FolkWorld #44 03/2011

CD & DVD Reviews

Antonio Amato Ensemble "Furtuna"
Italian World Music, 2010

And my favourite album of 2010 is - Antonio Amato's Furtuna! Antonio has a unique impressive strong voice (apparently it reaches 2 tones above tenor "Do di petto" for experts amongst the readers!). The album provides a delightful mix of Italian ballads, Tarantas and Italian based world music. The music with the songs is superb - there is at times the typical drums and tamburello (but only ocassionally - unlike with some Taranta recordings where these dominates throughout), there are classical string sounds tastefully woven into traditional sounds, and there are guitars, oboes and a sax. Some ballads are calm and beautiful, more in chanson or belcanto style; these mix with more energetic songs including hypnotic tarantas. This is tasteful music, with clever and highly appealing arrangements, and a great voice throughout the album. Italian music does not get much better than this!
© Michael Moll

Various Artists "Steele The
Show - The Songs of Davy Steele"
Greentrax, 2011

Doesn't time fly - it is now already 10 years ago that Davy Steele, one of the great singers, songwriters, folk innovators and entertainers from Scotland, passed away much too young. The bands that Davy worked with is impressive: Drinkers Drouth, the great Ceolbeg, co-founder of Clan Alba, Urbn Ri and Caledon and finally touring with the Battlefield Band in the 1990s. And he was such a wonderful person and such a good laugh...
To mark the 10th anniversary of his death, his wife Patsy Seddon decided to invite some of Davy's favourite singers to choose and interpret a selection of his songs - to be recorded on CD and performed live at Celtic Connections 2011. And what a superb album this labour of love has resulted in!
The musicians on the album include most of the various Poozies members over the years - Patsy herself, MAry MacMaster, Sally Barker, Kate Rusby, Eilidh Shaw, Mairearad Green (who Davy never met but "he would have loved her if he had). Then there are some of Davy's greatest musical friends - a who is who of best Scottish singers: Andy M Stewart, Dick Gaughan, Ian McCalman, Karine Polwart, Kathy Stewart; some of his Ceolbeg friends - Andy Thorburn and piper Gary West; Siobhan Miller and Donald Hay.
All this talent provides beautiful interpretations of Davy Steele songs, including what are for me the most iconic of Davy's songs - "Farewell tae the haven" beautiful interpreted by the McCalmans, and a great Andy M Stewart version of "Here's a health tae the Sauters". The CD finishes with a highlight - Davy and Patsy's 12 year old son Jamie Steele sings the last song Davy wrote "Just one more chorus" - and he is such a great singer at his young age. I will be looking forward to more music from this talented young man. And finally there is a song sung by Davy Steele himself - "Long hellos and short goodbyes". At the end of the album I felt a mixture of being sad about the loss of Davy, and being very content about having listened to a beautiful collection of his songs.
This is a superb album which is very likely to find its way into my top 10 of CDs from 2011. Davy would have been so proud of this album. Highly recommended.
© Michael Moll

Barbara Dickson "Words Unspoken"
Greentrax, 2011

This is certainly another coup for the Greentrax catlogue - Barbara Dickson OBE is a well-known actress and a multi-million selling recording artist. Since the 90s, Barbara moved away from her pop career back towards acoustic and folk music. On her first album for Greentrax, eight out of the 12 songs are traditional.
And what a stunningly beautiful voice this lady has - her a capella interpretations of some traditional songs are absolutely gorgeous. I have to say though that for me the music that comes with the other songs is a real shame and really brings the album down. Musical director and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley puts in plenty of keyboard sounds, but even the way that the traditional instruments (including uillean pipes) are brought into the music gives many titles the flair of piped easy listening music that you may find in tourist shops. It is certainly too much music for this strong and impressive voice. With this beautiful singing, it would not have been difficult to have created an impressive album that would stand the test of time - with more subtle and more traditional music. Maybe Barabra Dickson can team up next time with some of the great talent of the Scottish trad scene?
© Michael Moll

Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
"The Future of our Past - Scottish music at the RSAMD 2010"
Greentrax, 2010

This is new Scottish traditional music at its best. Performed by the students of the BA and PG Dip Scottish Music course of the acclaimed Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, this is an album full of vibrancy, talent and tradition. The 16 titles on the album feature all the students on the course in 2009-10 - from Year 1 to Year 4. Directed by Phil Cunningham, the album features an attractive and very Scottish mix of music - great singers, quite a lot of highland, border and small pipe music, joined by a huge variety of instruments, from fiddles and flutes to harp, cello and accordion. Apart from one musician - the brillian singer Paul McKenna, who heads up the FolkWorld favourite, the Paul McKenna Band - the names of the some fifty students have not been known to me before. So there is plenty of new talent out there where we are just waiting for individual CDs from!
There may be people who think that formal studies in folk music may turn the music more formal - this CD is the proof that this does not have to be the case. Throughout the CD shines the energy, innovation and love of traditional music that these students hold. The future of Scotland's past is in safe hands, as this album once more confirms.
© Michael Moll

Ghetonia "Live in Salento"
Italian World Music, 2009

Ghetonia is an Italian band dedicated to Griko music - the culture in Italy influenced by Greek traditions and language. The band is led by singer Roberto Licco, and supported by Albanian accordion player and composer Admis Shkurtaj, as well as instrumentalists on saxophone, flute, double bass. The music on the album combines the typical southern Italian male singing - with a big strong and often somewhat melancholic voice - with creative and virtuous arrangements influenced by jazz, balkanic, contemporary and traditional Italian music.
I find that some of the music is absolutely mesmerising (and when I listened to the album the first time on a car journey, I had to be careful not to fall into a trance!) - often reminder of the music of great accordionist Richard Galliano. But sometimes the band is just trying to hard to add improvisation, which results in the music lacking direction and getting "stuck" in improvisation, which may become irritating. It is certainly an album where you need to be in a certain mood to be fully able to enjoy it.
Clearly a band full of talent and creativity, and an album with really exciting moments - but it does not reach full marks.
© Michael Moll

Bregada Berard "Bon Nadal Occitania"
Felmay, 2010

Gai Saber "Angels Pastres Miracles -
Chancons de Nadal en Occitania"
Felmay, 2010

FolkWorld Xmas

A CD celebrating Christmas in Occitania. The music on this album takes you back to ancient times - sometimes it may recall music from royal courts, then the powerful and eternal relgious sounds of organ music combined with oboe, then taking you to a village fete from a bygone age. The music is dominated by hurdy gurdy, Italian bagpipes (with their beautiful sound which is softer to some of the pipes from more Northern climes), accordion and oboe, along with singing in Occitanian language. The songs are all Christmas songs, in which according to the booklet "the Good News is described with a great richness of details".
This is a beautiful timeless album. As the booklet states "The sounds of this album want to describe the ancient magic always alive of those (advent) atmospheres" - and the album captures this magic beautifully. I know it is spring at the time this review appears in FolkWorld - so be prepared for next Christmas and get this album now!
Same region as the album above, and same theme - but musically these two albums are miles apart. Gai Saber is internationally well known as a contemporary band delivering modern interpretations of Occitan traditions. This latest album sees Gai Saber's sound evolved into something much more mature compared to previous albums I have listened to. The music is extremely appealing - despite not having much of a Christmas-y feeling. The album features good and solid modern interpretations of traditional material. The press blurb that came with this CD suggested that fans of Scandinavian modern folk will like this album - I first dismissed that suggestion as far fetched, but listening to the album I can see where this is coming from: The style of this album is probably best compared to the likes of Garmarna & Co. I really enjoyed this one.
© Michael Moll

