FolkWorld Issue 39 07/2009

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Alamaailman Vasarat "Huuro kolkko"
Label:
Nordic notes / Laskeuma records ; LR02 / NN027; 2009
Alamaailman vasarat, which means as much as the hammers of the underworld, is a band from Finland. Founded in 1997 and they released their debut album nine years ago. the basic sound of the band is formed by a brass section and the cello, but also a pump organ, melodica, drums and many other instruments. It's a sextet and they describe their music as fictive world music. Huuro kolkko is their fifth album with nine new band compositions. With the opening track Mielisaurus they show exactly what they are. A melodic mixture of brass, progressive rock with edges of metal and folky influences. Liskopallo sounds like an old Russian circus-rock song, such nice melodic structure and good rhythmic construction. That it's not only the more rock orientated songs that convince, proofs Luonto tuli lšhelle. The band shows their more introvert side and chooses an effective way of slowly building the song towards the end. Huuro kolkko is an impressive piece of music for all those who love heavy alternative folk, furious world brass or melodic rock music.
www.alamaailmanvasarat.com
Eelco Schilder


Nanci Griffith "The Loving Kind"
Label:
Rounder; DINT0242; 2009
Well, when you have such a beautiful musical career as Nanci Griffith, I guess it's unnecessary to write how she was discovered at the famous Kerrville festival, thatís this new album The loving kind is her nineteenth album and that in the past she won many prices (including Grammy). It's probably also not necessary that on this new album she sings a fine mixture of folk, country, blues, rock and all those styles that are related. You might want to know that the album contains thirteen songs, mostly written by Griffith herself. I like her personal way of writing, reflecting on actual themes and personal issues. Always devoted and always with a positive musical vibe. Is it really necessary to write that this album is solid as a rock with good song writing, ditto singing and so on? Would you have expected anything else from one of the grand ladies of American folk? It's exactly what I expected to get and I love it!
www.nancigriffith.com
Eelco Schilder


The New Prohibition Band "Busted"
Label: Nana nana boo boo records; 2007
The new prohibition band is an American roots band from Berlin. They play acoustic dances and sing nice ballads about the things that ballads tell about, love and murder! This band surprises me, they have a strong and pure sound. I like their explicit way of playing, itís happiness, itís outspoken and full of life. I like the singing, raw male and more airy female vocals. The bass builds the foundation on which the violin can go wild and the banjo shows its most frivol sound. One of the nicest American roots inspired album from outside the North American continent.
www.thenewprohibitionband.com
Eelco Schilder


Ivo Papasov "Dance of the Falcon"
Label:
World village; 45004; 2008
The Bulgarian clarinettist Ivo Papasov is world wide appreciated for his fabulous play and his contribution to the (Bulgarian) folk music in general. His former album, Fairground, was awarded with the BBC world music audience award. Now his latest album Dance of the falcon is released. Papasov started 35 years ago with his band Trakija and became one of the main ambassadors for the Bulgarian wedding music. He invented new ways of interpret ate the traditional dances and played with many of the big names of (Balkan) music. This new album is stunning. His way of playing is breath taking and only got better throughout the years. I love the way he mixes the traditional elements with jazz and sometimes a bit orchestral arrangements without getting bombastic. Listen to his furious way of playing, wild and untameable. But on the other side he lets his instrument speaks in a sensitive way with a good feeling for sadness. Is it a better album than the awarded one? I think yes, Papasov is a musician that always searches for new ways and has the urge to take his music to a higher level than before. As I wrote before, a Stunning new album which is highly recommended.
www.ivo-papasov.com
Eelco Schilder


Daphna Sadeh & the Voyagers "Reconciliation"
Label:
Tzadik; 8134; 2009
Daphna Sadeh is a double bass player who was born in Israel and currently lives in the UK. She has been part of the East/West ensemble and always showed an interest in cross cultural music. On her new album she is backed by the Voyagers, an instrumental quartet on clarinet, flutes, accordion, guitars, mandolin, percussion and more. All compositions are original although Avinu is based on a traditional prayer and What else is there on a Yemenite folk song. This is such an album that, without being able to explain what it is exactly, catches me immediately. It might be the strong compositions, the balanced sound or the high quality of the musicians, I donít know. Sadeh found the right balance between traditions, jazz and contemporary music. She and the band have an open mind towards music. Without being pretentious they play free and easy. From careful and intimate melodies to the happiness of the earlier mentioned What else is there. Reconciliation has been in my cd player a lot the past few weeks and gives me a good feeling. Great one!
www.daphnasadeh.com
Eelco Schilder


