FolkWorld Issue 38 03/2009

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Paul McKenna Band "Between Two Worlds"
Label: Greentrax; No. CDTRAX333; 2009; Playing time: min
After more than 15 years of reviewing folk CDs, there may be moments where I get somewhat weary of reviewing - until a CD come along which is such a discovery making it all worthwhile. The Paul McKenna Band is one of such discoveries. Its debut album suggests that this is the most impressive new band I have heard for quite a while!
This young Scottish band is centred around Paul McKenna, exquisite singer/songwriter with a charismatic voice. However, the band around him is what makes the CD special indeed. The music sparkles and swings, is full of life and the CD captures an energetic "live" feeling of the band.
Instrumentally, the band combines the skills of Young Scottish Musician of the Year fiddler Ruairidh Macmillan, groovy bodhran playing from Ewan Baird, atmospheric flute from Sean Gray and David McNee on Bouzouki. The band sound is perfect and at times breathtaking - equally in lively instrumental sets and beautiful slow ballads.
The songs on the CD are an appealing combination of excellent Paul McKenna songs and new interpretations of old favourites. Paul's three songs on the album are well crafted, with great lyrics and catchy melodies, stylistically acoustic folk/trad with an appealing modern pop twist to it. The band's interpretation of trad favourites are similarly impressive, breathing new life into old classics; they include new versions of "The Lea Rig", "P stands for Paddy", "The Jolly Beggar" and Ewan McColl's "Ballad of Accounting".
This is the very first 2009 CD I have received - still I am sure that this will be an extremely strong contender to become my "Best CD of 2009". Absolutely wonderful stuff - I am looking forward to more albums of this superb band!
Greentrax Recordings; Paul McKenna Band Website
Michael Moll

Camaxe "Airexa"
Label: Frea Records/Music&Words; No. MWCD4060; 2008; Playing time: 61.28 min
After listening to the first two numbers on this CD, I was not too impressed about this album - decent enough folk rock music around Galician gaita, some pleasant enough panderaita/voice, but nothing too outstanding. However, the remaining album gets better and better, and more individual, convincing me in the end to give a warm recommendation for this album.
The band is centred around Galician born musician and composer Miguel Gallo, who plays the Galician bagpipe i.e. the gaita, whistles and sings. With the band being based in Belgium, many of the other members of the band are Belgian, on guitar, violin, drums/percussion/clarinet and double bass/cello - with additional guests on accordions, guitar and bagpipes.
All (but one) the music is composed by Miguel. Overall, the CD brings an excellent mix of songs, gentle tunes and faster folk rock tunes focussed on the gaita. The songs are shared between Miguel himself (with a gentle voice)and two great female singers, Sonia Lebedynski and Sonia Reborido. Stylistically the songs are somewhere between traditional Galician and acoustic pop; they are distinctive and very attractive.
Overall thus an excellent album - and the first two numbers on the CD are not bad, but do not give an indication of the individual style and quality of this album.;
Michael Moll

Tony McManus "The Maker's Mark"
Label: Greentrax; No. CDTRAX331; 2008; Playing time: 54.12 min
This album presents the genius guitar playing of Scotland's probably best folk guitar players in its purest form: 15 titles of solely Tony McManus and a guitar. Well to be exact not one but 15 different guitars!
The CD is the result of a collaboration of Tony McManus and Paul Heumiller of Dream Guitars in North Carolina. For each of the titles on the CD, Paul and Tony have chosen a different distinctive instrument from Paul's shop. Guitar experts will no doubt be able to tell a distinction of all of these instruments - for me, some sound distinctive, but I would not always be able to tell a difference. But what is very apparent for any listener is that the quality of both the guitars and the player is second to none!
The tunes chosen on the album are either traditional or written by some of the best known folk musicians on the Celtic scene. Their origin and style ranges from Asturias, Brittany, Romania and Italy to South Africa and Quebec, but the majority comes from Irish and Scottish traditions. As you would expect, the quality of playing is superb, and confirms why late Scottish folk hero Danny Kyle referred once this guitarist as the "man with 36 fingers".
Michael Moll

Claudia Bombardella Ensemble "Un mondo fra le mani"
Label: Radici Music; No. RMR-121; 2008
Claudia Bombardella is known in the Italian folk scene as well as in the choir and opera world. For her folk productions, she is known for her multi-facetted innovative approach to melting different music cultures, languages and styles. As a multi-talent, she is composer, singer, music researcher and plays on top of that a range of instruments, including clarinet and saxophone
Her latest album takes once more its basis in Italian folk traditions, but ventures into many different languages and music cultures - including Armenian, French, German, Russian and Norwegian lyrics! Her ensemble adds more musical flavours with violin, violincello, double bass and mandolin/bouzouki/guitar/tamburello. Amazingly, overall the album does sound coherent, never giving the impression of some weired melting of musical worlds, but hanging always beautifully together - and somehow sounding overall Italian! The album offers a fascinating musical journey; the music may feel at times a bit academic, and is no doubt an album that demands to be properly listened to rather than being played in the background.;
Michael Moll

The Bothy Band "The Bothy Band"
Label: Mulligan Records; LUNCD 3002; 1975/2008; 14 tracks, 47 min
This is the big one. 1975, the Bothy Band's mahogany album, completes the set of three studio re-releases on Mulligan Records. This debut recording includes many of the most famous tracks from their brief but brilliant career. Julia Delaney, Do You Love an Apple, Creig's Pipes, Hector the Hero, Pretty Peg, The Kesh Jig, and of course Coleman's Cross: he still is, apparently. On what was a lengthy LP when it was recorded in October 1975, there is excitement in every note and a freshness that equals any modern release. Right down to the surprising finish on The Sailor's Bonnet, this music is as moving and as startling as it was three decades ago. Take The Flowers of Redhill, a reel I listen to frequently in Gerry O'Connor's rockabilly version: so many musicians have played with this melody, and their inspiration is clear when you listen to the pumping bouzouki, pipes, flute and fiddle here. Classic doesn't tell the half of it.
Having just shed Tony MacMahon and Paddy Glackin, the Bothy Band's line-up for this historic recording was the Ó Domhnaill siblings Tríona and Micheál, Paddy Keenan, Matt Molloy, Donal Lunny, and the mighty Tommy Peoples who was later replaced on fiddle by young Kevin Burke. The melodic firepower is awesome on these eleven instrumental tracks, and the three songs only scratch the surface of vocal talents which were fully revealed in later performances of Fionnghuala and The Heathery Hills of Yarrow. That wonderful harpsichord version of The Butterfly is here, as is the unforgettable canter along The Tar Road to Sligo. As if you didn't know, 1975 is a must-have album and this CD release is more than welcome. The Bothy Band's live recording from Paris is now also available, so no excuses for not updating those LPs!
Alex Monaghan

Ailie Robertson "First Things First"
Label: Own Label; 2008; 11 tracks, 43 min
Harp and soul: Ailie Robertson's debut recording delivers both in fine style. Taking prime piping pieces like Allan MacDonald's Na Gossidich and Donald Morrison's Donald, Willie & His Dog, Ms Robertson succeeds in stamping her own mark on the Scottish tradition. She's not averse to a foray across the Irish Sea either: Micho Russell's,The Humours of Scariff, John Joe's Jig and a pair of polkas get a Robertson make-over they won't regret. Drums, bass, guitar and keyboards are employed with imagination and sympathy, to very good effect. This is less of a surprise once you identify Mary Ann Kennedy as co-producer: graceful Gaelic, great harp music, and good taste are thus almost guaranteed. Ailie's own tunes step smartly up to the mark: The Sands of Hosta, The Angels' Share, Ray and Kevin's Reel, Good Spirits and the more serious Swerving for Bunnies.
This is innovative harping, true to the roots of the music but adding new fruits and branches, without gilding the lily. The old, the new, the borrowed, and even the blues are polished and embellished by Ailie's harp. Marry Me Now, Spirits and The Lisnagun are just some of the wide and well-chosen selection which First Things First spreads before us. The notes are adequate, the artwork is striking, and the whole CD is nicely balanced. has online purchasing, but no samples last time I looked: however, I'd be amazed if anyone is disappointed by this recording. First rate music, first class playing, and first place on my list of albums for 2008: Ailie Robertson's debut CD has all three.
Alex Monaghan

