Issue 31 1/2006

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Terne chave "Kaj Dzas"
Label: Indies; MAM-247 2004
This band from Slovakia plays old songs which they have learned from their grandparents combined with own compositions. Although the gypsy music is essential in their music, it doesn't stop there. They use influences from flamenco, rock, French chanson and many other styles. The cd is best described as a straight on gypsy-rock cd with solid and easy to listen to rock tunes. A real beauty is the song coripen which is a duet between the lead singer of the band and Marina Pommier on guest leadvocals. There is also some reggae style in Suno dzavas and the cd contains four live bonustracks from a concert in Prague. What you get when you buy this cd is a band who enjoys what their doing. They sound energetic, intense and both modern and traditional. Music that brings positive energy to your life, much cheaper than your psychiatrist.
Homepage of the artist:
Eelco Schilder

Strada "Gadje"
Label: XXII records; 2-1432 2002
Gadje, not a group of East-European musicians as you might expect. This group comes from Canada and plays music of the nomads. They play songs from countries such as Macedonia, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Spain and so on. The cd contains sixteen songs and dances played on Clarinets, flutes, bagpipe, violin percussion etc. The cd makes a strong start with the Macedonian song Zensko oro which is a bit melancholic, followed by the Hungarian song Szarcsiriklyi which has a strong vocal part. The next five tracks are from Greece, varies from a ballad to typical Greece dance music. An absolute highlight is the Italian song Balla della sposa. What a fantastic vocals and rhythms. The same goes for the Basque and three Spanish songs that follow, I think this Southern-Europe part of the cd is absolutely the strongest part. It surprises me how these non native musicians often manage to catch the right atmosphere of the countries the music originally comes from. This Gadje is a strong musical production with skilled musicians and a great choice of repertoire. The interpretations of the ancient music is fresh and light, it never gets to complicated and is a constant pleasure to listen to.
Homepage of the artist:
Eelco Schilder

Terre differenti "Cities of dreams"
Label: Private cd 2005-05-22
Terre differenti is an Italian world-fusion ensemble which with Cities of dreams has released their second cd. The band originally excists out of five musicians but on this cd they are with fourteen in total. With both traditional and modern instruments they create a whole new world in sound. Mixing ancient music with ambient, electronics and jazz, their music listens like I'm on a trip around the world. I hear an angel whispering to me in Different lands, feel the rainforest in god of thunder and taste the darkness in Under moons of jade. This music is like a modern symphony or a musical fairy tale. It's the ambient style that dominates the music mostly on the cd. It has some beautiful moments with exiting and surprising music. But it also sounds a bit mannered on several occasions as if the urge of creating something new was bigger than the urge to make music. An intriguing cd made by a creative group of musicians. But for me personally it feels more like music from the mind than music from the heart and I'm afraid that in the end I will like the music from the heart more.
Homepage of the artist:
Eelco Schilder

Dvergmål "Song i himmelsalar"
Label: Heilo; 7192 2004
A group from Norway which was formed when the musicians, all from other parts of Norway met. They released their first cd in 1996 which was nominated for the Norwegian Grammy award. Typical of their music is the harmony vocals and the sound of the langeleik (kind of zither), hardanger fiddle, jew's harp and willow pipe. Many of their songs are old hymns while others are folk poems of Elias Blix. Sweet, sober and a bit introvert music which has a deep soul. It took me a few times listening before I could really catch the spirit of this cd. At first it sounded a bit to soft but the more I listen the more the music gets me. It's of such a purity which is hard to find these days. Often we don't realise that Hymns are a part of the music-tradition of a country. Somehow in Norway they have been aware of this for decades and Dvergmål is one of the best examples how a young band keeps this tradition alive in beautiful and intense music.
Eelco Schilder

Paul Vens and friends "Daughters of light"
Label: Private v904 2004
The Dutch musician Paul Vens has been active with music for a few decades. His music often has a singer-songwriter kind of style with folk and new-age influences. Although I reviewed this last two cd's as well and found some beautiful songs on these two, this cd is to much new-age for me. It contains six compositions on the Tibetan singing bowls which are meant to give rest to the restless. The other six songs are ethereal soundscapes and fingerpicking and stand far from the nice folksongs I mentioned earlier. This is too much new age for a folkmagazine, there are moments that this music does give me comfort and joy but unfortunately at this moments I have other ways to relax and find my inner peace.
Homepage of the artist:
Eelco Schilder

Various artists "All children in school"
Label: Forest hill; 01; 2004
A project in co-operation with UNICEF and Audrey Hepburn. This is a compilation cd of a box with a book including photographs made by Hepburn. A nice collection of worldmusic artists such as Dulce Pontes, Uxia, Ani di Franco, Omara Portuondo and many others. A good way to support one of the most important children right foundations and also surprise yourself with a nice collection of music
Eelco Schilder

