FolkWorld #52 11/2013

CD & DVD Reviews

Newpoli "Tempo Antico"
Own label, 2013

Italian expats, now based in the United States, formed this Italian folk band after they left Italy to study Jazz at Berklee College of Music - and only there they discovered their passion for traditional music of their homeland. After their first decade, this album is only their third one.
The CD features an attractive mix from fast tarantellas to gentle traditional songs, primarily taken from Naples and the Puglia region. There are some great musical arrangements, with the band featuring e.g. accordion, double bass, fiddle, oboe, percussion. I overall really like the album - just when it comes to harmony singing of the two female singers, I am not that keen as this sounds in my ears - well - disharmonious.
© Michael Moll

Du Bartas "Tant que vira"
Sirventes, 2013

A powerful album of songs from the Southern French region of Languedoc, most of them in Occitan language. The signature feature of the Du Bartas has to be the well crafted harmony singing of the five men, which is attractively accompanied by trad music dominated by accordion. The sound of this album is for me probably closer to Franco-Gallic folk music than more Southern sounds (as sometimes found with Occitan music): There is plenty of counter singing, accordion etc. With the exception of the first song on the album (which tried to mislead me on first listening) which starts with a bit of Arabic singing and style.
This is a strong and enjoyable album - a bit of a discovery really.
© Michael Moll

Le Tre Sorelle "Lampasconi e Cianfrusaglie"
Hertzbrigade, 2013

Le Tre Sorelle are three talented ladies from Southern Italy - good singers and musicians on accordion, lira,framedrums, friction drums and other percussion. The songs on this album are traditional songs from Southern Italy, brought together through the company La Paranze del Geco who study and spread southern Italian folk music.
The album offers a mix of slower songs and faster tarantellas. Particularly the slower songs are full of beauty. When singing the louder and faster songs, the ladies raise their voices a bit too much which makes the sound somewhat shrill in my ears. Overall though this is a great and memorable album, and makes me curious what experience this trio may give in live performances.
© Michael Moll

Cruinn "Cruinn"
Own label, 2013

Four of the leading Gaelic singers come together in this band: James Graham, Fiona Mackenzie, Brian O hEadhra and Rachel Walker. While all of them are wonderful singers, I was particularly delighted to hear my favourite Gaelic singer Fiona Mackenzie (Mackenzie and ex Seelyhoo ) - to my knowledge her first recording since years. The album offers a mix of traditional and self composed Gaelic songs as well as songs from Ireland, England and Hungary (!) translated into Gaelic.
I have to say that there are a couple of features on this album which I am not keen on: I found the percussion on the shruti box on two songs too harsh, and was not convinced about the background chants/soundscapes in a couple of songs. Yet overall there is a lot of beauty on this album which is a "must" for any fan of Gaelic songs.
© Michael Moll

Various Artists "Bu Chaoin Leam Bhith 'N Uibhist -
Gaelic Songs from the North Uist Tradition"
Greentrax, 2013

This is the 25th volume of the Scottish Tradition series, again taking its recordings from the archives of field recordings of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
The album presents a selection of Gaelic songs recorded between 1950 and 1975 on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, featuring both singers who would perform as well as those who rarely were heard singing outside of their home. As ever, the album is very well mastered, making all songs come across in good quality. The songs and singers come indeed alive again on listening the CD - close the eyes and listen to the singing, and imagine sitting with these singers in front of the hearth on a remote island ...
© Michael Moll

The Piper and the Puca "Strange Goings On"
Hidden Track, 2013

A mix of Irish folk songs and music and traditional Irish storytelling, presented by Mick Fitzgerald[48] (ex Wild Geese) - who tells the stories as well as providing and singing some of the songs - and the Ralf Weihrauch Trio,[50] a talented German-Dutch trio on accordion, fiddle and voices. The fairy tales have been selected and edited by Dr Gabriele Haefs. While I found several of the fairy tales entertaining, there was one that could not hold my attention - the 15 minutes long "The Wonderful Tune". The music and the songs are of good quality - in fact, my personal highlight is the superb set of tunes at the start of the album composed by Ralf Weihrauch.
© Michael Moll

FullSet "Notes After Dark"
Own label, 2013

German CD Review

This young six piece band is quite a newcomer on the traditional Irish scene, and has been celebrated by Irish radio RTE as Newcomer of the year.
"Notes after Dark" is their second album and presents robust Irish traditional and folk music. I found that for me some of the tunes sound a bit rough on the edges, and while some songs are beautiful - such as "Both Sides the Tweed" - others could not convince me by their lack of variety. There is though promise in this band - alone the line-up in itself of (amongst others) flute, button accordion, uilleann pipes, fiddle, bodhran and guitars is promising ...
© Michael Moll

The West Ocean String Quartet "An Indigo Sky"
Ownlabel, 2013

An Irish string quartet (violin/violin/viola/cello) presenting a mix of traditional Irish tunes and compositions by their cellist Neil Martin. Generally speaking the music on this album is calm and gentle. While the feeling of the album is closer to classical music, it manages to bridge pleasantly traditional and classical music styles.
© Michael Moll