Alalé "Wo Japen"
Label: Own label; 2007; 8 tracks, 40 min
I hesitate to dub these Galway boys "the poor man's Lúnasa", but there aren't that many whistle-led bands in Irish music and the similarities are numerous enough. Anyway, he who hesitates is late, so I won't. Alalé combine Galician music and musicians with a modern approach to Irish traditional music. If I had to pigeonhole them (go on, go on!) I'd say this is jigging-about music, similar to MPE, Beoga, or the dance-music repertoire of Deiseal and indeed Lúnasa. I like it: it's playful, energetic, engaging, and innovative if not entirely original.
The Granny Bag could have stepped off a Lúnasa recording, except for the gaita part. High-octane whistling from Gabriel Wandelmer holds the reel-time melody while guitars and percussion do their stuff. The Forge Jigs are another set of Alalé compositions, Ciaran O'Donghaile adding flute to Wandelmer's low whistle. We travel east to Greece for Bazaar Rumours, then it's back to reels before a splendid Galician follada in festival mood. Squealing Cats introduces Ciaran's uilleann piping on a set of traditional reels, with first-rate playing on a couple of old favourites.
Alalé are a four-piece, with the two front men supported by David Cardona on bodhrán and Fergal Walsh on strings and keyboards, plus a number of guests playing guitars and banging things. Although Wo Japen is quite short, they keep the excitement going to the end. A most unlikely waltz leads into the climactic Rumbas from Alcarria and Galicia. The music bursts forth from flutes and whistles, simply irresistible. Slightly off the wall, but highly enjoyable: check them out at or catch them live around Galway.
Alex Monaghan

Alasdair Gillies "Lochbroom"
Macmeanmna; SKYECD 45; 2008; 12 tracks, 62 min
Unapologetic Highland piping, but presented for a wider audience: Lochbroom is one of the most accessible recordings of the Great Highland Bagpipe which I can recall. Angus D MacColl tried something similar a few years back, but also brought in backing instruments and modern jiggery-pokery. Alasdair Gillies sticks to solo pipes, live in front of a sympathetic audience, with outstanding audio quality and a minimum of tuning and faff. If you're ready to take the step from Battlefield or Black Watch to solo piping CDs, Lochbroom is the perfect place to start.There are plenty of big tunes, even one pibroch, but the emphasis throughout is on enjoyable melodies and great musicianship.
There's a rousing march, a hornpipe and a waltz before you get anywhere near the strathspeys and reels. The Inverness Gathering is a lovely tune, and The Cameronian Quickstep has been a ceilidh favourite for ever. In Memory of Herbie MacLeod is new to me, a Jerry Holland composition of the usual high standard. A clutch of strathspeys is followed by an intriguing selection of reels: Le Petit Cheval Rouge from Quebec, West Mabou Reel from Cape Breton, Kelsae Brig from contemporary Scottish fiddler Ian Hardie, and Donald Kerrigan's stunning Stone Frigate, truly eclectic and breathtakingly performed.
From a pibroch air to a Gaelic song, a set of Hebridean hymn tunes, and a pair of retreat marches ending with the simply beautiful My Home Town by John MacLellan of Dunoon (surprisingly enough), Lochbroom spans the entire spectrum of tasteful piping. Current favourites such ss John Keith Laing, Islay's Charms, Chasing the Ferry and even Davy Spillane's Atlantic Bridge bump up against piping classics including Inveraray Castle, The Smith of Chilliechassie, Elizabeth's Big Coat and a charming jig-time setting of Mrs MacPherson. There are moments when the modern offbeats collide with strict military tempo, but overall this is a dazzling display of all that's good in Scottish piping. No electrics, no studio sorcery, no backing band: just solo piping at its best.
Alex Monaghan

Conal Ó Gráda "Cnoc Buí"
Label: Own label; 2008; 15 tracks, 46 min
Eighteen years after his solo debut album The Top of Coom, this Cork fluter is back with a clean and compelling sound. Conal Ó Gráda has guested on a few recordings since 1990, but Cnoc Bui is the first recent opportunity to appreciate the full range of his playing. There's a definite Munster flavour, with plenty of polkas, although reels are still in the majority: The Fisherman's Lilt, The Green Mountain, The Old Copperplate, The Old Bush, Cuz Teahan's, Come West Along the Road and The Graf Spee are all familiar, strongly played here. Vincent Broderick's tune The Rookery, much recorded recently, gets another airing from Conal, as does a catchy polka version of the strathspey Cutting Bracken.
From the first notes of Church Street Polka to the last breath of reels some three quarters of an hour later, this is powerful fluting. While many of the tunes are simple, they are delivered with deliberation: Maurice O'Keeffe's Polka has something of a military quickstep about it, and the Gold & Silver Marches fit into the same mood. The jig version of Greensleeves is new to me, and I'm sure I would have remembered Lesbia Hath a Beaming Eye. Conal includes two slow airs in these fifteen tracks: Lament for the Death of Staker Wallace, a rather formal piece, and Cuan Bhéil Inse also known as Amhrán na Leabhar which is achingly rendered here. Cnoc Buí is pure flute throughout, not technically perfect but passionately played, stirring stuff indeed.
Alex Monaghan

V/A "The Fluteplayers of Roscommon, Vol. 2"
Label: Feadóg Mór Music; 002; 2008; 23 tracks, 59 min
Roscommon has a fabulous legacy of flute music, and this second volume of recordings includes six archive tracks from the twenties to the seventies, as well as seventeen new takes. It's quite instructive to hear the likes of Packie Duignan and Josie McDermott alogside present-day players such as James Carty and Bronagh Needham. The grand old players may have had better days, but today's Roscommon fluters would certainly give them a run for their money. Aidan and Breda Shannon lead off with a set of lyrical jigs, James Carty follows with a pair of rhythmic reels, and then we have two older tracks from Duignan and Glynn which lack a little in recording quaity but are otherwise clearly from the same stable.
You get the idea: contemporary players, some who have not recorded before, garnished with the occasional old master. There's some great music here from youngsters: The Boys of Ballymote is delivered by Finbarr McGreevy with total control, a mini masterpiece, and Bonnie Prince Charlie is a Scots or Donegal march powerfully played by Bronagh Needham. Other highlights include Alexander's Hornpipe, The Red-Haired Lass and the air Lament for Tom Hale. Tom is one of three whistle-players featured on this CD: his sparkling version of The Mason's Apron was recorded only a couple of years before his untimely death, and like several players here his music has not been heard as widely as it deserves. Full marks to Jon Wynne and his team for remedying that, and for putting together a fine hour of flute music.
Alex Monaghan

Harem Scarem "Storm in a Teacup"
Vertical Records; VERTCD 086; 2008; 10 tracks, 46 min
Just when you thought it was safe to pop out to the hairdressers, these lively ladies are back with their minimal coiffures and maximum quality music. On their third release, Harem Scarem have dispensed with the talents of Nuala Kennedy, losing flute and Irish songs. The trimmed-down line-up has Eilidh Shaw and Sarah McFadyen on fiddles and Inge Thomson on accordion. Vocals are distributed among the girls, while Ross Martin sticks to guitar. Their music is fascinating, fun, and frantic at times: lovely little tunes like Auchengowan and The Locks of Athy are joined together and given names like Duane Eddy. Other sets end with barely contained monster melodies such as Fattig Anna by Karen Tweed or Kirsty by Sarah McFadyen.
In a surprise move, Storm in a Teacup features a collection of the most maudlin modern me-culture madrigals you could wish to encounter. Southside Blues starts the CD with the line There's nothing left inside my heart to sing, yet it goes on for almost five minutes. Maybe I Should Leave is a little more meaningful, but you know what, maybe you should. Is It the Sea? is almost as miserable, but it does boast some uplifting vocals and you can never get too depressed with a banjo accompaniment. The title of Sad Times is a bit of a give-away, and although there is a spark of hope at the end this is the fourth song in a row about drink, drugs, depression, despair. Fade Away follows in a similar slashed vein. If it weren't for the cheerful tunes, this album would carry a health warning. I've no objection to the occasional sad song, and I know life in the Highlands is not a picture postcard, but there must be something nice to sing about occasionally.
Anyway, the excellent instrumental sets manage to balance the mood with a lot of swing and a bit of brass. Guest Rick Taylor provides trombone and marching tuba, with drums and bass from some well-known session musicians. El Cumbanchero is the final track, more freilach than flamenco to my ears, but none the worse for that. Harem Scarem do the gypsy band bit supremely well, with roses held in their teeth no doubt, and this number restores much of the polish which was stripped by the alcohol and razor blades earlier. As a result, Storm in a Teacup finishes as a five-all draw between the Desperados and the Devilmaycares. It was a good game, with plenty of thrills and spills, but I know which team I wanted to win.
Alex Monaghan

