Issue 29 09/2004
FolkWorld CD Reviews (3)
Tabache, photo by The Mollis
Leahy "In All Things"
Label: Narada World 18341-2-3 10 tracks, 45
If this ain't turbo trad, nothing is. The prolific Leahy family from Ontario
has produced another supercharged album of sparkling fiddle music and songs,
their third to date. Songs and tunes are about evenly balanced: the singing
is mainly done by the four girls, and the fiddling comes mostly from the four
boys. These eight musical siblings share other instruments and step-dancing
There's a sort of New Country feel, in the nicest possible sense, to Leahy's
songs. All four are written by the band, and you can hear influences from pop
to polka, but the general style is melodic and hummable over a thumping backbeat.
There's a bit of gospel in there, a bit of crooning, and a bit of rock. I
Want You To Know is rather different, kind of blues over a muted strathspey,
and it kind of grabs you.
On the instrumental side, Leahy are about as exciting as mainstream Canadian
music gets. There's no particular regional flavour here, just a rich stew of
all that's best from the European and other traditions that have shaped Canadian
music over the last century or two. The Clog Medley set is a beautiful
piece of Canadian old-time fiddling, recalling Jean Carignan in his heyday:
rapid-fire bowing mixed with some lovely lyrical sections. Pointe Au Pic
is similar, but faster. Chasing Rain combines fiddles with Leahy's trademark
step-dancing routines, to great effect. Another nice touch is the guest fiddling
of Natalie MacMaster, engaged to Donnell Leahy at the time, on Wedding Day
Jig. In fact, all six instrumental tracks are little crackers.
If you're looking for something Canadian with plenty of life, a bit of a twist
now and then, and some brilliant fiddling, you won't go far wrong with In
All Things. It might not be easy to find, mind you: try www.leahymusic.com
if you're having trouble.
Mick Mulvey "Within A Mile O' Jamestown"
Label: Own Label Coolathuma 001 15 tracks,
Mick Mulvey may be London born and bred, but his flute playing betrays his Leitrim
heritage. Influenced by Roger Sherlock, Brian Rooney and others from the vibrant
London Irish music scene, Mick plays beautifully smooth reels in the Sligo/Roscommon
style. Piano and guitar accompaniment are provided by Pete Quinn and Simon Wroe
on several tracks. More than half this CD is given over to reels old and new,
starting with old favourites Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel, Lucky in Love
and The Bloom of Youth. Mick continues with reels from Roger Sherlock
and Josie McDermott. After a couple of jigs and hornpipes including the ever-popular
Trans-Roscommon Airways, he's joined by Brian Rooney's mighty fiddle
and Reg Hall's stylish piano for The Primrose Lass, Cregg's Pipes and
Tom Ward's Downfall. A trio of Packie Duignan reels follows, delightful
tunes which Mick delivers with great tone and fine breath control.
The home-spun feel is quite strong in places, but single-take recordings have
an extra spark and this one is no exception. Duignan's Odd Jig is another
grand old tune from Packie, and it's coupled to a pair of John McKenna jigs
on which Mick lavishes his skill and energy. This track is one of the highlights
for me, offsetting a weak treatment of The Gold Ring. Then it's back
to the reels with the title track, ending in a spirited version of Miss Thornton's.
Two classic Irish waltzes, Maguire & Paterson and The Belltable Waltz,
bring a refreshing change of pace and a chance to appreciate the lyrical qualities
of Mick's playing: I don't think I've heard better interpretations of these
Guess what? It's back to the reels again with a Vincent Broderick tune The
Coachman's Whip and two more John McKenna favourites, this time joined by
Karen Ryan on fiddle. A couple more sets of reels, two fine jigs, another duet
with Brian Rooney on The Rakes of Clonmel and a curious little Easter
egg on the end, and Mick's solo debut is over. With eight great tracks of good
auld reels and a few other high points, this is an album well worth hearing.
How you find it is another matter, but www.mickmulvey.co.uk
can probably help: you'll also find some samples there.
Nollaig Casey "The Music of What Happened"
Label: Old Bridge Music OBMCD15 13 tracks,
In a double handful of fiddle tracks and four songs, Nollaig Casey showcases
her very contemporary approach to Irish music and other Celtic traditions. From
the Galician jig which opens this album to the Simon Jeffes classic Music
for a Found Harmonium which ends it, eclectic is the name of the game. Not
surprising really, for the solo debut of a musician with a career spanning two
decades and including work with Donal Lunny, Riverdance, Enya, Emmy Lou Harris,
The Indigo Girls, and many others. The Music of What Happened also features
several of Nollaig's own compositions, six in all, ranging from the toe-tapping
reel The Silver Strand to the spine-tingling slow air The Last Lord
of Beara in honour of one of the many Irish chieftains on the losing side
at the battle of Kinsale in 1601.
The four songs here, all in Irish Gaelic, are beautifully sung and sparingly
arranged, just the way Irish songs should be. Nollaig is less well known as
a singer than a fiddler, and this recording will certainly enhance her reputation
in that respect. The instrumental tracks range from Spartan treatments of traditional
tunes such as The Yellow Wattle and The Mountain Lark, through
the Baroque feel of The Clergy's Lamentation and Nollaig's own Song
of the Seven Streams, to the brazen blast of her catchy Beehive reel
and a truly virtuoso rendition of the Penguin Café Orchestra favourite.