Aidan O'Rourke "An Tobar"
Label:
Navigator; CD 24; 2008; 42 min
Member of Lau and Blazin' Fiddles, Oban fiddler Aidan O'Rourke is becoming increasingly well known for his compositions. This is his second album of new music, and a bit of a departure from the normal twelve track recording - just five tracks with an average length of almost nine minutes, carefully arranged and orchestrated. Aidan is joined by some other great musicians, including harpist Catriona McKay and fellow Lau reprobate Martin Green. Phil Bancroft's sax and Martin O'Neill's drums widen the genre, and there are some strong vocals from Kirsty MacKinnon: controversial Gaelic writer Aonghas MacNeacail penned the words.
Based around the wells and music of Mull, An Tobar is almost a soundtrack without the film. The title piece, the longest of the five, is a melting pot of musical styles. There's plenty of Aidan's fluid fiddling, together with some very innovative harp accompaniment and a hefty dollop of jazz sax. Sea is an evocative piece, repetitive and surprising by turns, showing the changing moods and occssional violence of the island environment. Tobar nan Ealain is the vocal track. With the exception of a certain Planxty album, I've never been a fan of words and music: but the mix of Gaelic song and spoken word here works pretty well. The first melody is exquisite, creating a complete contrast with the chaotic computer effects on the middle section. For the record, if there was an award for "most irritating use of an alarm clock", it would go to this track.
For Martyn is more soothing, part lament for Martyn Bennett's short-lived talent, part gentle celebration of the beauty and eclecticism of his music. There's a bit of everything in here, from scordatura to shaky eggs. Aidan and friends produce a lovely tight sound on the more joyous sections. That tightness is partly lost on the final piece: Eas Fors is a bit of a curate's egg, with an extended sax solo in the middle for no apparent reason, before the fiddle and box return for the big complicated finish. This one doesn't work so well for me, and certainly isn't the climax An Tobar deserves. At the end of this recording, it felt like I was waiting for the big brash encore. Maybe it needs another track grafting on, just to finish it off. Despite that, An Tobar is well worth hearing: try www.NavigatorRecords.co.uk for samples and more info.
www.myspace.com/aidanorourke
Alex Monaghan


Brian McGrath "Pure Banjo"
Label:
Gael Linn; CEFCD 192; 2008; 43 min
Pure Banjo is a bit of a misnomer as this Fermanagh musician also displays his considerable talents on guitars and keyboards with a long overdue solo recording, and is joined by a few friends: only three quarters of the dozen tracks feature Brian's brilliant old-style plunking. The '20s and '30s sound which Brian champions with the band At The Racket is expertly exemplified by the opening pair of barndances, but most of this album concentrates on timeless classic reels and jigs: The Liffey Banks, The Shaskeen, Scatter the Mud, The Mist Covered Mountain, The Stony Steps and Fasten the Legging, to name a few. Maids of Mount Cisco and Killarney Boys of Pleasure are reels currently in vogue, but you'd struggle to find a better recording.
The three banjo-free tracks are a delight and a surprise. The charming Carolan air Planxty Davis is not often recorded, but handled with sensitivity and skill here. The Morning Thrush, popular since the posthumous release of Seamus Ennis' Return to Fingal, works beautifully on guitar. Mick O'Connor's Reels are new to me; they started life as banjo tunes, but transfer surprisingly well to a tenor guitar arrangement at a restrained pace. Indeed, there's a sense of controlled energy on much of Pure Banjo which adds to the excitement, recalling players like Kieran Hanrahan or Mick Moloney.
As well as providing some of the best banjo playing around, this album also helps to dispel one or two old banjo myths. The liner notes feature the uncommon claim that "Brian started playing piano ... and later progressed to the accordion and banjo", Brian himself uses the term "banjoist" to describe the player not the jokes, and the back cover clearly shows the tuning pegs from Brian's banjo, proving that there isn't such a big difference between a banjo and a Harley after all. If you like your banjo pure, or with a slight twist, and you're in the mood for some great tunes in the style of the mid twentieth century, be sure to pick up this CD: it should be readily available.
www.myspace.com/brianmcgrathirishmusic
Alex Monaghan


Liz Carroll & John Doyle "Double Play"
Label:
Compass Records; 4502; 2009; 55 min
Following on from their fantastically successful In Play release, Chicago Irish fiddler Liz Carroll and Dublin guitarist John Doyle have put together another example of that most rare and precious breed: a traditional album full of their own compositions. There are few composers whose output has been more quickly absrbed into the tradition than Liz Carroll's, and I'm sure the tunes on this recording will be no exception. The recipe is much the same as their previous CD, thirteen tracks of rattling good music with a tight duo sound. There are just two obvious changes. Firstly the tracks are ten percent longer on average. Secondly, John's vocals are featured on three tracks here.
Let's tackle the songs first. The range is broad: a Dick Gaughan socialist rant, a gentle traditional love song, and a grand neo-classical hunting ballad. Doyle doesn't quite have the power and passion of Gaughan, but he carries off all three songs well and the guitar work is a delight. The vocal tracks add variety, and extend the appeal of this recording, but three songs is enough for me. Two or three of the instrumental tracks also feature sparkling solo guitar, notably the eclectic jig Before the Storm and the gentle waltz Little Christmas among the half dozen tunes from John Doyle here. Liz contributes about twice that number of her own compositions, from her debut reel The Quitter to her recent Lament for Tommy Makem, quality material whose respect for the tradition goes well beyond the titles. I particularly enjoyed The Chandelier, written in the style of a Chicago band I've always admired, and Remove the Rug, which happen to top and tail this album.
Traditional tunes still have their place on this recording, including a tremendous rendition of An Rogaire Dubh and a simply awesome solo fiddle version of Castle Kelly. With the slightly funky edge of The Boys from Bolinas and the echoes of Ed Reavy in Trip to Dingle, plus a little help from their friends, Double Play shows why Liz and John are one of the hottest Irish duos in America right now - or anywhere else, for that matter. Samples are available from the Compass Records website, and of course there's www.lizcarroll.com and www.johndoylemusic.com to browse as well. Enjoy!
www.lizcarroll.com, www.johndoylemusic.com
Alex Monaghan