Arty McGlynn, Chris Newman, Nollaig Casey & Maire Ni Chathasaigh "Heartstring Sessions"
Label: Old Bridge Music; OBMCD18; 2008; 14 tracks, 48 min
It's not often you see a word like "plangent" in a press release, but it is warranted here. Nollaig Casey and her sister Máire are well known for their moving music on fiddle, harp and vocals, and Heartstring Sessions makes full use of their tugging abilities. Song of the Harp and Lament for Limerick are kleenex classics, and the two vocal tracks on this album both ooze emotion: Among the Heather in English and A Mháire Bhán Og in Irish, sung with a pleasing huskiness by Nollaig.
Husbands Arty and Chris provide rhythmic and harmonic backing, plus some influences from the guitar world. Tom Cronin's Homework is a real Deliverance throwback, visceral rhythms and primal harmonies. The Yellow Barber and Gold Rush are drawn from the old-time and bluegrass traditions, while El Vals Argentino has its roots a little further south. The boys even get a track to themselves, Saturday Night Shuffle, a blend of ragtime, swing and rocky elements, great fun on assorted guitars.
Another word I'd agree with from that press release is "effervescent". The energy here bubbles over in several places. Chris Newman's Wild Goose Chase sets proceedings ablaze with a frenzied fiddle line, to be rekindled later by Nollaig's own Shooting Star. A trio of traditional reels finishes Heartstring Sessions in suitably upbeat style: harp and fiddle spark off each other, while guitar pyrotechnics flicker in and out. The final change into The Crooked Road throws fresh fuel on the fire, fanning the music to new heights. A warming album in all senses! More information is available from, as are many previous albums from these respected musicians.
Alex Monaghan

Mairtin O'Connor "The Connachtman's Rambles"
Label: Mulligan Records; LUNCD 3027; 1979/2008; 12 tracks, 39 min
Yes, this is Mairtin O'Connor from De Dannan and Perpetual Motion, but this re-release from 1979 pre-dates all of that. Here he plays a pearloid Soprani box in the old style, sounding much more trad than you might expect. Early influences such as Patsy Tuohy and John Kimmel are evident, as well as his own Galway accordion tradition. The opening Jolly Tinker and Munster Buttermilk are as straight as anyone oould wish. It's only when we get to Mother's Delight and The College Groves that things start to hot up, and Jenny's Chickens burst into flame with an intensity Colonel Sanders would be proud of. At the other end of the scale, Martin plays two beautiful slow airs with all the emotion and understanding which is reckoned rare among box-players: Mo Giolla Mear and A Stoir Mo Chroi, common enough choices but splendidly interpreted here.
There's plenty more good stuff on this CD. Jenny Picking Cockles is done in the low octave with a lovely growling tone. The Castletown Connors and Happy to Meet are rattled through in fine style. Lord Gordon's starts a virtuosic set of reels, including The Chicago which is a favourite of mine. The title track is something special again, striking slow versions of two well-known jigs, poignant and compelling. I won't say this was Mairtin's best album, but it was certainly an excellent start and shows both where he was coming from and where he was headed. fascinating for any box-player, The Connachtman's rambles is also a good listen with a mix of polkas, hornpipes and slower tunes between the jigs and reels.
Alex Monaghan

Mulholland, Hendry, McSherry "Tuned Up"
Label: Own label; 2008; 10 tracks, 47 min
Now this is something special. A couple of handy Ulster lads on flute and fiddle may not be unusual, but the fierce energy and passion which pours out of Brendan Mulholland and Brendan Hendry is rare indeed. Add to that their uncanny synchrony, plus their taste for good tunes, and it's tempting to see Tuned Up as an instant classic. Certainly this recording is proof enough that the tradition of flute and fiddle duets is alive and well in Derry and Antrim. Listen to the change out of Tatter Jack Walsh, the lead into Mug of Brown Ale. And it's not just jigs: The Boys of Malin is rattled out in impeccable unison, and the opening Fox on the Town set is pretty spot-on too. There's a strong Scots influence on the material here, with Gladstone's Reel maintaining its popularity in Ulster and The High Road to Linton treated as a two-part swagger. Ian "Tonkan" MacDonald's charming waltz opens a set containing Tania "Duhks" Elizabeth's slow reel The Dregs of Birch and a spirited rendition of The Road to Taynuilt - a definite highlight. I should also mention the trio of jigs by Brendan Hendry, eccentric and familiar by turns, great old-style tunes.
Some might take issue with the phrase "perfect guitar accompaniment" applied to Irish music, but if you have to have a guitarist you'd be wise to look in County Antrim and you couldn't get much better than Paul McSherry. His strumming drives the jigs and reels, and his rippling runs and arpeggios provide the ideal backdrop for Gerald Fahy's air Magh Seola. There's interesting little bits and pieces going on behind Johnny O'Leary's Polka, and Paul takes the lead on a silky slow version of The Kilavil Jig. Brendan Mulholland's composition The Lost Ring follows seamlessly as a flute and guitar duet, and Brendan Hendry finally takes his bow on the Jerry Holland tune Malcolm's New Fiddle. That's Jerry with a J, from Boston. Neither Jerry nor anyone else joins the trio here: Tuned Up is all their own work, and very proud of it they should be too. Might be hard to find, but has sample tracks.
Alex Monaghan

The Shee "A Different Season"
Label: Own label; 2008; 11 tracks, 56 min
This all-girl group is based out of southern Scotland, playing a mixture of new and traditional material. Old or new, they kick it hard: a rockabilly take on Tom Paine's Bones, an inspired combination of the ballad Lady Margaret and Shona Mooney's reel Brambles, or the Newgrass style Chilly Winds which could almost come from the soundtrack of a Jet Li film, it's all good stuff. Shee are not short of vocal talent with Olivia Ross, Rachel Newton and Laura-Beth Salter. Lyrics are not provided with the CD, but are available from On the instrumental side, Lillias Kinsman-Blake adds flute and Shona Mooney plays fiddle, while Amy Thatcher's piano box and Rachel Newton's harp are equally adept at lead and backing roles. Everyone contributes a composition or two: the flowing jig Happy Halloween from Amy, The Groupie Reel from Rachel, the song Summer's Promise from Olivia, and a few more.
Of the eleven tracks here, four are vocal-led, four are pure instrumental and three are a blend of both. Here I Am is another hard-hitting contemporary song. Slower, but no less impassioned, are MacCrimmon's Lament and Ged Is Grianach An Latha, both with Gaelic vocals from Rachel. Other highlights for me were the Drunken Duck set, particularly the fascinating middle tune The Cuckoo, and the final English-American medley Dancing on the Wireless with compositions by Bela Fleck and Jay Ungar. This is not all pretty music: it's raw, vibrant, powerful but never rough. The Shee are definitely going places, and they have several directions to choose from. Young Poozies? Silly Witch? Maybe one day Girls of the Lough? Hear what A Different Season has to say, and make your own predictions.
Alex Monaghan