Orchestra Bailam e Compagnia di Canto Trallalero "Galata"
Felmay, 2013

This album takes the listener back in history to the 14th century, when the Istanbul district of Galata was granted to the Genoese who created a Genoese colony, a Genoa in the Middle East. The album celebrates the melting of cultures and music from Genoa and Middle East - polyphonic singign of Genoese Trallalero meets middle eastern rhtyhms and instruments. It is a fascinating album, not necessarily one I would listen to very often, but certainly one which I can appreciate and admire.
© Michael Moll

Tony McManus "Mysterious Boundaries"
Greentrax, 2013

German CD Review

Scottish folk guitar wizard Tony McManys tests his boundaries again on his latest album, by interpreting classical music on guitar. Not classically trained, this was a real challenge for Tony. He plays himself through compositions partcularly from Bach, but also from Francois Couperin, Monteverdi, Enrique Granadas and Erik Satie.
I think it is to his credit that there remains a somewhat folky sound to the music while keeping to the classical spirit - and this is what makes this music more unique.
I still most prefer when Tony interprets Scottish traditional music on guitar, but he certainly does prove again with this album that he is a real guitar wizard who can get his head (or rather fingers) round any music style.
© Michael Moll

Tony McManus "Mysterious Boundaries"
Greentrax, 2013

German CD Review

Those Canadians have a lot to answer for. Not only have they seduced Scotland's finest folk guitarist away from the delights of his native Paisley, they've now persuaded him to dabble in classical music. Well, like any Paisley lad, Tony hasn't just dipped a toe in these foreign waters: he's stuck the heid in, right up to his neck, and resurfaced smiling. Whether this is a brief flirtation or a change of career, McManus can certainly give the likes of Rebourne and Williams a run for their money on pieces from baroque Bach to Barcelona romantic. Les Barricades Mystérieuses is solo classical guitar throughout, and all the more impressive as a result.
There is a lot of Johann Sebastian Bach here, not surprisingly as he was a prolific composer and was often writing for the relatively simple instruments of the 1600s, so his pieces fit on the guitar without too much adaptation. That's not to say they are easy: all four Bach pieces on this CD are seriously demanding for any guitarist. Tony has chosen three movements from Bach violin partitas, including the famous prelude from partita number 3 in E, as well as an aria and variations from Bach's Goldberg opus. All are beautifully played, with perhaps a hint of celtic folk but certainly nothing out of place.
More modern pieces by Satie and Granados, written in the late nineteenth century when the lines between folk and classical were firmly drawn, seem more technical, but McManus has selected quite accessible pieces: a Spanish dance which may have had its roots in the guitar repertoire, and the tango-style Gnossienne Number 1 with its cat-like dance rhythms and ominous melody lines. The title piece, which opens and closes this album on different instruments, is by Couperin, an early baroque composer, but arranged by Michael Chapdelaine, a man who has moved from classical to folk guitar. Its renaissance tones are a natural mediator between Bach and the earlier pieces here by Monteverdi and an unknown mediaeval composer: Nigra Sum and Pange Lingua both recall Renbourn's arrangements of John Dowland lute music. The final track, Les Barricades Mystérieuses on baritone guitar, reinforces that dark resonant side of lute music and further demonstrates the exceptional mastery of Tony McManus.
© Alex Monaghan

Samantha Robichaud "In the Green Room"
Own label, 2013

This New Brunswick fiddler has gathered together an impressive selection of friends, mainly singers, mostly damn good, for a bit of mutual admiration and a bit of a party. Fortunately they produced a top notch recording before things got out of hand. One third fiddle tunes and two thirds songs, In the Green Room is varied and surprising, lots of names I don't know from the Canadian song scene, some I'm very glad to meet.
The folks I do know include singer-guitarist Dave Gunning, fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, Benoit Bourque on accordion, and JP Cormier who plays banjo, mandolin and guitar on the final track here. Sam plays fiddle everywhere, and duets on vocals with Alex Madsen and Charlie A'Court. Never heard of them, but they're pretty good. Never heard of The Treble, Irish Mythen, or Chris Colepaugh either: all a bit modern for my taste, although Irish Mythen is highly entertaining in a Sarah Silverman or Michelle Shocked kind of way. Matt Anderson and Thom Swift are more familiar, talkin' blues, walkin' boots, slack strung wailing guitars and whiskey-roughened voices. Another stranger who's become an instant friend is Emilyn Stam, awesome fiddler and back-up pianist from Toronto, musical partner of the late great Oliver Schroer and many others. Anyone who can play like that is a friend of mine!
What else? The Reel of Tulloch and Michael Rankin's Reel from Ashley MacIsaac (remember him?), a super slow air and a proper French Canadian reel by Samantha, plus the climactic Orange Blossom Special from Sam and one-man string-band JP. is the place for more info on this and Samantha's other albums, there'll be something there that takes your fancy.
© Alex Monaghan