With keyboards by Rod McVey, button box by Sharon Shannon, percussion by Liam
Bradley, and guitar by Arty McGlynn, this is a quality-packed recording. There's
also a fiddle cameo by sister Mairéad. Hard to pigeonhole, and equally
hard to put away. There should be a sample track or two at www.oldbridgemusic.com
if you want to try before you buy.
Sean O'Driscoll & Larry Egan "The Kitchen Recordings"
Label: Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 155 13 tracks,
Sean O'Driscoll is a well-known banjoman from Cork, and Larry Egan is a champion
young box-player from Wicklow. They are both in fine form on this recording,
which also features some tasty accompaniment on bouzouki, guitar and percussion
from Sean and others. There's lots of excellent music here, some particularly
nice tunes and some distinctive takes on old favourites. The bad news is that
the duet playing isn't as tight as you might expect, and at times it seems as
if Sean and Larry can't hear each other at all. However, most of the time this
is not too distracting, just like sitting at one end of a big session. The solo
tracks are absolutely brilliant.
Among the little gems here are the hornpipe City of Savannah, a favourite
of mine which is rarely recorded by Irish players, and a fling version of The
Cuil Aodha Jig which contrasts nicely with the standard version a couple
of tracks before. The slow reel John Henry's is another triumph: I've
also heard this as a hornpipe. Sean contributes three of his own tunes, among
them a lovely slow air called An Gobán Saor. At the faster end
of things, there's a break-neck charge through The Ballydesmond Reel
and two great sets of familiar reels to finish with.
Sean's solo includes a nifty little jig of his own called The Muskerry Tram,
and a gentle stroll through Garret Barry's Jig. Larry chooses reels by
Billy McComiskey ad Charlie Lennon for his solo, a racy four minutes of flashing
fingers, with his left hand doing the work of the pipe regulators. Several other
modern composers feature on this CD: Finbar and Richie Dwyer, Eddie Kelly, Sean
Ryan, and Canadian fiddler Bill Maley. It all adds up to a pleasant mix of tunes
in a relaxed session style. Definitely worth a listen. Outside Ireland try www.cic.ie
Paul Smyth "Up and Away"
Label: Reel Records ReelCD 001 13 tracks,
A cousin of the great fiddler and whistler Sean Smyth, Paul is a Mayo fluter
from the old school - and the old school is where he learnt a lot of his music.
He plays with a relaxed, unpolished style: there's plenty of wind in the tone,
and the tunes themselves are given much more time to breathe than we're used
to on commercial recordings. The combination of a languid style and a slow delivery
is perfect for a slow air such as The Rocks of Bawn, and works well for
the currently popular slip-jig A Fig for a Kiss: this slow version is
an excellent opportunity to appreciate the subtleties of a great melody.
It's not often that I complain of people playing too slowly, but there are a
couple of places here where Paul is just a notch off the pace. After the opening
set of jigs, there just isn't quite enough drive on The Humours of Lissadell
and Trim the Velvet although both are very fine tunes well played. The
pair of hornpipes that follow are likewise slightly too much of a backlash against
the Irish habit of playing hornpipes at reel tempo: hornpipes need a bit of
punch on those dotted notes, and they don't get it here.
Track 4 brings in Tipperary piper Michael Cooney on three great reels. If Down
the Broom starts a little slow, Paul and Michael pick up the pace nicely
on The Trip to Cullenstown and by the time they reach The Raheen Reel
they're flying. After the Rocks of Bawn set, Paul picks a perfect pace
for another three great reels: Tim Maloney's, Richard Dwyer's and The
Noon Lasses. Then there's a bit of a novelty in the shape of an Italian
mazurka learnt from John Skelton, a lovely tune which sounds pure Donegal Slav
Early influences come to the fore in the second half of this album. The Kilmovee
Jig is from Paul's own parish. It's followed by a Josie McDermott reel,
Lord Mayo picked up from Seamus Tansey and joined to the famous Hammy
Hamilton jigs, then the title track of John McKenna polkas, and a spirited set
of jigs including the beautiful Shores of Loch Gowna learnt from Peter
Horan. After this veritable Who's Who of Irish fluters, Paul rounds off the
CD with a trio of grand old reels: Ged Foley, who's been plugging away on guitar,
switches to the fiddle for this one. A very creditable debut recording, worth
seeking out. Try www.paulsmythmusic.com
if you can't find Up and Away locally.
The Finlay MacDonald Band "Pressed For Time"
Label: Foot Stompin' Records CDFSR1721 10
tracks, 48 minutes
Ace young piper and whistler Finlay MacDonald has already made enough of a reputation
for himself to front his own band. Since his eponymous debut album, he has gathered
together a group of musicians from bands like Fiddlers Bid, Ceolbeg, On this
CD, named after one of Gordon Duncan's most challenging compositions, Finlay
plays Highland pipes, border pipes and low whistles.
The opening track should be taken as a manifesto: three powerful reels, two
of them Finlay's own, ending with a bang. This is flamboyant, full-blooded music
from one of the flashest pipers around. Finlay follows them with the first of
many exotic tunes, a Breton medley with full band backing: drums, bass, the
works. Next it's pipe jigs reminiscent of Wolfstone, quick-fire notes streaming
out from Finlay's pipes and Chris Stout's fiddle.
