstanding, track 5 is a set of stirring strathspeys and track
6 brings Allan's pipes to the fore on a roller-coaster set including Welcome
Home Gráinne and The Piper's Ceilidh. Two of Allan's own slow
airs are divided by a wonderful set of pipe jigs:Petticoat Loose, Donald
MacLean, Islay's Charms, and The Goatherd, famous tunes every one,
all fitted neatly into Allan's down-to-earth fiddle style. The Wonderful
Oban Surrealist is a smashing wee tune with a story to tell: it's followed
by a descriptive piece, combining several instruments and Gaelic song, called
Lochaber after Allan's homeland. The final track is a pair of charming
jig-time marches, a new one by piper Allan MacDonald, and a lovely old one named
Unfortunately, Allan forgot to make a note of who played what when. Reading
between the lines, there's flute and whistles from the album producer Iain MacDonald,
harp and probably some keyboards from Ingrid Henderson. Guitar and button box
are supplied by unknown Highland geniuses, and I think the vocals are Margaret
Bennet's. The arrangements and combinations of instruments are pleasing and
varied, producing a full sound which never dulls. Allan gives first-class piano
performances: his piping and fiddling is not quite in the same league here,
but I wouldn't be surprised to hear him playing in the premiership before he's
my age. Estd 1976 is a very pleasant CD, and a treasure trove of great
Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas "Fire & Grace"
Label: Culburnie Records CUL 121 13 tracks,
The combination of fiddle and cello has made something of a come-back recently
in Scottish music, after more than a century of neglect. First there was the
pairing of Alasdair Fraser and Ron Shaw, and a memorable concert in Castle Fraser.
Since then cellists Abby Newton and Wendy Weatherby have made fine traditional
recordings. Ron Shaw has also brought out his own album recently. Now Alasdair
has teamed up with a new young cellist to produce a remarkably vibrant and engaging
For me, the most remarkable thing about Fire & Grace is the choice of
material. Starting with the combination of two great Dave Richardson compositions,
the jig Calliope House and the reel MacArthur Road, Alasdair and
Natalie cover about half the tunes that I had ear-marked for my own debut album
pipe-dream. Excellent choices, of course. The wonderful Josefin's Waltz
by Roger Tallroth sits perfectly on the cello. St Kilda Wedding, last
recorded by Ossian around 1980, brings out all the raw power of the fiddle-cello
combination. Traditional reels and jigs such as Jenny Dang and The
Sailor's Wife pour from Alasdair's fiddle like malt from a new bottle: smooth
and very tasty, with the sweetest of sounds. Natalie's cello underpins this
music beautifully, counterpoint and harmony alternating with sparkling cello
solos and duets.
Among highlights too numerous to mention, four tracks really stand out. The
first is the opening track, full-throttle dance music with more fire and energy
than you'd believe possible from a duet. The second is Josefin's Waltz,
a tune of grace and beauty which is given angel's wings by the fiddle and cello
harmonies. The third is the medley of Shetland reels, starting with Christmas
Day Ida Moarnin: power and passion to spare on some wonderful old tunes.
The fourth is a virtuoso set of fiddle strathspeys and reels ending with anther
favourite of mine, Crossing the Minch, where the cello improvises a deep
visceral bass line, chopping and driving the bow.
Fire & Grace could be Natalie and Alasdair's middle names - Alasdair
after an aunt, presumably. It's tempting to identify fire with the wee fiddle
and grace with the big one, but both instruments can express either character
in these hands. On the slow airs The Duchess of Bedford and Da Slockit
Light the melody passes from one to the other without faltering, and the
final track puts it all together with Phil Cunningham's charming air The
Hut On Staffin Island and Addie Harper's classic Barrowburn Reel.
This is a truly great album, one for intense listening with the volume turned
right up to eleven.
Farquhar MacDonald "The Ghost Shirt"
Label: Own Label FARQ01 9 tracks, 52 minutes
Frenzied fiddler Farquhar MacDonald has been a mainstay of the Skye music scene
since he was old enough to get into a session. His high-energy mix of highland
fiddle and pipes with contemporary weirdness is a winner at festivals and ceilidhs,
and his composing talents are widely acknowledged, but this is his first solo
recording. Once you get past the pounding beat and sampled soundscape, there's
plenty to recommend this music to anyone who enjoys fine fiddling and well-blown
pipes and whistles. And of course, for the young at heart, the "drums & bass"
groove is is loads of fun too: perfect party music.