Ulrike Dangendorf "Spuren"
Label: Westpark; 87109 2004
Ulrike Dangendorf is a German Accordionist and composer who has been playing the instrument since she was six. In the past few years she did several projects including composing and playing music for film and a few solo projects. Spuren is a solo cd without any other musician. Her music is a combination of many styles, mostly in a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. I hear some blues, light jazz, some worldmusic influences and a touch of classical music. Dangendorf is a master on her instrument, not only technically, she also knows how to put emotion in her play. Her compositions are not experimental in any way, they are easy to listen to without being wall-paper music. She has something to tell and expresses that through her music. A very pleasant cd indeed!
Homepage of the artist:
Eelco Schilder

Shunsuke Mizuno "Slow time"
Label: Ozella; OZ 007 2005-05-22
Shunsuku Mizuno is a Japanese player of the contrabass and is a specialist in Asiatic music. Together with Miwa Insaba on koto and Aya Motohashi on Japanese oboe, he forms a trio that gives regular performances and now recorded this cd. The cd contains light jazz music with a clear Japanese traditional sound. In tunes like Song of the birds it is the jazz that takes control. While in, for example, rain in the distance the music sounds much more typically Japanese. The musicians play in a very tender way as if they are almost afraid to touch their instruments. It's nice to hear how the trio brings together the Asiatic music with the more Western jazz sound. In a Starry night in shamghai even an harmonica takes the lead and the music is taken into a dark jazz club somewhere in the centre of a dark town. This slow time is a beautiful cd with fragile music which gets under my skin and somehow gives me a feeling of melancholy.
Eelco Schilder

Lesley Curtis "Shock delayed"
Label: Organicblond 301 2003
The English singer-songwriter Lesley Curtis has been the leading lady of a band called the stretch which excised in the eighties. Since 1991 she plays solo and it took 12 years for this first solo cd to appear. Lesley Curtis doesn't have an easy voice to listen to. It has an own style and sound which is definitely not the ordinary thirteen in a dozen sound. Her music is closer to the singer-songwriters from the US than from the UK. It has a light Americana sound, but mostly is just decent rock music. The problem I have with this cd is that during the whole cd I have the feeling that something went wrong in the recording studio. The instruments and especially the drums have an annoying sharp sound. The cd also lacks a good cohesive of the instrument and the vocals in a few songs like in the opening-track. These technical things wouldn't be a problem when a cd contains some world shocking music, unfortunately this cd doesn't. The songs are to common and her voice, which is really promising, is in my opinion not suitable for this kind of middle of the road folkpop. She has this voice with which she can sing sharp and dark ballads, dark and dangerous music but instead she choose to sing brave "nothing going on" songs and her voice just doesn't work for me in this type of music.
Homepage of the artist:
Eelco Schilder

R. Carlos Nakai quartet "People of peace"
Label: Canyon records; 7069; 2004
Various artists "Native American moods"
Label: Makoche records; vldcd 25235 2003
Sometimes I'm doubting if I'm writing for the wrong magazine. That happens when I got a cd like People of peace in my hands on which "Native American music" is turned into new age wallpaper. So without any creativity, all these cd's sound the same and should capture the spirit of an ancient culture. It doesn't work for me and I'm sure it never will. Much more interesting is the cd Native American moods on which various artists bring both modern and traditional music from the Native Americans. Without the new-age sound the music is so much more interesting. Some nice pop songs, friendly rock ballads and all with a clear link to traditional music. If you like to get to know the Native American music, than I recommend this collection of artists who show at least many kinds of the music and not help you to fall asleep within two minutes like the People of peace cd does.
Eelco Schilder

Barry McLoughlin "Pieces"
Label: Narrativemusic; 0559 2004
Barry McLoughlin is an Irish born singer-songwriter who lives in Ontario, Canada nowadays. He is influenced by names such as Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristofferson and Harry Chapin. He won his first folk competition at the age of 15. Pieces is his debut cd which contains 14 very nice original songs. Only a singer with his guitar helped by Mike Dillon on bass, electric guitar, bodhran etc. The music does remind me of the American singer-songwriter music of the seventies with often a romantic nature. Love and girls are the main topics of his songs, without being to sentimental or to sweet. The music has some light Irish touches but should be considered as pure acoustic singer-songwriter. McLoughlin has a strong voice which is a pleasure to listen to and fits his bit romantic music perfectly. The same for the instruments, well arranged and play in a gentle but professional way perfectly fitting his voice and songs. A strong debut cd from this Irish/Canadian singer-songwriter.
Eelco Schilder