Before the pace becomes overwhelming, Finlay throttles back for the first of
two breathtaking slow tracks. This one was inspired by a bar, and it's beautifully
played on the big pipes. The other one is a very slow reel called My Mighty
Friend, a description Finlay clearly merits from the way he fits his composition
onto the low whistle.
Reels again, including a Duncan Johnstone tune, with plenty of the trilled high
A favoured by today's pipers. A slower reel from Macedonia is next, the name
left in another bar. After My Mighty Friend, it's back to the pipes for
more reels at a nice swaggering pace, this time with a drum solo in the middle.
Charlie McKerron's offbeat tune Bulgarian Red builds up the pace for
the big finish.
The title track is an inspiring rendition of an absolutely brilliant tune. It
takes an exceptional musician to play Pressed For Time with expression
and flair: Finlay goes one better, rivalling Gordon Duncan's own performance
for style and inventiveness. This is a suitable climax to an outstanding recording:
thoroughly modern piping full of skill, energy and bags of style. A must-hear
Rona Lightfoot "Eadarainn (Between Us)"
Label: Macmeanmna SKYECD 28 14 tracks, 55
This CD is one of the nicest surprises I've received recently. An accomplished
singer, piper and lilter, Rona Lightfoot personifies the music of South Uist.
Many of the ten Gaelic songs here come from Rona's family repertoire and are
still not widely known. The three sets of pipe tunes are all familiar melodies,
but Rona's settings and style are uniquely evocative of the South Uist Gaelic
tradition. It's hard to believe that this is a debut recording.
One of the most intriguing and impressive tracks on Eadarainn is the
trio of lilted pipe tunes, perfect examples of "canntaireachd", the old method
of learning the pipes without written music. Rona's vocal renditions of Roderick
MacDonald's Strathspey, The Spinning Wheel, and The Duntroon Reel
are expertly delivered in what is sadly a dying art. Iain MacDonald's small
pipes match the vocals note for note, underlining the close relationship between
piping and singing. Another aspect of this relationship is illustrated in the
"puirt-a-beul" Gille Bhàin set to a well-known dance tune. Rona
gives us two "puirt-a-beul" tracks on this album: the other one is a pair of
powerful but neglected old reels.
Iain MacDonald's contribution to this recording is worth emphasising. As well
as playing large and small Scottish pipes, flutes, whistles, concertina, bodhrán
and jaw harp, Iain has definitely excelled in the role of producer: the full
and vibrant sound of this album shows the strength and character of South Uist
music at its best. The collaborations between Iain and Rona are among the highlights
of Eadarainn: Rona's pipes and Iain's Bb flute on Maol Donn, Rona's
vocals and Iain's piping on Eadarainn Mòr Ruadh, and the Canntaireachd
track. Maol Donn is a microcosm of Rona's art, with singing, piping and
cainntaireachd all combined.
The backing vocals, fiddle, piano, accordion and clarsach are almost gilding
the lily on what is already an outstanding album. I hope we'll hear much more
from Rona Lightfoot in future, especially her old-style piping which is under-represented
on this CD. Eadarainn is available from www.gaelicmusic.com
or from exceptionally good music shops.
Michael Rooney & June McCormack "Draíocht"
Label: Own Label DOORLACD003 12 tracks, 49
This young couple have already achieved great things individually, including
major awards and acclaimed recordings. This is their first duo album, but with
any luck it won't be their last. Michael is a harpist from Monaghan, God's own
county, and June is a fluter from Sligo. They're joined on some tracks by Fergal
Scahill on guitar. The material on Draíocht is mostly off the
beaten track, with many little-known tunes unearthed over several years, as
well as four Rooney compositions.
Starting with a delightful jig which was previously recorded by the McKennas
but isn't widely played, then a pair of jaunty hornpipes from Michael, the first
real surprise is the graceful minuet Na Maithe Móra which is a
masterpiece of composition and arrangement. Then it's June's turn to take the
lead on two neglected reels, The Concert Reel and Salute to Baltimore.
Three more of Michael's tunes follow, all from his Millenium Suite: a slightly
bland slow air, and two very fine slip jigs. Michael and June ring the changes
with solos and duets throughout the album, and the harp provides highly versatile
accompaniment in these hands.
The second half of this recording is almost all straight trad. There are a few
old favourites like The Killavil Jig, The Graf Spee and The
Shores of Lough Gowna. There are also some more surprises, all pleasant
ones: Planxty Aisling O'Neill by Vincent Broderick, the reel Homage
to Rooney written by Johnny Og Connolly for Brian Rooney, and the air An
Bhuatais which sits beautifully on the harp. By the time you reach the end
of Draíocht, you'll be captivated by the charming music of this
young couple. Michael and June are spending a year on a world tour and honeymoon,
due back summer 2005, so don't expect a speedy reply from email@example.com
but do check out www.draiochtmusic.com
in the meantime.
