Issue 31 1/2006

FolkWorld CD Reviews

The Kane Sisters "Under the Diamond"
Label: Dawros Music DM002, 13 tracks, 52 minutes
After the success of their first album The Well Tempered Bow, fiddlers Liz and Yvonne Kane have produced another great selection of East Galway tunes including several more of Paddy Fahey's and a couple of their own compositions. The opening jigs set the scene nicely, with a pair of powerful Paddy O'Brien compositions played in fine flowing style. They're quickly followed by a magnificent set of reels including The High Road To Glin and The Low Road To Glin, two well-loved tunes, and the dive into The Whistler Of Rosslea is simply stunning. A couple of hornpipes next, with a lovely treatment of James Hill's The Acrobat, and the Kane sisters keep up the supply of well-chosen and well-played tunes until the brilliant final set of reels.
Liz and Yvonne play in tight unison for eleven tracks, including the impressive slow air Sean O Duibhir A Ghleanna. There are also two solo tracks, one each. There are a couple of tasty jigs by Liz, too, as well as great tunes by Paddy Fahey and many other living composers. Apart from the two fiddles, Under The Diamond features accompaniment by John Blake on guitar, Mick Conneely on bouzouki and James Blennerhassett on double bass. More information is available at - but no sample tracks. Take it from me, though: this is a very fine CD of East Galway fiddling, unfettered and full of life.
Alex Monaghan

Laura Risk "2000 Miles"
Label: Own Label; 14 tracks, 54 minutes
Fiddler Laura Risk has trawled old Scottish collections for neglected tunes, bringing to light several forgotten treasures. Like her teacher Alasdair Fraser, Laura plays in a powerful, percussive style, with tight control and beautiful tone but bursting with energy and passion, turning reels into romps and slow airs into soul-searches. Her debut duet recording with Athena Tergis in 1995 was promising: now, ten years later and two thousand miles from home, Laura Risk has fulfilled that promise with a solo CD worthy of any master fiddler.
The 3/2 reel Dubh an Tomaidh, a rare form in Scotland, reveals Laura's interest in the music of Quebec, her adopted home: 3/2 is a common rhythm for step-dance tunes in French Canada. There are other tastes of Quebec in Laura's own compositions: The Lost Hat is a catchy little gem, and Laura's jig The Big Meeting is a swaggering success.
The slower tunes on 2000 Miles are handled perfectly. Mr Abel Banks and The Efficacy of Whisky both have that spine-tingling effect of moving music played with passion. The slow strathspey Master Francis Sitwell is gorgeous, as are the airs Duncan Lamont and Tha M'Aigne Fo Chruaim. More importantly perhaps, Laura can take a 200-year-old tune and bring it back to life: Skye Air and Another St Kilda Song and Dance might not sound like names to conjure with, but Laura works her magic on them all the same, putting them on a par with today's most exciting fiddle tunes.
Add some more well-known material, the right amount of thoughtful accompaniment, and full and informative notes, and you have an outstanding CD. 2000 Miles is available from if nowhere else: go click!
Alex Monaghan

Altan "Local Ground"
Label: Vertical VERTCD069; 13 tracks, 47 minutes
Once again, Altan have expertly navigated between the pure Donegal devil and the deep blue sea of commercial success. Local Ground starts and finishes with Gaelic song, one of Altan's strengths, and the trademark soft voice of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, but you won't hear much Gaelic on the rest of this album. There are three English songs here, a Donegal version of Blackwater Side and two pleasant enough ballads well known in Scotland and England. Maybe it's just me, but I still feel that English song is not one of Altan's strong points.
The instrumental side of this CD is as powerful as ever, with tunes by Tommy Peoples and Con McGinley from the Donegal tradition. It's nice to have another of Mairéad's compositions here: Nia's Dance is a great wee reel written for Mairéad and Dermot's daughter. Dermot's box features large on this album, standing out proud in the instrumental mix and pumping firmly into the song arrangements. This strong accordion sound helps to take the music beyond Donegal, embracing slower tracks such as the American-inspired Roseville and the jig Sport from County Cork, as well as that wonderful curiosity Is The Big Man Within? which is actually a Donegal fiddle tune but fits happily into the Galician piping repertoire when Carlos Nuñez weaves his gaita around it.
I've lost count of Altan's recordings, but they're still at the top of the tree if this album is anything to go by. Not too many guests either, so we can expect to hear most of this live. Local Ground will not disappoint Altan's many fans, and will surely add many more to the millions who regard Altan as one of the best acts on the world stage.
Alex Monaghan

Luke Daniels "Secret Sessions"
Label: Wren Records WRCD1405; 12 tracks, 52 minutes
Way back, a young button box master and recent Young Tradition Award winner recorded his debut CD. Since then he's played with De Dannan, Reeltime, Broderick, and Riverdance. Now it turns out he's been moonlighting with other bands. The evidence is all here: Luke Daniels with Cathal Hayden and Arty McGlynn, Luke Daniels with Teresa Connolly and Ian Carr, Luke Daniels with Dean Magraw, and Luke Daniels with a 5-piece English roots combo. Three tracks each, four vignettes of Luke through the aliasing glass. And very good it is too.
The first three tracks are a sort of Three Men and No Dogs, classic Irish tunes taken by the scruff and dangled twitching over a bed of hot guitar. Works like a dream for The Maids of Mount Cisco, The Connachtman's Rambles and Miss Monaghan. Teresa Connoly and Ian Carr pull Luke back down to earth with a trio of relaxed session tunes, nothing too startling: reels, a lovely version of the hornpipe Kitty O'Shea, and the slow air King of Prussia accompanied by a couple of jigs. Enter five happy-clappy funsters from the funky end of English music, and we embark on a journey through folk fusion and urban grooves akin to Scarp or Barely Works. There's a fun version of Reel Beatrice with touches of De Dannan and Reeltime madness, and a couple of more challenging numbers. Finally, guitarist Dean Magraw joins Luke for three more conventional tracks: Raven and Musette A Teresa, composed by Magraw and Daniels respectively, the latter reprised from Luke's first solo album, and a straighter run through Reel Beatrice and Reel of Fortune. I like it. What more can I tell you?
Alex Monaghan