John Spiers & Jon Boden "Through & Through"
Fellside, 2013

You may have heard of these guys: they've been quite busy since the release of this debut album in 2001. What with their duo appearances, their big band Bellowhead, and various other projects, Spiers and Boden have led a revival of English traditional music and song - the sixth or so this century - which has brought a bit of street cred to melodeons and fiddles, ballads and broadsides, hornpipes and maypoles, without compromising their character, or even washing off too much of the dust and grime which gives these things their authenticity in many people's eyes. Like Aladdin, these two lads took up the dull and disregarded lamp of their tradition and rubbed it, just enough to wake the genie.
How did they achieve this? With talent, certainly. As English traditional musicians go, John and Jon are among the best. But also with integrity, with simplicity, and with an appreciation for their musical legacy. Earl Richard, Lovely Nancy, Banks of Green Willow: these are not chart-toppers or mass-appeal mush which audiences blindly lap up, they are hardcore ballads with old and twisted stories.that stick in the throat, in the mind, in the heart. Oswestry Wake, Laudanum Bunches, The Rochdale Coconut Dance: titles from another era, tunes from a neglected past, brought to life by energy and passion as well as skill and dexterity. Through & Through was the spark which started a string of fires across English folk clubs, kindling young people's imaginations, giving us bands like Hekety, Zoox, Blackbeard's Tea Party and many more.
Not surprisingly, Through & Through sold out quite quickly, and such is the economics of small record labels that it was unavailable for some time. But now it's back, in all its original simplicity, with a startlingly young-looking Spiers & Boden on the cover. Twelve years on, the duo who have played from Glastonbury to Glenfarg, Shoreham to Shrewsbury, and averaged over an album a year, have not left these roots behind them. As the blurb says, "This is where it all started" - and this is where the circle will be joined, as John Spiers and Jon Boden come back to their simple duo repertoire, traditional English Through & Through.
© Alex Monaghan

Bags of Rock "The Next Level"
Own Label, 2011

More demonic than Red Hot Chilli Pipers,[45] with an emphasis on skulls and black leather, and no dancing girls, this bagrock offshoot perhaps represents the dark side of modern Scottish piping: if Stuart Cassels' band are the Jedi, maybe G-Man James leads the Sith. I'm not making a value judement - you need both sides to make a film, and the music is great in any case, as are the special effects!
Bags of Rock provide an hour of heavy-rock piping, lots of bass guitar and distortion, with surprisingly clean chanter sounds taking the melody line most of the time. The pipes and power chords are perhaps better integrated than on RHCP numbers: this may be because a guitarist is calling the shots, or because most of Bags of Rock's material is written by and for the band rather than being covers of popular music. There are recognisable snippets of other artists, and there are some tracks from the tradition or from Gordon Duncan (effectively the same thing nowadays), but most of the music here is credited to G-Man: he of the red rhino horn hair. The arrangements are jaw-dropping, although the piping is not quite so powerful as RHCP because Bags of Rock rely on only two pipers most of the time. There are pipe harmonies, but not the depth of thirds and fifths which RHCP offer. (Use the fourths, Luke!) My general impression is of a pipes-led rock band rather than a rocky pipe-band, if you see the difference: more like Tartan Amoebas, less like MacUmba.
Track titles on The Next Level are suitably groan-inducing: Rain Stain based on Gordon Duncan's Tain in the Rain, two days of Glasgow sunshine marked by The Heat Goes On, and the final Punchin' the Bag which celebrates bagpipers' traditional mistreatment of sheep. The music is hot and heavy throughout, tasty guitar over a prehistoric swamp soundscape on Timeless, punk-style vocals on Give me Your Cash, a pure instrumental version of Whiskey in the Jar à la Thin Lizzie, shades of Mark Saul on Party at the HQ. This is good stuff, well played, perfect for a Scottish independence party or any other Caledonian shindig. Without the dark, there can be no light: so it's great to have both!
© Alex Monaghan

Blackbeard's Tea Party "Whip Jamboree"
Own Label, 2013

It's so easy to misjudge people. Take Blackbeard, for instance, whose name is synonymous with terror and butchery: turns out he liked nothing better than cucumber sandwiches and a pot of Earl Grey. Edward Teach (his real name) inspired several dubious characters, including Jack Sparrow and Queen Anne's Revenge, and many folk musicians moonlight as Teachers even today. This particular bunch, from the piratical town of York, could certainly teach you a dance or two. Whip Jamboree is the second album from English dance band BlackBeard's Tea Party. They're not as bad as they sound: some of the tunes they play aren't English at all. Seven songs are delivered with aplomb by Stuart Giddens, drawing on lyrics from Jake Thackray and Rudyard Kipling as well as traditional English material. Whether he's singing the praises of The Valiant Turnip, describing the vivisection rituals of Rackabella, or bleating about his little Johnson, Giddens is a vocal showman. Behind him, grinning through the gore, stand fiddler Laura Barber, drummers Liam Hardy and Dave Boston, guitarists Martin Coumbe and Tim Yates: as ugly a crew as Blackbeard ever boasted.
But by Barbary! they can play. Kitchen Girl and Devil in the Haystack eloquently summarises Ms Barber's talents, dragging wild horsehair across screaming feline viscera. Bulgine opens with another lash of the cat, a version of The Raggle Taggle Gypsy, before launching a shanty over grunge bass and hard rock beats. Giddens' alter ego picks up a dainty melodeon for The New Jigs, one by James O'Grady and an unknown Glasgow tune which sounds remarkably like something Adam Sutherland might have written. The triangle really comes into its own on this track, complementing the Black Sabbath groove: not so much the knell of doom as the bell of Mr McHenry's tricycle. David's Reel introduces a moment of calm from the frenetic female fiddler, before the boys burst in with a positively perky polka. (It must be perky, because Blackbeard would never use his pinky at a tea party.) But all good things must end, and this party starts to wind down with the clean-up crew's Four Hour Shovel, a couple of complex tunes which Laura had a hand in. Whitstable Cottage is another of hers, raw and grimy, leading into Kevin O'Neill's excellent Superfly which transfers surprisingly well to the melodeon. The voyage of these English ceilidh privateers ends with the title track, a rum-soaked baba from the Balkan souks, combined with a piece of picaresque pirate poetry. Whips and chains, oatcakes and ale, hammock fritters and sea bass riffs: it's all good, and plenty of it, so down the hatch! Get yourself a taste of Blackbeard's Tea Party: one lump or two?
© Alex Monaghan