Pierre Schryer & Ian Clark "Heat of the Moment"
Label: New Canadian Records NCCD 0005 11 tracks,
"Excitement, adventure, and really wild things", as Ford Prefect said. Well,
maybe not adventure, but certainly plenty of the other two. Pierre Schryer is
an Ontario fiddler who hasn't toured much in Europe but he's definitely hot
property in North America. For his fifth album he's teamed up with exiled Scot
Ian Clark on equally hot guitar. Demonic fiddling is the name of the game here,
bags of classic tunes torn apart and reassembled in interesting ways by Pierre's
bow and Ian's false nails. Irish, Scottish, Quebecois, Cape Breton, and American
music from Mexico to Manitoba, these guys do it all, with energy and panache.
Recorded live in Rasputin's Folk Cafe, Ottawa, there's a slightly home-made
feel to this recording which adds charm and warmth to what is definitely a red-hot
performance by both musicians.
If you've ever seen Pierre Schryer live, solo or with his band, then you know
he wrings every drop of music from a tune. Even without his trademark foot-percussion,
the man is nothing short of possessed when he bows the strings. Master of many
styles, Pierre handles reels, airs, and everything in between. The Rose in
the Heather is a gallop over the moors, The Teatotaller and Lady
Ann Montgomery are roller-coaster rides, Mitton's Breakdown is given
the sort of virtuoso work-out normally reserved for The Mason's Apron,
and that's only track 1.
At well over 6 minutes per track, Heat of the Moment is long on quantity
too. Pierre and Ian squeeze in three dozen tunes, from the blisteringly fast
to the achingly slow. Cape Clear shines in a solo guitar setting, Pierre's
fiddle brings a tear to the eye on Willie Hunter's soulful air Leaving Lerwick
Harbour, and the total contrast with foot-tapping Canadian reels is breathtaking.
There's a set of polkas in fine old Denis Murphy style, a pair of Liz Carroll
tunes at a lovely languid tempo which suits That's Right Too beautifully,
and then the boys mix in a bluegrass showpiece and a little Latin swing with
Tico Tico before the big five-reel finish.
This is a first-rate album, and a unique encapsulation of the chemistry between
two great performers. There are some rough edges, as you'd expect from a one-take
live recording, but if anything these add to the whole experience. If you fancy
an hour of intense music which takes your mind off everything else and leaves
you glowing, try this album. If in doubt, www.pierreschryer.com
will sort you out. As they say in North America, enjoy: it's all good today.
Cathrine-Ann MacPhee "Sùil Air Ais"
Label: Greentrax CDTRAX258 13 tracks, 49 minutes
The purest of clear voices, with some of the best musicians in the business
joining her on a dozen and a half of the finest Gaelic songs old and new - what
more could anyone want? True, there have been several albums released recently
to the same formula, but this one is something special. First, Cathy-Ann is
an exceptionally experienced young singer who has kept a fresh and youthful
sound throughout her twenty-year career. Second, her home island of Barra has
a particularly sweet and gentle dialect of Gaelic, quite different from the
more well-known accents of Lewis or Skye. Third, Cathy-Ann's singing comes straight
out of the bardic and song traditions of Barra and Uist, as authentic as it
There are some truly beautiful songs here. Iain MacDonald's super-sweet flute
lends extra poignancy to simple love-song Hò Mo Luran, while Ewen
Vernal's bass drives along the tragi-comic Mo Chridhe Trom in grand style.
The Barra piping tradition is instantly recognisable on several tracks: Fàilte
Dhruim Fionn fits perfectly with the pipe accompaniment, and the two "puirt-a-beul"
or mouth-music medleys are rich in piping influences. There are also a couple
of more contemporary songs, and a Gaelic hymn set to a very attractive tune
that's known from Spain to Scandinavia.
Tony McManus provides guitar accompaniment on most tracks. There are touches
of clarsach and cello, and gorgeous backing vocals from Màiri MacInnes,
another of my favourite Gaelic singers. Playing and production are flawless,
but it's hard to beat the ungilded beauty of Cathy-Ann's singing on the two
unaccompanied songs Griogal Cridhe and Gaol An-t-Sèoladair.
Whether your taste runs to ancient or modern, lush arrangements or the pure
drop, Sùil Air Ais will hit the spot.
Various Artists "Thistle Do 1&2"
Label: Iona Records IRCD070 & IRCD071 29 tracks,
These two compilations are drawn from the extensive back catalogue of Iona and
Lismor recordings. There are plenty of great tracks here, new and old. The "red
hot" CD boasts the St Kilda Wedding set and The Road to Drumlemman
from Ossian albums of the early eighties, plus timeless classics The Easy
Club Reel and John MacLean's March from Tonight At Noon. The real
fireworks come from Aly Bain in the shape of Reel du Pendu, and from
Wolfstone who contribute the stirring song Holy Ground and the instrumental
medley Erin which I never considered to be one of their best efforts.
The idea behind these releases is to get Scottish music into the mainstream,
at least in Scottish pubs and clubs, as part of a national effort to oust imported
muzak. A laudable goal, but commercial reality also figures here: Iona have
pretty much stuck to the safe, easy-listening side of Scottish traditional music.
Scottish piping takes a back seat (there's actually more emphasis on the Irish
pipes, with a track by Watkin Lees), and almost all the material is heavily
arranged. On the plus side, there are excellent tracks from Paul Mounsey and
Bongshang representing folk-pop fusion, and a great pair of tunes from Oliver
Schroer (a young fiddler from Ontario) which are sort of a bit Scottish.