Kraja "Brusand Hav"
Westpark Music, 2011

Beautiful Swedish singing in its (nearly) purest form. Four young ladies from Umeå in Sweden make up this exquisite vocal quartet: Linnea Nilsson, Frida Johansson and sisters Eva and Lisa Lestander. While on their previous two albums, Kraja focussed on traditional Swedish folk songs, their third album takes a slightly different approach - Kraja have chosen traditional texts and poems but all the music is composed by the women themselves. And Kraja certainly shows talent in putting tastefully music to the lyrics. The overall concept remains the same though - beautiful and close harmonies, and the music having a traditional flair. I said above that this is singing in its (nearly) purest form - nearly because on 4 of the 15 songs, there is some very subtle instrumentation by guest musicians, on sax, guitar and percussion.
A charming album.
© Michael Moll

Vigüela "Entre Tonadas"
Sonifolk, 2009

VIGÜELA is a band from the town of Carpio de Tajo, province of Toledo. Their music belongs to the traditions from the central-southern part of Spain : from the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha (the land of Don Quijote). This is also related with the sounds from the neighbouring regions : mainly Castilla y Leon, but probably keeping connections with the traditional music from Madrid, Extremadura, Andalusia, Murcia, Levante, Aragon, ... Their CD ‘Entre Tonadas’ is a rich compilation of Spanish dance rhythms such as : tonadas, jotas, seguidillas, coplas, fandangos, rondeñas, ... But there is also a beautiful traditional lullaby based on a recording made by Alan LOMAX in 1952 in the municipality of La Solana (province of Ciudad Real). Three female and three male voices singing with the strength, harmony and rhythm that has characterized the folk music from this part of the Iberian peninsula : desolated & dry in the summer, many times forgotten, but with powerful roots & personality. The instruments they play are also very respectful with the traditions of this kind of Castilian music. There are many plucked string instruments : guitar, bandurria, laud (lute), guitarro manchego (‘male’ guitar from La Mancha), but there are mostly dozens of domestic & farming percussion instruments : almireces (mortars) of several sizes/tunings made with bronze or olive tree wood, caldero de hierro (iron cauldron), yerros (sort of triangles), campanillas y galdarros para aparejos de caballerías (bells & harnesses for the horses), botella de anis (bottle of anis), sarten con cuchara y dedal (frying pan hit with spoon & thimble), caña toledana (split cane stick, similar to the one used in Andalusia), rapador con tenedor (lemon skin grater), zambombas (friction drums, made with ceramic pots & PVC pipes), cántaro (clay pitcher), panderetas (tambourines), pandera (large frame drum hit with a stick), castañeta (castagnet), ... VIGÜELA is performing these 19 songs according to their traditional patterns, as their ancestors have proudly done for generations. Listening to them you may find rhythms and melodies that could remind you of some familiar sounds, similar to the music from Andalusia, but also some folk from northern Spanish regions. And for sure there are a few similarities, but there are also lots of peculiarities. FolkWorld has talked in the past about another important band from Madrid & Castilla – La Mancha : ALJIBE.[29] The core of their traditional music belongs to the same roots as the one from VIGÜELA. This kind of central Spanish folk music is still something to be re-discovered in depth, and we will keep doing it in future issues of FolkWorld.
© Pío Fernández

Iñaki Plaza & Ion Garmendia "20 Hatz Proiekt"
Baga-Biga Musika Ideak, 2010

The Basque musicians Iñaki PLAZA (trikitixa, percussions, programming) and Ion GARMENDIA (alboka, txitu, large percussion instruments), are ex-members of Kepa JUNQUERA’s band. Since 2009, they now present their own CD named in Basque language “20 Hatz Proiekt” (“20 fingers project”) for which they have invited guests from other places along northern Spain such as : the Asturian brothers TEJEDOR, the Galician female singer Guadi GALEGO (ex-BERROGUETTO), the Catalonian percussion band TACTEQUETE (who have frequently played with the Castilian singer Eliseo PARRA), Xabier ZEBERIO (Basque nyckelharpist frequently playing with the band OSKORRI) and Maite GARCIA ( percussions ). The album contains mostly instrumental songs where the sound of the traditional Basque tools play a fundamental role : the “triki” (trikitixa, diatonic accordion), the alboka (traditional twin single-reed chanters hornpipe), the txistu (Basque three holed flute), and the txalaparta (a kind of ‘oversized’ primitive xylophone). One of the novelties here are the specially designed bass percussions played by Ion GARMENDIA, built with large PVC pipes, and called ‘tubiogh’. Guadi GALEGO sings here in Basque language in the 4th song ‘Preikestolenetik Dingilzka’, and also in the 9th ‘123 km’, together with Jose Manuel TEJEDOR on the Asturian gaita bagpipes & the whistle, and his brother Javier on the drum & also the whistle. The Basque language or Euskera, is the oldest one spoken in the Iberian peninsula, and probably the only remains of the ancient tongues of the many tribes that populated it before the successive arrival of other peoples : Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Suevi, Wandals, Visigoths, Arabs,... Along the centuries, that series of different populations and cultures settling & interrelating, developed today’s diversity of peninsular local cultures and languages (with, mostly but not only, Latin roots) such as : Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, Asturian, Catalan, etc... Most of the songs are written by Iñaki PLAZA. On top of the so many musicians playing percussive instruments, there is the drum set played by Iñaki CALVO. It is clear that this ‘20 Hatz Proiekt’, besides the melodies developed by the trikitixa, the alboka and the txistu, is very rich with the sonorities of so many percussion instruments. The global result is very pleasant, powerful and incorporates new sounds in a repertoire of fundamentally Basque roots.
© Pío Fernández

Korrontzi "Getxo"
Baga-Biga Musika Ideak, 2008

Just as in the previous case of Iñaki PLAZA & Ion GARMENDIA (20 Hatz Proiekt), KORRONTZI is another great example of the latest folk music done in the Basque Country (Euzkadi, in Basque language). KORRONTZI was the nickname of an old Basque accordionist that became famous in the town of Mungia (province of Vizcaya). Kepa JUNQUERA is probably the most famous modern ‘trikitilari’ (diatonic accordion musician, in Euskera) from the generation of Basque artists that, during the 1990s meant an evolution from the traditions that existed until the 1970s & 80s. The band KORRONTZI are also musicians working in that new direction, keeping alive and renovating the roots of these beautiful and happy melodies that they their ancestors played during decades (1940s, 50s & 60s) when too persistent displays of local folklore (Basque, Catalan, Galician, even Castilian sometimes) were easily suspect of being politically biased. This DVD + CD was recorded in the 2008 folk festival in the town of Getxo. The DVD is an excellent production, with great quality in the audio, but even more in the video with cameras that avoid standing for long times in a fixed position (something that we have seen a few times in DVDs from other Spanish folk artists, and can make the experience a bit dull). The filming has also done a perfect job on the close ups that show how the musicians play all the different instruments. You can perfectly see the fingering on the many different accordions played by Agus BARANDIARAN, the alboka & txistu of Iker LOPE de BERGARA, or all the string and percussion instruments. There is even a lot to learn from the gaita played by Susana SEIVANE. Not to mention an unbelievable Iker LOPE, inflating his whole face while continuously blowing the alboka in circular breath mode. This DVD is also a good opportunity to dive fully into the Basque language. KORRONTZI’s trikitilari and band leader, Agus BARANDIARAN sings and also makes most of the speeches before each of the songs in Euskera, except when he introduces guest musicians such as Jorge ARRIBAS (from the Castilian band LA MUSGAÑA) or the Galician pandereteiras FALTRIQUEIRA, that sing both in Galego and in Euskera. There is a really interesting duel of accordions (diatonic versus chromatic) between Agus and Jorge in the fandango Xoxua. One of the peak moments of the concert is the song ‘Akelarre’ with the singing (in Catalonian) of Xabi- OBRINT PAS together with FALTRIQUEIRA. ‘Akelarre’ is a Basque word for the gatherings of witches that used to take place in open fields, forests & caves in Euzkadi & Navarra since early medieval times. This word is sometimes used in today’s Spain when humorously referring to a celebration reaching extraordinary levels of excitement & final consequences : a party, a corporative or political meeting, or just an informal gathering ending in uncontrollable gossiping.
© Pío Fernández