Malinky "Flower & Iron"
Label:
Greentrax; CDTRAX330; 2008; 42 min
Album number four takes this Scottish lowlands ensemble in a slightly different direction. There's a strong feeling of return to the songs of the sixties and seventies, and to older ballads for inspiration. Pad The Road Wi' Me opens proceedings, an Ossian classic, set to a gentler tune by Steve Byrne and sung as a duet with Fiona Hunter. Another very pleasant Ossian number ends this CD, The Road to Drumleman, led by Fiona. In all, there are nine songs here: two doggerel ballads of love and money, two songs of ill-fated romance, and two anti-war songs of different characters, plus Archie Fisher's Shipyard Apprentice - another harking back to the heady days of banners and barricades along the Clyde. Sweet Willie and Fair Annie caught my ear, not just because of the great tune by Tim Eriksen: this is a lovely delivery of a very old song. Why Should I is a much more lightweight ditty, sandwiched between two rather catchy tunes.
Instrumentally, Malinky have never had the clout of some other groups. The addition of Mike Vass on fiddle has beefed things up somewhat. His performance of Gan to the Kye is exceptional, as is his playing on Ruaraidh Mor's Lullaby: this would easily be my favourite track if it weren't for some ill-considered strumming. Fiona's cello is used to great effect on several tracks, and the fiddle/cello duets are wonderful. However, fiddle and whistle solos are not so reliable: Cottongrass and The Ronan Boys are both a little shaky. In contrast, the two anti-war songs are rock solid. With renewed violence in Ulster, Liam Weldon's Dark Horse On The Wind is suddenly much more topical. Its powerful message is crystal clear in Mark Dunlop's vocals: stop pushing the self-destruct button! When Margaret Was Eleven takes a different approach, highlighting the effect of war on soldiers' families, perpetuating the myth of military glory down the generations. Despite these two hard-hitting pieces, Flower & Iron retains the gentleness and understated quality which distinguishes Malinky from brasher outfits. I appreciate their softer, more intimate sound. The instrumental side could still do with a little attention, but there's a great bunch of songs here from a confident young band: well worth a listen.
www.greentrax.com
Alex Monaghan


Samantha Robichaud "New Stage"
Label: Own label; SR060908; 2008; 36 min
Now barely into her twenties, this New Brunswick girl has four fiddle albums under her belt and another one due out in the summer. A New Stage is different: Sam has put together a band, taken it on the road, written all the songs herself, and produced a CD which is almost entirely rock music. Six vocal tracks, five folk-rock fiddle solos, standard guitar-drums-bass backing: I even thought we were going to get a whole album in 4/4 time, until the Riverdance-style jig Buckler's Mission popped up with a different beat and a minor cadence just before the end. Make no mistake: this is rock music with fiddles in, not the other way round. There are plenty of young blonde female fiddlers who've made a funky album, but very few with the full-on folk-rock appeal of A New Stage. Think supercharged Eliza Carthy, or Wolfstone with Drever and Chisholm rolled into one (although obviously Ivan and Duncan have better legs).
Sam's songs all draw on her experience of young love, being away from home, and touring with the band. It's a limited perspective, but still there are some wise words and deep insights. I'm Sorry is a from-the-heart soliloquy on self-image and self-respect, coming to terms with being "not perfect ... not thin", and realising that "I'm just this way ... I'm everything I wanted", a courageous song from a teenager. The same depth of feeling and understanding is evident in Samantha's instrumental composition Always Remembered, a ruggedly beautiful slow air, the first of two outstanding pieces of fiddling here. Fiddler's Rag is the other, one of only two traditional tunes on this recording, played with minimal accompaniment, a real showcase for Sam's prodigious fiddle talent.
A New Stage is a fantastic achievement for anyone outside the mainstream commercial music machine. If I were picky I could mention that there are better wordsmiths, the percussion is slightly off on Answer Machine, and the fiddle almost runs away with itself on IDKYM. But you have to look at the whole package. Great voice, first-class fiddling, good looks: she writes her own songs and tunes (with some help from Chris Colepaugh), she can front up a rock concert, and at the age of twenty she's been in the music business for fifteen years already. Samantha Robichaud is something special, and she hasn't lost her respect for the Canadian fiddle tradition which produced her. In the words of her own song Rose, "To my roots I will stay true". Www.samantharobichaud.ca is the place for more info on this and other albums. Watch out for that straight fiddle CD coming up.
www.samantharobichaud.ca
Alex Monaghan


Troy MacGillivray & Shane Cook "When Here Meets There"
Label: Own Label; TROLLEY-05; 2008; 76 min
No complaints here over quality or quantity. At over an hour and a quarter, When Here Meets There is one of the longest CDs around. The combination of ECMA award-winning Nova Scotian fiddler and pianist Troy MacGillivray with multiple national champion fiddler Shane Cook from Ontario brings all the fire and drive of Cape Breton fiddling together with the smooth cosmopolitan sound of Canadian old-time. Friends contribute guitar, drums, mandolin, bass and accordion, making for a very rounded sound on some tracks. On others the rawness of the twin fiddles cuts straight to the bone. The boys are not big on sleeve notes, so some of what follows is guesswork! Kicking off with new and classic reels, Troy and Shane had my toes tapping immediately: high-energy fiddling and honky-tonk piano are a deadly combination. The bouncy jigs known as Winston were the final straw - you just have to dance to this music.
Only a third of the 15 tracks here are fiddle duets. Shane's solos include a pair of up-tempo two-steps, a sumptuous French Canadian waltz, a set of Carignan jigs, and the outright swing number Foolin' Around. The Not For Radio big set of jigs and reels is a clear highlight, as is the trio of fun-loving jigs ending with Being Jerry Holland. Troy takes two meaty fiddle solos, The Glasgow Session and a classic piping-style MSR medley. His piano solos are sparkling as ever: a gorgeous version of the air Bovaglie's Plaid and a selection of jigs ending with one I know as Morrison's but here called The Stick Across The Hob. Other highlights include the first track, the last track, and several in between. The sleeve notes don't give composers for most of the tunes, but I'd love to know who wrote Neuketyneuks - a top-notch modern reel given a joyful piano and fiddle treatment here. A special mention goes to Ray Legere for his heavyweight mandolin on several tracks. Great stuff all round - I hope you can find it!
www.troymacgillivray.com
Alex Monaghan