Martin McCormack "Uilleann Pipes & Whistles"
Label: Own Label LisnaleeCD001; 12 tracks, 46 minutes
An interesting mix of familiar and obscure tunes from this young piper, his debut CD delivers much and promises even more. Martin hails from County Monaghan, and he's joined here by several other budding Monaghan musicians. Sean McElwain is there when needed on bouzouki and guitar. Brian Walsh provides percussion on several tracks. Laura Beagan and Fionnuala Rooney give great cameo performances on fiddle and harp respectively.
There are some absolute treasures on this recording. Aisling Gheall on pipes with pumping regulators, is as good a version as I've heard recently. They say slow airs are the true test of the piper's art, and that's borne out here: Martin rattles off the reels and jigs like a master. Session favourites like My Darling Asleep and The Shaskeen flow from his fingers, joined by the less familiar Snow on the Hills, Humours of Drimnagh, and many more. Carolan's Madam Maxwell and The Groves Hornpipe slow the pace nicely.
The rich flow of piping is leavened by three very fine whistle tracks and one outstanding song. Amelia Murphy sings Roger the Miller with a voice that could make her the next Cathy Jordan: full, earthy and expressive. In general I'm against the current trend of bunging a song or three onto an instrumental solo album, but in this case I'll make an exception: the interruption to the tunes is more than worth it to make the acquaintance of Miss Murphy, and I look forward to her own recording.
There are plenty of reasons to get this CD: great piping, lovely ensemble tracks, a whole rake of young Monaghan talent (no relation), and a powerful new singer on the block. You can't have my copy: get your own through or specialist outlets.
Alex Monaghan

Gay, Conor & Sean McKeon "The Dusty Miller"
Label: Own Label CDGMCK002, 15 tracks, 49 minutes
The Irish pipes are basically a solo instrument. The McKeon pipers would be among the first to tell you this. Of course, there have been occasional experiments over the years. Duos, trios, even marching bands. This particular experiment has worked rather well: take three fine pipers (a father and two sons, as it happens), record half a dozen tracks with all three playing concert pitch pipes, then add three solo tracks from each piper.
Gay McKeon is a well-known Dublin piper and currently head of the Piper's Club. A master of dance music, he's a regular attender at sessions and a talented ensemble player. He plays a set of Coyne pipes pitched in C for his three solos, and the influence of great pipers is clear in his music. The March of the King of Laois has some of Leo Rowsome's discipline in it, while the slow air An Speic Seoigheach owes more to the soulfulness of Clancy or Reck. The Humours of Carrigaholt and The West Wind display Gay's abilities with heavyweight reels, fingers flying and regulators buzzing sweetly in the background.
Conor plays a modern set of Rogge pipes in B, deep and full, a lovely sound, especially when the regulators get going as on The Flags of Dublin. These meaty pipes are also ideally suited to the big old slow airs, and Conor does a great version of Limerick's Lamentation. Sean sticks to concert D, and to the established piping repertoires of Ennis and Clancy: Lady Gordon's, The Boyne Hunt, and Pat Ward's Hornpipe are all old favourites, and Sean romps through them in style. His party piece is probably The Leitrim Bucks, as recorded by Seamus Ennis, preceded by the deceptively simple Tomin O'Dea's Reel. Once again, the regulators are put to good use.
So what about those six trio tracks? Brilliant: a triumph of the pipers' art. Rattling through The Hag at the Churn, the McKeons remind me of Paddy Keenan at his best. The title track is more like Ennis or O'Flynn, a measured pair of grand old slip jigs. Back from the Mountain bounces along in fine form, and the Humours of Lisheen set is a classic with the final flourish on a jig they call The Cordal. Accompaniment on the ensemble pieces is left to the deft guitar of Arty McGlynn, who does just enough in all the right places. The Dusty Miller is a fascinating and rewarding album: email Gay at for more details.
Alex Monaghan