Enda Seery "Síocháin na Tuaithe
(Peace of the Countryside)"
Own Label, 2013

A young whistle player from County Westmeath, Enda is already on his second album, His first, The Winding Clock,[46] was well received and this one is equally enjoyable. Enda's music is relaxed, unhurried, and the CD title says in all. Síocháin na Tuaithe in Irish expresses the rural calm of the rich Midland grazing land where Enda grew up quite recently. After spending a year perfecting his music in the urban crucible of Limerick City, Enda has embarked on a career as a professional musician, but he's kept the easy gentle manners of Westmeath. From his unusual version of The Scholar, learnt from the playing of Cathal McConnell, to the modal cadences of The Chicago Reel, Enda plays thirty tunes and sings two songs. Nine of the tunes are his own, including the fine slow air which lends this CD its title.
Enda plays flute and keyboards on a few tracks, as well as providing lead vocals for Loving Hannah and It's a Working Man I Am. The songs are delivered in the same laid-back manner and tempo, and the album is further varied by an occasional fiddler, a couple of guitarists and even a second whistler who duets with Enda on a trio of polkas. Elsewhere it's reels, jigs and hornpipes, and the great old lament Amhrán na Leabhar whose story you probably know. Other fine tunes include The Golden Keyboard, The Castle Jig, John Blessing's Reel, and Enda's own Friends from the States. The Sindt whistles which Enda plays are taken very seriously indeed these days by those in the know, and young Mr Seery is a fine exponent of the pastoral style, so if you're looking for that bit of sweet rural shade you could be in luck here.
© Alex Monaghan

Os Cempés "Tentemozo"
Fol Musica, 2012

A lively and entertaining Galician group, Os produce a slightly chaotic mixture of songs and tunes on traditional and orchestral instruments, with a big band sound here which swings from modern folk to mediaeval festival. Recorded with about thirty students from the Galician traditional music school in Santiago de Compostela, this album further boosts the core Os Cempés six-piece with a double handful of guest musicians. It's a big project, and must have taken a lot of planning, but the result is well worth it. Pasodobles and muñeiras, polkas and mazurkas, are mixed in with four songs including a recreation of a seminal 1904 recording.
Gaitas and oboes, accordions and zanfonas (the Galician gurdy), flutes, fiddles and percussion power through the instrumentals. A dozen voices join in the rousing choruses, mainly teenagers and twenty-somethings, showing the health and vigour of the Galician tradition. Looking like a bunch of refugees from a Franco victory, Os Cempés themselves lead some of the more demanding tunes - Muñeiras da Noite for instance - but allow the students to take centre stage where possible. This is a great collaborative model, and a very successful project: Tentemozo has no doubt sold well among friends and family, and it also stands on its own merits as a CD of high-quality traditional music.As for Os Cempés, on this showing I am keen to see their live performances, with or without the "mozas e mozos" who join them here. Tour details are available from, and has more information on Os Cempés recordings.
© Alex Monaghan

Noam Pikelny "Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe"
Compass Records, 2013

Less than forty years ago, back in '76, fiddler Kenny Baker recorded an album of bluegrass tunes written by Bill Monroe over the previous two decades or more. Both Baker and Monroe are no longer with us, but that album is still a classic, and young banjo ace Pikelny has reworked it in homage to these two former greats who defined much of the bluegrass style. There are differences - a banjo is not a fiddle, however hard you hit it - and Pikelny has not attempted to produce Baker's music note for note, but taken as a whole this CD is a very close cousin of the 1976 original: same tunes, same instrumentation more or less, same mix of toe-tapping reels and bittersweet waltzes, and the same stellar quality which made Kenny Baker's recording an instant classic.