V/A "Original Transatlantic Sessions 1"
Label: Whirlie CD 15; 1994/2009; 60 min
The first of three CDs from series 1 of this pioneering music project, The Original Transatlantic Sessions includes such big names as John Martyn, Mary Black, Davy Spillane, Cathal McConnell and Iris Dement, as well as session leaders Aly Bain and Jay Ungar. Aly leads the way with Far From Home and Big John McNeil, joined by several other luminaries from the 1995 folk and country scenes. Jay Ungar later treats us to a master's performance of his trademark Ashokan Farewell, with a dreamy intro from Aly. About half the album is solo showpieces, and half is impromtu group arrangements. It's also roughly 50/50 between songs and tunes. There's a real session feel to many of the ensemble tracks - timing, styles, and even tuning is not always universally agreed, but with this all-star line-up and sidemen such as Donal Lunny, Phil Cunningham, Danny Thompson and Russ Barenberg.the results are reliably superb.
It's easy to see why dobro man Jerry Douglas took over as co-presenter for the next series. Jerry is into all styles, and adds so much: to Mary Black's Farewell Farewell, to instrumental numbers like Daire's Dream and Goodbye Liza jane, to Dougie MacLean's Turning Away, and even to John Martyn's seminal May You Never (the inspiration behind Jock Tamson's album, I'm told). Jerry's solo track is a stunner too. Other highlights of Volume 1 include Iris Dement's wonderfully pragmatic Let the Mystery Be, Mark O'Connor's fiddle solo Grey Eagle, and the party version of Jay Ungar's Cajun-style anthem You Low Down Dirty Dog. With two more CDs to come from The Original Transatlantic Sessions, there's a lot more great music to look forward to - and of course a whole DVD for those who like their entertainment visual!
www.philandaly.com
Alex Monaghan


Rachel Hair "The Lucky Smile"
Label: Own Label; MHRCD002; 2009; 46 min
The second CD from this Glasgow-based harpist is as refreshing and enjoyable as her debut. With a firm core of harp, guitar and bass, The Lucky Smile includes a generous helping of percussion, keyboards and fiddle cameos from Angus Lyon and Graham McGeoch, and two Gaelic vocal tracks featuring Joy Dunlop. About half of the material here is composed by Rachel, the rest coming from Scottish and Irish traditions and from other young composers. There's something unique about Rachel's playing, on straight traditional pieces like The Blue Hills of Antrim and The Lochaber Gathering, or on her own composition such as Kilmartin Sky: it may not be as precise as some players, but it has a warmth and spirit which is particularly appealing. Even though this is a studio album, there's a closeness and intimacy which gives The Lucky Smile an almost live feel.
To the details: I love the uplifting change into Karen Tweed's Back Home reel, the missed half-beats in Flora MacDonald's which add a twist to this traditional tune, and the touches of humour behind both the title track and the Mediterranean musical tantrum I Lost My Harp. On the one hand, Rachel can do totally traditional harp, solo or for the song Leis an Lurgainn, without getting an attack of the runs. On the other, this recording contains more than enough jazzy bits to keep her contemporaries happy: Tsunami Jack with its swing fiddle, strong cajon on Francie's Jig, and the guitar-bass backing from Paul Tracey and Andy Sharkey. There's innovation here, but on a solid foundation: ten relatively long tracks, plenty of new tunes, without being self-indulgent. I like it, and I'm hoping to catch the trio live. CD details and gig schedule are at www.rachelhair.com, along with a couple of sample tracks: highly recommended.
www.rachelhair.com
Alex Monaghan