Tony McManus & Alain Genty "Singing Sands"
Label: Greentrax CDTRAX 274, 10 tracks, 49 minutes
For two such big hitters, this is a surprisingly gentle album. Beautiful certainly: plenty of sensitive counterpoint and subtle harmony, and little of the fast and furious picking or rock-band rhythms which this pair have recorded previously. Take the Alasdair Fraser tribute set, two heavy-weight strathspeys in Pamela Rose Grant and Ewe wi' the Crookit Horn, followed by The Scolding Wives of Abertarff: plenty of controlled power, but letting rip is not on the agenda if you're not going to go for a title like that. The Dusty Miller gets a similarly flawless but restrained treatment, and The Hungry Rock is a catchy tune which forced even Dervish to slow the pace. In fact the opening medley of Stan Chapman's Jig followed by Charlie McKerron's Islay Ranters and Liz Carroll's Wisahicken Drive, sets the tone for the whole album: excellent tunes lovingly played with great skill and even greater control. McManus and Genty make short work of a couple of well-known airs, too: Taimse i mo Chodhladh and Da Day Dawn are both perfectly presented, but seem a little toothless compared to recordings by Planxty or Chris Stout.
The other half of this CD contains less familiar material: Desert Dance by US guitarist Isaac Guillory, the lovely Phoenix by Norwegian fiddler Annbjorg Lien, The Last Dance learnt from Balkan piper Nikola Parov, and a couple of Genty compositions including his famous Melen Adour where we glimpse the more modern music of Alain's solo recordings. Top class picking and gorgeous arrangements are in plentiful supply, but don't expect the unexpected: Singing Sands is a fine studio album, but for excitement you'll have to catch Tony and Alain live.
Alex Monaghan

Mike Katz "A Month of Sundays"
Label: Temple Records COMD2095, 15 tracks, 57 minutes
Veteran of Battlefield Band and Ceolbeg, Mike is a piper from the LA Katz dynasty: pipers, doctors, and cousin Ali whom nobody mentions. Like many pipers, Mike plays normal instruments too: whistles and guitars here. He's also joined on this debut solo CD by John Martin's fiddle, Simon Thoumire's concertina, Alasdair White's fiddle, and Kevin MacKenzie's guitar. The result is not unlike a really good Battlefield concert without all those boring songs.
The opening set of reels is framed by two of Mike's compositions, The Best Englishman (William Blake, apparently) and Le Tire-Bouchon (a vital part of any Breton piper's equipment). These tunes are so good, they totally eclipse the pair of reels from Allan MacDonald and Angus MacKay which intervene. Allan gets his revenge on the next track, though: his masterpiece Na Goisidich leaps out at you from behind a set of classic strathspeys.
The huge sound of the highland pipes gives way to the socially acceptable smallpipes on track 3, another set of reels including The Dogs Ate the Tradesmen from an early Gaelic version of the Countryside Alliance. Later on we hear Breton pipes by Jorge Botua, tuned quite differently from the highland pipes. Most of A Month of Sundays features highland pipes, accompanied by various instruments. There are no pipe-free tracks, and only one pipe solo: a set of old quicksteps which are rarely heard these days, despite the attractive cadences of The Black Watch Polka and Miss Forbes' Farewell.
Amidst highlights aplenty I should mention the stick shift into Sunset at Tommy's, Mike's romantic reel named for a burger bar, and the trio of Katz compositions which ends with the exuberant jig Land of Milk and Honey. The sinister rumbling in the middle of this track is mouth-music from a two-metre Californian who can tuck his beard behind his glasses.
We're still only half way through the album, but you get the picture. Still to come are a couple of Breton tracks, a spellbinding rendition of The Unst Bridal March, and several other notable moments before the finale of Dr Angus MacDonald's delightful tune Tubular Peat. Nice album, lots of good stuff, and widely available thanks to and world-wide distribution.
Alex Monaghan

Johnny Connolly "An Mileoidean Scaoilte"
Label: Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 157, 17 tracks, 59 minutes
An instant classic, An Mileoidean Scaoilte is the third solo recording from Spiddal melodeon-player Johnny Connolly. Don't confuse him with others of the same name: this is the original and best. Johnny plays with a rare lift and flair, coaxing sparks from a deceptively simple instrument. Charlie Lennon's accompaniment is an added joy. The tunes on this recording are from the heart of the Connemara tradition, set-dancing favourites and showpieces to delight any enthusiast. The entire middle section, five tracks, is a complete run through the Connemara Set in Johnny's inimitable style. There's perhaps a little less energy and poise than on Johnny's first CD, An t-Oilean Aerach, but you'd only notice on a couple of tracks.
Miss McLeod's and George White's Favourite, Humours of Glendart and The Monaghan Jig (no relation), this CD is full of great music. Reels and jigs mainly, of course, but there's a powerful slow air and a couple of fine hornpipes for good measure. My favourites include two unusual tracks: the gentle waltz The Rose of Aranmore and Emmet the Piper which is neither a march nor a jig but something in between. The jig and reel medley Bean an Raidió and Paddy in Preston is surprising on such a traditional album: not a lot of call for that in set dances, but these are both fine compositions by Johnny's box-player son, Johnny Og. Johnny finishes off with a couple of rousing reels, Lucy Campbell and The Ship in Full Sail, the perfect end to a memorable recording of Irish dance music.
Alex Monaghan

Old Blind Dogs "Play Live"
Label: Green Linnet GLCD1231, 13 tracks, 66 minutes
Long on quantity and long on quality, Scotland's favourite live act of 2004 runs through an impressive set from their last three studio albums. There's a nod to the early days of Iain Benzie and Davy Cattenach with The Battle of Harlaw, but after this opening big ballad it's non-stop newer material fronted by Jim Malcolm and Rory Campbell. The Dogs settle quickly into their customary gutsy groove somewhere between blues and birl, and they stay there pretty much for the next hour. You could winge about the lack of variety, the same 5-piece sound track after track, the reliance on fancy percussion to lift the tunes, or even the slightly cheesy choice of chunes, but that would be to ignore the fact that this CD contains an hour of solid, engaging music whose warm and intimate delivery is easy to appreciate.
There's a bit of everything here. Breton and Galician tunes played on a variety of pipes and flutes, Scottish piping classics such as Lochanside and A Man's A Man, new songs from Jim and old songs from the tradition, new tunes from Gavin Marwick and other young composers, and old favourites like The Battle of Waterloo or Kincardine Lads which will delight OBD's loyal followers. It's hard not to be touched by the powerful vocals of The Wisest Fool or the musical brilliance of Sky City. Even the packaging is appealing, chaotic images over a careful listing of tunes and full lyrics for all tracks. No surprises, but no disappointments either: it does exactly what it says on the box.
Alex Monaghan

Tony O'Connell & Andy Morrow
Label: Own Label TOCAM001, 13 tracks, 47 minutes
Fiddle and concertina, a neglected combination since Noel Hill and Tony Linnane recorded their seminal LP in the '70s, but Tony O'Connell and Andy Morrow pick up pretty much where Hill and Linnane left off. This is straight traditional Irish dance music from Clare and Leitrim, not a kink or a jink or a twist to be heard. The boys have taken teflon-coated straighteners to the music of their forefathers, and whilst there's no denying the direct thrust and pinpoint accuracy of their music I can't help feeling that some of the life has been pressed out of it. Carl Hession's is just that bit too quick for a swagger, and the slow air Sliabh Gullion Braes changes the tempo but lacks feeling.
There are some great tracks here. Andy's fiddle solos on McElvogue's Reel and Thrush in the Storm are stunners. The slides Kiely Cotter's and Paddy Jerry's suit the straight-punching approach, with Arty McGlynn battering away on Cooney-esque guitar. The Hare's Paw is a catchy little reel handled perfectly here, and there's a happy bouncy feel to The Dusty Miller and The Sport of the Chase, two wonderful slip jigs. The concertina solo on The Dean Brig is full of expression, and The Wind that Shakes the Barley is also injected with Tony's personality, making this one of the rare tracks where the self-imposed strait-jacket is shrugged off. Lots of potential: more information is available at
Alex Monaghan

Paul O'Shaughnessy & Harry Bradley "Born for Sport"
Label: Own label BFS001, 15 tracks, 45 minutes
There's a clear Northern flavour to this flute and fiddle feast. Paul's adopted Donegal provides much of the material here, and Belfast fluter Harry provides more Ulster input. Tunes such as Bonnie Kate and The Wind that Shakes the Barley would be equally at home in Scotland, and Green Grow the Rushes hasn't changed since Burns jotted down the song to it 220 years ago. Less familiar, but equally enjoyable, are the nuggets which Paul and Harry have excavated from various collections: a charming march based on the slow air The Coolin, the intriguing polka The Pigs Aitin' Nuts in the Woods, and of course the double jig which gives this recording its name.
Interestingly, the lads fall back to Sligo tunes for two solo tracks, one each. Paul treats us to a seemingly effortless romp through Julia Delaney and Mother's Delight, somewhere between Coleman and Con Cassidy. Harry follows with a version of Down The Broom and The Five Mile Chase, playing with enough control and expression to break a strong man. Both solos are unaccompanied, and such is the richness of tone that you don't even notice. Paul and Harry also sneak in a flute duet: this is the second recording I've seen recently where Paul O'Shaughnessy plays flute, and a very good job he makes of it. Maybe his days of cruelty to cats are numbered.
Chuck in a few Kerry tunes, with bouzouki from John Blake on half a dozen tracks, and there you have it. Born For Sport is certainly one of the best albums to come my way this year, on a par with Paul's earlier recording with fluter Paul McGrattan, or even Harry's duet CD with fiddler Jesse Smith. Widely available from specialist outlets: get it while it's hot.
Alex Monaghan

Paudie O'Connor "A Different State"
Label: Own Label, 14 tracks, 50 minutes
This young Sliabh Luachra musician has a lovely light touch on the 2-row accordion, and a charming repertoire of old and rare tunes picked up from the likes of Johnny O'Leary and John Brosnan. A Different State is unashamedly true to Paudie's roots, just great dance music lovingly played, with a couple of dreamy slow airs thrown in. Only two sets of reels on the album, and one of those is a hornpipe: slides and polkas predominate.
Weel-kent tunes such as Din Tarrant's and Bridgie Con Mattie's sit alongside the less well-travelled Ger Collins' and The Boys of Scart. There's another appearance of Pigs Eating Nuts in the Woods, a tune whose recent popularity may not last, and Paudie has dug up a few tasty chestnuts of his own from O'Neill's, including a fine version of Kitty in the Lane. With guitar backing from Paul de Grae on four tracks and cameos on two more, A Different State is mainly solo accordion and mainly melody-only. Nonetheless, the music is full and satisfying: a first class debut CD and a highly enjoyable example of Sliabh Luachra's rich heritage. Contact for more information.
Alex Monaghan