Skyhook "Skyhook"
Label: Own label; SHMCD01; 2008; 12 tracks, 52 min
Based around the twin fiddles of Cath James and Martin Harwood, this trio plays Irish and Scottish music with flair and skill. They open with a powerful set of reels linking Ireland and Cape Breton: brooding rhythmic harmonies on the back strings, sparse guitar chords, and punchy melody lines on McIlhatton's Retreat and Ciaran Tourish's Reel. I'm impressed already. Cath James contributes a double handful of her own compositions, including the stately slow air Wedding at the Mill and the tender waltz Then and Now. Jerry Holland's percussive jig Willie Joe's is sandwiched between two more James tunes: I particularly like Moose Corner, not just because of its associations with Canadian games of hangman. Cath's bittersweet air Away Again precedes a tasty double-guitar arrangement of a tune I know as Memories of Father Angus MacDonnell, charming by any name. Skyhook can handle the big tunes too: The Cup of Tea and The Shetland Fiddler are fired off with gusto, and the penultimate set includes an inspired rendition of the strathspey Cutting Bracken before polishing off Jack Daniels as if it were a pint of Bud. The only place where the spark died for me was Green Grow the Rushes - but hey, 24 out of 25 ain't bad!
In contrast to the authentic Celtic instrumentals, the three songs here are quintessentially English. As well as playing guitar and bouzouki, Eoin Teather sings the Martin Carthy version of Arthur McBride in a rich Northern voice. The Father's Song and Green Grass Grows Bonny are several shades darker: a Ewan MacColl lullaby of social ills, and a ballad of unrequited love intended as a duet. Cath shifts to viola for these tracks, and Martin moves onto bouzouki or piano, providing deep and textured accompaniment without extending the trio. Skyhook's only guest is Mike Fleming, who provides double bass on some of the instrumental tracks. There's a touch of string-band on Huckleberry Hornipe, plenty of fun names like Beardy Face and Turbo Duck, and very little indeed to complain about. I'd definitely recommend this recording to anyone with a taste for twin fiddling: a very fine debut from Sheffield-based Skyhook. The notes and packaging are well above average too.
Alex Monaghan

V/A "String Sisters"
Label: Heilo; HDVD 7209; 2007; 24 tracks, 88 min
Take half a dozen top female fiddlers, keep them in close confinement until they come to the boil, then pour them out onto a Norwegian stage and film the result. Not perhaps the most obvious recipe for a DVD, but it certainly turned out tasty. Norway's Annbjørg Lien picked out Liz Carroll and Liz Knowles from the Irish American scene, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh from Donegal, and her near neighbours Catriona MacDonald from Shetland and Emma Härdelin from Sweden to front this festival of fiddle music, ably backed by David Milligan, James Mackintosh, Conrad Ivitsky and Tore Brusvoll. Over a luxuriant carpet of guitars, bass, drums and keyboards, the ladies lay out their smorgasbord of music from the four corners of the civilized world. Annbjørg tops and tails the performance with her own oddly-named G-Strings and Wackidoo. Emma sings three traditional Swedish songs with powerful Hardanger accompaniment and ringing strings from Ireland and Shetland. Mairéad also contributes a song or two, and leads the girls on her own compositions Tune for Frankie and The Red Crow. Shetland music slots in perfectly between Ireland and Scandinavia: Da Trowie Burn and Land ta Lea from traditional sources, Come Awa' In by the late great Tom Anderson, and Shetland Fiddle Diva written for Catriona by Ian Lowthian.
Liz Carroll's compositions sparkle as ever, The Champaign Jig and Fremont Center are well known, and Tune for the Girls was written specially for this line-up. More Liz Carroll tunes and more Irish traditional material fills out the dozen or so musical selections, each one introduced by its own track of remarks and repartee. Pat & Al's Jig, For the Love of Music, Paddy's Trip to Scotland, Leslie's March, Dinky's and other Irish favourites are gently caressed or savagely attacked by these formidable females. Annbjørg fills the role of MC with flair, and plays a beautiful solo on the Hardanger fiddle in addition to the ensemble pieces. Surprising elements of the String Sisters' repertoire include the song Saviour of the World from Estonia, and a couple of Liz Knowles tunes with names like Rumble Thy Bellyful and Toss the Fiddles. The final romp through assorted reels is a corker, and the encores just get better and better. The live audience was in no doubt about the quality of String Sisters' music, and neither am I: this is world-class fiddling alright. The notes are full and informative, with all the lyrics in original and English translations. There's also a CD version, with a lot less talk.,
Alex Monaghan

Kevin Burke "If the Cap Fits"
Mulligan Records; LUNCD 3021; 1978/2008; 8 tracks; 38 min
It's a long time since I listened to this album. Not the full 30 years since it was released, but at least half of that. Not that it isn't a great recording - it is. I think the problem is that Kevin Burke has continued to make great recordings for thirty years. After the Bothy Band, he recorded albums with Micheál Ó Domhnaill, with Jackie Daly, with Open House, with Celtic Fiddle Festival, and of course with Patrick Street. More recently I've listened mainly to his solo recordings, In Concert and with Ged Foley or Cal Scott. It's hard to think of a fiddler more skilled at solo performance, or more complete in his command of Irish music. These talents were evident even in 1978. If the Cap Fits, Kevin's second solo release, includes some marvellous true solos as well as challenging tunes from the fringe of the Irish music scene at that time: Paddy Fahy's Jig with its characteristic eerie quality, Dinny Delaney's and The Yellow Wattle from earthy old Donegal fiddlers, a venerable trio of Kerry polkas, and the sixteen-minute mammoth set of reels which starts with my favourite version of Toss the Feathers and just goes on and on.
There's an inspired rendition of The Star of Munster and John Stenson's reels. There's that Bothy Band classic Julia Delaney's. There's some tasty box-playing from Jackie Daly, flute and pipe cameos from a young Peter Browne, and nicely muted accompaniment from Brady, Lunny and Ó Domhnaill. But mostly there's exquisite fiddle-playing in that slightly low-key style Kevin has always had, slowing the phrase or bending the note, choosing melodies with more to give and putting them together, releasing those hidden notes which make a tune sing. Sounds fantastic, I know, but this is fantastic music. If you look for the common factors in the best Irish music for the last thirty years, the name Kevin Burke keeps cropping up. If the Cap Fits contains the early essence of his music, solo and with friends, and maybe even points the way to the music of Martin Hayes and others. This 30-year anniversary re-issue is a great addition to Irish music on CD.
Alex Monaghan

Molloy, Brady, Peoples "A Mighty Session"
Mulligan Records; LUNCD 3017; 2008; 15 tracks; 36 min
One of several groupings arising from Planxty and The Bothy Band, this one combines arguably the best fluter and fiddler of their generation with a young guitarist-cum-singer named Paul Brady. The atmosphere is very informal, almost like a pub session, and the music is full of grand old tunes. There's jigs aplenty, and a hornpipe or two, rather than the endless machine-gun rattle of reel after reel. The Creel of Turf and Tom Billy's is a powerful combination of jigs, flute and fiddle hitting the beat with verve. Track 4 is a more playful pairing, Tommy's fiddle singing on The Newport Lass and The Rambling Pitchfork. The magnificent hornpipe Mulqueeney's is followed by the Planxty favourite Out on the Ocean.
There are reels enough, of course. Speed the Plough leads nicely into the piping version of Toss the Feathers, The three parts of The Limerick Lasses slip smoothly into the five-part Foxhunter's Reel. The confusingly titled Silver Spire is another great example of the flute and fiddle duet, rounded off by Drag Her Round the Road. Some of the duets don't quite take off, but the solo tracks are all outstanding: three from Matt Molloy and one from Tommy Peoples. Matt is superb on The Scotsman Over the Border and The Kilavil Jig, and his solo reels are bursting with energy. Tommy's one solo number explores the intricacies of two big jigs often neglected.
And what of the young Paul Brady? One of the best things about this album for me is that Paul is content to sit quietly in the background, adding little touches here and there but basically doing the job of a good session guitarist, which he undeniably is. He plays a nice little solo on The Rainy Day, and sings a very compelling unaccompanied version of The Shamrock Shore, but doesn't distract too much from the flute and fiddle. Well played, well produced and well remastered, this is a well-rounded and entertaining CD, great to see re-issued in Mulligan's current revival.
Alex Monaghan