V/A "The Leitrim Equation"
Label: Leitrim County Council; 2009; 73 min
Spread across two CDs and well over an hour, we find one of the world's finest Irish quintets mingled with a generous double dozen Leitrim musicians. The Leitrim Equation resulted from Lúnasa's year as resident musicians, and Leitrim County Council's far-sighted funding. Only the poteen drinkers or similarly numbed souls can have missed the recent rise of Leitrim music: the McNamara family, the Lennon family, fluters Dave Sheridan and Noel Sweeney, fiddlers Brian Rooney and the Morrow brothers. Not that Leitrim music hasn't previously been an important part of the Irish tradition. John McKenna, Charlie Lennon, Joe Liddy, Stockton's Wing and Dervish are among the respected names with strong connections to this county, but their Midlands heritage has often been obscured by allegiances to musical styles such as South Sligo or East Galway. Here these masks are discarded, and Leitrim musicians step proudly forward: Liam Kelly, Ben Lennon, Mary McPartlan, Oliver Loughlin, Eleanor Shanley, Damian O'Brien, Tom Morrow, and many new names.
So what does this greatly extended Lúnasa sound like? In a word, brilliant. Just a touch of Paul Meehan's magic lifts The Concert Reel, Kevin Crawford joins the McNamaras for The Edenderry and Maggie on the Shore, Sean Smyth follows three Lennon fiddlers on The Road to Garrison. Leitrim men (and women) can manage very well on their own too, as the McGoverns and McCartins show with a lovely lilting version of The Battering Ram, while Tom and Mossie Martin romp through a couple of Charlie Lennon reels on fiddle and moothie. There's an occasional rough edge - Kilty Town and Maguire's Welcome for example - but that just adds to the authenticity of these recordings. For seekers after new material, there are five tracks of fresh compositions forged in the furnaces of informal workshops: from the simplicity of Courthouse Reel, through the twists of In Walked Dalai, to the beautifully turned Stig Jig.
Lúnasa have resisted the lure of lyrics for a long time now, but I'm afraid there are two songs on this double CD. Not, I hasten to add, from messrs Vallely, Smyth, Meehan, Hutchinson and Crawford: thankfully they restrict themselves to the occasional "Hup!" as ever, and there aren't even any of Kevin's famous monologues here. No: the singing duties fall once again to the ladies, in the formidable shape of Eleanor Shanley and Mary McPartlan. My Own Leitrim Home is delicately arranged for flute, guitars and bass, while Generous Lover stands well as a solo session ballad. I suppose two vocal tracks in twenty-one is acceptable, especially given the quality of all the music on The Leitrim Equation: top notch to the very end, warmly wrapped up by a double pipes version of Snug in a Blanket. So with dozens more counties to choose from, and many more years left in the lads, I'm now dreaming of localised Lúnasa recordings for decades to come. Thank goodness the Chieftains never thought of this!
www.leitrimarts.ie
Alex Monaghan


Koda "Keepin' It Reel"
Label: Own Label; KODACD002; 2009; 51 min
This is actually Koda's third or fourth recording, and it shows in the quality and range of music here. Springing from an accordion club run by Keith Dickson, the band has changed line-up as youngsters have come and gone. This album boasts an extremely talented group of over a dozen young musicians across the spectrum of Scottish music. Koda present some of the best contemporary Scottish melodies, and some traditional gems, with Keith Dickson's creative input. There's a big dollop of Phil Cunningham and the late great Gordon Duncan, as well as Leo McCann's Wes & Maggie's, Farquhar MacDonald's Tongadale Reel, and Gordon Campbell's priceless Bee in the Knickers. One of the many things I really like about Keepin' It Reel is that it can be enjoyed purely as a listening experience, but the sleeve notes also present it as a complete ceilidh programme - Strip the Willow, Canadian Barn Dance, DWS, Eightsome, and the rest, with appropriate timings and tempos.
Koda is an accordion-heavy band, but the sound doesn't stress that. There's plenty of fiddle from Tom Gold, and although only one piper is credited he appears on most tracks and fronts a fair few of them. While we're taking about credit, it's stretching things to attribute Fair Helen of Kirkconnel to Emily Smith: Burns published a version, and it may be much older than that. Nevertheless, it is sweetly sung here by Shelley Clark, one of four songs on the CD. The others are a very creditable rendition of Dougie MacLean's Caledonia, a version of Flower of Scotland which is best ignored, and Karine Polwart's Follow the Heron brilliantly arranged with a Cunningham march which I think comes from Para Handy.
Of eight tracks of dance music here, seven are first rate. The opening jigs set the tone for a powerful swagger through plenty of great tunes: The Double Rise is a hard act to follow, but Snug in a Blanket does it nicely. Koda manage to hit a high between Keltik Elektrik and Chilli Pipers, without the all-star cast but with all the passion and drive which this music deserves. Not that talent is lacking: I'd be hard pushed to name any group who could do a better job on Big John McNeil's, The High Drive, The Thin Man and MacLeod of Mull, plus pouring such pathos into Kate Martin's Waltz. There are things I could criticise - the rushed Farewell set, the slow waltz version of There's a Hole in My Bucket, the over-use of a shift up to piping pitch - but in general this is a fantastic CD. It finishes with a wonderfully arranged finale of Beaumont Rag - how's that for breadth of talent?!
www.kodamusic.com
Alex Monaghan


Deoch'n'Dorus "The Curer"
Label: Skipinnish; SKIPCD16; 2008; 49 min
On their second album, Deoch'n'Dorus have produced an exemplary recording of Scottish dance music. In fact, for the first three or four tracks you could be forgiven for thinking yourself transported back to the heyday of ceilidh bands as this trio produce a fine facsimile of a scaled-down Bobby MacLeod, or perhaps a Wallochbeag Ceilidh Band. Four pumping highland jigs, two stirring two-fours, and a sweet set of Gaelic waltzes lead the way into a very enjoyable (and danceable) CD. With just accordion, fiddle and drums, the lads produce a remarkably varied sound. There's also some creditable low whistle from piper and drummer Andrew Macpherson on the haunting jig Dougal Gillespie and a cracking reel-time version of The Portree Men, before Simon Moran takes over on fiddle for two of his own compositions ending with the excellent Duffie's. As a novelty set, Andrew plays a distant solo pipe version of Donald MacPhee before Stuart Cameron's box and Simon's fiddle take over for Kirsteen's Jig, to be joined half way through by a much closer Andrew on pipes: this could just about be done live, to great effect.
I have some niggles, of course. Stuart's midi bass doesn't seem to be resolved often enough or soon enough for me, most obvious on those Gaelic waltzes. Gary & Jackie's reel could do with a resolution to the first time through the second part, too. And whilst I understand the inclusion of an Irishman singing a folksy version of The Galway Shawl - quite well, with fine accompaniment as it happens - it certainly interrupts the flow of this recording. However, these little gripes don't outweigh the numerous gold nuggets of music on The Curer: the irresistible box'n'fiddle assault on Kenneth J MacLeod, the infinitely gentle keyboard finish to Phil Cunningham's beautiful Donna's Waltz, almost the entire Skyeman's Set, and the wonderful contrasts through Gordon's Jigs - from intro to final chord, a fitting tribute to the late Gordon Duncan and a superb finale to this splendid second outing for Jock and Doris. I'm not sure what it cures, but this CD comes highly recommended by one doctor at least.
www.deochndorus.com
Alex Monaghan