Providence "III"
Label: Rolling River RoRiCD 003, 10 tracks, 44 minutes
If you're a Providence fan already, this album will reinforce your affinity. If you've never heard them, or heard them but walked away, then give this recording a listen. There've been a couple of line-up changes since their last release: the excellent Cyril O'Donoghue has taken over as vocalist, and rising star Michelle O'Brien is now the group's fiddler. III is by far their best album yet. This new improved recipe packs plenty of punch. Providence open with a set of session-tempo reels, fiddle and flute blending beautifully with Micheál Ó Raghallaigh's flying fingers on concertina. The arrangement is very effective, and the power surge on The Ravelled Hank of Yarn and The Midnight Reel will make your house lights flicker. Cyril slows the tempo to a dirge for The Bantry Girl's Lament, a well-worn song sumptuously delivered here, stressing the lamentation. Then it's back to the tunes, more of a concert set this time, with Micheál starting a big hairy version of Garret Barry's. He's joined by the band for Biddy the Bold Wife and The Fairy Jig, less common tunes these days but all the sweeter for that.
The emigrant song Jack Haggerty, well sung and played, falls foul of one of my pet hates. In the version I know, the lass makes off with Jack's fortune: here it seems Mr Haggerty lost his virtue instead, but found a mondegreen. That aside, Cyril's songs are a pleasure throughout this CD: My Old Man always sends a shiver through me, and Jock O' Hazeldean is a grand ballad deserving of adoption into the Irish repertoire. The instrumentals continue in fine style too: Dances at Kinvara is a lovely tune which starts a lively set of barndances and polkas, and the Glen of Aherlow set is simply gorgeous.
Have I missed anything? Only the Providence website - - which will tell you all you need to know.
Alex Monaghan

Shooglenifty "Radical Mestizo"
Label: Shoogle Records 04003, 10 tracks, 60 minutes
It's a while since Shooglenifty's previous live album. This one was recorded in Mexico and Glasgow, hence the title, and confirms my belief that these guys are one of the most exciting live acts around. Long tracks, no songs, and bags of creativity: the technical excellence, infectious tunes, and break-neck lunacy are all fitted as standard. The Shooglers rattle and roll through some of their finest compositions, mainly from the last studio album. There is a nod to the days of A Whisky Kiss with the opening She's In The Attic, still a great overture, leaping between Angus R's plangent fiddle and the thumping engine-room sounds of Quee MacArthur's bass and James Mackintosh's noise factory. Glenuig Hall does the business for a couple of well-established jigs, and The Arms Dealer's Daughter is as captivating live as she was in the studio. Nordal Rumba is even better here: harking back to the frivolity of Battlefield's Saughiehall Street Salsa, but with serious Afro bite, this track is quintessential Shooglenifty.
Other highlights? Well, there's some nifty banjo from Luke Plumb on Delighted, something we don't hear so much of from Shooglenifty these days. The slower tracks are great for those out-of-skull moments, particularly Schumann's Leap. Scraping The Barrel is a suitably up-beat end to an hour of great music, good fun and gentle weirdness. Radical Mestizo should be available wherever two or three music shops are gathered together, but mosey on over to for more information.
Alex Monaghan

Fraser Fifield Trio "Slow Stream"
Label: Own label, 14 tracks, 64 minutes
After his excellent dubut CD Honest Water, Fraser has got his feet wet for a second time with sidemen Graeme Stephen on guitars and Stuart Ritchie on percussion. This CD misses the pipes which Fraser wielded for Old Blind Dogs: Slow Stream is mainly soprano sax and whistles, mainly Fraser's own tunes, and mainly gorgeous.
The title track is as good an overture as any, mixing pipe-fingered sax and solid low whistle on a tune which owes much to Balkan and Celtic musics. The jazz influence is stronger on several tracks: Snow Angel is a sort of Mississippi Blue Riverdance combo, and Strathspey A93 is almost pure jazz: slightly too modern for my taste. On the other hand, Lament for the Children is pibroch through and through, while Fraser's own compositions Smoke Signals and Before and After clearly belong with that body of pan-Celtic whistle tunes from McGoldrick, Moynihan, McCusker and others. There are also three sets of almost straight traditional tunes: reels from Ireland, laridés from Brittany, and a polska from Sweden. Slow Stream ends with a well-deserved reprise of Fraser's Dark Reel, one of the high points of Honest Water and no less powerful in a trio setting.
The bad news is that this album is not easily available. If you see it, buy it. If you don't see it, try - and pick up his other album while you're there.
Alex Monaghan

Tim Collins "Dancing on Silver"
Label: Own Label CM001, 15 tracks, 49 minutes
Young concertina players are relatively rare, even in Ireland. Most people prefer to buy a house, but Tim Collins has chosen to nurture the little-known Sliabh Luachra concertina tradition which he was born to. You'd expect slides and polkas from him, and there's one set of each here: Tim's composition The H Note sits very well after Bridgie Con Matt's Slide, and Tom Billy's Polka is a first rate tune that's new to me.
Tim plays Jeffries and Suttner concertinas. He has performed and recorded with the Kilfenora band for a decade, but this is his solo debut. He's joined by some great musicians. Piper Brian McNamara contributes to two tracks, particularly the set of reels ending with The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Fionnuala Rooney plays harp behind Tim's own slow air An Caioneadh, a great new tune. Tim's wife Claire Griffin joins him on button box for another old favourite, The Thrush in the Storm. Alec Finn and Brian McGrath provide accompaniment on about half the 15 tracks here.
His lovely bouncy style takes Tim through almost fifty minutes of fine dance music and two slow airs. There are times when ornamentation is lacking compared to what we're used to these days: this version of The New Mown Meadow is rather bare, but it fits with the old-fashioned feel of Dancing on Silver. Moran's and The Garden of Daisies are similar in style, as is the set ending with Tie the Bonnet which Tim takes at a good steady pace. The final pair of flowing reels ends this album in grand style, and should whet your appetite for more. Check out for more information.
Alex Monaghan