Patsy Reid "Bridging the Gap"
Vertical Records; VERTCD088; 2008; 12 tracks; 50 min
This is an astonishingly good CD. Bigger names than Patsy Reid have failed to impress when asked to blend folk and classical music for Celtic Connections, but her three-movement fiddle concerto is a total triumph. In some ways, the quality was never in doubt: Patsy's fiddle credentials were underlined by her recent CD With Complements, and she has enlisted several other stars of traditional music to assist in this live recording. Mairi Campbell, Aidan O'Rourke, Natalie Haas, Duncan Lyall and Anna Wendy Stevenson join her on fiddles of various sizes, while Iain Copeland provides the beat. On the other hand, in addition to taking on all the composing duties, Patsy chose to include all seven melodic modes in this work: not just the familiar Ionian and Aeolian modes, representing the major and minor scales, but also the Mixolydian Scottish bagpipe scale and the related Dorian mode, and even the downright unpopular Phrygian and Locrian modes, a risky business. Plainly put, this means that some of the tunes here sound a bit weird, but it still all works.
Bridging the Gap is divided into three movements. The first includes four tunes: Baby Broon, Space to Breathe, Slowing Down, and Vanessa Edward's Enviable Rhythm. Starting with a splendid minor reel, the tempo moves to a slow jig and then to a sumptuous slow air. So far there's nothing which would be out of place on any modern Scottish album, but the 7/8 rhythm of the final theme immediately cries "Balkan", emphasised by the Dorian mode of this hypnotic tune. The second movement contains the much more orchestral Strath Sunrise, an evocative piece in the Scandinavian-sounding Lydian mode, almost a tone poem, followed by Two of a Kind as a bagpipe-style military march.
The final movement reprises Baby Broon before launching into a four-part medley. The powerful strathspey Not From These Parts echoes a small number of older Scottish melodies in the Phrygian mode, often ascribed to trollish or faerie musicians. Parts of this track slip into the Locrian mode, adding a manic edge to the melody. Five is Better is firmly in 4/4 time, so I presume it refers to the five-string fiddle which Patsy plays here: the lack of notes on the tunes is my only real criticism of this release. At the Edge is an atmospheric slow reel, and the final hornpipe Life is Good certainly left me feeling that way. Classical or jazz gurus might mention the counterpoint and structure, the riffs and grooves, but for me these just add depth and lift to what is essentially an excellent recording of contemporary Scottish fiddle. Yes, it blends in other influences. Yes, it pushes the envelope of modes and rhythms. No, I don't mind that: Patsy Reid has done a perfect job of weaving all these strands into one cloth, giving us great width without compromising on quality. Bridging the Gap is definitely in my 2008 top ten.
Alex Monaghan

Amsterdam Klezmer Band "Remixed"
Label: Essay Recordings; 010; 2006; 13 tracks, 66 min
This blend of Jewish and Western music never loses its edge as the seven-piece band tacks from the straight traditional Terk to the weirdly modern Kolo Chimera and back again. With several albums under their hats, and over ten years together, these polished performers are supremely entertaining.
The marketing behind this CD emphasises the Remixed title: half the tracks are new, and the other half are re-mixed or otherwise messed about with by several producers and DJs. This makes for a very varied hour of music, all of it klezmer at the core, with touches of rap, hip-hop, grunge, ska, whatever. Lots of whatever, actually. AKB has all the key elements of a great klezmer band: clarinet, trumpet, bass and acordion recreate the sound of Eastern Europe, while the sax, trombone and drums give a big-band fullness. Depending on the track, things can stray into jazz or back to basic Balkan roots. Remixed is mostly dance music, with not much singing - a big plus - and the occasional spoken vocal. Highlights for me were Constantinopel Babes with gorgeous guest oud, the humour-loaded Rumania Calling, and the final Odessa's Blast Out.
Klezmer novices, klezmer purists, and the all-you-can-eat fans will all find something they can get their teeth into here. Remixed is wide anough to appeal to the Jewish home crowd, and the quality is world class.
Alex Monaghan

Amsterdam Klezmer Band "Zaraza"
Label: Essay Recordings; AYCD 19 ; 2008; 15 tracks, 57 min
Klezmer, that brassy Jewish jazz band sound that goes back to the fall of Jericho. Amsterdam, a city famous for diamonds, drugs, drinking, and dancers of a very special kind. Put them together, and it's not too surprising that they produce something as weird and wonderful as the Amsterdam Klezmer Band. Visually they are a little odd. Musically they are fabulous. With a handful of recordings behind them, this new album shows AKB in party mood. Banat is old-style festival music, fast and furious, with a stunning trombone solo underlining the virtuosity of these guys. Takaj Zhizn brings Jewish humour to the mix, and you don't have to speak Hebrew to smile. The swing and skiffle behind Alles Kan Beter reminds me of silent movie car chases in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, nerve-tingling and rib-tickling in parallel. With Kessikköprü comes a taste of Eastern mystery, Balkan and beyond: the car chase continues across the desert, heading for Cairo or Damascus, flanked by camel trains and galloping horsemen.
AKB have the ability to sound like a Jewish wedding band, a European cabaret act, or an Arab orchestra. All these genres and more are spanned by the band's own compositions. Op Een Goppe and Vesna are cosmopolitan show-band numbers. Netty slows things to a moody waltz tempo before three pumping Balkan pieces, including The 7th Seven which curiously enough is track 9. Doina Banjo is a little different from the Irish or Bluegrass style, and leads into probably the weakest track here, but all is forgiven and forgotten in the melodious maelstrom of Kolodobre. Coming towards the end of Zaraza the frenetic energy is unrelenting. Another slow track wouldn't have hurt, a chance to draw breath before the title tune and the big finish of Gde. AKB themselves seem a little puffed on the final laps: there's a breathlessness to the vocals, and a wildness to the final tune, which suggest the end of a great party. And rightly so: a good time was definitely had by all, and nobody will be going home disappointed with this album. provides more info, lots of music samples, and advice on where to get your next fix of AKB.
Alex Monaghan

Athas "Athas"
Label: Own Label; 2007; 15 tracks; 47 min
This Irish American trio from Milwaukee plays in a relaxed jaunty style, capturing the spirit of the music with a confident full sound. As an independent debut recording, this CD is impressively slick and polished. Fiddle, guitar and bodhrán are the core instruments of Athas, with whistles and flute on a few tracks. There's more than a hint of Lunasa in some of the woodwind arrangements, although they're clearly not in the same league. Amy Richter is a young bodhrán player, recently winning the US mid-west chamionship. Heather Lewin-Tiarks is a time-served fiddler, Jeffrey Ksiazek plays guitar and woodwind. Names to conjure with indeed!
This recording includes eight compositions by the threesome, along with other Irish American influences, but the majority of the material is solid old traditional melodies. A couple of polkas start proceedings, compositions by Jeff and fellow fluter Kathleen Bremer, with the twists and turns of Sliabh Luachra. Spootiskerry, attributed to Ian Burns, is joined by Heather's reel for Seamus O'Kane. Jeff's charming waltz Inion Ní Mhicheál precedes a pair of whistle-led jigs with a lovely change into Scatter the Mud. Two traditional slides round off the first section of this great style.
There's a slight waning of confidence and attack in the midddle section, but things pick up again with a lively bodhran intro to Drowsy Maggie and The Mountain Road. Three powerful sets of polkas follow, including the catchy Heather's Polka, before the traditional Paper Plate Slide brings us to the final hornpipes: The Home Ruler and Cronin's, played with bounce and enthusiasm, and maybe just a touch too much guitar. I'm looking forward to hearing more from Athas, and they're definitely worth catching if you're passing through Milwaukee.
Alex Monaghan

Ceilidh Minogue "There Y'Are Now"
Label: Own Label; TMKCD073; 2008; 12 tracks; 54 min
Remember back in the '50s when Scottish dance bands would include a trumpet or trombone? No? Neither do I, but the concept has been resurrected by these piano-box-led punsters. They're not blonde, they're not cute, they're not particularly small, and they most definitely don't sing, but otherwise Ceilidh Minogue provides all you could wish for in a ceilidh band. Their marches are crisp, their reels are fluid, their jigs impertinent and their waltzes sublime. I count at least ten of my favourite tunes on this recording, and the rest aren't bad. There's an unexplained fondness for the compositions of Ronnie Cooper, the late great Gaelic-speaking Shetlander, including Jim Anderson's Delight, Sunset Over Foula, Ronas Voe, Frank Jamieson and Da Tushkar. There's a couple of Gordon Duncan jigs, a few more pipe tunes from modern composers, and fiddle music from Gow through Skinner to Holland. The range of dances is more than adequate for an average ceilidh: Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant, Strip the Willow, Barn Dance, Two-Step, a couple of waltzes and plenty of jigs and reels. Ms Minogue can handle classics like The Deveron Reel and The Sailor's Wife, as well as continental waltzes and the big band sound of Looking For a Partner.
As listening music, There Y'Are Now has even more to offer. The horn section turns Ceilidh Minogue into a sort of tartan La Bottine Souriante, bags of energy and more than a few humorous touches. The slides on The Black Bear are priceless, the brass background on The Dasher is inspired, and the smoother side of brass brings out the beauty of Bennachie Sunrise. These guys can take the dance music seriously as well: the change into a jig in The Gay Gordons is truly uplifting, the boys are always on the beat, and the tempo is rock solid. Nice touches abound on almost every track: the hard-hitting start to MacArthur Road, the growling fiddle on King's Reel, the little riff in Stan Chapman's, and great harmonies on Snug in a Blanket. I'd prefer a little more staccato in Tam Bain's Lum, and perhaps a touch more snap on MacKenzie Hay, but this is undoubtedly a first-class album and a fine follow-up to their 2006 CD. Led by Gregor Lowrey amd Gavin Marwick on box and fiddle, Ceilidh Minogue's regular rhythm section is pianist Bob Turner and drummer Alastair Morrow. They are augmented here by Duncan Findlay on fretted strings, and that horn trio of course. Tastier than a deep-fried pizza: get up and dance, or sit back and listen, but don't miss Ceilidh Minogue.
Alex Monaghan