Boys of the Hills "Boys of the Hills"
Own label, 2010

Article: Irish Music from the Heart of Spain This is the CD from a band in the deepest Irish music roots. Nothing too special about that, except that they are not from anywhere in the Emerald Island, not even from the green lands of nearby Atlantic coasts in Europe or North America. Do not look for them along the banks of the Liffey river, but in the valley of the Rio Henares, in the city of Alcala (Madrid), in the very dry centre of Spain. All the melodies, the instruments, the lyrics, the singing, follow strictly the patterns of the Irish traditions. This is just a reciprocal case to artists from : north America, northern Europe, Japan,... that have chosen to play Flamenco music according to the purest Spanish styles on guitar fingering, dancing or even singing (and in many cases they do it extremely well). In this CD, the BOYS OF THE HILLS is a group of musicians born in the early 1980s : Alvaro CARBONELL (accordion, banjo, mandola, Celtic harp, vocals), Jesús (a.k.a. ‘Keku’) CARBONELL (Uilleann pipes, whistle, armonica), Alejandro TORCIDA (traverse & Irish flute, whistle), Blanca AGUDO (bodhrán, percussions, vocals), Sergio SUAREZ (guitar, fiddle) and Alberto TELLEZ (bass guitar, vocals). The CD contains twelve songs (reels, jigs, hornpipes,...) as for example : ‘Welcome March’, a start with a great solo in the Uilleann pipes, followed by the happy ‘Ferryman’s Song’ with dominant whistle, banjo and the voice of Alvaro CARBONELL (all the lyrics in the CD are in English, of course), ‘Connellys Set’ shows the skills of Alex TORCIDA on the flute, ‘Her Mantle so Green’ with the slow melody played on the violin by Sergio SUAREZ, brilliant change of rhythms in ‘Paddy’s Soul’, really interesting solos from the different instruments in ‘Farewell Hills’, etc... The starts of this excellent group of musicians in Alcala de Henares & Madrid were with a band named LA GUADAÑA (The Scythe), which in the late 1990s developed a more eclectic style of ‘Celtic’ music, from Ireland, and also from Scotland, Brittany, north Spain, ... At some point, the Carbonell brothers decided to focus on the music of Ireland. Jesús (Keku) left aside his Galician gaita and started working hard on the pumping & the fingering of a set of Uillean pipes made by Charles Rover. Their ‘pro-Irish’ voyage was followed by the flutist Alex TORCIDA, who has studied nine years in the conservatory, and in his dedication to folk music had the chance to play with artists such as Matt MOLLOY, Kevin CRAWFORD and Jaime MUÑOZ (from LA MUSGAÑA). In fact the BOYS OF THE HILLS have been guest artists in several of the concerts given in Spain by THE CHIEFTAINS and Carlos NUÑEZ. No doubt that after the great effort put on self-teaching Irish music away from its “natural environment”, and the high level of musicianship achieved, they truly deserve it.
© Pío Fernández

Kherau "Munduan Ortzoik"
Baga-Biga Musika Ideak, 2010

Another tasteful ‘pintxo’ from the Baga-Biga kitchen. The band KHERAU (from the Basque province of Bizkaia) performs an interesting fusion with well identifiable Irish folk music elements, effectively combined with several others from the Basque traditions. This is detectable since the first song ‘Munduan Ortozik’ (‘Barefoot through the World’) where the rhythmic start of the strings (Irish bouzouki, mandolin, guitar) is soon followed by an Uilleann pipe. This is even more evident in the fourth song, ‘Ostalerra’ (‘Barmaid’) where the Irish flute, the strings and the bodhrán, together with the Basque accordion and the singing in Euskera (Basque language) develop a typical jig. In fact the whole CD is edited almost entirely in Basque, in the lyrics and the booklet texts. You can get translations into Spanish, English, French, Catalan, Galician, in This is not entirely true since the third slow tune ‘Erresinola’ (‘The Nightingale’), is sung both in Euskara, and in Catalan (at the end of the CD) since it is a popular song from Catalonia. In the fifth song ‘Jaka Aldatu’ (‘Change your Jacket’) they incorporate the more characteristic Basque folk sounds of the accordion and the alboka. The CD is full of folk dance beats (not strictly traditional Basque) and really pleasant melodies, nicely sung by Iker LOPE DE BERGARA (vocals, albokas, flutes) and Ibon ORDOÑEZ (vocals, strings, percussions), in a smooth blend with the cajon & darbouka from Gaizka ANDOLLO, and the bass guitar from Aitor ESTEBAN-ETXEBARRIA. They also have Eneritz GORRIATXEGI and Isabel SIERRA as guest singers & accordionists. A CD that can please both the fans of the Basque traditions, as well as those more used to the Irish & Scottish folk music. Just one more lesson of Basque language (Euskara) : KHERAU means ‘to make’ in the dialect of the Gypsies in the Basque land.
© Pío Fernández

Mielotxin "Cuando la Beharra Obliga"
MDSK, 2010

Article: Folk Music from Navarre Another singular (or maybe plural) piece in the Spanish puzzle is the traditional music made in Navarra (or Nafarroa, in Basque language). This is an autonomous community in the south side of the Pyrenees, placed to the east of the Basque land, to the west of the region of Aragon, and having borders to the south with the community of La Rioja (remember, the wine). Navarra is a meeting point of Vasconic tradition, trans-Pyrenean influx of people and ideas, and Mediterranean influences coming from the valley of the river Ebro. MIELOTXIN is a band that reflects such convergence of Iberian cultures : They sing both in Euskara (Basque language) and in Castilian (Spanish), combining instruments & rhythms that are also traditional in the neighboring regions. By traditional Basque instruments I am referring to the alboka, the trikitixa, the txistu & the txirula (three holed flutes ). By singing & dance rhythms very typical also in Aragon (and also La Rioja) I am thinking of the ‘jota’ (3/4 or 6/8). There is one peculiar musical instrument from the tradition of Navarra that I am missing in this CD from MIELOTXIN : the dulzaina (double reed short oboe, similar to a bombarde). On the other hand, they make use of the psaltery or strings drum called ‘ttun-ttun', which is very traditional in the central parts of the Pyrenees valleys, and which in Aragon takes the name of ‘chicoten’. The title of the CD ‘Cuando la Beharra Obliga...’ (‘When the Hardship Forces you ...’ ) is an old saying in Navarra that inserts the Basque-rooted word ‘beharra’ (hardship, necessity) in a fundamentally Spanish sentence. This symbolizes the nature of MIELOTXIN’s ‘mestizo’ music : 12 great tunes that can easily please the ears of folk fans from Navarra, or : the Basque Country, Castile, Aragon,... The band’s name is taken from one of the characters in the ancient carnival that takes place in the village of Lantz, Ultzamaldea (Navarra) : the bandit Miel Otxin. Happy songs, and also a lullaby collected by Alan LOMAX in the 1950s (‘The Spanish Recordings, Basque Country: Navarra’).
© Pío Fernández