According to Iona, the "cool blue" CD presents the "morning after" side of Scottish
music: slow, moody, and multi-coloured. Again, there's some great stuff here:
three more Paul Mounsey tracks, two more Wolfstone tracks including the brilliant
Hector The Hero, another song and a beautiful harp piece from Ossian,
and the delectable My Lily set from fiddlers Aly Bain and Jerry Holland
(Boston, near Partick). Watkin Lees provides two more Irish piping sets, jigs
and reels which are a bit of a surprise on a chill-out compilation. There's
a Pearlfishers number, and one by Terry Neeson who's new to me, and finally
a Scottish piping set: The Bells of Dunblane from the incomparable Robert
Mathieson. Dalriada provide a Burns song, Ae Fond Kiss, one of his best
in terms of sentiment and melody.
Compilations are notoriously difficult to choose, and to review. It seeme to
me that Iona could have chosen better, and put more emphasis on traditional
Scottish music. However, even I would agree with about half the tracks they
selected on these two CDs, and I'm not the target audience. If you want a good
quality overview of easy-listening Scottish music, try these but ignore the
Irish piping. If you have friends in Japan or America who don't know much about
Scottish music, Thistle Do.
BOOK REVIEW - Hidden Fermanagh by Cyril
Published by Fermanagh
Traditional Music Society, 180 pages, £12 softbound
It's hard to know whether to review the book or the accompanying CDs: both are
equally excellent, and equally valuable as sources of the somewhat neglected
music of Fermanagh. I say somewhat, because much has been done by The Boys of
the Lough (particularly Fermanagh fluter Cathal McConnell) and others to bring
Fermanagh's music to a wider audience. However, it remains true that Fermanagh
hasn't received the sort of musical exposure which Clare, Donegal, Kerry and
other Irish counties have enjoyed. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, the
music of Fermanagh is certainly made more accessible by these publications.
The music in this collection comes mainly from the repertoires of the Gunn and
McManus families, and there's plenty of first-class material here to choose
from. Some of it is well known throughout Ireland, perhaps in slightly different
versions: Dick Gossip, The Stony Steps, The Opera Reel, The Monaghan Twig
and others. Much is from Scotland:Lady Gardener's Troop was originally
Lady Garten of Troup, and Big John's Reel may have started out
as Big John MacNeill's. Still, most of the material, songs and tunes,
has been little known outside Fermanagh - until now.
As an icon of the Fermanagh tradition, Cathal McConnell has been instrumental
(!) in bringing this project to fruition. Apparently, he and others were inspired
by the success of a similar project in Leitrim. Most of the actual work was
done by Cyril Maguire and Sharon Creasey: collecting the forty photos, transcribing
the tunes and songs (including the famous Gunn manuscript), and preparing the
book for a very high standard of typesetting and printing. The contents are
roughly divided between a history of Fermanagh music, with fine long contributions
from Cathal McConnell and the McManus family, and a collection of over 100 tunes
and 30 songs with a handy index. The music presented here is essentially a transcription
of the Gunn manuscript, and there's a fascinating chapter which describes the
manuscript's history and contents.
The whole package is attractively produced and carefully presented. If you can't
find it locally, try the mail-order service at www.fermanaghmusic.com:
there's a special price for the book and CDs together, and lots more information
about the music of Fermanagh, hidden no longer.
Alwa "Alwa "
Label: Amigo Music AMCD 747
Alwa are a Swedish band who eclectically combine Nordic folk with free jazz,
latin, bluegrass and African Yoruba music, weaving the various elements seamlessly
together into a soundscape of saxophones, percussion, bass guitars and ethereal
The band comprise of Anna Elwing (vocals and fiddle), Jonas Göransson (electric
and acoustic guitars), Karin Ohlsson (fiddle and alto fiddle), Tina Quartey
(percussion) and Torbjörn Righard (saxaphone and flutes). The opening track
on this album is an impressive one, and sets the mood for a musical journey
at times pensive and lamentous, at times joyous and free-flowing. Improvisation
is an integral part of the band's sound, and this comes across especially in
track 7, "Dagen stänger sitt fönster", which opens with a talking drum solo.
This is followed by Anna Elwing's vocals, which can be described as a Swedish,
female version of Liam O'Maoinlai's on his solo recordings.
I enjoyed the album, but overall, found it rather uneven in quality. My favourite
track was the opening one, and I felt that the rest of the album failed to realise
the musical potential of the band. Still, for more info on the band, check out
the Amigo Music website, which can be found at www.bonnieramigo.com.
Kathryn Tickell "Back to the Hills: Solos,
Duets and Trios"
Label: Resilient Records RES 001
If you are familiar with the music of Kathryn Tickell and her band, then "Back
to the Hills" should be a treat for you, especially since it is not available
in the shops and can only be obtained directly from her website www.kathryntickell.com.
"Back to the Hills" is an album which contains exactly what it says on the cover-
solos, duets and trios". You'd be hard pressed to find anything more (or less).