NoiseTrade offers a free download, featuring a track from "Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe," as well as selections from the Grammy-nominated "Beat the Devil and Carry a Rail," and his solo debut "In the Maze":

It's surprisingly hard to transfer fiddle tunes onto a banjo, especially the slow tunes. Leaving aside the question of why you would want to, the banjo has very little sustain so you have to fill in those long notes somehow. Plus a five-string banjo is really designed as an accompanying instrument, with lots of handy strings for harmonies and arpeggios, kind of like an autoharp but not as lovable. So Pikelny had to develop new techniques, learn new tricks, to get Kenny Baker's melodies onto his 22-fret Gibson banjo. Pikelny is no stranger to innovation: his two previous albums broke new ground in the melodic banjo genre, and he follows Bela Fleck in adapting the banjo to new music. There are even hints of a capo in use at one point - perish the thought! However he does it, young Noam gets his fingers round all the challenges of Road to Columbus, Jerusalem Ridge, Monroe's Hornpie, Ashland Breakdown, and even Wheel Hoss. Those slower numbers - Lonesome Moonlight Waltz, Cheyenne, Stoney Loneome and Mississippi Waltz are tough to carry on a fingerpicked banjo, but this boy steps up to the plate and plays them, sounding almost like a dobro at times, such is the sustain and wobble he gets out of that old drumskin.

Pikelny isn't alone here: he's supported by an essential bluegrass line-up of fiddle, mandolin, guitar and bass. Some of the best in the business - Stuart Duncan, Ronnie McCoury, Bryan Sutton, Mike Bub - play back-up and breaks, doing a fair immitation of the Bluegrass Boys. Close your eyes, and there's little to indicate that you're not listening to Bill and the band back in the seventies. Make-up nnd wardrobe have been busy creating that impression in the sleevenotes too: spare a thought for Brandon Dailey, who apparently had the job of making the sound engineer's hair presentable. Lastly, remember Fred Wedlock's abuse of Big Sandy River: a great silent movie stampede tune! If you want to know more, was handily available to house this youngster's website, with samples and supplementary details enough to fill those impressive bluegrass hats.
© Alex Monaghan

Catriona McKay & Olov Johansson "The Auld Harp"
Own Label, 2013

Scottish clarsach and Swedish nyckelharpa, an ancient sound: this duo have chosen material from several centuries, and brought it right up to date, but they've kept the visceral sound of pegged strings, bowed and plucked. The nyckelharpa is not that ancient - I'm guessing late seventeenth century at the earliest - but its sound is almost identical to the bowed psaltery, a beautiful mediaeval instrument. Listen to Rory Dall's Port, a renaissance piece by that great Scottish harpist, and you are transported to the courts and castles of feudal times. Next comes Going Green, a Johansson composition which sits firmly in the modern European waltz idiom, akin to compositions by Chris Wood, Roger Talroth, Sharon Shannon, Ivan Drever and many more. Olov has written about half the material on this recording, in a broad Scandinavian style. The other half split between Catriona's compositions and traditional tunes from Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavia.
The title track, one of Olov's, is ironically among the more modern pieces here. A jazzy rhythm and percussive dissonant harp accompaniment underlie a beautiful sweet melody on the nyckelharpa. Splash is similarly upbeat and funky, one of Catriona's this time. Ballongen combines contemporary elements with the mill-wheel rhythm of a Swedish dance, powerful and surprising. Ruben's Lullaby was written for one of Catriona's colleagues in the Shetland band Fiddlers' Bid, and uses a slower version of that turning beat. I find many Scandinavian dance tunes call up a picture of Napoleonic social dances, stately and graceful: Näcken & Skoella, Fritz Widlund, and the final Spelmannsglädje all have that effect here, cotillons swishing and cocked hats doffed. January Lament has a quite different feel, as do the two distinctly celtic dance music medleys. Quite a mixture of styles, especially from an acoustic duo. There is nothing but harp and nyckelharpa on this CD, but that's more than enough to make The Auld Harp a magical experience. Find out more at or!
© Alex Monaghan

Julien Cartonnet "Cornemuses du Centre"
AEPEM, 2013

This is pretty much what it says on the box. Julien Cartonnet plays central French bagpipes in 16 and 26 inch versions, giving him a choice between a warbling treble and a deep baritone. He plays unaccompanied, except for some fine tenor banjo on four tracks, and a bit of foot-tapping. The tunes come from the Nivernais and Morvan regions, and are very similar to the Berry tunes which first introduced me to French dance music. bourrées in 2/4 and 3/4, bransles, scottishes and polkas. The Bourrée des Gars is a cousin of the berrichon Pas D'Eté, the Bourrée Tournée à 2 is related to the Bourrée Tournante des Grandes Poteries which I learnt in the eighties, and there are many other resemblances.
Cartonnet's style is quite ornamented, occasionally slighty eccentric, with stong vibrato and imaginative variations. Most of his album consists of a powerful solo melody line, with discreet drones, and we are invited simply to appreciate the tune. I lost track of the rhythm in a couple of places, but the music is generally a fine example of French piping, enjoyable for its own sake. The big baritone pipes are a delight, resonant and expressive, even on simple melodies like Le Rossignolet Sauvage or Ami Mon Bel Ami. They are also used for the Irish air Valencia Hrbour, learnt from the playing of Seamus Ennis, where they have the same richness of sound as the old flat C uilleann pipes. To complete the picture, Cartonnet plays an Irish jig and reel on shorter pipes, giving a convincing rendition of The Walls of Liscarroll and Timpeal a'Ghleann. An altogether intriguing CD, Cornemuses du Centre can be found online at!
© Alex Monaghan