Various Artists "An t-Eilean"
Label: Macmeanmna SKYECD 30; 14 tracks, 58 minutes
Dedfinitely worth a listen: this is a mix of old and new music, loosely based on the mass emigration from Skye to Prince Edward Island in 1803. Many of Skye's finest musicians are represented, including Blair Douglas and Anne Martin, as well as PEI musicians and singers. The material on An t-Eilean stretches from Celtic Cowboy country to straight traditional and back again, with the roots of Runrig in there somewhere. The opening Skye Pioneers combines accordion and blues guitar, and the beautiful song Eilean an Àigh is achingly poignant in any language. Calum MacMhannainn's poem Imrich nan Eileanach is set to a thinking man's new-age piece by Blair Douglas, and followed by a set of traditional pipe tunes played by Angus MacKenzie of Dàimh. To say that there's something for everyone here would be an exaggeration, but if there's nothing to your taste on An t-Eilean you should probably forget about music from Skye: this CD is an excellent sample of the island's rich musical culture.
The good stuff continues with a gentle waltz and a blaring brassy pipe jig by Neil Campbell of MacBeat, another great traditional song, and a medley of fine new tunes by PEI fiddler Emma Swinnerton. The classic Cumha Crann nan Teud is as clear as a bell on Eilidh MacLeod's solo clarsach, and Roy Johnstone's Skye Suite includes some catchy melodies as well as some red-hot down-home fiddling. An t-Eilean finishes with two spine-tingling tracks, Hector MacKenzie's pipe air Saors' agus Sìth and Blair's thoroughly modern magic on the title track. The only down side of An t-Eilean is that there's actually very little information about who plays what when: apart from that, the notes are informative and the whole package is attractively presented. Check out for more information.
Alex Monaghan

Roddy Campbell & friends "Back to Barra"
Label: Barra Records 001; 17 tracks, 60 minutes
Why do people buy CDs? Because they admire the artist: here are some of Scotland's finest, including Roddy Campbell and his children Rory and Marianne, singers Cathy-Ann MacPhee and Karen Matheson, Maeve MacKinnon, Maggie MacInnes and many more. Because they love the music: Back to Barra presents seventeen tracks of Gaelic song and instrumentals from the vibrant heart of the Hebridean tradition. Because it's in a good cause: all profits from this album will go towards a hospice on the relatively unspoilt and sadly neglected island of Barra. Three out of three ain't bad!
The musicians on Back to Barra have given their time and talents to this worthy cause. In the process, they've produced a stupendous snapshot of Barra music past and present. Roddy and family are joined by a host of Hebridean luminaries: Maeve MacKinnon, Maggie MacInnes, Chrissie MacDonald and Flora MacNeil have all contributed tracks from previous albums, and there's new material from The Vatersay Boys, Coma-Co-Dhiubh, Clò na Nighean, Murdo MacDonald, Archie MacLean, and sisters Catriona and Lisa MacKinnon. Fifteen tracks are based around those stunning Gaelic vocals, with arrangements from traditional tweed-thumping to toe-tapping techno. One of the instrumental tracks features the Campbell family band in fine style.
As if that wasn't enough, there are some jaw-dropping moments of brilliance. Roddy Campbell's Gaelic version of Peggy Gordon is a cracker. Rubh' nan Cudaigean is transformed by Coma-Co-Dhuibh into one of the most exciting pieces of mouth music I've ever heard. Archie MacLean and Roddy Campbell give Mod singing a good name with Gruagach Og an Fhuilt Bhain, beautiful deep flute and rich vocals. The obligatory break-neck barndance comes from The Vatersay Boys, with an excellent trio of tunes including Father John MacMillan of Barra. Roddy Campbell finishes off this hour of exceptional music with Theid Mi Bharraigh, a fitting tribute to the island, which is also provided as a bonus video track. So there you go: buy one. Buy several. Browse to or email or ring Jean Campbell on 01786 812098 in the UK. What could be simpler?
Alex Monaghan

Beoga "A Lovely Madness"
Label: Own label BMCD001; 11 tracks, 44 minutes
I haven't had so much fun from a CD in years. A Lovely Madness is a joy from start to finish. Following in the footsteps of Reeltime and North Cregg, and touching the greatness of La Bottine Souriante and The Old Rope String Band, Beoga show how much life and exuberance can be injected into traditional music by a bunch of mad Bs. Here, B stands for box-players (two of them: Sean Og Graham and Damian McKee), bodhránist (Eamon Murray) and backing keyboards-player (Liam Bradley).
Basically this is accordion music, A Lovely Madness if ever there was one. There are bits of Astor Piazzola's bandoneon tango mastery, bits of Quebecois squeezery, a large dollop of Sliabh Luachra wizardry, and not a little Beoga alchemy to make the whole thing zing. As Sandy Brechin put it, "It's accordion music, Jim, but not as we know it." The sound is spectacular from the off, Kerry polkas meeting Paris Rive Gauche on Prelude Polka. The boys can do slow and soulful too: the languid slip-jig Soggy's is a muted masterpiece, and The Solid Man is one of those haunting slow airs which seem so simple once someone writes them down. In between, Beoga squeeze out a range of tunes and tempos from Riverdance to Porgy & Bess: the 12/8 jig Exploding Bow, the offbeat reel Beoga, the slow drag Funk in Class, and a couple of big bouncy hornpipes. They also do totally trad as well as anyone, perfectly demonstrated on Jack Maguire's Reel and The Heathery Breeze.
Beoga's material comes mainly from the twisted minds of Damian and Sean Og, who contribute fifteen tunes between them. The other eight are mainly traditional. There's a heavy bias towards hornpipes at various tempos, which is fine by me: hornpipes and squeezeboxes were made for each other, and the humble hornpipe deserves at least as much respect as the revered reel. All in all, A Lovely Madness has to be on anyone's list for outstanding traditional music. Catch them live, or browse through for more info.
Alex Monaghan