Mercedes Peon "SÓS"
Folmusica/BOA, 2010

German CD Review Several pages of FolkWorld keep a good collection of articles about the trajectory of the Galician singer & bagpiper Mercedes PEON.[40] SÓS is her fourth record, and once again it displays the talent and the courage on the development of a musical style, that easily exceeds the borders of the concept of ‘folk music’ (assuming that such borders really exist). The Galician trad melodies, rhythms and instruments (gaita bagpipe, tambourine, her voice), become once again the foundation stones for her powerful way to freely transmit her emotions to the audience. In fact, Mercedes makes use of many more instruments : piano, electronic keyboards, guitar, clarinet, Moroccan chanter, Berber frame drum, bass drum, rattles, large paprika cans,... The rhythms are also strongly based on electronic samplers. The tune ‘Babel’ is a kind of ska beat, with klezmer sonorities and Galician singing. But there are also slow songs, lullabies, many intriguing background sounds : Brazilian streets?, a babbling baby taking a bath?, a cha-cha-cha on a radio?, falling rain & running water?, bells clinging in silent Asian gardens?, brief clarinet solos, ... So we are not strictly dealing with traditional tunes. Mercedes goes into new directions developing a creative and personal acoustic landscape: thrilling, but also suddenly gloomy, foggy and introverted sometimes. A sort of musical maze. Maybe not everybody’s cup of tea, mostly if you are merely looking for Galician or ‘Celtic’ folk music. Nevertheless, the atmosphere that she creates can be effectively suggestive. SÓS has a double meaning: the Morse code ‘...---...’ (‘Save our Souls/Ship’), and the Galician word for ‘solos’ (Spanish), meaning ‘us alone’. Mercedes plays in the company of Nacho MUÑOZ (electronic keyboards & samplers), Fernando ABREU (clarinets), Manuel CEBRIAN (guitarra), Manuel ALONSO (electric bass guitar), and Fernando MARTINEZ (accordion).
© Pío Fernández

Rosa Cedron & Cristina Pato "SOAS Muller"
Folmusica/BOA, 2010

Article: Parallel & Converging Careers Two well known Spanish folk artists with a robust background on classical music : Rosa CEDRON (ex-LUAR NA LUBRE; cello & vocals ) and Cristina PATO (ex-MUTHENROI; piano & gaita bagpipes). They put together their great vocal & instrumental skills to create an album that takes popular songs & poems from the Galician tradition, and enlightens them with new reflections and shades. This time, the instrumental resources do not come so much from the known elements of the traditional music of Galicia (except for Cristina’s gaita), but from classical music, to the extent that they incorporate the sounds of the BRATISLAVA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA in six of the fourteen songs of the CD. The lyrics are mostly poems from classic Galician authors such as : Celso Emilio Ferreiro (1912-1979), Alvaro Cunqueiro (1911-1981), Manuel Curros-Enriquez (1851-1908), and of course, the always remembered & charismatic Rosalia de Castro (1887-1885). But there are also texts from contemporary poets : Yolanda Castaño and Alba Felpete. There is even a song from the big Portuguese fado singer Amalia RODRIGUES (1920-1999). The title & the photos on the CD make clear reference to the fact that both Cristina & Rosa are the only (soas/solas/alone) main female characters in this classy album.
© Pío Fernández

Uxia "Danza das Areas"
Folmusica/BOA, 2010

Another warm Galician female voice. Uxia SENLLE is an important figure in Galicia’s folk scene since her brilliant starts in the mid 1980s, and with the band NA LUA. This CD is a new edition from the album published in 2000. Fourteen songs of Galician and Portuguese traditional origins, with light folk, ‘Celtic’ & smooth jazz sounds. Some of them written by UXIA and sung with a large list of top guest artists such as : Xose Manuel BUDIÑO, CAPERCAILLIE’s Donald SHAW, Karen MATHESON & Michael McGOLDRICK, Susana SEIVANE, BERROGUETTO’s Guadi GALEGO & Kim FARINHA, Maria del Mar BONET, Dulce PONTES, Joao AFONSO and Filipa PAIS. Although UXIA’s band in this work is also remarkable : Rosa CEDRON (cello), Kin GARCIA (bass guitar, double bass), Pancho ALVAREZ (bouzouki), Oscar FERNANDEZ-SANJURJO (zanfona), Xose LIZ (bouzouki), Nani GARCIA (keyboards, piano), ... A great opportunity to look ten years back in UXIA’s brilliant career. Too bad that the CD does not include any single photo of the team of artists that collaborated in this masterpiece. Just a short text written by UXIA describing the spirit of this album : “I dance on the sands of the beaches I have stepped on, I get tangled up in the seaweed of the shore ...” Relaxing music with Galician, soothing melodies, and measured doses of gaita pipes.
© Pío Fernández

Various Artists "Musica Galega Hoxe"
Folmusica/BOA, 2010

With the title: “Galician Music Today”, the record label Fol Musica/BOA presents a compilation of 10 songs from the latest records of artists such as : Mercedes PEON, Cristina PATO & Rosa CEDRON, A BANDA DAS CRECHAS, SONDESEU Orquestra Folk, BELLON MACEIRAS QUINTETO, FUXAN OS VENTOS, Guadi GALEGO & VAAMONDE LAMAS E ROMERO, BONOVO, Susana SEIVANE and UXIA Senlle. A great representation of the front line of the modern folk music made in 2010 in Galicia (NW Spain). Modern but also knowledgeable and respectful with the work done since the early 1970s by the first generations of folk bands such as FUXAN OS VENTOS (, or MILLADOIRO, indirectly represented here by the folk orchestra SONDESEU (, a project initiated by MILLADOIRO’s ex-harpist Rodrigo ROMANI. I keep thinking that Galicia is the corner of the Iberian peninsula, where the largest numbers of folk musicians have put more effort, care and pride on the continuation of traditions that strengthen their local culture & identity. And this CD is a great example of how all these fine artists have found their own different ways to maintain their musical heritage, but at the same time to innovate and raise their level of musicianship. Some of them have taken old Galician trad songs and turned them into new sonorities. A BANDA DAS CRECHAS[43][44] has taken the polka Estroupelar, adding some elements from north African beats, klezmer and Irish folk. Daniel BELLON (gaita bagpipes) & Diego MACEIRAS (accordions) play their song Licantropia with amalgamated rhythm, jazzy & rock instrumentation, and even a short initial phrase from the 80’s pop hit ‘Take On Me’ (from the Norwegian band A-HA). VAAMONDE, LAMAS E ROMERO play a sort of march with clarinet, accordion, gaita and tambourine, while ex-BERROGUETTO’s female singer Guadi GALEGO sings in Latin the poem DUM PATER FAMILIAS from the medieval Codex Calixtinus.[42] A CD to listen today and always.
© Pío Fernández