Chris Stout & Finlay MacDonald "The Cauld Wind"
Own Label, 2013

Two of Scortland's most exciting players, fiddler Chris Stout and piper Finlay MacDonald, have joined forces to record and tour with a body of old and new music. All the pieces here are by known composers, many from the Scottish piping tradition: Donald MacLeod, Jim MacKay, Allan MacDonald, Gordon Duncan, and of course Finlay himself. The fiddle tradition is represented by Jerry Holland and Chris Stout compositions. There's also a jazzy modern reel by Jim Sutherland. The tracks are few, but they last five or six minutes each, finishing with an absorbing eight minute piobaireachd by Stuart D Samson called Land of Bens, Glens and Heroes.
The Cauld Wind is not as dramatic an album as I expected, but the quality and beauty of the music are unquestionable. From the opening notes of Donald MacLeod's beautiful air Loch MacLeod there's a tight bond between Stout's fiddle and MacDonald's pipes or whistle which rarely loosens. Things do hot up in places - Tommy and Ronnie's Double Tonic, The Thin Man, Finlay's jig Heathercroft and Chris's complex piece Dull and Boring are probably the most energetic moments. The slower tunes are delightful too, particularly Borve Castle and Dark Lo'ers the Night, two pipe marches I don't recall hearing before. So, although it's not quite what I anticipated, this is a most enjoyable CD and a fine showcase for Stout and MacDonald's live performances.
© Alex Monaghan

Liz Carroll "On the Offbeat"
Own Label, 2013

I'm not sure if this CD was released on Liz Carroll Day - celebrated in Chicago on the 18th of September - but it must have hit the streets around that time, and it underlines the importance of this fiddler and composer to Irish music and fiddling worldwide. Liz has released umpteen albums, most of them featuring her prodigious output of new trad tunes: most recently she's been collaborating with guitarist and singer John Doyle. On the Offbeat is definitely a solo album, but Liz is accompanied by several familiar names including Sean Og Graham, Catriona McKay, Trevor Hutchinson, Natalie Haas and Seamus Egan. There are two dozen tunes here, all bar one written by Liz. It's an eclectic selection: you have to wait until number ten for something undeniably Irish, after tunes with touches of Balkan, old-time, swing, and other genres. Music isn't made for pigeonholes, but I've used some labels which seem to fit.
The Duck is a punchy wee jig apparently inspired by Prokofiev (Sergei, not Gabriel), and it's followed by as catchy a pair of reels as you could wish for. Ms Carroll can do slow airs too: Never Far Away is a bittersweet beauty, and the inscrutable Tinsel has a wintry warmth somehow. Liam Childs is a sultry slip-jig along the lines of Spóirt but with that extra diddly. WT's 97th marks Liz's father-in-law's birthday with a Scots-style reel. The Giant's Cave is a modal jig which smacks of Sliabh Luachra. The Friut and the Snoot adds to the growing number of Irish tunes in 7/4, as does the title tune. Balkin' Balkan is actually in 4/4, but the offbeat rhythm justifies its name. Most of the rest of this recording has a strong North American accent to my ears: the growling low E-B-E Reel, the country-style Ten Acre Waltz, the railroad effects on Barbra Streisand's Trip to Saginaw, and the flamboyant Fiddle Heaven are good examples. Whatever your style of fiddling, there's plenty of material on this album. And. if Liz Carroll's skill as a fiddler was ever in doubt, you have only to listen to her rendition of The Yellow Tinker: a world class performance, combining technique from both sides of the Atlantic, plus a bit of that Martin Hayes magical understatement. Great compositions, top grade musicianship, and a nicely designed sleeve to boot: why wouldn't you want one?
© Alex Monaghan

Tim Edey "Sailing Over the 7th String"
Gnat Bite Records, 2013

I've just reread my review of Daybreak, Tim's 2001 release at the tender age of 22.[23] That was his third album, and I've no idea how many he's been involved with since then. A multi-instrumentalist with ties to the English and Irish traditions, Tim has cast his net even wider for this recording. Rumba Negra is pure Latin lasciviousness, Jenny's Tune by Jan Sanders comes from somewhere between Paris café society and Paddington Bear. There's a pair of laid-back Scottish strathspeys, and several moments which recall Runrig instrumental breaks. Tim fingerpicks a couple of well-known flash hornpipes, and plays beautifully on several slow airs. Sailing Over the 7th String highlights the guitar more than other instruments, hence the title I suppose. In this mix of modern and traditional there isn't a single Edey composition to be heard, which surprised me, but there are many fine new tunes from other people.
Almost all the guitars here - and there are a lot of them - are played by Tim. He also turns his hands to keyboards for a few tracks. About half the album features Tim on melodeon too. Multi-tracking goes without saying. Patsy Reid transforms herself into a string section for the middle section of Sailing Over the 7th String, and Steve Cooney does his thing on the first and final numbers. There are no vocals to speak of, although I kept expecting to hear Brendan Begley's voice on Beir mo Dhuithracht and Steve adds a bit of crooning to end the album. He also does fantastic bird impressions. It's all very pleasant, if a little guitar-heavy for my taste. I would have welcomed a touch more pace and attack at times - the only tracks which suck significant diesel are the Ava's Dance jig-reel medley and the ragtime romp through Old Folks at Home. Plenty to enjoy here, this CD is one for a quiet evening in front of the fire, rather than a rip-roaring party night.
© Alex Monaghan