Brendan Power "Tradish"
Label: Own Label Tethnik 109, 15 tracks, 62 minutes
Quantity and quality in a nice green box. With 13 tracks of Brendan's own tunes and only two trad arrs, the album title is stretching a point but you won't hear better Irish-style mouth-organ. Some of the material has been around the block. Brendan's M1 Reel is already familiar from other musicians' repertoires. Jig Jazz was the title track of Brendan's second album, and is reworked here. Farewell to Muswell Hill is no stranger either. Other tracks are as fresh as the clover on the cover. The Dingle Angle gives a fair idea of what's in store for the next hour: hard-hitting harmonica with plenty of bottom-end backing, fancy facework with the emphasis firmly on fun.
Brendan's mouthies are joined by Steve Cooney's guitar and Greg Sheehan's tambourine (honest!) on most tracks. There are cameos from Andy Irvine, Gerry "banj" O'Connor, Declan Masterson and others. Mick Kinsella duets on harp for the deep dark Real Blues Reel, and there are memorable moments from great English guitarists Ian Carr and Chris Newman. The Bloom of Youth is the only track which might be almost pure Irish: Gerry O'Connor sparkles as always, and the groove is somewhere between Naas and Nashville. Elsewhere the Irish flavour is blended with blues, big band and Bulgarian. Mainly Bulgarian, which might not be surprising after Brendan's stint with Riverdance. Sweet Bulgarity could be one of Bill Whelan's 7/8 gems, and the traditional Danubska Horo fits perfectly between the mayhem of Monaco Madness and the mellow M1 Reel. Lots to recommend this album, then: look out for it in the shops, or try for online ordering and some sample tracks.
Alex Monaghan

Niall Vallely "Buílle"
Label: Vertical VERTCD071, 10 tracks, 46 minutes
Irish concertina genius Niall Vallely has been quiet of late, but this recording with brother Caoimhín on keyboards and Paul Meehan on guitars is a timely reminder of his brilliance and style. Buílle is mostly Niall's own tunes, often in the Irish or Scottish idiom, and invariably played with the type of flair and musicality which most of us can only wonder at.
Niall kicks off with one of his trademark finger-blistering reels, shaking that hexagonal magic box like it was a Bond martini. This man can do pyrotechnics with his eyes shut, but Buílle isn't all flash and burn. Farewell to McCarthy's is a perfectly paced slow jig, sad but with just a hint of swagger. Singing Stream Air is simply beautiful, and should be set to Gaelic words about unrequited love or maybe fratricide. Mullacreevie is back to the fireworks factory, a savage whirl of notes, not the sort of dance music where the dancer can win. Longnancy's is more familiar, a jig in the classic style, plenty of swagger and just the right turn of speed. It's paired with the traditional Winnie Hayes' Jig. If it's unfamiliar you're after, try Eleven Eight, not an Ireland-England rugby result but a bewildering Balkan rhythm.
The accompaniment throughout is flawless. Brian Morrissey chips in on bodhrán occasionally. Paul and Caoimhín both have their solo moments, on Longnancy's and Gleann an Phréacháin respectively, but Buílle is all about the concertina and the man behind it. This CD should join Niall Vallely's excellent previous albums as a classic of new Irish music. Miss it if you dare.
Alex Monaghan

Ciaran Tourish "Down The Line"
Label: Compass Records 4407, 10 tracks, 38 minutes
At last, Altan's fiddler gets a solo CD together. "Solo" in the modern sense: Ciaran is joined by a fiddler's dozen guests, including three singers, but Down The Line is clearly stamped with the Tourish brand. As well as four tracks of traditional fiddle and one true solo track show-casing Ciaran's lesser-known whistling, there are three songs cherished and chosen (but thankfully not sung) by Ciaran. Two Tourish compositions complete the tally: the flashing twisting western-style waltz Carlisle Bay, which perhaps partly explains Altan's flirtations with American roots music, and the sultry slow reel Oldtown which shares its name with my canoe but sounds closer to Afro-Latin funk than duelling banjos. Songs are provided by Paul Brady, Tim O'Brien and Maura O'Connell, three very individual voices. Dreams Will Come is a Brady composition with exemplary fiddle and whistle backing from our man in Buncrana. Ciaran plays the same role on Are You Tired Of Me?, the tragic bluegrass tale of a woman forced to communicate in winks and glances: Tim O'Brien doesn't specify whether this is a temporary restriction or a permanent disability. Maura O'Connell wraps her smoky voice round Slan Le Maigh and sears the ears, while Ciaran whistles sweetly and Paul pumps the keyboards.
The fiddling is what you'd expect: powerful, assured handling of heavyweight tunes. Lord Gordon's, Lucy Campbell's and The Flogging come from the Irish-Scottish cross-over in Donegal. Ciaran trots out some lighter stuff too, floating the bow and adding masterly flourishes: Famous Ballymote and Paddy Taylor's Jig shower fresh rosin on old favourites, The Cordal Jig seems to be enjoying a renaissance just now, and Flowers of Edinburgh is a pleasant surprise on an Irish recording. Flawless guitar accompaniment is supplied by Arty McGlynn and Paul Brady, and Jim Higgins bangs things together artfully in the background. Port Na bPucai contains all the expressiveness of Ciaran's solo whistle, an enchanting performance of a magical tune, using natural breathiness to good effect. Forty minutes fly by: I could have listened to twice as much, but Mr Tourish is smooth enough and showman enough to leave us wanting more. You won't be satisfied by Down The Line, you'll be longing for Ciaran Tourish's second album - due around 2025.
Alex Monaghan