The Duplets "Tree of Strings"
Label: Pond Chicken Music; CHIK001; 2008; 12 tracks; 46 min
Gillian Fleetwood and Fraya Thomsen play harps in the modern style: silken melodies, brazen arrangements and gutsy accompaniments. It's hard to tell exactly what their strings are made of, but they certainly produce good vibrations. In seven instrumental sets, these talented young ladies span traditions from Scandinavia to Canada, melodies from the 17th century to the 21st. The five songs are led by Gillian in a low dusky voice. Ca' the Yowes, Twa Corbies and Rigs of Rye come from the heart of the folk song tradition. Andy M Stewart's Queen of All Argyll is only a couple of decades old, and Love by Claire Campbell is a mere toddler.
Starting with a tune I know as Lord Mayo, the harp duets sparkle and stir by turns. There are eight of Gillian and Fraya's own compositions here, ranging from the frankly funky Bendy Tune to the straight strathspey Lillian Ross of Inverness: all are well worth hearing, The Boys groups three of them into a rich and varied medley. The Duplets also have a good ear for other people's compositions: Steve Cooney, Diarmuid Moynihan, Jarlath Henderson and Angus MacDonald are among the contemporary composers credited. Gillian and Fraya are joined on a few tracks by Duncan Lyall and Donald Hay on bass and drums, and on a couple of sets by the fiddle of Gabe McVarish and the banjo of Tam Kinsella.
The strength of this CD is definitely in the instrumental tracks. My favourites are Donald Blue, The Up Downey, Good Man in the Kitchen and that bendy tune. Tree of Strings is not a highly-polished or over-produced album, and it's all the more refreshing as a result. The atmosphere is more like a small informal concert than a studio recording, full of spirit and spontaneity. A very creditable first album, and a great name for a record label.
Alex Monaghan

Gary Quinn "Keep Her Lit"
Label: Own Label; GQ CD 001; 2008; 11 tracks; 38 min
Galway box-player Gary Quinn has chosen an eclectic selection for this debut CD. His own swaggering title tune leads into the Cape Breton reel Road to Errogie. Next up is a couple of tasty jigs by Mairtin O'Connor, The Goat and Rockin' the Boat, followed by a French Canadian quadrille set, before Mike McGoldrick's Cotsloe Beach brings round another Quinn original with shades of Sharon Shannon in West of the Corrib.
Like his musical tastes, Gary Quinn's compositions range from the straight to the offbeat. On the one hand, West of the Corrib and Liv's Lectric Smile will be easily absorbed into the tradition, while the jigs Western Rest and Eastern Test lie well outside the inner circles of Irish music. Gary also writes a mean slow air: Web of Life is a starkly sad melody, evoking lonely places and ancient stories. A couple of sets of straight reels follow, some traditional including the punchy Wedding Reel, and some by Gary with a cracking change from Why Daddy? to Don't Know Son.
The Children's Carousel, a newly-written old-time waltz, contrives to sound like a fair-ground organ. More fine reels, The Boys of Malin sandwiched between one of Sean Regan's and one of Gary's, and then the final track is a piece of honky-tonk madness, Joplin music from Scott to Janis, and everything in between. Keep Her Lit is expressive, fun, and full of twists and turns. While the button box leads every track, there are several guest musicians scattered through this recording to vary the mix, some sharing the composing credits. You could find more technically accomplished box-players, but Gary Quinn's tunes are a joy to listen to and his heart is always in the right place, even when his fingers aren't. Well worth seeking out.
Alex Monaghan

Karin Wallin "Guldpolska"
Nordic Tradition; NTCD12; 2008; 22 tracks, 56 min
Put away all your preconceptions. This is a solo fiddle CD, but there ends all resemblance to most fiddle recordings I have heard. Guldpolska is the debut recording by a woman who has been researching and playing Scandinavian fiddle music for most of her life. Here Karin Wallin concentrates on the dance music of Skåne in Sweden. Not only is this music strongly rhythmic, it is also so lush and textured that it's hard to believe all the sound comes from one fiddle. Her own composition Stjärntals is a good example. Think Shetland or Hardanger music, and then double it. Karin specialises in double- and treble-stopping, playing more than one string almost constantly. She also uses different fiddle tunings, such as the very low drone on D-Polska and the Shetland-style tuning on the opening piece.
Almost all the 22 tracks here hold a single tune, giving the melody time to make an impression. Some of the tracks rapidly become hypnotic: Livs Levande and Möllersas Jubileumshambo have this effect on me. Others are simply beautiful, such as Polska Efter Johan Christian Blomgren and Silverpolska. Waltzes, polskas, spring dances and the occasional minuet fill almost an hour with powerful dance music, and several of Karin's own tunes fit seamlessly into this rich and ancient tradition. The entire album is unaccompanied solo fiddle, with fabulous expression and barely a note out of place. It's no surprise that Karin Wallin recently won Sweden's highest award for traditional musicians. If you want to broaden your appreciation of fiddle music, you should definitely hear Guldpolska.
Alex Monaghan

Ronan Martin "Ronan Martin"
Label: Own Label; WILDCD101; 2008; 12 tracks, 55 min
Skyeman Ronan Martin was tempted out of his design workshop by fellow fiddler Jonny Hardie, who plays back-up guitar on this recording. Whether by the mythical warmth of Aberdonian hospitality, or the unaccustomed smoothness of east coast malts, Ronan's playing here is inspired and energised. From the strutting steps of The Hen's March to the final driving notes of Mrs MacPherson, this is west highland fiddle music in the old style, with knobs on. Ronan's repertoire is full of west coast classics: Isabelle Blackley, Bogan Lochan, The Bonawe Highlanders, Put Me in the Big Chest, The Sprig of Ivy, The Nine Pint Coggie, Kenny MacDonald's Jig and then a Cape Breton style nine-minute medley of strathspeys and reels. Big tunes boldly played, with minimal mucking about.
Many of these melodies would also fit on the highland pipes, and the style has been influenced by pipers, but this is fiddle music through and through. The rapid runs, the dancing bow, the double-stopping and glissando ornamentation all mould a tune such as Cuir Sa Chiste Mhor Mi to the fiddle. Many of the nuances of west highland music come from the Gaelic language which was shared by pipers and fiddlers, so the shape of a strathspey like Cha Toir Iain Mor an Nighean Dhohm is dictated by the words of the associated mouth-music which also shaped the piping version: chicken and egg in many cases, but the Gaelic language definitely gives a recognisable character to this music. Nowhere is this more true than in the Gaelic slow airs such as Nuair a Chi Thu Caileag Bhoidheach, played beautifully here. As far as I am aware, there are no words to the more recent air The New House in St Peter's, which Ronan interprets with equal passion and skill. The final two tracks step slightly out of the box: a super-slow version of The Humours of Cork contrasts with an eclectic selection of reels which ends on G S McLennan's legendary Mrs MacPherson of Inveran. Powerful stuff!
Alex Monaghan

Fiona Driver "Orkney Fire"
Label: Own Label; FDF004; 56 min
Almost a decade ago I reviewed the debut CD of this young Orkney fiddler, an impressive recording for a teenager. Her second recording has taken a while, but Fiona Driver has matured into a powerful fiddler and skilled composer with a distinctive style: not completely Orkney, but totally captivating. The opening jig Fire and Water shows a range of moods from gentle pizzicato through languid lyricism to full-on fiery dance music. The slow strathspey Craiglands leads into a version of the Easy Club Reel which Fiona calls The Brookfield Girls. Her air St Peter's Bay is appealing and stately with hints of the big Speyside composers, nicely arranged, perhaps a touch too long. I wasn't particularly taken with the next set until the last tune, 38 Steps, an absolute treasure of a hornpipe.