Griselda Sanderson "Harpaphonics"
Label: Waulk Music; WAULK3; 2009; 62 min
This is one of the most eclectic and wide-ranging albums I've reviewed in a long time. Griselda Sanderson is a Scottish fiddler with a classical background, and she was seduced by the Swedish nyckelharpa several years ago. (Briefly, a nyckelharpa is like a cross between a fiddle and a bowed psaltery, with a touch of hurdy-gurdy, and has a very resonant fiddle-like sound: google it!) Harpaphonics puts the nyckelharpa at the centre of Scandinavian music, celtic music, North African music, and several of Griselda's own compositions in traditional and classical idioms. Much of this CD is great fun, in a slightly hypnotic new-age feel-good way: Erdely Reels, Irime and The Charmer all combine nyckelharpa with African sounds, bags of percussion and interesting melodies too.
Traprain Law and Skanklat for Thursa bring out the pure tone of the nyckelharpa, as well as some fascinating percussive and harmonic possibilities: both are based on Griselda's own striking compositions. Harpaphonics contains a lot which is experimental, exploring the potential of this unusual instrument, and combining it with a huge number of different instruments. I found some of the percussion quite distracting, but the use of the Gambian riti was an experient which worked well for me. There's a bonus video which shows details of the nyckelharpa in action, and www.grissanderson.com provides links to the YouTube version as well as other samples. Nyckelharpa albums are few and far between, and Harpaphonics isn't typical, but it might give you a taste for this delightful instrument.
www.grissanderson.com
Alex Monaghan


Diamond, Diamond & Sproule "Seanchairde: Old Friends"
Label:
3 Scones Music; 2008; 51 min
Fiddle, flute and guitar, a classic line-up, and these three friends have produced a charmingly unpretentious old-style recording of classic Irish tunes. Belfast fiddler Dermy Diamond and his flute-playing wife Tara (née Bingham), from County Down, roamed the country playing music before becoming stalwarts of the Dublin scene. Tara has taught many of today's finest young fluters, and Dermy is probably best known for his outrageous musical antics with Frankie Lane: I'm guessing Donegal connections introduced him to Derry guitarist Dáithí Sproule, whose name has been well known (if not well pronounced) since his days with Skara Brae. The three of them gel nicely here on thirteen tracks of lively and spontaneous dance music, mainly fiddle-led with the flute coming up strongly on the outside, and the guitar staying mainly in the background. There's also a driving planxty, Madame Maxwell, and an intricate fiddle solo version of the air The Parting Glass.
DDT, as they style themselves, play quite a range of less common forms as well as the usual reels and jigs. Tara takes her solo on two hornpipes with unusual names, Paul Ha'penny and a tune which Mairtín O'Connor introduced to me as Trans-Roscommon Airlines. She also leads off on a set of highlands starting with Maggie Pickens, followed by an intriguing tune known as Barny Bhríanaí's. One of my favourite tracks is a pair of Fermanagh polkas, the beautiful Return of Spring and The Mountain Path, Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is the two barndances Belle of the Ball and If There Weren't Any Women in the World: I suppose the titles cancel each other out, and they're certainly worth the risk.
Much of the music on Seanchairde was learnt in the '70s, from older players who often had a story to tell. In some cases the tunes have become well known over the past thirty-odd years, but in others they are as fresh as when Dermy and Tara learnt them. Either way, the music and stories are both faithfully represented on this CD. Danny O'Donnell's is a rare version of a well known reel, followed by The Cedars of Lebanon and The Milliner's Daughter which are both popular session tunes. The Humours of Glynn and The Cordal Jig are quite widely played now, while the version of Paddy Taylor's here deserves to be better known. There is also an uncommon versions of Miss McGuinness, before the more familiar Lady On the Island and Sailor on the Rock. Tara switches to the whistle for Shandon Bells and Condon's Frolics, a tune I've played for years without a name for it. The final Three Scones of Boxty set brings back the Donegal flavour and explains the choice of www.3scones.com as a website, ending a spirited and uplifting album. Fine music beautifully presented, straight from the source with no artificial anything: you won't get purer than DDT!
www.3scones.com
Alex Monaghan