Peatbog Faeries "Croftwork"
Label: Own label CDBOG 002, 11 tracks, 56 minutes
Another rich and varied instrumental maelstrom from these highland head-bangers: Croftwork is slicker, funkier, harder hitting, and slightly less chaotic than the Peatbogs' previous three albums (we don't generally refer to them as the Faeries nowadays). The material on this CD is pretty much original, and pretty much by Peter Morrison.
Starting from the full-on Celtic metal of Scots on the Rocks, the mix continues with breathy New Age whistle on Weakening, and eerie, darkly hypnotic pipes & fiddle on the title track The excellent punchy funky Latin feel to The Anthropologist is a clear highlight, and contrasts starkly with the slow whistle/fiddle air When the Seahound Left Me - presumably named for a lost love. Decisions Decisions, a gentle nocturne for acoustic guitar and weirdness, is coupled to a driving fiddle reel with more weirdness. Veganites is another punchy, funky, dancey number, and Trans-Island Express returns to dark and spooky mode with added Shooglenifty-style vocals. The Great Ceilidh Swindle takes traditional Scottish dance music and twists it beyond all recognition, Drone Age is just strange, and finally, All About Windmills presents an engaging series of jig-time variations with solo breaks and lush ensemble sections.
The whole Croftwork thing is an enjoyable diversion from musical convention, full of surprises but still loosely tied to its pipe and fiddle heritage. Give it a whirl: is there to help and bemuse you.
Alex Monaghan

Darren Maloney "Who?"
Label: Own Label, 12 tracks, 50 minutes
Good question. From County Cavan, and relatively unknown even inside Ireland (two apparently unrelated facts), Darren Maloney is among the hottest and fanciest banjo players I've ever heard. On a par with Seamus Egan or Enda Scahill, he's not too far behind Brian Kelly either: he also writes some great tunes, many of them on this debut CD. So why haven't we heard of him before? Well, Cavan is a little off the beaten track, and judging by the cover photo Darren doesn't get out much. But I bet we'll be seeing more of him now.
From the quirky Atholl's slip-jig to the ramrod-straight Reel des Cinq Journelles, through the jauntiness of Annaghmakerrig and the gentle sweetness of Vonnie's, the banjo bobs and weaves over percussion and guitars. Kandy Girls is a wonderful tune, capturing the twirling, twinkling fun of Kandyan dance. Singing in Irun adds a charming Hispanic touch, and sits well with Bela Fleck's catchy jig Maura on a Bicycle. Darren's own compositions are joined by classics old and new: the reel Catharsis, the jig Con Cassidy's, and others.
Who? is one of the most enjoyable and impressive debut albums to come my way in years. It's fresh and lively, technically first class, and full of respect for the music. In these days of everyone making a CD in their garden shed, it's a rare pleasure to hear one as good as this. Hunt Darren Maloney down: might be a good place to start.
Alex Monaghan

David Power "My Love is in America"
Label: Claddagh Records CCF37CD, 15 tracks, 45 minutes
Precision piping it ain't, but it more than makes up for that in richness of tone and blitheness of spirit. David Power has taken his time before making a debut CD: gone is the teenage technical perfection, the slavish obedience to the tune, and the desire to play at speeds which render the regulators redundant. Instead, this recording showcases a measured and relaxed approach to the Irish piping tradition, teasing the meat off the bones of some great old tunes, to provide a veritable feast for the ears. A glorious romp through Madame Bonaparte, a gutsy swagger on Saddle the Pony, and the full gamut of emotions and effects on the classic Fox Chase: that's just first impressions.
There's real depth to the slow airs Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day, Women of Loughrea and The Bonny Bunch of Roses, helped by the beautiful mellow tone of David's flat pipes playing two semitones below concert D. The hornpipes are also something special, an under-rated form which sparkles here as David does full justice to Bantry Bay and Standing Abbey. And of course there are plenty of reels and jigs served up piping hot: Boys of the Town, The Green Mountain, Cailleach an Airgid, and a rousing finish with George White's Favourite.
A notable characteristic of this CD is that all accompaniment is provided by the drones and regulators of the uillean pipes: this is a true solo recording, but David Power is so adept at accompanying himself that the absence of other musicians is never felt. Few of today's pipers can make better use of the instrument's accompaniment potential than this young man. Add some fascinating sleevenotes and the usual high standard of Claddagh production, and My Love is in America makes a powerful impression on all fronts.
Alex Monaghan