The Border Collies "Unleashed"
Label: Own label BC 001, 13 tracks, 53 minutes
Three cheers for the banjo, box and bodhrán, pariahs of Irish sessions but mainstays of céili bands: they're all here. Add flute, vocals, guitar and bouzouki, and you have the whole picture. With a regular alternation between tunes and songs, Unleashed pushes the concert repertoire hard, but it's still the dance music that comes through strongest on this Sligo band's debut CD.
The banjo has just been allowed into the Willie Clancy Summer School as a demonstration sport, and in the hands of Theresa O'Grady here it sparkles. Whether it's solo on John Brennan's or with the box and flute on Martin Wynne's No 3, Theresa grabs the limelight and does it full justice. Colm O'Donnell's flute and Declan Payne's piano box are more to the fore in the carefully arranged set of jigs ending with Tom Billy's. Declan's solo rendition of The Whistling Postman is a wee cracker, and Colm's whistle slow air provides delightful contrast. Maria Lynn's bouzouki showpiece is another slower number, a relaxed swagger through Peadar O Riada's lyrical jig Sport.
Bodhránist Siobhán O'Donnell gives us a version of Wild Mountain Thyme which is almost able to rise above the clichés, and unless Colm is better at those high notes than he lets on, she also provides backing vocals elsewhere. Three of Colm's four songs here are well known: Here's A Health is one of those ballads everyone learns at birth, Dílín O Deamhas was popularised by Clannad before the enema, and A Lover's Heart will be familiar from Silly Wizard's Glint of Silver album. Unleashed ends with one of Colm's own compositions, The Tinkerman's Daughter, a modern ballad in the classic style, and probably my favourite of all the songs here.
And that about wraps it up. There's no party piece from guitarist Shane McGowan, but he's solid and sober throughout. The mix of well-played tunes and songs is as successful as ever, and the arrangements are first class. There are some splendid moments, particularly in the dance music, and not a bad track: the hour flies by. Don't be sheepish: ask for The Border Collies at your favourite retailer, or email for more information.
Alex Monaghan

The Unusual Suspects "Live in Scotland"
Label: Footstompin' Records CDFSR 1727, 12 tracks, 65 minutes
Anyone out there remember Clan Alba? No? Well, this is similar. But different. The Unusual Suspects are twenty-two of the great and good in Scottish music, united by the musical direction of Corrina Hewat and David Milligan. Recorded in front of a home crowd, much of this album is simply great. Some of it is merely good.
For openers there's an eight-minute canter through the charming Wee Michael's March and six reels, marvellous music and tight as a Jacobite corset except for The Pirriwig when the stays come unlaced a little. The first song is a valiant three-voice interpretation of Donald MacGillivray which lacks the guts of the definitive Silly Wizard version. Sae Will We Yet is much more compelling, strong vocals over a subdued accompaniment. In between, Charlie McKerron's full-bodied Bulgarian Red joins session favourites The Waves of Rush and Wes & Maggie's Ceilidh Croft. Next up is a steamy swampy sax solo from Phil Bancroft: not sure why it's there, maybe to give the guitarists time to re-tune, but it's a wee cracker. Track 6 is a mixed bag with some great piping moments: The Twisted Bridge and Lexie MacAskill are spot on, but those laces will not stay fastened and the line between experimental and execrable has been misjudged in one or two of the saxophone parts.
Fiddle Frenzy is a bit of fun, finishing with Clare McLaughlin's catchy romp Mince in a Basket. John Morran's unassuming vocals on Cold Blow are nicely matched with Rory Campbell's reel There's Time to Wait, and the long intro to Donald MacLeod's Reel is more than made up for by The Islay Ranters, another McKerron tune. The Heights of Casino recalls an even more evocative treatment by Smalltalk, and by the end of the track things are really buzzing again with Jock the Box. Another barbershop song brings everyone back down to earth, then the big encore: The Famous Baravan on twin turbo pipes, building to a thunderous full-on climax, and it's all over bar the shouting.
Without a doubt, this is a CD you should hear. Comparisons are ubiquitous, so let's run a few up the bass drone and see who sues. La Bottine Souriante in kilts. Battlefield meets the Blues Brothers. Keltik Elektrik unplugged. The Whistlebinkies wired. Ceolbeg on Class A drugs. Shooglenifty sober. Take your pick - they're all good today.
Alex Monaghan

Al-Yaman "Hurriya"
Label: Indies; MAM 234-2; 2004; Playing time: 70:40 min
Al-Yaman is the Arabic name for the Republic of Yemen. Some say it means blessing and prosperity (al-yumn), others say it means on the right hand side of the Kaaba (yumna). The right hand side is a symbol of good fortune for Arabians, and this is in agreement with Arabia Felix which is the old geographer's name for the country. And we're lucky to have the group Al-Yaman from Prague. Singer Ashwaq Abdulla Kulaib came from Aden to study in the Czechian capital in 1990 and she stayed. She had been guest singer with Hypnotix before, here she is in the centre. Right by her side is Ales Hyvnar (Al-esh) who is the band's composer and keyboard player. Furthermore sharing the band experience, Jonathan Omer is an Israeli drummer, Bashar Ashhab a Palestinian darbuka player, Jan Hais a Czech bass player, and Tomas Reindl a multi-talent on tabla, didgeridoo and percussion. Al-Yaman is inspired by popular and traditional songs from the Arabic world, mostly of Yemen. They are fusing acoustic instruments and electronics, traditional tunes and modern dance rhythms and elements - and to great effect, dancers and listeners alike. And if that wasn't modern enough, two tracks had been remixed by Hypnotix and Transglobal Underground. Sounds from 1001 Nights as you never heard it before.
Indies Records
Walkin' T:-)M

Kate McDonnell "Where the Mangoes Are"
Label: Appleseed; APR CD 1085; 2005; Playing time: 52:01 min
Singer-Songwriter Kate McDonnell is looking for fruits and she found an orchard. Songs I mean. Kate was born in Baltimore, but is now based in NY state. Eventually, after hearing a Joan Baez album she became a singer and guitar player. Strange enough, she's self-taught and the righthanded Kate is playing her acoustic guitar lefthanded and strung upside down. Perhaps that makes her a very special songwriter and storyteller. But her songs are no strange fruits, but quite accessible songs anyway and a treasure house of acoustic folk pop. For the folkies, there's the sparkling acoustic-blues arrangement of the traditional "Railroad Bill" and Steve Earle's (-> FW#30) "Goodbye Song". So long for a while. We're waiting for the next delicate fruit basket.
Appleseed Records
Walkin' T:-)M

Chatham County Line "Route 23"
Label: Yep Roc; YEP-2087; 2005; Spielzeit: 41:56 min
If you're leaving North Carolina's capital Raleigh heading down south and taking the old route 23 instead of the new highway, you are passing a small town called New Hill. There's a deserted gas station and a battered pump, and that's the one depicted on the CD cover of Chatham County Line's "Route 23". Is there any meaning in this picture? Rather no, I'd say, CCL is a lively bluegrass band from New Hill's neighborhood in Raleigh, Chatham County. The quartet comprising of its principal songwriter Dave Wilson (vocals, guitar, harmonica), John Teer (vocals, mandolin, fiddle), Chandler Holt (banjo) and Greg Readling (bass) is not living in the past either. While firmly rooted in the old-time and bluegrass tradition, their original songs and tunes triumph over the genre. But very carefully and never alien to the tradition. The boys themselves say that they are fusing the old music with a love for John Hartford and The Band. Fair enough. Furthermore, I'd say that the title track "Saro Jae" and some others are real gems.
Yep Roc Records
Walkin' T:-)M

James Talley "Woody Guthrie and Songs of My Oklahoma Home"
Label: Cimarron; CIM1009; 1999; Playing time: 73:52 min
Joel Rafael Band "Woodyboye"
Label: Appleseed; APR CD 1086; 2005; Playing time: 45:50 min
I have heard it said that it is the ability to think and reason which separates the human race from the other animals of the earth. Says James Talley, but what truly separates man from the beasts is his ability to dream. And, I'd like to add, his ability to sing and dance and play music. A fitting epitaph for Woody Guthrie (-> FW#20, FW#26) who was the spiritual and musical godfather of the folk music revival in the 1950s and 1960s. G. Logsden said: Woody was the most creative son that Oklahoma has enjoyed, for his documented creativity was limited to approximately seventeen to twenty years. Now it must be said that he probably is this nation's most creative son, for in that stated time period he wrote thousands of songs and poems, recorded hundreds of original and traditional songs and traveled thousands of miles sharing his talent.
Like Woody, James Talley is an Okie himself. As a kid he heard about the Great Depression era and listened to Guthrie songs (his father sang his favourite "Oklahoma Hills", not realizing who's the author). In 1967, he left university where he had studied the Great Depression years and took a job as a caseworker for the New Mexico Department of Public Welfare. This let James know that for some people, things had changed very little during the thirty years since the Great Depression. By that time he had begun to write songs about events around me and became, like Woody again, a musician at the intersection of country music, folk and blues. But James soon realized: Nashville's music business is just that, a "business" - art has no place in it, unless it can be translated into dollars. I learned that songs were simply the entertainment fodder to hold the audience's attention between commercial breaks on the radio. I was writing songs from the heart, the way Woody Guthrie wrote, or Bob Dylan. I tried for a while to write commercial songs, but the results were simply not satisfying. So I followed my heart, followed my dreams. In his song "Are they Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again" from his 2001 "Touchstones" album he says: I think I see why Pretty Boy Floyd done the things he did. Thus James made most of his living in the real estate business, since working people, not professional musicians, made much of the world's most heartfelt and inspiring music. "Songs of My Oklahoma Home" features 21 Guthrie classics again with a country music feel and a swinging, backing band.
Joel Rafael was born in Chicago and raised in California. He was drawn to folk music by the 1960s folk boom and high school hootenannies. He and his band is now based in San Diego, featuring Joel on vocals and guitar as well as his daughter Jamaica on fiddle and Carl Johnson on acoustic lead guitar. Moreover, here helped out by Jackson Browne, Arlo Guthrie and Jennifer Warnes (-> FW#21), Van Dyke Parks, and others. After writing and performing original material, he felt he should be honoring one of his formative inspirations. So he recorded a Woody Guthrie album in 2003. "Woodyboye" is the sequel, with 6 Woody songs, best known is "This Train Is Bound for Glory" and "Two Good Men (Sacco and Vanzetti)", four Woody lyrics put to music by Joel himself and Billy Bragg's great adaption of "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" from his "Mermaid Avenue" album. Besides Guthrie songs there are other tales worth telling, and Joel Rafael's original "Sierra Blanca Massacre", which recounts a true tragedy involving Mexican immigrants, is in the best Woody Guthrie tradition.
Sure, no one does Woody better than Woody, can be, but there are few that show more integrity doing Woody than James Talley and Joel Rafael. Or, as Bill Bentley had it, hear someone singing from the heart, and not simply for the cash register. James and Joel were there before Alt.Country became fashionable and will hopefully stay with us for some time. (See also the other album reviews of James's original material.)
Cimarron Records, Appleseed Recordings
Walkin' T:-)M