The throbbing opening track The Ladies of Minginish takes liberties with
a couple of traditional tunes in the style of 4 Men And A Dog, adding self-indulgent
vocals and honky-tonk accordion. Next comes Sevens, a pure dance track
in the style of Martynn Bennett or the Afro Celts. Track three is the glorious
slow air Bob's Tune which reminds me of melodies by Ashley MacIsaac and
Phil Cunningham. Finlay claims it as his own, and certainly the second half
of the melody seems original. It's followed by the atmospheric march The
Perspex Ball, one of several tracks with a slightly new-age mystic feel
and an intriguing story.
For pure atmosphere, though, the title track takes some beating. Composed to
mark the return of a Sioux artefact after 150 years, Ghost Shirt is an
immensely powerful piece which blends the plangent strains of Scottish piping
and native American chant. Here, too, the relentless drums and gut-shaking bass
are never far away, but this demonic cocktail is a total success. The music
takes over, becomes almost hypnotic, and is somehow deeply appropriate for the
mixture of joy and tragedy which it commemorates.
The second half of this recording is more of the same: mystic marches from a
Celtic middle-earth, stomping dance tunes from reels to rap, and a breath-taking
slow version of The Ness Pipers to finish. The precision quick-fire fiddle
on Famous MacLennan is seriously impressive, likewise the controlled
piping on the final track. Farquhar's music is fun, fiery and fiercely individual,
and at times it's simply beautiful. Ghost Shirt is well worth getting
hold of: it'll open your eyes, and perhaps unblock your ears. Try www.non-stop.org.uk/farquhar
if it's not easy to find in the shops.
Grainne Hambly "Golden Lights & Green Shadows
Label: KlangWelten Records 20019 14 tracks,
In a double baker's dozen tunes, some written centuries ago and others just
a few years old but all broadly traditional, this young harpist presents a whole
range of sparkling Irish music. There are some well-known tunes here, such as
the reel Sailing Into Walpole's Marsh, the jig Jackson's Night Cap,
and the Carolan composition Henry MacDermott Roe, but most of the material
on Golden Lights & Green Shadows is less familiar. Gráinne has
done her homework and unearthed some great tunes, many from older musicians
in her native Mayo. I particularly like the simplicity of The Clare Island
Boat Song, and the sprightliness of the Wind Off The Lake jigs.
One thing to note is that Golden Lights & Green Shadows appears to be
a true solo album. It may even have been recorded with no overdubbing. All you
get is the unspoilt sound of the harp, as Gráinne's fingers tease every
nuance out of her instrument. Listen to the beautifully delicate version of
The Kerryman's Daughter, which is called Up Boyle's Hill here;
every note is in place on this tricky reel, but Gráinne also imbues it
with a grace and magic which recalls the tales of fairy harpers. Each track
on this recording is a subtle delight in Gráinne's deft and gentle style.
Golden Lights & Green Shadows is an excellent follow-up to Gráinne's
1999 debut CD Between The Showers. Both albums are available from Gráinne's
website, http://grainne.harp.net (no www
in this address), and Golden Lights & Green Shadows can also be found
at www.klangwelten.net if you read
German. Highly recommended.
Richard Wood "Infectious"
Label: Own Label RW2003 11 tracks, 62 minutes
A young fiddler who can turn his hand to any style of music, Richard Wood has
been at the top of the Canadian music tree for several years now but he's still
not so well known in Europe. From Prince Edward Island, Richard's repertoire
is mainly Scots and Irish plus a broad spectrum of North American fiddle music.
The opening set of hornpipes finishes with a wonderful high-speed version of
The Flowing Tide, then we're into some lovely lyrical slow strathspeys
followed by a romp through three traditional reels. This album is more straight
tradtional than Richard's last two CDs: reels, jigs and hornpipes fill the first
seven tracks, with classic piano and guitar backing, and just a hint of drums.
