Issue 29 09/2004

FolkWorld CD Reviews (2)

Danny Kyle & Billy Connely, photo by The Mollsi
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 Stan Henley.
Homepage of the artist:
Dai Woosnam

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 floor.)
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 more verve.
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:
Dai Woosnam

Alistair Hulett & Dave Swarbrick "Saturday Johnny & Jimmy The Rat"
Label: 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 philosophy.
Contact to label:; Tel:/Fax: 0421-4988535 Postal Address: Jump Up Records, Postfach 11 04 47, 28207 Bremen
Dai Woosnam

Iron & Wine: "Our Endless Numbered Days"
Label: Sub 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 undergone.)
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 ingredient.
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
Dai Woosnam

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:, contact to label: Dogface Records, 11 Cherry Lane, Wolfville, NS, Canada.
Dai Woosnam

Kathy Kallick: "Reason & Rhyme"
Label: Cooper 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 classic.
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:; 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 & Yip Harburg.
The general feel of the album is bluegrass/good timey, and is well worth a purchase.
Homepage of the artist:, contact to artist:, Tad marks, 14102-A Monticello Drive, Cooksville, Md. 21723
Dai Woosnam

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 if nowhere else.
Alex Monaghan

Troy MacGillivray "Boomerang"
Label: Own Label TROLLEY-02 10 tracks, 47 minutes
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 for free samples and more information.
Alex Monaghan

Brian Kelly
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 a visit. Essential listening for banjo fans and Irish music lovers alike.
Alex Monaghan

Brian McNamara "Fort of the Jewels"
Label: Drumlin Records BMNCD2 16 tracks, 54 minutes
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 - and check out the other Drumlin recordings too.
Alex Monaghan

Borders Young Fiddlers - BYF
Label: Isle Records ISLE 01CD 16 tracks, 68 minutes
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, which also has a mail-order service.
Alex Monaghan

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 the surface.
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.
Alex Monaghan

Maeve Donnelly & Peadar O'Loughlin "The Thing Itself"
Label: Claddagh Records CCFCD36 15 tracks, 42 minutes
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 Geraldine Cotter.
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.
Alex Monaghan

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 you.
Alex Monaghan

Ivan Drever & Duncan Chisholm "A Long December Night"
Label: Highlander Music HRMCD011 11 tracks, 41 minutes
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 the album.
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, or drop William Crawford a line at this hot little Inverness label: to you. Visit while you're about it.
Alex Monaghan

Allan Henderson "Estd 1976"
Label: Macmeanmna SKYECD 24 12 tracks, 52 minutes
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 upstart.
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 Dugald Gillespie.
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 tunes.
Alex Monaghan

Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas "Fire & Grace"
Label: Culburnie Records CUL 121 13 tracks, 65 minutes
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 CD.
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.
Alex Monaghan

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 if it's not easy to find in the shops.
Alex Monaghan

Grainne Hambly "Golden Lights & Green Shadows "
Label: KlangWelten Records 20019 14 tracks, 48 minutes
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, (no www in this address), and Golden Lights & Green Shadows can also be found at if you read German. Highly recommended.
Alex Monaghan

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, and some record shops. Panic buying recommended.
Alex Monaghan

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: has all the additional info you might need.
Alex Monaghan

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 or visit before this outstanding young fiddler is snapped up by a record company.
Alex Monaghan

Les Langues Fourchues "Cache Ta Barzatte"
Label: Mille-Pattes MPCD 3401 12 tracks, 50 minutes
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 mix.
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 if nowhere else. is also worth a visit for photos and samples.
Alex Monaghan

Grey Larsen & Paddy League "Dark of the Moon"
Label: Sleepy Creek Music SCM 103 11 tracks, 56 minutes
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.
Alex Monaghan

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