A couple more bouncy jigs and reels precede another slow air, The Black Craig, followed by the evocative Toast-a-Mouse. Like several of Fiona's tunes, this one owes a lot to American swing and country fiddling which has always been very popular in the Northern Isles. Tiny & Flo provides a total contrast with its dark modal Scandinavian feel. A lovely pair of waltzes is followed by Simpson Swing, an old-time reel written in one minute but none the worse for that! Three catchy jigs revert to traditional Scottish mood before another swingy set starting with Beware of the Deadly Night Chickens (there isn't a lot of excitement in Orkney). Another slow air brings us to the final Rats & Kippers: two fine reels in frenzied mood for a fitting finale.

Orkney Fire is an unusually quiet recording: I had to turn my headphones right up at times to catch the subtleties, but it rewards careful listening. You might even hear the neighbour's cow. Fiona is expertly accompanied by Graham Simpson on guitar and drums, with guest spots from a couple of friends. Graham plays a pair of his own tunes on fingerpicked guitar. There's also one song here, Circles and Squares written and sung by younger brother Merlyn Driver: modern acoustic introspection, nicely delivered, adding a bit more variety. Otherwise it's thirteen tracks of fine fiddling, all new compositions except for a couple of borrowings. Fresh talent is here in abundance, and I'd say Fiona's third CD won't be too long in the making.
Alex Monaghan

Beoga "The Incident"
Compass Records; 4499; 2009; 11 tracks; 41 min
A third album, an unchanged line-up and a high proportion of their own new material: Beoga seem to be hanging onto their position as the premier good-time Irish band. Powered by push-button prodigies Sean Og Graham and Damian McKee, this recording is packed with wild and wonderful music from the opening Lamped set to the penultimate Flyfishing. Not that it's all immediately recognisable as Irish, mind you: French cafes and Jewish weddings have sprung up beside the bothies and bars of Beoga's home, but there's more than enough of the pure drop to keep most of us happy. The Red Haired Lass is supported by Jackie Daly's Fly Fishing Reel and by Up and Down Sir, Antics, Mister Molly's and several other outstanding compositions from the band and friends in traditional vein. Sean Og's compositions are as varied and exciting as ever, and young concertina man Ciaran O'Grady has contributed some lovely tunes. On several tracks, bodhránist Eamon Murray and keyboards-player Liam Bradley are supplemented by drums, horns and electrics - or is it gas? Either way, the raw energy and depth of Beoga's sound is more akin to the Cotton Club than the church céilí.
Niamh Dunne drops the tempo with four songs, two slow and two not so. Mary danced with Soldiers is a country tear-jerker with a delicate arrangement. Strange Things lives up to its title, a rousing gospel anthem given the Harlem treatment. On the Way is a new composition from Derry's Joe Echo, who joins Niamh for this slice of urban Ulster pop. The Best is Yet to Come finishes this recording with a sentiment I can heartily agree with: Beoga go from strength to strength. The boys also slip in a gentle old-time waltz for completeness, so you could almost give this album to your granny. A few guest singers and musicians add variety, but Beoga's general sound is still the tight double-box mayhem of previous outings. Anyone who hasn't heard Beoga will be amazed by The Incident, and existing fans will not be disappointed. At least as good as their second CD, and better than most recent Irish releases, The Incident is widely available. For more information try, where you'll find almost everything except an explanation of the album title.
Alex Monaghan

Neill Lyons "Skins + Sins"
Label: Lyonsie Records; NLCD001; 2008; 11 tracks; 28 min
More than an EP, but far shorter than most LPs, Skins & Sins is a showcase for the bodhrán wizardry of young Dub Neill Lyons. But forget that for now, because nine of these eleven tracks are fronted by some of the finest young and not-so-young musicans on the Dublin trad scene, a fascinating snapshot of Irish traditional music from this time and place. Eamonn De Barra's flute provides the firepower for The Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Alan Byrne's banjo unites Courtown Harbour and The Lisnagun Jig. Paul McNevin draws on the Ulster Scots tradition for The King's Reel and The Ivy Leaf, while Michelle O'Brien and Leonard Barry play a couple of meaty duets on fiddle and pipes. Mick Broderick adds impeccable accompaniment throughout, and various members of the Lyons and De Barra family are also involved. There's reels, jigs, a couple of hornpipes and a march. Interestingly, all the melodies are traditional: no new compositions.
Behind it all is your man Neill Lyons, battering away on a modest-sized drum with a bundle of sticks for a tipper, in the manner which won him the first World Bodhrán Championships in 2006. There's a bigger sound on two sets, with Andy Morrow and Peter Browne joining in for Connie the Soldier, Wheels of the World and Pretty Girls of Mayo, but the bodhrán still holds its own: steady as a rock, powerful as an express train. When someone first suggested you could play a bodhrán with skewers, this probably isn't what they meant. The composite tipper has a complex sound, more modern somehow, and certainly very popular at the moment. I'd have liked to hear the thump of the old solid wood from time to time, particularly on Moll Ha'Penny, but that's not Neill's style. The two drum solos show what this young master can do: a solid beat with plenty of flamboyance, good lift, and a fine balance between slap and tickle. As an example of subtle, sensitive modern bodhrán, supporting the tune rather than overwhelming it, this recording is outstanding. On a longer album, you might expect to hear more solo virtuosity: keep an eye on for that!
Alex Monaghan