Paul Dooley "Music from the Robert Ap Huw Manuscript 1"
Label: Own Label, 6 tracks, 51 minutes
Remember Ann Heymann's album Queen of Harps? That's the only thing I can think of which is similar to this recording. Paul Dooley has taken his Irish wire-strung small harp and applied it to ancient Welsh music of a type we almost never hear today. The results are amazing, entrancing, and uplifting. Prepare to have your eyes and ears opened.
Several people have suggested that the big Scottish piping pieces derived from harp music. The material here would support them: it's big, it's complex, and it requires serious attention from performer and audience alike. Paul has recorded three of the shorter pieces from this 17th-century manuscript, and three of the longer works, giving a feel for the range of music preserved in these seventy pages. At just over two minutes, Caniad y Gwyn Bibydd is the shortest, and that's because it was a joke at the expense of some piper who couldn't match the harp for complexity or staying power. The twenty-one minutes of Caniad Llywelyn Delynior may seem hard to take, until you realise that it was probably intended as a lullaby for Welsh aristocrats - anyone who was still awake after this was clearly going to see the dawn.
Like much early music, the harmonies and progressions on this recording are hypnotic and visceral, bypassing our conventions of musical form and going straight to the hindbrain. It's tempting to drift off, eyes open or closed, and float on the tide of notes which wash back and forth across the strings. There's a spiritual, mystical quality which is quite different from the cheap modern imitations in New Age music. Definitely worth a listen, and a must for harp afficionados. Paul's website has lots of fascinating info, and you can pick up his exquisite first album Rip The Calico.
Alex Monaghan

Duncan Dyker & Friends "Collectors' Items"
Label: Highland Music Trust HMTCD1, 16 tracks, 59 minutes
The Highland Music Trust offers us three dozen tunes from the great 18th- and 19th-century Scottish composers and collectors, an impressive cross-section of a golden age in Scottish music. Duncan Dyker is a fine fiddler and arranger, and a good laugh too: he's joined on Collectors' Items by several other well-known Scottish musicians, including Dougie Pincock on pipes and the like. In amongst the strathspeys and reels are several beautiful slow airs and a cracking trio of Robert Mackintosh jigs which more than hold their own in exalted company. There are also two songs: a passable rendition of My Love is Like a Red Red Rose (don't give up the day job) and a Gaelic song of unrequited love from the pure and haunting voice of Jean Mackay.
The steady pace of some tracks may surprise listeners who are unfamiliar with highland fiddle societies. Occasionally the music is dragged down a little, but most of this CD is taken at a perfect pace for full appreciation of these classic melodies. Bog an Lochan, Hector the Hero, The Baker and many other well-known tunes take on a new dimension at this tempo. Less familiar gems are also more accessible: Leslie is a very appealing reel, easy on the ear like the most melodious of Shetland music, and Aldivalloch is a flawless peach of a slow air. The Roslin Castle set is my personal favourite, one of Scotland's most gorgeous airs followed by a powerful strathspey and culminating in the eerie reel The Witches: eat your heart out, Dan Brown.
Collectors' Items is available from and proves beyond doubt that 18th-century Scottish fiddle music isn't just for collectors. I'd recommend this to fiddlers, musicians, dancers and anyone who enjoys good Scottish music well played. This is the perfect complement to the Highland Music Trust range of printed music.
Alex Monaghan

Eliot Grasso "Standing Room Only"
Label: Own label, 11 tracks, 46 minutes
Virtuoso piping is a weakness of mine, and this CD hits the spot. Eliot Grasso's repertoire includes such staples as Garrett Barry's, Toss the Feathers and The Monaghan Twig, as well as the ever popular Tommy Peoples' and Gan Ainm, yet there is nothing common about his performance of these well-known melodies. More unusual tunes such as Palm Sunday and Farewell to Kilroe are delightfully played, and Eliot has expertly adapted tunes by Ronnie Cooper and Jerry Holland to the uilleann pipes. There's also a handful of his own tunes here, well-crafted and catchy pieces.
The single slow air The Satin Slipper is also the single track which shows much use of the drones and regulators. Like most young pipers, Eliot concentrates on chanter pyrotechnics and leaves accompaniment to the accompanists. Zan McLeod and Andy Thurston take turns in this role, and fiddle parts are provided by Patrick Mangan and Jim Eagan on four tracks, but there's no real distraction from the brilliant and compelling piping which Eliot exhibits throughout Standing Room Only. If it's excitement you're after, and pipes are your bag, then this is an album for you. And I'd say there's plenty more where this came from: Mr Grasso has now turned 20, but this album was recorded in 2002 when he was just a teenager. Roll on his next recording: I'd love to hear what he sounds like now. If you find him playing far from his native Baltimore USA, don't miss him - and let me know!
Alex Monaghan