The female Northumbrian piper plays some fine tunes on this album, and is joined
by veteran musician Willie Taylor on fiddle, Julian Sutton on melodeon, Mary
Macmaster on harp, Andy May on Northumbrian pipes and David Milligan and Paul
Flush on piano. As Tickell notes on the back sleeve of the CD, most of the album
was recorded in living rooms throughout Northumberland, and without any high-tech
equipment. The result is an album with great ambience and raw energy, especially
on track 4 "Andrews March/ Kielder Schottische/ Shirley's Reel" and track 5
"What it is/ Fare Well". Track 8, "Keel Row", features Tickell solo on the pipes,
and is a great tune. The album also features two short tunes, "Holme's Fancy"
and "Madame Bonaparte", which are, in Tickell's own words, "played with alarming
frequency by Northumbrian pipers, including Andy and myself!"
If you're a fan of the Northumbrian pipes, or indeed, of Kathryn Tickell, then
this is an album you wouldn't want to miss.
More information can be found on Kathryn Tickell's website: www.kathryntickell.com.
Label: FISD 001
The review copy of Cosmic Drone's CD was sent to me with the following warning
from Frank Vickers, manager of Cube Roots, who promotes the CD: "if you're familiar
with Stéphane Durand's work with Tapage you're in for a shock." With a feeling
of great foreboding, I gingerly put on the CD, but was in for quite a pleasant
True, this album, brainchild of composer and musician Stéphane Durand, generates
a far more raw and live sound than Durand's previous collaborations. Cosmic
Drone's album can only be described as a mix of Middle Eastern and European
folk rhythms and tunes, fuzzy-wuzzy electric guitars, jazz, blues, chill-out
sections and great percussion. In other words, it certainly IS different from
Durand's previous work with Tapage! All goes to show the effortlessly versatile
quality of true musical genius, doesn't it?
Cosmic Drone then, are: Stéphane Durand (electro-acoustic hurdy gurdy), Vincent
Viala (keyboards, Fender guitar, vocals), Thierry Leu (electric bass) and Vincent
Lemaire (battery) (??). My favourite tracks on the album have got to be the
eponymous track 4 and the two following, "Drive Left" and "Les Frégates".
This is a marvellous album. And not least because of the way Durand orchestrates
the transition from funky, groovy, Gary Glitter style tracks to pared-down,
chill-out, jazzy lounge tracks. Go on, try it! You won't be disappointed!
Check out Cosmic Drone's website: www.cosmicdrone.com.
Label: Cube Roots CRCD 9.9632
XIM are a funky little Norwich band whose weapons of musical onslaught include
hurdy gurdy, flutes, whistles, bagpipes, melodeons, bass guitar and percussion.
Their definitive sound consists in their building up of polyphonic harmonies
and tunes which weave ceaselessly and rather hypnotically through one another;
just when you think one track is about to draw to an end, a new melody whisks
you away yet again.
To say that this is a gem of a debut album would be to underrate the musical
talent of the members of XIM. Nick Carpenter (melodeons and percussion), Kate
Ross (flutes, bass and percussion), Paddy Shaw (bagpipes and bass) and Frank
Vickers (hurdy gurdies and percussion) are four incredibly talented musicians
(and presumably, very talented artists too, judging by their sleeve-booklet!)
with slightly different personal musical influences. This is reflected in the
wonderful blend of sound, incorporating French squeezebox tunes, Slavic and
Eastern European melodies, and contemporary, jazzy, loungy, chill-out grooves.
My absolute favourite track on the album has got to be track 5, and no wonder,
for even its title hints at a touch of class- "Special Reserve/ The Clint Eastwood
Waltz". XIM's "989" is a wonderful CD. My only misgiving is the album's rather
short playing time of 48:44 minutes. With such great music, you don't want the
pleasure to end. Then again, you could always stick on the 'repeat' button on
the CD player, right?
Check out XIM's website: www.xim.org.uk,
where you can order a copy of "989" and buy other band merchandise.
Christian Vesvre & Fabien Guiloineau and friends
Label: AMTA (Agence des Musiques Traditionnelles
en Auvergne) AMTA 75270
AMTA are quite an impressive label. Their catalogue, especially, is quite remarkable,
with a range of artists from the lesser-known to the slightly more established
and respected musicians in their field of expertise. Which brings us to Christian
Vesvre, a man with a penchant for the uillean pipes and whistles, and his mate
Fabien Guiloineau on guitar. This album was co-ordinated by Vesvre, who wanted
to bring together some musicians actively engaged in playing traditional Irish
music in and around the region of Clermont-Ferrand. The result: a collection
of 9 (!) musicians who join in for a bit of good craic. The full line-up reads:
Frederic Targif (bodhran), Guy Vesvre (accordion), Serge Desaunay (accordion),
Frederic Eymard (guitar, vocals), Francois Breugnot (violin), Francois Baubet
(flutes) and Liam Healy (vocals on chants). Together, these musicians showcase
a mixed bag of tricks ranging from merry jigs and reels (try the opening collection
of reels, "The Earl Chair, The Merry Blacksmith, The Craig's Pipes", or collectively,
better known as the "Clermont Set") to more solemn airs and chants.