Darren Maloney "who"
Label: Own label; 2004; Playing time: 50:40 min
Darren ... who? Well, now is the time at least that you should be introduced to this first-rate tenor banjo player (and mandolin at times) from County Cavan, Ireland. Darren Maloney had been hidden in the lakes of Cavan, though he toured Germany with this year's Irish Spring Festival, but eventually he joins the likes of Gerry O’Connor (-> FW#30) and Éamonn Coyne (-> FW#24). It had been a long way, since he found an old banjo under his parents bed twenty years ago. Darren studied the great old musicians and grew up on a traditional diet, but he also studied the great five-string masters and has transcribed classical and jazz music for the banjo. For his exciting debut album he chose 15 original tunes, some standards and some new compositions by great musicians and composers such as Bela Fleck and Mike McGoldrick (-> FW#13). He is clever, technically and musically, described by fellow banjoist Kieran Hanrahan as fearless on frets and pre-eminent with plectrum. Darren is only in his late twenties, so there is pretty much to expect. And never again ask Darren... who?
Walkin' T:-)M

Julee Glaub "Fields Faraway"
Label: Own label; 2001; Playing time: 58:24 min
Julee Glaub "Blue Waltz"
Label: Own label; 2004; Playing time: 53:06 min
Julee Glaub originally hails from North Carolina, but she had crossed the Wild Atlantic and had been living in Ireland for six years. There she listened whole days to my dear Irish boy and started learning traditional Irish ballads. Back in the US of A, she began singing American folk music. Julee soon became fascinated by the connection of the musical worlds of Appalachia and Ireland, as was Cecil Sharp (-> FW#26) almost a century before, and their albums "Fields Faraway" and "Blue Waltz" represent both genres. Well, that sounds a bit academic, this is no study nor exploration of a distant past, but a practical lesson. This includes a gorgeous selection of standard traditional ballads plus contemporary songs such as "You Will Always be Mine" by Lennon/Hanrahan (-> FW#23, FW#24) and a couple of dancing tunes, featuring e.g. piper Jerry O'Sullivan and guitar player Daithi Sproule (Altan). While the song selection on "Fields Faraway" is rather save, those on "Blue Waltz" is more adventurous. And there's some rewarding finds to make from a great singer.
Walkin' T:-)M

Bran "Chemins de Sel"
Label: Own label; 2003; Playing time: 46:39 min
Bran "The Coast of Bohemia"
Label: Own label; 2005; Playing time: 49:40 min
First of all, digging up some mythology. Bran is the name of a legendary British king who appears in Welsh, Irish and Breton medieval literature. The "Voyage of Bran" dates back to the 7th or 8th century, but this supernatural adventure story is almost certainly much older and of pre-Christian origin. Bran literally means "Raven", so he is also the messenger bird. It might have been quite another adventure that led the Breton David Pajot to Prague to show them what a true Breton helmsman is like and form the band Bran in 1999 to play traditional Breton music. However Bohemia is named after a Celtic tribe, and Czech musicians are smart to adapt whatever kind of music. This band from Central Europe is devoted to Breton music in particular and music from the Celtic fringe in general. Their sound is pleasant, subtle and relaxed. Instruments include fiddle, flute, accordion, clarinet, bombarde, guitar, bass. Some notes about both albums: "Chemins de Sel" (which means "Salt Paths") and "The Coast of Bohemia" (which is a quote from Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale"). Some words and music are from David Pajot himself, some are trad. arr. The song "Marzhin Foll" is sung in Ireland as "Paddy's Lamentation", here it is a Breton language ballad about King Arthur. "Balade en Iwerzhon" is an Irish tune as well (better say, it is common in Ireland as well), however, I forgot what it's named there. The booklet text and song lyrics are in Breton, French and Czech (unfortunatly for me). This messenger bird brings us no bad news, but excellent music.
Walkin' T:-)M

Kristi Bartleson & Reddesert
Label: Brambus; 200493-2; 2005; Playing time: 45:20 min
The harp player and singer Kristi Bartleson was born in Colorado. She studied classcial music and played with different symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles. However, Kristi also has a liking for Celtic music. Her debut album was a gentle affair, rather quiet and spartanic. Now she's back with her band "reddesert" and her harp pop is not easy to pidgeonhole. It is some kind of colourful (folk)rock and world music, very powerful, both quite commercial and experimental. There are some oriental influences thrown in for good measure into the western mix. After all, an extraordinary voyage through musical styles and sounds. Most songs have been written by Kristi plus covers of the Anglo-American traditionals "Blow Ye Winds", "Silver Dagger" and "John Riley". There's excellent musicians too: Sandro Friedrich, who plays woodwinds, flutes, sax, and his fellow band colleagues Dodo Hug oder Efisio Contini from the Swiss and Italian quartet with multicultural roots Acanto. Well-known musicians in Switzerland, and that's where Kristi is based as well. Defying all preconceptions about the Swiss.
Brambus Records
Walkin' T:-)M


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
Overview: CD Review Contents

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 1/2006

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