Chris Norman Ensemble "In the Fields in Frost and Snow"
Label: Boxwood Media BOX904, 11 tracks, 63 minutes
Subtitled "A Message of Good Cheer", this CD is a collection of tunes for winter and Christmas. From French Canadian carols to The Snowflake Hornpipe, from Christmas Eve Reel to Huron Carol, every tune here is both traditional and seasonal. The Chris Norman Ensemble treats us to acoustic arrangements on flute, pipes, bass, percussion, guitar, mandola and keyboards, with several vocal tracks in English and old French. The whole thing is built around Chris Norman's phenomenal flute-playing, ranging across, Scottish, Irish, and North American traditions.
There's a fine mix of styles here. Starting with Irish polkas, we move to the Renaissance grandeur of the title track with a bit of World Music thrown in, then the first vocals: three male voices in unison. Next, Suzie LeBlanc provides guest vocals on Or Nous Dites Marie, a beautiful duet with the flute. This sublime track is followed by a set of three Scottish reels, including one of my favourites The Ale is Dear - how true. The well-known Huron Carol is joined by two French Canadian tunes, including the cheerful Starvation Waltz: Chris switches to lowland pipes for a rich earthy sound here.
A trio of hornpipes is the first excuse for an explosion of virtuoso fluting: Star in the East is taken at a bruising pace with accidentals flashing past in a blur. Another French Canadian medley adds Ms LeBlanc's voice to the male trio, and then we hear Mr Norman's flute in slow mode as he teases every tendril of emotion from Let the Wind Blow High or Low. The three reels which follow are powerful ensemble pieces. Good King Wenceslas provides the excuse for a second flute cadenza, with five minutes of variations, and the album finishes with three-part male harmony vocals on Sound Your Instruments of Joy. Well, nobody can accuse these guys of not doing that! Great flute-playing, and a yuletide CD with a difference: In the Fields in Frost and Snow is available from and from specialist shops. Remember: a Chris Norman CD isn't just for Christmas, but it's a good reason to buy one for your friends.
Alex Monaghan

Funky String Band "Mongrel Unleashed"
Label: Shoogle Records 05004, 12 tracks, 47 minutes
Basically, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a band, it's string, and it's funky. Marvellous stuff, string: this particular batch belongs to the fiddle and mandolin players from Shooglenifty, Angus R Grant and Luke Plumb, plus a mysterious singer/guitarist known as Peter Daffy. The trio's repertoire is string band music with a shoogle: a large dollop of Scots and Irish with the Americana, and boy is it funky. Hot Club de Paisley, perhaps.
Rough'n'ready is the name of the game, with the whole album recorded in a week and plenty of off-mike snippets included in the finished product. Starting with the Shooglenifty-style funk of Tommy's Shades, this CD swings from tunes to songs, trad to soul and back again. The four songs from Daffy are good fun in a sparse jump-jive sort of way, and the old-time influence fits surprisingly well with the Celtic trad feel of most tracks. Amidst highlights aplenty, I'll mention Neil Gow's tune Miss Dundas and Wat Ye Wha I Met Yestreen, two contrasting gems from the golden age of Scottish fiddle music. Luke Plumb's gorgeous slow air The Old School House is up there with the best of them, and Houghton House is a great wee reel nicely handled here.
It's not all roses: there's a disappointing version of Corkhill, a great pipe jig which cries out for funk and was done so much better by Sandy Coghill. And there are a couple of places where the production is a little too rough for comfort. Nonetheless, Mongrel Unleashed is great fun and jam packed with top quality tunes. Definitely worth a listen: widely available, and easy to Google.
Alex Monaghan

Matt & Shannon Heaton "Dearga"
Label: Eats Records ESL CD 004, 13 tracks, 52 minutes
From Boston USA, or thereabouts, Matt and Shannon have forged an authentic link to Irish music. Fluter Shannon is confident and accomplished, with beautiful tone, on traditional pieces such as the opening My Love is in America and on her many compositions which add a touch of originality and genius to Dearga. She also sings, providing tasty lead vocals on Heartland and Fair Jamie, and backing vocals on Keeper of the Game. Matt plays guitar and sings, taking the limelight on a couple of tracks.
Alternate Routes is a pair of lively reels, one from the tradition and one from Shannon. Tell Her I Am applies the same formula to two trad jigs. Heartland is one of those rare singer-songwriter introspections which actually work: the tune helps a lot. F-Stop is a fine flowing reel, and Lemony Lullaby features Matt's deft picking on his own tune. It's back to reels with Three Days to Go, proof of the power of deadlines. Oil for the Chain is the matching set of jigs plus Micho Russell's Reel. Keeper of the Game didn't work for me, but it's followed by the fierce quirky Nor'easter hornpipes from Shannon's pen. Road to Garrison completes the tally of reels with a Maurice Lennon tune and two old favourites. Fair Jamie, like many a ballad, outstays its welcome after about ten verses. The Small Girl is another of Shannon's jigs, preceded by one of Josephine Keegan's. The final track, Marching to Crystal Lake, is one I will definitely adopt: a stirring 6/8 march which sends shivers through me.
Dearga really is a revelation - highly recommended. Matt and Shannon are helped out on a few tracks by Aoife Clancy on guitar and some string players, adding to the considerable talents of this Irish American couple. Check out for availability and preview tracks.
Alex Monaghan