Well, what to make of this CD? It's certainly a good effort, and a commendable
one, given that it's high time some record labels start paying more attention
to musicians playing trad music on the continent. However, the quality of the
playing is a tad uneven. Vesvre and Guiloineau are two very good musicians who
could probably carry off a trad session in a pub to much applause. The atmosphere
recreated on the album is certainly reminiscent of many a good night in an Irish
pub, where the craic was good. However, Vesvre's playing is sometimes a little
rushed and the elision of half notes is noticeable, especially in his warbles
on the flute (listen to track 8 and you'll hear what I mean). At times I feel
Vesvre does not exploit the full potentiality of sound of the uillean pipes,
which is a shame, given the beauty and versatility of the instrument, in the
right hands. Track 10, for example, is a set of three reels, the last being
"The Fox Hunter", a well-known reel. Towards the end of this reel, however,
Vesvre falters a bit, rendering a quality of unevenness to the piece. This track
is followed by a chant, "When Two Lovers Meet", sung by Liam Healy, whose vocals
I am not 100% convinced about, especially on this beautiful piece, a love song
from Munster, and also perhaps known more commonly as "The Banks of the Lee".
Nevertheless, the album is worthwhile adding to your collection, as is probably
most of the collection on the AMTA label! Check out the AMTA website, www.amta.com.fr,
or the album's website, at www.irishmusic.free.fr.
Neumann, Reeves & Barabasch "Scéal Eile"
Label: Blackberry Records - No label info
Neumann, Reeves & Barabasch. Got that? Bit of a mouthful, but the concept is
simple enough- put all your last names together, and hey presto. Wonder if the
Beatles were all related, or if the Beach Boys… ok, ok, best get on! Anyhow,
Neumann, Reeves & Barabasch are a trio featuring Gert Neumann on guitars, mandolin,
banjo, bass, synths & programming and percussion, Sean Reeves on vocals and
bodhran and Jens Barabasch on wind instruments. Special guest Frank Ritter also
helps out with drums. Scéal Eile isn't a bad little album, with a folksy, bluesy,
trad sound. I especially liked Barabasch's low whistle playing on track 4, "The
Auld Woman from Wexford". The album also includes a couple of traditional favourites
such as "Caledonia" (Dougie McLean), "Ride On" (Christy Moore) and "Danny Boy".
Reeves' deep and heartfelt vocals carry the lyrics well, assisted by Neumann's
skilled guitar playing.
All in all, Scéal Eile is a rather quiet gem of a folk CD. No fancy artwork
or sleeves, no fancy introduction to the band. Released by Blackberry Records
in Wesel, the band's debut CD deserves at least three stars. Whether it contains
enough original material to warrant the fourth, I am not quite sure. Nevertheless,
one to add to any die-hard folk junkie's collection.
James Thurgood- Handy Little Rig "Celtic
& Old-Time Harmonica from the Maritimes"
Label: Dogface Records- No label info
James Thurgood is a mouth organ prodige who grew up in the fishing village of
Wallace, on the north shore of Nova Scotia. His father, a Cape Bretoner, played
the mouth organ, and as a teenager James started seeking out Cape Breton fiddle
music, experimenting with the traditional tunes and complimenting the music
with bits of blues harp which he was dabbling in at the time.
The diatonic ten-holed harmonica is still James' pet instrument though, and
the Celtic and old-time tunes are the ones he keeps coming back to. On Handy
Little Rig James is joined by his long-time musical compadré Kevin Roach, a
guitarist whose accompaniment provides just the right touch on the album. Handy
Little Rig contains a good mix of slow airs, jigs and reels, strathspeys, hornpipes
and polkas. The sleeve notes provide an informative commentary on the origin
of the tunes and Thurwood's own musical background.
Some of the tracks are familiar enough. "Blue Bonnets Over the Border" (track
2), for example, is a Scottish waltz which has also been recorder recently by
Ashley MacIsaac as a piano solo, and by Natalie MacMaster on the violin. Track
11, "Whiskey Before Breakfast/ Drowsy Maggie" is also a recognizable pair of
tunes. The rather stripped-down instrumentation (Thurgood on harmonica and Roach
on guitar) gives the album a rather quiet, contemplative feel, quite suited,
I guess, to its Cape Breton origins.
Depot are a four man (minus the dog) acoustic band that play blues and Celtic
folk. Payday is a rather eclectic 10 track album that features Mat Walklate's
low, "shimmering" vocals and skilled harmonica and bamboo flute playing, Andy
Pyatt on guitar, Anthoy Haller on double bass and percussion, and Dave Lunt
on guitar and percussion. Oh, and did I mention that Matt is also a music teacher,
organises a bi-yearly harmonica 'shindig' in Manchester where harp players can
meet, jam and learn more about the harmonica, and provides regular workshops
and write articles for the (British) National Harmonica League? Impressive,
Payday is a collection of ten self-penned tunes with a sound that ranges from
bluesy/ country/ dance hall/ rock n' roll numbers (check out "Ain't No Big Deal
on You", track 9) to more Celtic folksy ones (listen to track 3, "In My Sight",
which features Matt on the flute, accompanied by rather tribal-sounding percussion!)
It's certainly worth a listen, but hard-core folk lovers might be slightly disappointed
by the more bluesy and rootsy feel to the album. Check it out for yourself!
Mat Walklate's website can be found at www.matwalklate.co.uk.