Janette Geri "Telling tales…"
Label: Own label; 2008
Victoria based singer/songwriter Janette Geri has published two albums this year. The one I received, “Telling tales…”, is a collection of ten traditional and Celtic songs recorded with the spare help of three guest musicians. The other one, “The Bastard’s Daughter”, only features original songs.
The CD starts with a terrific cover version of Kate Rusby’s “the bonny cow”. Geri plays all the instruments; from rhythm to harmony and singing this is a pure Janette Geri production. She has a hauntingly beautiful and warm voice that puts instantly a spell on the listener. No matter if she sings traditional songs, Fairport Convention, Robert Burns or other historical ballads she gave them a new and wonderful re-make. Wonderful harmonies coupled with stirring rhythms and angelic singing make her music a real treat for your ears. Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention) wrote “crazy man michael” and Geri’s version is absolutely mesmerizing. The traditional “strichen toon” has been recorded together with Jason Resch on electric guitar and Phil Smith on bass. This song sticks out with the playing together of Geri’s acoustic rhythm guitar and Resch’s rather heavy solo guitar as well as the passionate singing and rhythm. The following “the water is wide” is a melancholic and lovely love song with words by Robert Burns. And the final “hard times” by Stephen Foster (1826-1864) introduces us to the fine clarinet playing of Billy Abbot.
This album was a real surprise for me as I had never heard of Janette Geri before. Well unfortunately here in Europe we don’t easily get to hear non commercial music from the other end of the world.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Sarah McQuaid "I won’t go home ‘til morning"
Label: Own label; 2008
Sarah McQuaid was born in Spain, raised in Chicago and came back to Europe as an adult young woman. She spent 13 years in Ireland where she recorded her debut album with Irish traditional songs. 2007 she crossed the Irish Sea to live in her mother’s house in Cornwall. Her new album is dedicated to her departed mother and features eight Appalachian songs and tunes she used to sing with her mother Jane when she was a child, a jazzy Bobbie Gentry cover version and two self-crafted songs. Sarah sings and plays the guitar and has recorded the CD with a bunch of excellent guest musicians in Trevor Hutchinson’s studio in Dublin. Hutchinson (Lunasa) also plays double and electric bass. Irish songwriter Gerry O’Beirne (guitars, ukulele and producer), Liam Bradley from Beoga (percussion, vocals), Máire Breatnach (fiddle, viola) and Rosie Shipley (fiddle) complete the line-up.
The CD opens with the traditional soft ballad “The Chickens they are crowing” and Sarah’s warm and mature voice. Her gifted singing is accompanied by the gentle sound of O’Beirne’s 12-string guitar, the Ebow and Shipley’s soft fiddle playing. “West Virginia Boys”, another traditional song, stands out with brilliant percussion playing and Sarah’s jazziest singing. “Shady Grove/Cluck Old Hen” has been interpreted by McQuaid and O’Beirne as an instrumental set. Sarah learned “Wondrous Love” from Jean Ritchie and sings it a capella together with Bradley and she brings forward the traditional “The Wagoner’s Lad” solo with just some guitar chords. Finally “The last Song” is one of her two own songs, beautifully accompanied by Breatnach on viola and Hutchinson on double bass.
McQuaid is a brilliant singer and chose some beautiful songs for her album. The arrangements are simple but striking and the musicians accompany her singing perfectly. The style changes from a capella singing to guitar songs, from folk to jazz and from rhythmic to melancholic. For me this singer with both Irish and American citizenship is certainly a revelation and I’m sure her album will be a great success.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Eleanor McEvoy "Love must be tough"
Label: MoscoDisc; 2008
Eleanor McEvoy is one of Irish top singer/songwriters. During her career as a musician she passed through classical as well as through traditional music and finally succeeded with a contemporary jazzy mix of styles that signifies her latest release “love must be tough”. McEvoy sings and plays violin and percussion and she’s accompanied by a bunch of brilliant guest musicians on guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, trumpet, trombone, saxophones and clarinet.
The CD starts with a stunning version of the Rolling Stones Hit “Mother’s little Helper”. I better not compare the original version in respect for these pioneers of modern rock music. McEvoy’s music is a wonderful mix of cool jazz harmonies with great rhythmic highlights. Her voice is like a sip of fine red wine that caresses your senses and the arrangements are equally outstanding. The self-crafted title track combines harmonic contemporary rhythms with hauntingly beautiful tunes and exceptional singing. The musical arrangements with violin and brass winds are excellent and rhythmically McEvoy’s music is hilarious. Listen to the funky cover version of “If You want me to stay” (S. Stewart). She also plays Rock’n’Roll like on “Hands off him” (Bowman/McShann) and she does it perfectly. But you will also find hauntingly beautiful ballads and romantic songs like the catchy song “Easy in Love”.
The album is a great sample of contemporary Irish music and proves that there’s more than traditional tunes and songs to play. I really do love folk music but I also appreciate musicians that try something else. So listen to it and let seduce yourself by Eleanor’s alluring voice.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Jo Freya "Female Smuggler"
No Masters; 2008
Jo Freya first started her career in the 70ies with The Old Swan Band and since then she was always developing her musical horizon. After having played with different ensembles she now focuses on her solo performances and has published “Female Smuggler”, her long awaited solo album with 13 songs and tunes, self-crafted, covered or traditional.
Freya sings and plays saxophones, clarinet, low whistle and keyboards and she’s accompanied by some amazing musicians including Lal Waterson Project companions Jude Abbot (Flugelhorn, trumpet, vocals), Neil Ferguson (keyboards, bass, guitars, vocals) and Harry Hamer (percussion) as well as Breton musician Hélène Brunet (Portuguese guitar).
Starting off with the rhythmic title track featuring saxophone, flugelhorn, keyboards, Portuguese guitar, tablas and Freya’s beautiful voice the CD leads us through a world of extraordinary music and sounds. Beautiful melodic songs are followed by traditional tunes from Brittany and jazzy songs like “A Thief can too”. Here Abbot sings the beautiful harmony vocals and Ferguson accompanies Freya on bass and guitar, while the lead vocals and the tenor sax dominate this original song. Freya’s “Chasing Water” is a wonderful a Capella trio followed by a terrific saxophone solo and Lal Waterson’s “Marvellous Companion” is another beautiful song with three singers, this time with great musical arrangement. My favourite track is a set of two Breton dances called “Bois Tortu/Gavotte Montagne”. The first, a “Tour”, stands out with excellent singing together of Jo and Jude accompanied by the Portuguese guitar and the latter, probably one of the most famous dances in Brittany, adds the sound of the soprano saxophone and the cajon. Traditional songs like “Edwin in the Lowlands Low” or tunes like “Claire Connor’s Lament/Dairy Diary”, a waltz and a step hop hornpipe, complete the diversified choice of music styles.
For me this album was a real revelation. I didn’t know Freya before and I was completely thrilled by the outstanding musical arrangements and interpretations. Unfortunately there are no samples on the website, but have a look anyway.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Joe O’Donnell’s Shkayla "Celtic Cargo"
Label: Sid Norris Recordings 2008
Limerick born electric violin and mandolin-player Joe O’Donnell has been on the forefront of Celtic music for more than 37 years. He is also a fine singer and a brilliant composer. After having worked with different bands and projects he formed his band Shkayla in 1998. “Celtic Cargo” is the third release of this Coventry based band.
O’Donnell and his band mates Martin Barter (keyboards, vocals), Mark Fulton (basses), Dave Perry (guitars), Mark Ingram (electric guitars) and Paul Johnson (drums) have recorded eleven tracks, mostly traditional songs and tunes as well as an original O’Donnell song.
The CD starts with the march set “Brian Boru/O’Neill’s Cavalcade” and its breathtaking rhythm. You can hear five more instrumentals like for example a set of jigs including Frankie Gavin’s “Wren’s Nest”, a tremendous jazzy reel (“The Maid I never forgot” - my favourite tune) as well as a great Breton set.
But there are also some hauntingly beautiful songs like the famous “P is for Paddy” with wonderful piano and violectra accompaniment and the rather up-beat Folk-Rock song “Cam Ye o’er frae France” or O’Donnell’s psychedelic rock song “Song of the Nations”.
I didn’t know O’Donnell’s music before and I was amazed by the splendid mix of folk, rock and jazz, that distinguishes the album. These guys have developed an awe-inspiring sound and they managed to put these old tunes and songs in a fresh and airy dress.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Blair Douglas "Stay Strong"
Label: Ridge Records; 2008
Blair Douglas was born on the Isle of Skye and thus was brought up with and exposed to traditional Gaelic music. Though having graduated from Glasgow University with a MA in Economics, Douglas chose to make music to the centre of his life, well chosen Blair. He started his career 1973 as a founding member of Scottish super group Runrig, at that time called the Run Rig Dance Band, and features as a guest musician on their 1981 album “Recovery”.
On his latest release “Stay Strong” he is joined by three members of Runrig, Gordon Gunn as well as by some top musicians and singers from Scotland, Nova Scotia and the USA. They recorded 13 original tracks, 7 songs and 6 instrumental tunes, in Glasgow, Skye, Orkney, Sweden, Louisiana, Nashville and Nova Scotia, an international and (nearly) all Celtic project.
The CD starts with “Martyn in Mind”, a brilliant pipe tune performed by the Scottish piper Gary West. It is a tribute to Martyn Bennet, who sadly passed away at the age of 33. Eddie Reader and her brother Frank sing the sad song “The Soldier’s Lullaby” for Rose Gentle, who lost his son during the invasion of Iraq 2004 and since then campaigns against this stupid war. Scottish singer Vivien Scotson and Rory MacDonald (Runrig) share the vocal tracks on “Lewis Love”, a song about the loss of 205 lives – men drowned near Stornoway when they returned from the first world war – and Kathleen MacInnes and Arthur Cormack perform a wonderful duet on “Tàladh an Iasgair” (The Fisherman’s Lullaby). Dundee born Michael Marra sings about one of the biggest catastrophes in modern America, the Hurricane Katrina (Rester fort la Nouvelle-Orléans). Douglas also wrote a beautiful jazzy tune about the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana. Then Kathleen MacInnes changes the mood and brings forward a lively song about Skye women pondering about the vanities of the Skye male (´s barail Leam – That’s what I think). The Rees siblings from the American band L’Angelus and Runrig singer Bruce Guthro plead “Acadie, sing me home” and Douglas invites us with a breathtaking rhythmic tune to “Keep the Céilidh funky”.
The album is a terrific piece of musical art featuring some of the finest Celtic, Cajun and Jazz musicians from three corners of the world. Blair Douglas is not only a brilliant accordion player and composer, but also a dedicated poet who cares for humanity and peace. For me this is one of the best albums of the year 2008.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

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