Issue 29 09/2004

FolkWorld CD Reviews (3)

Tabache, photo by The Mollis
Tabache, photo by The Mollis

Leahy "In All Things"
Label: Narada World 18341-2-3 10 tracks, 45 minutes
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 as appropriate.
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 if you're having trouble.
Alex Monaghan

Mick Mulvey "Within A Mile O' Jamestown"
Label: Own Label Coolathuma 001 15 tracks, 55 minutes
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 melodies.
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 can probably help: you'll also find some samples there.
Alex Monaghan

Nollaig Casey "The Music of What Happened"
Label: Old Bridge Music OBMCD15 13 tracks, 45 minutes
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 if you want to try before you buy.
Alex Monaghan

Sean O'Driscoll & Larry Egan "The Kitchen Recordings"
Label: Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 155 13 tracks, 48 minutes
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 for mail-order.
Alex Monaghan

Paul Smyth "Up and Away"
Label: Reel Records ReelCD 001 13 tracks, 49 minutes
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 to me.
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 if you can't find Up and Away locally.
Alex Monaghan

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 CD.
Alex Monaghan

Rona Lightfoot "Eadarainn (Between Us)"
Label: Macmeanmna SKYECD 28 14 tracks, 55 minutes
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 or from exceptionally good music shops.
Alex Monaghan

Michael Rooney & June McCormack "Draíocht"
Label: Own Label DOORLACD003 12 tracks, 49 minutes
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 but do check out in the meantime.
Alex Monaghan

Pierre Schryer & Ian Clark "Heat of the Moment"
Label: New Canadian Records NCCD 0005 11 tracks, 74 minutes
"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, will sort you out. As they say in North America, enjoy: it's all good today.
Alex Monaghan

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 gets.
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.
Alex Monaghan

Various Artists "Thistle Do 1&2"
Label: Iona Records IRCD070 & IRCD071 29 tracks, 2 hours
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.
Alex Monaghan

BOOK REVIEW - Hidden Fermanagh by Cyril Maguire
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 there's a special price for the book and CDs together, and lots more information about the music of Fermanagh, hidden no longer.
Alex Monaghan

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 vocals.
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
Kathy Tan

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
"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:
Kathy Tan

Cosmic Drone
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 surprise actually.
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:
Kathy Tan

XIM "989"
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:, where you can order a copy of "989" and buy other band merchandise.
Kathy Tan

Christian Vesvre & Fabien Guiloineau and friends "Irish Music"
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,, or the album's website, at
Kathy Tan

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.
Kathy Tan

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.
Kathy Tan

Depot "Payday"
Label: KLATECD03
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, huh?
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
Kathy Tan

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
Kathy Tan

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:
Kathy Tan

Dursey Sound Connection "Forgotten Moons"
Label: The Quick Red Dog Company- No album info
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 Alternatively, for the computer geek in you, the website of the computer game Druids the Epic can be found at
Kathy Tan

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!
Kathy Tan

More English CD Reviews: Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7 - Page 1 - Page 2
More German CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2
Overview: CD Review Contents

To the content of FolkWorld No. 29

© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 09/2004

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