Mark Saul "Mixolydian"
Label: Mark Saul - MSCD001
No, this is not the new Afro-Celt sound system release/ collaboration, neither
is it the latest Ashley MacIsaac gone ultra techno. The blend of acoustic and
electric grooves and beats is reminiscent of the above, but Mark Saul takes
his music to a higher level and a class of its own. A Scottish highland bagpiper
(and lecturer in graphic design at RMIT University of Melbourne!) of Australian
origin and international renown, Saul's compositions have been recorded by various
artists and released on labels such as Lismor, Klub (KSL) and Greentrax.
Mixolydian features Saul on bagpipes and low whistles, Simon Rowley on acoustic
and electric guitars, Hamish Davidson on banjo and fiddle, Maryanne Rothschild
on violins and Don Stewart on bazouki and acoustic guitar. The album is a groove-infused,
tranceadelic journey with many twists and turns. The best advice for the listener-
abandon all preconceived notions of folk and listen with an open mind! The accompanying
sleeve notes to my favourite track on the album, track 4 "Journey to the Centre
of the Celts" states "What starts out as a traditional style reel heads into
other territory…"- no kidding!
Mark Saul's new album has taken folk into new territories. This is not music
for the faint-hearted traditionalist. It's therefore highly recommended- listen
and see what you make of it for yourself!
Mark Saul's website can be found at www.marksaul.tv.
Cyril Tawney "Nautical Tawney: Songs of
the Old Seafarers"
Label: ADA Recordings- ADA104CD
And now for something completely different! If there's one word to be associated
with Captain Cyril Tawney, it's the sea. An ex-Royal Navy submariner, the captain
has confessed that the sea has been his one life-long inspiration, his distraction,
his passion, indeed, his life. The self-penned maritime songs on this album,
which draw inspiration from the South West of England, reflect this fact. In
1958, Tawney began researching the almost totally neglected field of 20th century
Royal Naval songs, and this resulted in his unique book Grey Funnel Lines in
1987. Now here's an interesting piece of trivia for you: Tawney is the only
songwriter to have his work included in both The Oxford Book of English Traditional
Verse and The Oxford Book of Sea Songs. Betcha didn't know that before, didya?
The album itself contains many traditional favourites from the maritime section
of Tawney's repertoire. Released to wide-acclaim (and not merely among the sea-faring
public!) Nautical Tawney contains fifteen tracks including "The Dark Eyed Sailor",
"Waiting for the Day", "Gosport Nancy", "The Rambling Sailor", "The Maid on
the Shore" and "Yarmouth Town". All of the songs were written, arranged and
performed by Tawney, who also plays guitar on the tracks.
For more information on Cyril Tawney and his music, please refer to his website:
Dursey Sound Connection "Forgotten Moons"
Label: The Quick Red Dog Company- No album
Dursey Sound Connection consists of two musicians who hail from Germany, but
who have made west Cork their home. Founder member Eckehart Krup and his sidekick,
Teo Dahlke have worked hard to make their newest album is an interesting one,
and not in the least because it provides the "soundtrack" to Druids the Epic,
a new interactive computer game rooted in the mythology and history of the Celtic
people of Europe!
This West Cork band's latest offering is a mystical journey through time, and
a musical journey woven together through a wide array of instruments- guitar,
fiddle, flute, banjo, accordion, bagpipes and bodhran. This journey is divided
into different sections, entitled "The Forgotten Land", "Dermot My Love", "The
King's Call", "The Journey", "The King's Banquet", "The Mission" and "Fighting
the Dark Side". (No, this is not Lord of the Rings Part IV.) True, the wave-crashing
and thunder-roaring openings to some of the tracks can be a tad cheesy, however
the musicianship isn't all that bad. "Michael Gorman's" (track 5), for example,
is a lovely traditional single jig. So is the slip jig, "The Butterfly" (track
13). At times, however, the music does sound like one sustained soundtrack to
a computer game!
For more information, check out the band's website www.durseysound.com.
Alternatively, for the computer geek in you, the website of the computer game
Druids the Epic can be found at http://www.druidsepic.net/.
Steve Schuch "Trees of Life: Songs of
Friendship & the Earth"
Label: Night Heron Music - 208
Now where on earth would you get a CD featuring piano, guitar, 10-string violin,
flute, bass, congas, tuba, kids' chorus, and whale and birdcalls to top it all
off? Try Steve Schuch's new award-winning album. Trees of Life has been prestigiously
honoured with the "Parent's Choice Award" by the Parent's Choice Foundation,
and I kid (no pun intended!) you not!
Schuch has recorded seven precious albums, but Trees of Life is his first release
specifically for children. An avid naturalist and Peace Corps volunteer, Schuh
explains "the songs [on this album] were chosen to inspire wonder and spark
creativity in children." The CD booklet certainly contains helpful hints for
student participation, and the album is in order to integrate music into the
classroom curriculum in some New England schools.
Included on the album is a cover version of Harry Belafonte's "Turn the World
Around" and tales that explore the meaning of friendship and growing up. "Ibis
the Whale", "The Little Prince", "Giving Tree" and "If I Had Wings" are all
inspiring songs which kids can sing to, while also listening to the message
in the lyrics.
Someone once asked me, "Have you hugged a tree today?" I think my answer at
the time was not in the affirmative; after listening to Steve Schuch's Trees
of Life, however, I just might go out and do so!
More English CD Reviews: Page 4 - Page
5 - Page 6 - Page 7 -
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More German CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page
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