O’Carolan "Nota de Paso"
Tecnosaga, 2010

The Spanish band O’CAROLAN has dedicated the previous CDs to traditional Irish music, mostly based on the work of the 17th century harpist Turlough O'Carolan.[37] ‘Nota de Paso’ is their fourth record and this time they have gone into a different direction. They have taken their knowledge & experience on Irish, ‘Celtic’ & Baroque music, and applied them to the traditional songs from their home land : Aragon, in the southern side of the central Pyrenees mountain range. They play 12 songs traditional in Aragon’s three provinces : Huesca (Pyrenees area), Zaragoza (crossed by the Ebro river) and Teruel (in the south). O’CAROLAN are : Susana ARREGUI (violin, nyckelharpa), Pilar GONZALVO (Irish harp, diatonic accordion), Jose Maria ARCARAZO (acoustic guitar), Julian ANSUATEGUI (bodhran, frame drum, udu), and Miguel Angel FRAILE (tin & low whistle, Uillean pipe, gaita de boto, duduk, diatonic accordion). This time they also have as guest artists the fretted string quartet CONCUERDA, and Jesus ACERO (bouzouki). The process of adapting this set of old melodies from Aragon, and performing them with the refinement & style of Irish and maybe also classical music, provides results of intense beauty and emotion. Some people could argue though that part of the roots and essences of Aragon’s traditional sounds are lost in such process. It might be a fair assessment, for instance considering that the only local instrument used in the set is the ‘gaita de boto’ (Aragon’s bagpipe, equivalent to the Galician gaita, but with a different arrangement of the bass and tenor drones), and maybe also the diatonic accordion. But we shall forget here about any kind of ‘purity’ or ‘preservation of untouchable roots’. This is a fusion just as valid as several others done years ago in other parts of Spain, for example : in Galicia (MILLADOIRO, clearly inspired by the Irish folk revival), in Asturias (LLAN DE CUBEL, approaching some Scottish folk styles), or in Castile (RADIO TARIFA, incorporating north African percussions). So just take ‘Nota de Paso’ and simply enjoy it as is : a good dozen of gentle songs, nicely and skilfully performed by the most Irish folk band from Aragon.
© Pío Fernández

Tom Doherty "Dance Sean Nós"
Own Label, 2010

Now here's a thing. A fine young box-player turns to the simple one-row melodeon to record a album of music for board-batterers. This has to be from Connemara, right? In fairness, there has been something of a Sean Nós renaissance going on for a while, certainly in Ireland and in North America. I must confess to being almost a Sean Nós virgin myself, but from what I've seen and heard this is a much freer form of Irish step dancing, without the chunky socks and curly wigs (for the most part), danced mainly by grown men: pretty much anything goes, and it's not clear how much of Sean Nós has crept into Tap or vice versa, let alone where to draw the boundaries between the Irish tradition and those of Scotland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, or exotic Blackburn.
The music is Irish dance tunes in the old style, with an emphasis on Connemara music as the stronghold of Sean Nós. The Swallow's Tail, Miss McLeod's, Cooley's and The Bucks are probably favourite, and Tom Doherty pumps these out with skill, gusto, and most importantly with plenty of lift for dancing. The old ten-button melodeon, in G or D, was commonly used for economic reasons: the biggest sound for your spondoolicks. The trick is to overcome the limitations of this diatonic instrument, and great players like Johnny Connolly or Tom Doherty's American namesake could make the melodeon sing as well as any accordion. This recording follows in their footsteps, with sparkling technique and bags of showman swagger. Listen to Pigeon on the Gate if you're in any doubt.
So what's the difference between a CD for Sean Nós dancing and a CD for listening? Not a lot. The tempo is obviously crucial for dancers, and Tom has carefully noted the beats per minute for each track. This should stay constant through each set of tunes, and Tom Doherty manages almost metronomic regularity without losing that vital lift. There are some slower tracks for beginners and improvers, coming down to 70BPM, and the performance sets go up to 132BPM for Foxford's flashdancers. Almost every tempo makes good listening, so there's no need to be a dancer to enjoy this CD. Nothing but reels, jigs and hornpipes, of course, with a single selection of flings: no waltzes, slow airs, horos or czardas here. Just button box, with piano accompaniment on most tracks, and familiar old tunes. The Wise Maid, Larry O'Gaff, The Home Ruler, The Silver Spear, St Anne's, Munster Buttermilk, Harvest Home, plus a couple of more unusual gems like Sweet Biddy Daly and The Lobster. Quality, quantity, consistency: what more could you ask for? Tom also offers to record custom tracks if required:
© Alex Monaghan

The Kane Sisters "Side by Side"
Dawros Music, 2010

On their third album, fiddlers Liz and Yvonne Kane have produced another great selection of East Galway tunes including several of Liz's compositions, and only three from their muse Paddy Fahey (unless he's changed his aproach to tune names). Instead, there's more from Paddy O'Brien, Ed Reavy and other late great Irish composers. The CD title comes from one of Liz's tunes, written in celebration of her long musical partnership with Yvonne - after all, the girls are well into their twenties now! It's a charming reel, with that weaving unpredictability of East Galway music, followed by Paddy O'Brien's Smiling Lady and a reel new to me: The Céilíer.
But I've started at the end, so we'll work backwards. There are two slow tracks on this recording, one combining the song airs Tipperary So Far Away and Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow: they make fine waltzes on twin fiddles. O'Rahilly's Grave is a well-known air, and a perfect example of the tight duet playing for which Liz and Yvonne are justly famous. In between are a couple of sets of jigs, one of Paddy Fahey's in each, which I recently heard when the girls performed with the brilliant Edel Fox in Camden: here they are taken at a slightly slower pace, and even without the extra drive of Edel's concertina this is lovely music. Dancer Nathan Platzke (from Ottawa, not one of the Galway Platzkes) twinkles his toes to Paddy Fahey's Jig, and to a previous pair of hornpipes.
The two fiddlers are also joined by Dáithí Sproule on guitar, Mick Conneely on bouzouki, and Patsy Broderick on piano at various points. There isn't such a preponderance of reels as some albums, but enough to please most listeners: Farewell to Eyrecourt and The Stone in the Field are relatively well known, The 13 Arches and Eileen O'Brien's less so, and of course there's another of Paddy Fahey's here. The opening track is very well chosen, with the ever-popular Sean sa Cheo following Finbarr Dwyer's Star of Ireland, preceded by Ed Reavy's classic Starry Lane to Monaghan: timeless perfection The Kane sisters' notes on each tune are full and informative. Even more details on Liz, Yvonne, and all three of their recordings are available at - with a link to Claddagh Records for sample tracks.
© Alex Monaghan

Three Mile Stone "Three Mile Stone"
Own label, 2010
Of unchallenged Hibernian pedigree, and subtitling their debut CD "Irish Music from San Francisco", this trio play and sing classic Irish American music with a western accent. Mandolinist Marla Fibish, fiddler Erin Shrader and guitarist Richard Mandel met at music camp sessions in California, and the rest is hazy except for the Zinfandel, but eventually they formed a band, for which all lovers of Irish music should be grateful. Three Mile Stone play powerful and absorbing stuff, whether songs or tunes. As well as Irish dance music and slow airs, there are a few lovely Quebecois pieces which the band have made their own. They also adopted a great producer in guitarist John Doyle, who knows a thing or two about fiddles and mandolins too. The album sound is superb throughout, and there's very little that could be improved musically.
Starting off with the currently popular slip-jig Moll Roe, Fibish and Shrader knock out several old favourites in fine style: Queen of the Rushes, Christmas Eve, Martin Mulvihill's, Piper on Horseback, Stenson's and many more. The swoop into John Dwyer's is the first of numerous memorable fiddle touches, and while the mandolin sits slightly behind the fiddle on most tracks Marla's lead on Gypsy Princess establishes her as an equal partner in this triad. The guitar is similarly indispensable, particularly on the four vocal pieces which Erin and Marla share: a version of Brennan on the Moor, two more American songs from Marla, and Erin's unaccompanied rendition of Dark is the Colour where Richard of course does nothing. Actually, it's hard to keep track of who's playing what because there's more chopping and changing here than a butcher's costume ball: Erin picks up the mandolin, Marla grabs accordion or guitar, Richard switches to banjo, and all three provide backing vocals. This makes for a very rich and varied album, showing an impressive breadth of talent from all three musicians. You can check out the talent yourself at - there are several samples to choose from.
© Alex Monaghan

Mr Ho's Orchestrotica "The
Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel"
Tiki, 2010

Mexican band leader Juan Garcia Esquivel was an arranger of a range of music. Of the eleven tracks here, only one is his own composition: the others are drawn from jazz, film, and "the popular music of the mid 20th century, Jim." But the arrangements are pure Esquivel. Take the opening number, Andalucia: in two and a half minutes it spans Spanish fiesta, spaghetti westerns, Star Trek, sultry bossa nova, and Stanley Kubrick's Space Odyssey. All the effects are acoustic (okay, there is some electric guitar), all the recordings are live, and all the fun of seventies OTT is recreated by Mr Ho. Each track has been transcribed by ear, to produce a passable facsimile of the original recordings which are now obscure at best. To be fair, you can find Esquivel on Amazon - but check out first.
Why would you bother? Why, particularly, would a folk and traditional music fan like me be interested in the king of space age pop? Two reasons. First, the Lounge style which Esquivel pioneered and inspired has influenced many folk musicians: the entire jazz-swing side of Shetland music personified by the late Peerie Willie Johnson, the bluesy fiddle of the southern USA (think Casey Driessen), more drummers than you can shake a stick at, and plenty of eclectic young Irish musicians from Riverdance to Rig the Jig. In fact, Esquivel arranged many traditional Mexican and Brazilian songs, and took more than a little from tropical or tiki music. Second, Esquivel's music is such fun! From his outrageous experiments with stereo to his fondness for glissando and cartoon-style percussion, Esquivel was the first to record many of the sounds which enliven performances by the more irreverent folk performers. From the hilarious Old Rope String Band to the cacophonous Treacherous Orchestra, the humorous riffs of John James or Chris Newman, the rasping reeds of Brendan Power or Mairtin O'Connor, there are hundreds of folk performers who owe a debt of gratitude to this Mexican maverick.
So to hell with categories and pigeon-holes. Feast your ears on Frenesi and compare it to your favourite Madagascan guitarists or Bulgarian clarinetists. Sink into Sentimental Journey the way you would with a klezmer horo. Treat Take the A Train as a travelling blues from Tijuana, see Dancing in the Dark as a slightly surreal substrain of Tibetan temple chants. Eqsuivel's own composition Mini Skirt combines the rhythms of traditional Latin dance music and the whooping of front-porch or Cajun styles with a cool jazz sound that could easily fit Bela Fleck or Alison Brown. Do whatever it takes, but don't miss the enjoyment of this marvellous music which has offered so many possibilities to performers in all genres. World music surely has room for Juan Garcia Esquivel.
© Alex Monaghan

Matt Cranitch & Jackie Daly "The Living Stream"
Own label, 2010

Unashamedly purist, this is the other side of the Sliabh Luachra coin from Begley & O Raghallaigh's CD which came out about the same time last year. There's some great music on The Living Stream from two of the finest living exponents of the Sliabh Luachra style, and there's a studious edge to much of it which replaces the unbridled spirit of Brendan and Caoimhín's approach. Matt Cranitch is probably the most established Cork fiddler, a key figure in the region's music and a great player. Jackie Daly was an old man - at least in appearance - when he joined De Danann in the late '70s: born and bred in Sliabh Luachra, Jackie's button box probably defines the style of his generation. Daly has duetted with fiddlers all his life, recording fine albums with Seamus Creagh and Kevin Burke among others. Cranitch has released more recordings than I can remember, solo and with line-ups such as Na Fílí, Sliabh Notes and the less traditional Any Old Time.
So what do Matt and Jackie offer on this recording? Twelve tracks of box and fiddle duets, mostly unaccompanied, plus a solo slow air each: there's an occasional touch of guitar from Paul De Grae, and some strong piano from Brid Cranitch on the last two selections. Many of the melodies here are well known - The New Mown Meadow, Tom Connor's Hornpipe, Bill the Weaver, The Green Mountain Boys, The Gullane Polka and The Glountane Slide which was popularised by the Bothy Band as Mary Willie's. Some, including The Glountane Slide, are played in unusual versions: Jackie and Matt have carefully preserved innovations or expediencies which are now part of the tradition.
The two slow airs on this collection are marvellous solo showpieces. Matt's rendition of The Labourer's Lament is haunting and powerful, with beautiful tone and some lovely deep harmonies. Jackie plays Fog on Mushera as a towering anthem, with meaty bass notes and measured tempo. Tempo is an issue elsewhere on this recording, particularly on the Heather Breeze set. The Living Stream will not be remembered as the tightest duet album ever, but there are moments of magical music throughout this CD: Jackie's left hand on Art O'Keeffe's Jig, his own catchy composition The Rakes of Merlot (a remote Irish village), Matt's fiddle leads into Con Carthy's Favourite and The Kanturk Jig, and the final two tracks where Brid holds the boys together perfectly. The packaging is good, the notes impeccable, and The Living Stream should be widely available.
© Alex Monaghan

Antóin MacGabhann & Mick O'Connor
"Doorways & Windowsills"
Own Label, 2010

Very straight, very trad, very sweet. This pair of paragons have been meeting up at music events for several decades, and both are iconic figures in Irish music: Mick as a leading member of the London scene, and Antóin in the Meath/Dublin area as well as his native Cavan. Fiddle and banjo combine here to deliver a large helping of old favourites in tight duets, with a couple of solos each and some fine flute flutters from Marcas Ó Murchú. Eddie Whelan provides guitar accompaniment.
From Quinn's Reel to The Sailor on the Rock, most of the material on Doorways & Windowsills will be familiar. It's the playing that counts, as well as the play-along possibilities: everything is conveniently at session pitch. Mick O'Connor has been described as "more musical than most banjos", and he proves that here: his solo jig selection Humours of Miltown jogs along very tunefully, ending with a sparkling version of Seamus Cooley's. The famous Mick O'Connor's Reel is also featured, the definitive version from the man who composed it in 1971. Antóin takes his first solo on The Rainy Day, all too common where he lives, and a rather less common version of The Flowers of Redhill. He too contributes a composition, the gentle jig You're Welcome Says Maureen & Hugh, which the duo join to Jerry's Beaver Hat and The Cow that Ate the Blanket for one of this CD's best tracks. Antóin's second solo is another highlight, a relaxed stroll through the four-part Dwyer's Hornpipe.
And that's about it, apart from the nine sets of reels which space out the jigs and hornpipes. You know you're in trad heartland when an album is two-thirds reels. There are some great ones here: The Whin Bush, John Brennan's, The Red Haired Lass, The Christening, Callaghan's, Last Night's Fun, and The Green Mountain which starts a second solo from Mick. I prefer The Otter's Holt at a slightly slower pace myself, but apart from that it's hard to find fault with Doors & Windowsills. You might struggle to find this CD outside specialist shops, but give it a go!
© Alex Monaghan

Hugh Healy & Michael O'Connell
"We Were Drinking and Kissing the Ladies"
Killeen Music, 2010

Doesn't sound like a plausible title for a piping CD to me. Nevertheless, this recording is full of fine duets and solos from Michael "Blackie" O'Connell, an uilleann piper, and fellow Clare man Hugh Healy on concertina. Reared around the pubs and hotels of Doolin, as they acknowledge in the album notes, Healy and O'Connell seem to be barely out of their teens, yet they handle their instruments like master musicians. Travers' Number 2 and The Boy in the Gap display exemplary unison playing, with some tasty regulator work from Blackie. Tumble the Tinker gives more scope for interweaving melodies - the middle Harty Boys jig is an absolute smasher with wild high notes on the chanter and rumbling chords from the concertina. Blackie turns to the snare drum for the clan march O'Sullivan The Great - he's a veritable one-man pipe band on this ceili favourite.
The Boys of Ballinahinch starts another set of reels with raw traveller-style chords on the offbeat. The title track adds John and Johnny Kelly on fiddles for a full powerful sound on a cracking pair of jigs worth playing just for their titles. The next selection sees the tradition in action, as what you might have thought was Phil Cunningham's march The Hut on Staffin Island becomes the traditional set dance The Hut on Staten Island, a relocation of a couple of thousand miles westwards plus a slight increase in pace. All bar two tracks on this recording are duets, with one solo each. Hugh takes a leisurely stroll through The Ace & Deuce of Piping, crisply played even at this slow tempo. Michael rattles out two classic reels in a tight closed fingering, with big crans and staccato runs, a gripping contrast to his more fluid style elsewhere. He plays a Cillian O'Briain set of concert-pitch pipes: this young Kerry pipemaker has acquired quite a reputation in the last few years. Cillian's instruments have a lovely rounded tone, but that doesn't prevent Blackie from producing an aggressive rhythmic sound on The Four Courts. There's a great combination of pops and slurs through The Bunch of Keys, and Blackie works the regulators nicely here too: long cadences and some vamped chords adding to fine chanter fingering.
Session stalwart Cyril O'Donoghue backs these boys discreetly on bouzouki, and there are a few other guests scattered sparing through the twelve tracks here, but to be honest the pipes and concertina could have carried this recording on their own. There's one more surprise in store with the modern effects on Port an Ghrá, a mystic jig played over the brooding piano of Elaine Hogan. The lads finish with a storming set of reels: The Trip to Birmingham, Darby's Farewell - two Josie McDermott tunes I believe - and The Lady on the Island which was popularised by Planxty's piper. This is a gem of a recording, and a testament to the talents of two players who should still be delighting us for many decades to come.
© Alex Monaghan

Matheu Watson "Matheu Watson"
Own Label, 2010

Wow, wow, wow and wow! That's the first four tracks taken care of. I don't recall a debut album more breathtaking than this. Homage, Danny's Birthdays, Las Habas de Berceros and Picnic in the Sky all hit the musical sweetspot. Two of these are Matheu's own compositions, of which there are thirteen in total on this recording. In fact, the success of Matheu's music is due as much to his composing and arranging skills as to his own playing. He's joined on this recording by such geniuses as Ali Hutton on pipes, Sean Og Graham on button box and Martin O'Neill on bodhrán, so the ensemble sound is magnificent.
A twenty-something from Lochaber, Matheu plays several instruments here but takes his solos on fiddle and guitar. The traditional Spanish air Las Habas is a gentle fingerpicked gem, giving way to Liz Carroll's reel Drying Out. The first half of Hamish & Ann's showcases Matheu's powerful fiddling, on two more of his own tunes, but the bar is raised considerably when Ali and Martin.join in. Matheu's father, Douglas Watson, wrote the air Glencalvie which is arranged by Matheu as a modern country anthem with slide guitar and e-bow adding plenty of atmosphere. The Doctor's Daughter combines the very Breton-sounding melody and rhythms of Heen with another string band piece, both by Matheu, before we come to a grand piping reel.
The breadth of this collection is quite striking, making it very hard to categorise Matheu Watson's music. Tracks such as Owen's put this CD at the heart of the traditional session scene, on both sides of the Irish Sea. 3 Hornpipes shows influences from further west: Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi. Reunion pulls these strands together again with a fine guitar intro, a bit of button box magic from Sean Og, and then the big finish on pipes and fiddle. This album stretches the broad church of contemporary Scottish traditional music, but in all the right directions. If you need a more precise label for Matheu Watson, try "prodigious". His website is pretty neat too.
© Alex Monaghan

Hoogie "Spot the Bothy"
Kylin Studios, 2009

A third outing for these boisterous box-and-fiddle boys is welcome indeed. Hoogie sit in that no man's land between ceilidh bands, folk groups and gentle comedy: a land they share with Jimmy Shandrix, The Cutting Edge, Ceilidh Minogue and others. Behind the traditional line-up of accordion, fiddle, pipes and rhythm section lurks a sense of humour and fun which pokes its head out every so often. Think of Hoogie as a sort of kilted Michael McIntyre dance band, if you will, but slightly less camp. Certainly the singing is robust enough: five ballads of blood, need, love and loss, including an ethereal unadvertised final Flooers o' the Forest, all sung by guitarist Kenn Clark. One Burns song, one Scott song, and two of Kenn's own complete the set. Keith Smith picks up the pipes for a rousing finish to Bide Ye Yet.
The music on Spot the Bothy is mainly from the core of Scottish sessions, with some virtuoso moments thrown in. Starting with a big set of jigs including Donella Beaton and The Hag at the Kiln, Dougie Hunter's accordion blazes through. Here and elsewhere, Keith adds some brilliant touches on fiddle. Dougie is in gentler mood on his own air Glaschoille, a very pretty tune indeed. Four more of Dougie's compositions appear on this CD, three in the Windae City medley, plus the jig Ally Mackenzie's which is followed by Keith's tasty title tune. The Irish side of Gaeldom is represented by a lively set of Kerry polkas, all well known but freshly baked by Hoogie. The band's virtuosity is amply demonstrated by their rollicking version of Phil Cunningham's Girls of Martinfield, a challenge to any box-player, followed by a very French Canadian fiddle interpretation of the old reel Miss Johnson. The aforementioned Ally Mackenzie contributes Amy Buchanan, a feisty lady by the sound of it. The Canadian sound continues on Paul Cranford''s swinging reel The Mortgage Burn, featuring more fine fiddling and a banjo which nobody wants to claim. Variety, fun, good music and plenty of it: that's Spot the Bothy.
© Alex Monaghan