Olov Johansson & Catriona McKay "Foogy"
Label: Own Label; OJM009; 2009; 62 min
The nyckelharpa is rare even in its native Sweden, but suddenly we're inundated with recordings of it. I must have reviewed three this year already, which is a good thing: there's an "Angels & Demons" heavenly duality to this instrument which I love. Olov Johansson usually plays his nyckelharpa with Swedish folk stars Våsen, but here he's joined by innovative Shetland harper Catrion McKay for an album of big, earthy, Nordic music. The mood is more Scandinavian than Celtic, but not unlike the darker moments of Liz Doherty, Mary Custy, or Aly Bain's forays into Swedish folk. A generous dozen tracks at around five minutes each means there's plenty to enjoy on Foogy, from Olov's First Class to Glasgow to Catriona's Stolen Watch Reel.
Among a dozen or so of their own compositions, Olov and Catriona play traditional tunes from Sweden, Shetland and Scotland. There's a lovely version of Da Shaalds o' Foula a classic Shetland tune which Catriona learnt from fiddler Chris Stout. A charming old polska from Småland sits well with Catriona's Early Sun Polska. Olov's composition Astrids Vals and the traditional Swedish Byss-Calle Vals show the range and power of the nyckelharpa, not to mention Ms McKay's taste for way-out harmonies. Catriona's modern harping comes to the fore in The Harper's Dismissal, a tune from legendary Gaelic harper Rory Morrison. The two instruments complement each other beautifully throughout this album, producing a full and rich sound which is as ancient as the tradition with the freshness of today's young virtuoso musicians. The CD packaging is also striking, with colourful graphics and informative notes. Shame about the title, but hey, nobody's perfect!
www.myspace.com/olovjohanssoncatrionamckay, www.olovjohansson.se, www.catrionamckay.co.uk
Alex Monaghan


Damian O'Brien & Oliver Loughlin "The Factory Turn"
Label: Own label; 2007
Fiddle and piano-box tunes from two young Leitrim musicians, and very good it is: that's really all you need to know. Okay, I'll add some details. The majority of the tunes here are classics of the Irish tradition, with the rest coming mainly from Paddy O'Brien. Local composer Joe Liddy penned a couple, including the title tune and the charming hornpipe Lough Gill played here in a "flat" style. There are several uncommon tunes here: The Maid in the Cherry Tree, The Locomotive and The Princess Royal, none of which you're likely to hear in a session. It's pretty much reels and jigs, with the odd hornpipe or set dance. The only oddity is Tony Ellis' Cherry Blossom Waltz, a lovely wee tune well suited to the box. Oliver's box and Damian's fiddle work together extremely well, with subtle accompaniment from Arty McGlynn and Kevin Brehony, and a touch of Blennerhassett bass. Another nice touch is the inclusion of two Wheels of the World, one reel and one jig, just enough for a bicycle.
Tunes by Finbar and Richie Dwyer, Finbar McGreevy, John Brady, Sean Ryan and Paddy Fahey add an extra dimension to this fine recording. The Berehaven Reel and The 9th of July are particularly pleasing. On a more traditional note, there are outstanding renditions of Seamus Connolly's Jig and Kitty Gone A-Milking. The opening romp through The Musical Priest is jaw-dropping, and the final set powers into a climax on The Crooked Road to Dublin. If I have a criticism, it's the unrelenting full-on attack: another change of pace or two wouldn't go amiss, but if it's straight-ahead session music you're after, then this is your man. Email damianandoliver@gmail.com or get lucky at your local retailer.
damianandoliver@gmail.com
Walkin' T:-)M


Emmet Gill, Mick O'Brien & Jimmy O'Brien-Moran "Piper's Choice 2" [DVD Video]
Label:
Na Píobairí Uilleann; NPU DVD007; 2009; 106 min
I never saw the first Piper's Choice DVD, featuring Liam O'Flynn, Ronan Browne and Tommy Keane, but I imagine the format was much the same as for Volume 2: three respected pipers, each playing 6 tracks of tunes and discussing them with piper and broadcaster Peter Browne. The video and sound quality are both excellent, allowing every nuance of tone and fingering to be appreciated. NPU classes this as a tutor rather than an entertainment DVD, and I'd agree on the whole, except that it is also quite enjoyable as a documentary-style view of the world of Irish pipes and piping.
The pipers on Volume 2 represent a wide spectrum of styles and backgrounds. Emmett Gill is probably the most accessible player here, a young-ish piper born and reared in London who moved to Ireland to pursue piping full-time a number of years ago. He plays more in the style of folk pipers, appealing to a wide audience, following the likes of Keenan, Spillane, Masterson and others,and it's perhaps surprising to hear that his interest in piping has taken him further and further back in time. He cites several very early recordings as major influences now, playing versions of tunes such as Hennessy's Hornpipe and The Gardener's Daughter learnt from archive recordings of Patsy Touhey, Tommy Reck, Tom Busby and others.
Mick O'Brien is a well-known Dublin piper, a direct product of the Piper's Club lessons and sessions over a couple of decades. Mick plays two lovely slow airs in his selection, starting with The May Morning Dew which just happens to be the title of his solo CD. He also begins a discussion of different drones and regulators, a favourite topic of conversation among pipers, second only to the care and manufacture of reeds. Mick's style seems intuitive, very aware of the different sounds of tunes and keys and sets of pipes. He gives us a lovely rendition of The Heather Breeze, and my favourite version of The Maid in the Cherry Tree paired with another air The Conneries. Along with his excellent air-playing, and masterly interpretations of some big reels, Mick plays charming versions of the jigs When Sick is it Tea You Want and An Buachaill Dreoite.
Waterford piper Jimmy O'Brien-Moran recently completed a PhD on the music of the blind Galway piper and singer Paddy Conneely who died unrecorded in 1851. Jimmy is able to discuss the nuances of several piping styles, going back to the earliest transcriptions of 19th-century players, and plays a wide range of tunes including a couple of flings and two contrasting versions of the classic air An Buachaill Caol Dubh. He also offers a pair of lovely slip jigs, starting with A Kiss in the Shelter which was one of Paddy Conneely's 180-odd transcribed tunes. All in all, there's enough music and talk here to keep any competent piper happy for many hours, and quite a lot of general documentary interest too. The range of music and styles on this DVD is enormous, and I'd say even the pipers featured here would learn a thing or two from it.
www.pipers.ie
Alex Monaghan