Slide "Mendicity"
Own Label, 2013

A fifth release - fourth studio album - from this Dublin-based quintet combines straight trad with seriously twisted. The cover of Mendicity features the smiling face which is Dublin Bay - go figure. It opens with an epic set of polkas, nine in all, including a couple of Breton Dans Plinns. The Sliabh Luachra Mule mixes American old-time with a Rushy Mountain polka, and to be honest I'm not entirely sure which is which. There's a lovely ringing end to this track, something other groups could copy. Slide then launch into a set of - well - slides. Four of them, in fact, all traditional. Former Lasses is a pair of jigs, the strangely motivated traditional My Former Wife and Mick Broderick's composition The Belturbet Lass for his mother, led by Dave Curley on banjo and Éamonn De Barra on low whistle. Dublin to Dublin is a set of four reels old and new, tinged with dark harmonies, very atmospheric, and another great ending. The title track is a medley of slip jigs and reels, as Steve Tilston might have said: good ones, again with that dark edge, and a fine opportunity for Daire Bracken's fiddle to cut through.
Dave Curley sings five songs here, and even for a non-song-fan such as myself they are very pleasant. This is partly down to the Slide arrangements, with many deft instrumental touches, but also because of Dave's strong tuneful voice and excellent delivery. Roger the Miller is one of the sillier traditional ballads, about a lad who hankers after an old nag but thereby loses his chance of a wife - so I suppose it's a happy ending really. The other four are as miserable as sin. The Bird is a version of the selkie legend, a lover who is turned into a gull by the act of love. Song for a Winter's Night and October Song are modern verses on loneliness and futility. The Shores of Lough Bran is a classic emigration ballad from County Leitrim, poignantly underpinned by Aogán Lynch's concertina. So ends Mendicity, a traditional album with a very modern sound, highly recommended on both counts.
© Alex Monaghan

Blowzabella "Strange News"
Own Label, 2013

A third album from the revived and reanimated Blowzabella, and it really is great to see this iconic English band of the eighties and nineties still going strong. Unfortunately, I wasn't nearly as thrilled by what I heard on Strange News. The line-up is unchanged from their 2010 Dance release,[44] but Blowzabella seem to have run short on their magic dust. To be blunt, most of the tracks here are plain vanilla English music - not the expected Blowzabella Vanilla with extra vava-voum. Of the nine instrumentals on this CD, only three have that wall of sound quality which makes you sit up and listen. The Long Drive has it, after a dogged but dull first tune. Malique shows a little more panache, but still isn't Blowzabella at their finest. For me, the best comes last, with Shed Number 9 and Le Vicaire, a Swayne composition and a tradtional tune from the Auvergne. The rest lack the breadth and depth of arrangement, the twist and turn of melody, the passion of the players which turns a good tune into a great track.
None of the four vocal numbers improves this recording in my view. Jo Freya's voice is not quite up to fronting a whole album, and the choice of material doesn't help either. All Things are Quite Silent is as dull as the Sussex ditch where it was collected, and I can't think of a less exciting song on the pressgang theme, both lyrically and melodically. Strange News is the very well known song of the faithless blacksmith, known in many versions, and Blowzabella have chosen a poor one to sing: why oh why would he go to gather primroses? The only spark in this song is the tacked-on melody of Lovely Joan, a brief glimpse of the other side of the coin. Searching for Lambs is as bland a song as one could imagine: boy meets girl, boy asks girl to stay with him, girl agrees, both declare undying love. The tune Main Dans la Main which follows it is one of the best on Strange News, and could have coped with a track to itself. Nellie was a Milkmaid is as silly as the title suggests: Nellie goes to party, Nellie meets hoped-for Roger at party, Nellie and Roger happen upon a haystack, in due course Nellie bears a son and names him Roger. This unremarkable story manages not to rhyme, not even in its "tooraloo" chorus, and doesn't even boast a memorable tune. I am being very critical here, I know, but I really expected better from a band with this pedigree.
© Alex Monaghan