Natalie MacMaster "Live in Cape Breton" [DVD]
Koch, 2007

Fiddler, step-dancer and pianist, Natalie is the niece of Cape Breton fiddle legend Buddy MacMaster and has been one of the foremost ambassadors of Cape Breton music for many years now. Here she plays to a packed home venue and performs a range of music from Canda, Scotland, Ireland and further afield. It's hot, it's slick, it's tasteful, and it's some of the finest fiddling I've seen on DVD. Most tracks are fronted by Natalie on fiddle with backing from her five-piece touring band: Mac Morin on piano, Matt MacIsaac on pipes and whistles, Brad Davidge on guitars, Shane Hendrickson on bass, and drummer Miche Pouliot.. This line-up pumps out reels, jigs, strathspeys, clog dances and hornpipes: The Gravel Walks, The Hurricane, Pottinger's Reel, The Night We Had the Goats, King George IV, The Silver Spear, Miss Lyle, Flea as a Bird, The Butlers of Glen Avenue, Maggie Cameron's, The Sally Gardens and the big solo piece Tullochgorum. With fiddle and pipes duets, acoustic and electric guitar, and arrangements from strictly trad to totally mad, Natalie's music pushes all the right buttons. There aren't too many fancy visual effects, but the camera angles are great and the audio is spot on.
Two slower numbers feature Natalie's guests - her husband and fellow fiddler Donnell Leahy on the perfectly timed Anniversary Waltz, and singer Hayley Westenra from New Zealand with a beautifully simple version of Ave Maria. Bluegrass banjo supremo Bela Fleck joins Natalie for a medley of reels from Scotland, Shetland, Quebec and Cape Breton, and also treats us to a laid-back laconic solo with his own Freeplay improvisation. I was initially surprised that such renowned guests were not given more of the limelight, but actually this DVD is all about Natalie and her music, and she has quite enough talent to fill the space. Drum Dance shows off her step-dancing skills, duelling with Miche Pouliot. Volcanic Jig focuses on one of Natalie's more modern compositions, a fiery encore with cello and bass giving way to a full-on rock arrangement. In a couple of charming community touches, the stage is filled with scores of fiddlers for the King George Medley as Buddy joins Natalie on stage, and there's a Step Dance Extravaganza with a dozen Cape Breton step dancers of all ages, including Mac Morin while Nat deputises on the ivories. This recording manages to capture the spirit and variety of Cape Breton fiddling, and to confirm Natalie MacMaster's place as an icon of her tradition and an inspiration for the next generation.
© Alex Monaghan

Vishtèn "Live"
Own Label, 2009

"Excitement, adventure, and really wild things!" Douglas Adams could well have had the phenomenal fun band Vishtèn in mind when he wrote that: hailing from PEI (look it up) and Quebec but playing from Acadia, this trio blends Celtic and French influences with Canada's equivalent of Cajun music. Picking the best from two concert performances, the 16 tracks here combine a handful of songs with intoxicating instrumentals on accordion, fiddle and flutes. There's foot percussion. There's step-dancing. There's three or four guests to fill up the stage, but I reckon Vishtèn can cut the mustard unassisted. Live is their third release, and I'm sure these youngsters still have more to offer.
Tunewise there's lots of good stuff on this CD. Irish classics Pigeon on the Gate and Cailleach an Airgid alternate with contemporary Canadian compositions: Hull's Reel, Francis Aucoin's Jig, Dot MacKinnon's and more. There's a hefty slice of the band's own work, over a dozen pieces, mainly by accordionist Pastelle LeBlanc, with a couple each from fluter Emmanuelle LeBlanc and fiddler Pascal Mousse. In between are traditional Scottish reels such as Miss Georgina Campbell and The Left-Handed Fiddler, Cajun waltzes old and new, and a whole range of French Canadian melodies from big reels to gentle airs.
The songs are equally fine, strong vocal leads and harmonies, paired with some great melodies and woven into instrumentals in that winning way the French Canadians have. All three members sing well, and the harmonies are exquisite at times. Highlights of this album are hard to choose, but would probably include Vishtèn's take on The Hanged Man's Reel, the Cajun-Quebec medley Joli Coeur, and their arrangement of the traditional ballad Vériné, as well as the stomping opener Figeac and the haunting final air The Hills of Bounty. It's all good, and Vishtèn would certainly have been on my 2010 Top Ten list if their album had come out this year, so get on over to and check these guys out - you won't be disappointed.
© Alex Monaghan

Shannon Heaton "The Blue Dress"
Eats Records, 2010

From Boston USA, or thereabouts, fluter Shannon Heaton and her guitarist husband Matt have long been mainstays of the New England Irish music scene. Shannon is a confident and accomplished player with beautiful tone, and is also respected for her many compositions: there are some crackers here. The Blue Dress is Shannon's first pure flute album - no songs, no string solos from Matt, just Shannon's flute and some first class accompaniment. This CD shows Shannon Heaton to be one of North America's finest traditional musicians, able to hold her head up with fluteplayers worldwide. Around half the tunes here are traditional, and half are Shannon's own, with one or two compositions from other contemporary sources. Shannon opens with Sonny Brogan's Reel, apparently an adaptation of the slide Over the Hill: there are several unusual versions of traditional tunes on this album, including some fresh variations on the slip-jig Moll Roe and a transformation of The Irish Washerwoman attributed to the late great Gerdie Commane and Joe Ryan. There's also a spirited romp through the classic reels Wheels of the World and The Flogging Reel, followed by Shannon's own tribute to Chicago-based musician Dennis Watson. In more contemporary style, the dark swirling rhythms of the polka 99 High draw some great percussive playing from Paddy League and harpist Maeve Gilchrist. Against the Grain tees up a set of three Shannon originals, the unmistakably modern jig In the Dog House sitting between a more traditional-minded jig and and reel.
The title track is one of three slow compositions which Shannon presents here. The Blue Dress Waltz reminds me strongly of the song air Tá Mo Chleamhnas, recorded by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and others: this is a charming variant, played with skill and soul. Nights on Caledonia Terrace is a beautiful air with all the nuances and ornamentation of a traditional flute masterpiece. The slow reel Frost Place is another delight, with excellent bouzouki backing from Matt: it stretches Shannon's breath control, or perhaps she is straining at the leash, eager to launch into the up-tempo Aunt Jane's Trip to Norway set which follows. Paddy plays drums on these three reels, and before the end I find the snare drum is slightly distracting: but Shannon ends this CD with two terrific tracks. Down the Dark Lane and Humours of Castle Comer are meaty old jigs taken at a swaggering pace, leading into those rolling variations on The Irish Washerwoman. The final pair of reels combines a punchy rhythmic turn of The Hornless Cow and a storming climax on the Chieftains favourite Boil the Breakfast Early. Brilliant stuff altogether - I've a feeling The Blue Dress will be in my 2010 top ten! Check out for more information, and samples of previous albums: none of this CD as I write, but I'm sure that will change soon enough.
© Alex Monaghan

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