A couple of highlights are Gladstone's Reel and the trio of Richard's
own tunes on Glymur Jig Medley. There are also some gorgeous slower tunes,
including Memories of Bishop MacDonald and My Mother.
The last four tracks are in a more contemporary mood. Starting with a swing
version of that '50s favourite A Fool Such As I, Richard moves on to
a modern waltz, another of his own compositions. A set of jigs and reels gets
a progressive rock make-over before the big folk-world-dance finish, a selection
of reels ending with Jenny's Crack-Head Chickens. All together, this
CD is as catchy as the title suggests. Resistance is futile. With viral marketing
it could spark a Richard Wood epidemic. You have been warned. The only known
cure is available from www.peisland.com/richardwood,
and some record shops. Panic buying recommended.
Keep It Up "On Safari"
Label: Foot Stompin' Records CDFSR 1725 11
tracks, 40 minutes
The combination of Eilidh Shaw on fiddle and Simon Thoumire on English concertina,
with strummers Malcolm Stitt and Kevin MacKenzie on guitar and bouzouki, is
guaranteed to produce thrilling and innovative music. This is their second CD,
and it lives up to high expectations. Punchy reels and jigs are balanced by
a couple of slower tracks, but Keep It Up is mainly about rapid-fire tunes and
rhythms with flashes of inspired experimentation.
The ringing fiddle harmonies on Eilidh's tune The Grappa Groove turn
a quirky melody into a powerful dance mix. Ed Pearlman's Uist Regatta
is another recent composition which benefits from the bouncy brilliance of Keep
It Up. Several older tunes are buffed to a dazzling shine here: The Glasgow
Hornpipe is taken at a perfect pace, and Lexy MacAskill rumbles along
with the unstoppable energy of a steam locomotive. The Skylark's Ascension
is a cracking wee pipe jig, Pat and Al's by Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll
sits beautifully with the traditional Fosgail an Dorus, and Eilidh treats
us to a sumptuous version of the Gaelic song Griogal Cridhe. Sparring
guitar rhythms and sheer virtuosity on fiddle and concertina, never a dull moment.
Almost. As Sandy Brechin's fine composition states, Sometimes It Doesn't
Work. There are a couple of experiments gone wrong, blemishes on this peach
of an album. Why doesn't The Dismissal Reel start another track, instead
of being jerkily tacked onto a lovely pair of jigs? And what is a straight set
of unexceptional Bobby MacLeod waltzes doing in the middle of such an exciting
recording? But these irritations are far outweighed by highlights such as the
slow version of Arthur Gillies, an idea pinched from Ceolbeg's second
album, and a seemingly endless stream of great tunes like Dan Breen's Reel
and Dance of the Woodbug. All in all, On Safari is a lively and
interesting album with lots to recommend it: www.footstompin.com
has all the additional info you might need.
Philip Duffy "Killin' Clocks"
Label: Own Label BPCD001 14 tracks, 50 minutes
Killin' Clocks is one of the best debut CDs to come my way in a long
time. There's power and passion aplenty in Philip Duffy's fiddle, and there's
tight control and technical genius too. He has a wonderful strong tone on the
reels and jigs, and a rare sweetness in the pair of his own waltzes 1868
and 1927, as well as in the stunning Doherty slow air Paddy's Rambles
Through the Park. The accompaniment on guitar, piano and bodhrán
leaves plenty of headroom for the fiddle, and as Paddy Ryan's sleevenotes say
it's never overdone. Other highlights include the deft handling of Mike McGoldrick's
popular Whalley Range jig and a distinctive version of The Bucks.
Philip Duffy is a Sligo man, and his music is drawn mainly from that county's
rich heritage as well as from musical neighbours Donegal and Leitrim. There's
a handful of tunes from the rest of Ireland, and a few from further afield,
plus two American songs delivered by guitarist Declan Courell which add to the
general appeal of this CD. The reels Kilcoon and Brendan Tonra's Carraigin
Ruadh, the jigs Larry's Delight and The Green Hills of Woodford
are all local treasures, and Philip adds four of his own compositions to the
Sligo fiddle repertoire. There are many unusual tunes here, but the feel of
this music is so right that even an unfamiliar melody seems instantly comfortable
and familiar. The whole recording is a joy to listen to. For more information
drop Philip a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.geocities.com/killinclocks
before this outstanding young fiddler is snapped up by a record company.
Les Langues Fourchues "Cache Ta Barzatte"
Label: Mille-Pattes MPCD 3401 12 tracks, 50
Another great Quebecois band from the same stable as La Bottine. Les Langues
Fourchues, or "The Forked Tongues", are five young whippersnappers who brew
up an impressive musical storm. This is their second album. With two fiddles,
flutes and piano box, plus a plethora of plucked strings, Les Langues Fourchues
produce a full and fresh sound. Add the close-harmony vocals and the foot percussion
which are so typical of Quebec's music, and you have a powerfully intoxicating
The seven songs here are the expected blend of comic, tragic and ridiculous.
All the band members sing, offering a rich and varied vocal landscape from sparkling
solos to rousing choruses. The charming Quebecois knack of combining a song
with a tune is demonstrated with consummate skill, turning songs like Poussez-vous
les Vieux and Tumature Lure Lure into perfect cameos of the Quebec
tradition. The five wordless tracks are equally striking: reels and jigs mainly,
with several own compositions. Le Réveil de la Marmotte is one
of several happy combinations of Irish and Canadian French tunes. The title
track is a Creole stew of The Redesdale Hornpipe, a couple of Canadian
reels with the girls' diddling justifying the title of La Barzatte des Filles,
and a reel which was once undoubtedly Irish.
The end of the album comes as a shock: it's so easy on the ear, so light, so
airy, so soon over. The youth of Les Langues Fourchues lends a special quality
to this recording, and I'd say they'll improve with age. One to hear, and one
to watch. Find it at www.millepattes.com
if nowhere else. www.leslanguesfourchues.com
is also worth a visit for photos and samples.
Grey Larsen & Paddy League "Dark of the Moon"
Label: Sleepy Creek Music SCM 103 11 tracks,
Flute and concertina player Grey Larsen is probably best known for his composition
Thunderhead. Here he plays mainly traditional Irish material, plus a
pair of his own tunes. He's joined by Paddy League on guitar and bodhrán.
In a little under an hour, Larsen and League run through eleven tracks of well-chosen
and well-written tunes.
The opening two sets show the classic Irish untongued flute style, with flashing
fingers doing all the work. Larsen gets great tone out of his flute, especially
in the lower octave, and his expression is first class. The reels The Cat
that Ate the Candle and John Stenson's are deservedly popular, and
the Palm Sunday jig that follows is a favourite of mine. Larsen's smooth,
flowing flute contrasts sharply with his punchy concertina style. The Michael
Kennedy Jigs set demonstrates percussive playing on concertina, guitar,
and of course the good old Irish drum. These tunes have extra or missing beats,
an occasional feature of the playing of many older musicians in Ireland and
Scotland. I'm not convinced that this wasn't just a mistake at some point in
the past, but it keeps things interesting.
The slow air The Blackbird is a corker, played with feeling and finesse
on the wooden flute. The change into the pipers' favourite The Gold Ring
is masterful, and the deft bodhrán backing gives this great jig a rare
lift. After a few more workmanlike tunes, there's a charming slow version of
the Scottish pipe jig The Drunken Gauger. This is followed by Dowlandesque
guitar on a classic slow air, tasteful but palling after three minutes, and
then three reels finishing with a nice bouncy romp through The Collier's.
The end game finally reveals the two Larsen compositions. The Slopes of Mount
Storm is a delightful waltz, and the traditional jig Hurry the Jug
picks up into the very pleasant slow reel which provides the album title. The
flute is superb here, deep and resonant. The last track is a trio of jigs: catchy
first and fun second, well-known third, again with that earthy flute, a good
one for anyone who wants to know the difference between a jig and a slide.
Larsen and League show themselves to be a formidable combination on this recording.
The melody line is solid and compelling, and the accompaniment is mostly kept
well back. This leaves the sound slightly thin at times, but that's traditional.
If you like your music acoustic and unadorned, you'll find plenty to savour
on Dark of the Moon.
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