Liam O'Connor & Sean McKeon "Dublin Made Me"
Label:
Na Píobairí Uilleann; NPU CD017; 2009; 51 min
The idea of a Dublin style of music, a Dublin tradition and repertoire, has inspired this project by two of the city's young prodigies. Fiddler Liam O'Connor and piper Seán McKeon both have impressive Dublin pedigrees, but for me the music of the capital has always been a melting pot - visitors from Clare and Donegal, collectors such as Breathnach and Ennis, and of course the enormous influene of the Pipers' Club where generations of O'Connors and McKeons have absorbed the music of masters from all over Ireland on pipes, fiddles, flutes and other instruments. Be that as it may, the result is an astonishingly high level of skill and appreciation for Irish music, and Dublin Made Me is a distillation of that brew.
One thing which is definitely a characteristic of Dublin music is an emphasis on reels. There are seven tracks of 'em here, and four sets of jigs. I'll come to those. The album starts with a muscular, intricate march, The Races at Ballyhouley, not often heard these days but a great vehicle for ornamentation and variation. The penultimate tune is another march, known by many names including The Boyne Water. Both these tracks have a touch of percussion, but otherwise this recording is pure pipes and fiddles. Liam plays a stunning version of the slow air Taimse i mo Chodladh, absolute magic, with high and low fiddle parts as well as some viola. The remaining selection is a pair of set dances, The Hunt and An Súisín Bán, lovely lilting tunes which lighten the tone. On two solo tracks, Seán makes a lovely job of The Lady's Bonnet and wrings every nuance from The Pinch of Snuff, while Liam's variations on The Duke of Leinster are just staggering. Ornamentation and variation again.
The reels are exemplary, of course. The Stony Steps, The Leitrim Thrush, Murphy's, Mrs Galvin's, and The Merry Harriers to finish, all grand old tunes. A couple of jigs stand out too. Maids on the Green has been recorded a couple of times recently after a period of neglect, a deceptively simple tune. Leo Rowsome's version of The Kerry Jig merits a track to itself, one of the big Munster piping tunes given a Dublin makeover. Finally, I must mention two striking aspects of this album. Firstly, somewhat surprisingly, the duet playing is not as tight as on most recordings these days. I find this refreshing, and it's fascinating to follow the interweaving of the instruments: it also gives the CD a more spontaneous feel. Secondly, the sleeve notes are absolutely magnificent: spontaneous or not, Liam O'Connor's knowledge and ability to express himself in writing is almost as prodigious as his musical skill, and many older heads could learn from these notes. Seán and Liam clearly have strong opinions about their music, and are keen to share them: don't miss the opportunity. Dublin Made Me is featured at www.pipers.ie and should be widely available.
www.pipers.ie
Alex Monaghan


"Traveller Piper: A Celebration of the Piping Tradition of Johnny and Felix Doran" [DVD Video]
Label:
Na PŪobairŪ Uilleann; NPUDVD008; ca 1:15 h; 2009
The Doran brothers Johnny and Felix were direct descendents of the legendary 19th century travelling piper John Cash. Johnny Doran died in 1950 in an accident aged only 42, but fortunately the Irish Folklore Commission had made recordings of his music in the late 1940s. As his brother, Felix Doran first spent his days as a travelling musician throughout Ireland, before he settled down in Manchester in the 1960s and made some recordings for Topic Records. The Dorans with their so-called travelling style kept the tradition of piping alive that was handed down through generations of travelling musicians, and had been influential on generations of uilleann pipers to come, to name just a few celebrities such as Paddy Keenan (FW#23) and Finbar Furey (FW#35). The "Traveller Piper" DVD had been filmed at the Doran Centenary Tionol at Spanish Point in April 2008 and features performances and interviews by the two mentioned Keenan and Furey as well as pipers Mickey Dunne, Mick Coyne, John Rooney and Leo Rickard. When you have no past, there is no future, and this is what all is about, says Finbar Furey, and here in just a wee hour you can see and hear why.
www.pipers.ie
Walkin' T:-)M


Filippo Gambetta "Andirivieni"
Label:
Felmay; fy 8148; 2009
Filippo Gambetta (FW#26) is a button maestro from Genoa in northern Italy, playing both the G/C three row melodeon and the B/C accordion. Still in his twenties, he has composed original music for theatre and dance. He recorded and performed with luminaries such as Griff (FW#32), Beppe Gambetta (FW#24) and Nuala Kennedy (FW#33), amongst others. On his third album "Andirivieni" he tackles both the Ligurian tradition as well as Celtic, Nordic, Balkan, French and classic music. Filippo's contemporary folk music is highly original and performed with dexterity and virtuosity. Lend him an ear and watch out for him in the future!
www.filippogambetta.com
Walkin' T:-)M


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