Finlay MacDonald, Simaon McKerrell & Chris Gibb "Highland Games"
Label: Macmeanmna SKYECD31, 11 tracks, 47 minutes
No contest: for pure piping power and panache there's only a handful of people who can touch Finlay MacDonald, and they're mostly busy teaching in Edinburgh or emptying bins in Pitlochry. Simon McKerrell and Chris Gibb are in this handful, but Simon teaches in Glasgow and as far as I know Chris has nothing to do with Pitlochry's refuse collections. Together, Finlay, Simon and Chris are the largest concentration of young piping talent you're likely to find this side of Hogmanay. They're joined by some talented and innovative backing musicians to produce scintillating arrangements.
The lads have put together a great set of traditional but rarely-heard tunes. The marches Cockney Jocks (a little sedate here) and Arthur Bignold are both favourites of mine, from pipe band days and Ceolbeg concerts. The Famous Bridge is one of a kind, a top notch tune which fell from grace about the same time as Skye joined the mainland. Reels like Kalabakan and are incontrovertible proof that music improves with age, and the hornpipe Lucy Cassidy is a giant of a tune which fully deserves a track to itself. Greenwoodside and Mrs MacPherson are more personal favourites, and the oft neglected retreat marches are gallantly represented by Lochanside and The Battle of the Somme. Hector the Hero is an outright winner, rivalling Wolfstone's classic version. In short, Finlay and friends have taken the best of the old piping repertoire and set fire to its tail: great fun for all concerned, spectacular entertainment, and a fiery new lease of life for some of the best tunes ever written.
Alex Monaghan

James Kelly "Melodic Journeys"
Label: Own label JKM0147; 9 tracks, 50 minutes
At first this CD seemed a little rough and ready, but it's grown on me with repeated listening. The raw edges now seem to fit, and the general effect is of an older generation of music. James Kelly certainly has generations of experience to draw on: his father was a well-known figure in Dublin music circles, and himself mixed with and recorded the previous generation of musicians. Fiddlers such as Denis Murphy and PJ Hayes were no strangers to the Kelly household. James has been living in America for some years now, and has featured on several albums: I think this is his third solo CD, but I could be wrong. In any case, solo it most certainly is: unadorned fiddle throughout.
The material here is all old and mostly well known, but Melodic Journeys presents it in a style which is both familiar and unusual. Toss the Feathers and The Colliers' Reel are delivered with more attention to rhythm and energy, allowing the melody to drift and settle in new shapes, producing variations and diversions. A well-known mazurka and fling are played in strict tempo, while the fiddle constructs harmonies and variations to a fixed schedule. The slow air An Paistin Fionn concentrates on extracting every drop of emotion: rhythm and melody are secondary, tone is crucial. True solo performance allows the fiddler complete freedom to treat each pieve as a different form of entertainment: dance music, virtuoso showpiece, or heart-wringing tone poem. A couple of stomping Sliabh Luachra tracks and a heavenly version of Carolan's Farewell to Music set this CD a cut above the average fiddle album.
The more I think about it, the more Melodic Journeys reminds me of a travelling fiddler's house concert. The repertoire is familiar, old favourites mostly, but each turn of the tune is different, and each piece shows another facet of the fiddler's art, keeping the audience enthralled until the last shake of the elbow.
Alex Monaghan

Gerry O'Connor "Journeyman"
Label: Lughnasa Music LUGCD 962, 12 tracks, 45 minutes
The tongue-in-cheek title belies this Dundalk fiddler's complete mastery of music from Ireland and beyond. Journeyman treats us to a well-rounded dozen tracks: jigs, reels, slow airs and more, some of Gerry's own and others from the traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton. Since the first time I saw Gerry O'Connor, in Mother Redcap's in 1992 performing with his wife Eithne, his understanding of the relation between Scottish and Irish music has impressed me: this marriage of traditions is apparent on the opening tune Jig in A, and The Chicken's Gone to Scotland is one of the best examples of strathspey (or highland) playing I've heard from an Irish fiddler. Track 6 offers three more excellent Ulster highlands.
After several albums with Skylark and Lá Lugh, this is Gerry's first solo recording. On it he presents a full and varied 45-minute fiddle selection. There is a fascinating version of The Maid Behind the Bar, with a lovely finish on Music in the Glen. The Day the Ass Ran Away is a total contrast, relaxed lyrical playing with Gerry's son Dónal duetting on fiddle. The Star of Munster kicks off track 9, leading into The Boys of the Lough, two classics impeccably played here. The moving air Bessie the Beauty of Rossinure Hill softens you up for the final two sets of mighty reels, ending with the full-on Rakes of Invercairn.
Gerry is joined on Journeyman by his son on fiddle, piano and bouzouki, and by Paul McSherry on guitar and Martin O'Hare on bodhrán. Martin Quinn and Neil Martin drop in from time to time, on accordion and cello respectively. Together they have produced a wonderfully fresh and exciting CD. More information is available at, the official website for Gerry "Fiddle" O'Connor.
Alex Monaghan


More English CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7 - Page 8 - Page 9 - CD Special
More German CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3
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