Dàimh "Tuneship"
Goat Island Music, 2013

Album number 5 from these gurus of Gaelic music: Dàimh have carved a reputation from the bedrock of Gaelic culture between the highlands of Scotland and the Atlantic coast of Canada. I confess that my preference is for imstrumental music, and Tuneship delivers seven great sets of tunes on pipes, fliddle, banjo, whistles and mandolin. However, I must admit that the three songs here are superb, powerful and passionate, pouring out like molten lava from the volcanic voice of Griogair Labhruidh. The whole CD is a supercharged performance from end to end, and their live show must be spectacular.
The lads open with a strathspey and a couple of reels, all written by piper Angus MacKenzie and fiddler Gabe McVarish.. They follow up with Barra to Balloch, an epic highland journey captured by Angus on low whistle. Coddywatch blends another driving strathspey from MacKenzie and McVarish with a pair of compositions by new member Damian Helliwell from Eigg: Sour Mash smacks of Tennessee rather than Angus and Gabe's native Canadian islands, and Damian's relatively tiny island home is dwarfed by his towering reel The Pesky Neutrino.
After three tracks of superb playing, it's time for Griogair to make an entrance. This young singer from Ballachulish, at the confluence of Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe, has a voice as old as the crags which tower over his home town: he delivers Siud Agaibh an Deoch a dh'Olainn in an earthy growl which at first made me think it was a Scandinavin troll song: dark and strong, one of those Gaelic cultural artefacts which reflect the harsh conditions and grim determination of life clinging to the western edge of Scotland. The sweetness of Bottle for Brigg is a complete contrast, a Helliwell air on fiddle and mandolin. A trio of frankly funky pipe jigs by Angus brings us to the next vocal number, the 19th century comic account of a highlander's experiences in Glasgow, another assured muscular rendition from Griogair, perfectly arranged by the whole band.
Guitarist Ross Martin finally gets his name among the composing credits with The Gannet, a swooping reel between two McVarish tunes, before the third song: a more melodic ballad from Ballachulish, in the classic waltz rhythm of so much highland minstrelsy. Tuneship sails off into the sunset with a banjo-themed medley of Helliwell reels and the album's one traditional tune, MacKinnon's Rant. There's a strong pipes-led finish, although not quite as strong as the doube pipes of previous albums. With the help of a few guests, Dàimh have produced another fabulous recording: authentic Gaelic music with a modern edge and a magnificent range of expression. This could be one of the best Scottish releases of 2013.
© Alex Monaghan

Triúr "Arís"
Own label, 2012

A second cascade of compositions by Peadar Ó Ríada, with Martin Hayes and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on fiddles, this CD contains twenty new tunes with intriguing titles, from I Don't Give a Feck to Harpsichord Louise. The sleevenotes are pretty good at explaining the names, but don't tell you much about the music. I think Peadar plays concertina and button box, as well as his trusty harpsichord. There may be some viola, probably played by Martin, and I'm assuming the whistler is Caoimhín, but I'm not sure who is playing the sitar. Jigs and reels are augmented by polkas and slides, hornpipes and slides, the gentle air Ceantar Glas Mhúscraí, and even a song about sheep.
Arís, which means "again" or "encore" in Irish, is full of different fiddle tones and textures. From robust double fiddle on the fling Bullock on the Bonnet to the lightest of touches on the jig Billy's Breakfast, Martin and Caoimhín ring the changes constantly. Peadar's compositions are equally varied: the spiky Margaret Batt's Reel is followed by the more conventional Lily of the Valley, and then by the Munster modalities of Kevin's Salute. All three reels are great additions to the Irish tradition. Other memorable melodies here include the slide Rubber Band's Brother, the three-part jig In Praise of Connie, and the two-part jig Damhsa an Tsuláin. You may find other favourites, and I may add some to my list as time goes by, for I'm sure many of these tunes will pass into the tradition and crop up in sessions around the world. Which, after all, is what it's all about.
© Alex Monaghan

Éamon McGivney, John Kelly, Peadar Ó Riada "The Drôle"
Own label, 2013

Peadar Ó Riada, son of the legendary Seán Ó Riada,[28][30][34] carries on in his father's footsteps from the remote West Cork mountains as a composer and performer with a number of eclectic projects: he released two albums with fiddlers Martin Hayes[35] and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh[27] (see review above), a third Triúr album is scheduled for late 2013. Inbetween he formed a new trio called The Drôle, featuring fiddlers Éamon McGivney and John Kelly, the latter being the son of John Kelly Sr, a founding member of his father's seminal outfit Ceoltóirí Chualan in the 1950s/60s. Peadar Ó Riada himself plays the concertina, and the three of them have been playing on and off for 40 years. In early June 2013 they spontaneously locked up themselves for merely three days to record a few tunes for our friends, since according to their self-assessment they are just what we are - three old codgers playing a few tunes and sharing a few yarns.
That could be worse. McGivney, Kelly and Ó Riada sat down and played a selection of popular tunes in a relaxed mood, the whole spectrum of traditional Irish dance music, not just jigs and reels but slides (the album is kicking off with "Scattery Island," situated in the Shannon Estuary from where John's people came from, so he gave the tune its title), hornpipes, polkas and flings. The hair raising moments of the album are two forays into the past, two previously unpublished works from Seán Ó Riada himself. John Kelly Jr discovered "The Seán Ó Riada Waltz" hand-written by Ó Riada on a piece of paper hidden in an old copy of O'Neill's. "The Kelly-Ó Riada March," the first part composed by Seán Ó Riada, the turn added by John Kelly Sr, is a familiar tune from Kelly's repertoire, but seemingly had never been recorded before.
© Walkin' T:-)M

FolkWorld Homepage German Content English Content Editorial & Commentary News & Gossip Letters to the Editors CD & DVD Reviews Book Reviews Folk for Children Folk & Roots Online Guide - Archives & External Links Search FolkWorld Info & Contact

FolkWorld - Home of European Music
FolkWorld Homepage
Layout & Idea of FolkWorld © The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld