Issue 24 12/2002
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Various cynical artists "Bah! Humbug"
Label: Greentrax; G2CD7007; 13 tracks; Playing
time: 49 minutes
I challenge anyone to deny that before the year is out they'll have at least
one brief moment when they're thoroughly sick of Christmas. This album is for
that moment. For the more Scroogelike among you, this album is for the whole
of December. Greentrax have collected a profiteer's dozen of the most jaded
Yuletide ditties, from Tom Lehrer's 1954 classic Christmas Carol to Robin
Laing's brand new oven-ready recording of The Man That Slits The Turkey's
Throats At Christmas, and wrapped them in two tracks of self-indulgent frivolity.
There are belly laughs in Bill Barclay's The Twelve Days Of Christmas
and Eric Bogle's Santa Bl**dy Claus, wry smiles in Tom Clelland's The
Present and His Worship The Pig's Mary Christmas, and refreshing
realism in Enoch Kent's and Loudon Wainwright's takes on the C word. The two
helpings of Cyril Tawney contain deathless lines such as "No place for toss-pots
at nativities" and "He tried to ram his lantern down his throat", but I'd have
preferred a little less Cyril and a little more Loudon: It Isn't Over 'Til
It's Over is sadly absent.
Minor grouches aside, this CD will slot very nicely between the cathedral choirs
and the top twenty tacky tinsel tunes. It's the perfect accompaniment to those
last few dozen slices of Christmas cake, or to reheated turkey curry. With its
nice sharp edges, it's also the ultimate stocking-ripper for any nauseatingly
jolly relatives. But don't buy your own copy yet: wait for the January sales.
Ronan Brown & Peter O'Loughlin "Touch
Me If You Dare"
Label: Claddagh Records, CCF35CD, 74 minutes,
Listening to this recording, it's immediately obvious that Messrs Browne and
O'Loughlin are not newcomers to Irish music. They've done this before, you feel.
In fact, they did almost exactly this fourteen years ago. In the late eighties,
a master West Clare fiddler went into the studio with a whippersnapper piper
from Dublin, and they came out with one of the finest duet performances on record.
Ronan is now a master piper, and Peter is a pillar of the West Clare tradition,
but their second duet album is none the worse for that.
Another important difference between this recording and the previous one is
that Touch Me If You Dare is almost twice as long as The South West
Wind. Amost five quarters of an hour is a lot of pipes and fiddle, but both
men switch to the flute for some tracks and there are a few female guests, so
there's enough changes of tone to keep things interesting. No slow airs here,
though: it's mainly jigs and reels, with an occasional hornpipe or set dance,
but that West Clare lift ensures that the music stays lively and engaging throughout.
Peter O'Loughlin certainly hasn't lost his touch on the fiddle.
There are too many good tunes to list here, most of them old favourites, but
I will mention a few. Two good old-fashioned jigs Banish Misfortune and
The Trip to Athlone are ambled through at a lovely relaxed pace, Peter
picks up the flute for the rousing title track, the pipes and fiddle blend seamlessly
on that piping test piece The Gold Ring, and classic reels like The
Flax In Bloom and The Dairy Maid are dusted off and freshened up.
And of course there's the ever-popular pairing of I Buried My Wife And Danced
On Top Of Her followed by Will You Come Home With Me?
I can't say it was a surprise to hear these two musicians duetting so beautifully.
After all, they've been doing it for a long time. I most definitely can say
that it's a delight to listen to them on this new CD, and an even greater pleasure
to hear that there may be one or two more collaborations sparked by this recording.
The sooner the better, say I.
Deidre Collis "Bosca Ceoil"
Label: Sound Records, SUNCD 46, 14 tracks,
Carmel Gunning "Around St James' Well"
Label: Sound Records, SUNCD 44, 18 tracks,
John Regan "The Slopes of Benbulben"
Label: Sound Records, SUNCD 43, 17 tracks,
Sound Records is a small operation on Grattan Street in Sligo town. They've
been producing recordings of local musicians for some years now, including the
first Dervish album. These three recent releases may not be easy to find outside
Ireland, but they are available online from www.record-room.com
or by mail order.
Deirdre Collis is a former All-Ireland champion on several instruments. Here
she plays the button box, and rattles through some cracking tunes in the style
of Joe Burke or Paddy O'Brien. Deirdre sets a very pleasant pace, and uses a
relaxed open technique which shows off the rolls and other ornamentation: no
modern staccato here. As well as the expected reels and jigs, she throws in
a pair of hornpipes, a waltz, and an air which she attributes to Carolan but
which is more familiar to me as the song "Lady Keith's Lament". The opening
pair of reels is worth a mention, Glencolumcille and Willie Coleman's, as is
the set of unnamed Charlie Lennon jigs and John Bowe's Reel which follows them:
I'm sure that's not the usual name for this tune either. Deirdre is accompanied
by various pianists, all of them suitably discreet, and the overall sound is
rich and mellow.
Rich and mellow is a good description of Carmel Gunning's voice. This is her
second CD, and she offers us four songs in the 19th-century ballad style. One
at least is traditional, The Banks of the Roses, better known as Johnny Don't
You Leave Me. One is recent, the Lament for Laurence McDonagh, a local flute-player.
The other two could be any age. All four are powerful and well delivered, and
would do credit to more well-known singers. Three more tracks feature the fine
piping of Neili Mulligan from Dublin. The other seven tracks are whistle solos,
a mixture of traditional tunes and Carmel's own compositions: the compositions
are generally better than the playing, which is rather uncontrolled, but she
does add some classy touches to a few tunes.
I was enjoying a session with John Regan's son the other week, a young box player
with an enviable lightness of touch. You can hear where he gets it from on his
father's CD: John Regan is one of the most respected musicians in Dublin's social
dancing scene, with great depth of knowledge and experience, and the ability
to turn any tune into a toe-tapper. He plays some delightful hornpipes here,
including his own title tune. He's also chosen some top-class reels and jigs:
Mulhaire's, The Skylark, Lad O'Beirne's Reel, and a pair of lovely swaggering
jigs in The Mayo Snaps and Will You Come Home With Me? with sparkling accompaniment
from Mary Corcoran on piano. John's steady 120 beats per minute make these tunes
ideal for dancing, listening or playing along. I'd recommend this one to any
fan of button accordion music.
The recording quality on all three CDs is very high, and the packaging is quite
attractive. There's a definite shortage of information about the musicians and
tunes, but that's not a problem if you just want to listen to the music.
Jenny Crook & Henry Sears "Chasing the
Label: Own Label, TARJH 003, 12 tracks, 44
I've been a fan of Jenny Crook's eclectic harp since she was a Young Tradition
Award finalist in 1993. Her two albums with Cythara both merit a listen. Henry
Sears played with Afterhours, another band worth hearing: his performances here
on fiddle and whistle are very impressive. The combination of Jen and Hen is
captivating, and deserves to be much better known.
So what do they do? Well it's half traditional and half original, but most of
their own material is close to traditional idioms, and most of their traditional
material is noticeably jazzed up. Henry's fiddle strikes sparks from Irish reels
such as The Dawn and Tripping Down the Stairs, and his slightly breathy Chieftain
low whistle weaves that Celtic magic on some lovely slower pieces. Jenny's harp
is rock solid as an accompaniment, and angelic on the melody line. Her singing
voice is perfectly suited to traditional material: eat your heart out, Bill
The original material includes the catchy slip-jig Joyride, the intriguingly
titled reel Jenny Getting Pickled, and two songs which expand the frontiers
of the English ballad. The Footpath to Farleigh is a real tear-jerker, taking
the Dark-Eyed Sailor story and adding extra pathos: our hero and heroine have
been apart for nine years, he was wounded but struggled back to her, and so
forth. Under the Moon is a new twist on several stories: young girl is seduced,
but revels in it, throwing her clothing to the four winds, and then she refuses
the offer of marriage. Both songs are well written and beautifully performed,
but you begin to wonder what Ms Crook gets up to in her spare time.
This is a true duo album, with no guests but lots of multi-tracking. Four hands
and two mouths produce a surprisingly full sound, comparable to Anam at their
best. The musicianship is exemplary, and almost every track is a winner. The
sleeve notes are rather brief, and there's not much more information on the
website (www.jenandhen.co.uk), but
the music speaks for itself. I'm looking forward to seeing the live act.
Liz & Yvonne Kane "The Well Tempered Bow"
Label: Dawros Music DM001
Okay, so what don't I like about this album? Well, one or two of the thirteen
tracks are a bit scrapey, but I suppose that's not surprising with two fiddles.
Also, if I'd been recording a waltz on my debut CD I wouldn't have chosen The
Valley of Knockanure: it's not very exciting. But apart from that, as they say
in Eddie Rocket's, it's all good. Fifty-two minutes of fine fiddle duets, mostly
reels and jigs, with a bit of accompaniment from John Blake on guitar and Jesse
Smith on viola: nothing fancy, but definitely a debut CD to be proud of.
The Kane sisters are from Letterfrack in County Galway, and they've been playing
with Sharon Shannon for a few years now. Their music is mainly from Galway:
seven of the tunes here are called Paddy Fahey's, which is probably a record,
and several others were learnt from Paddy or from other great Galway fiddlers.
There's also a trio of Liz's compositions, and her pairing of Kye's Reel and
The Lenawee Reel is one of the highlights. Out of four hornpipes, three are
by Scotsman James Hill who lived on Tyneside and was a prolific composer: The
High Level is commonly played in Ireland, but Fly By Night and The Bee's Wing
are rarely heard. Much of Liz and Yvonne's repertoire is slightly out of the
ordinary, particularly the melodic minor settings which they use to good effect
on several tracks.
There are tunes by Paddy O'Brien and Ed Reavy, a gorgeous Swiss air, and a range
of Paddy Fahey tunes from the oldest to the newest. The sound is tight, but
not so tight that you wouldn't know there were two fiddles. There are harmonies
and flourishes, but mostly just good music lovingly played. The whole thing
is attractively packaged, and the notes are chatty and informative. I can't
tell you whether Liz and Yvonne are well tempered, but I can tell you they're
well worth listening to. Find out more yourself at www.thekanesisters.com, or
write to them at Dawros Music, Letterfrack.
Martin Nolan "Bright Silver, Dark Wood"
Label: Own Label MSNCD002
Martin Nolan is an uilleann piper from Dublin, and an extremely good one at
that. His first album, recorded around 1994, is one of the best piping CDs ever:
I still listen to it frequently, and it's in my top ten under-rated albums (see
www.computing.dcu.ie/~alex/RL/urated.html). Since then, Martin has been influenced
by Indian music, classical music and some of the world music sounds which are
available nowadays. The basic style of the travelling pipers is still there,
and Martin Nolan can rightly be set alongside Paddy Keenan and Davy Spillane
as a master of fluid piping, but this new recording spreads a much broader canvas
Of fifteen tracks here, only four are well-known traditional material. About
half are Martin's own compositions, which range from stately wedding marches
to stirring reels. He has eclectic taste in names, too: Jingle Pot Jig and The
San Francisco Skylight are two examples, and the latter is one of several catchy
new reels. His waltz The Road to McGann's is particularly fine, as is Air From
France: like his previous album, the slow tunes don't disappoint.
Eclecticism is the rule on this CD. As well as tunes in the Irish and French
idioms, Martin throws in a couple of Asian-influenced tracks and there's even
a new-agey song for good measure. All this brings the running total to a very
acceptable fifty minutes. Whether the styles appeal to you or not, everything
is arranged with taste and played with skill. Martin's mastery of pipes and
whistles is superb, with very few techical slips apparent even on close listening.
A handful of backing musicians give extra depth in all the right places, and
Kevin O'Connor's fiddle does sterling work. Bright Silver, Dark Wood is a first
class recording, perhaps even as good as Martin's previous album, and that's
saying a lot.
Natalie MacMaster "Live"
Label: Greentrax CDTRAX238D 19 tracks, 105
Recently affianced, Canada's Natalie MacMaster isn't short of musical engagements.
Here she's recorded two very different ones: a concert hall gig in Ontario,
and a square dance in her native Cape Breton. For those of you who don't know
Natalie, she's an outstanding young fiddler who can get away with wearing red
trousers on stage: she can play and dance at the same time, and she's able to
mix old and new genres to enhance both.
Disc 1 of this 2CD masterpiece is a stunning concert set which takes the reels,
strathspeys and slow airs of Cape Breton and turns them into modern fiddle showpieces.
The Jacobite strathspey Tullochgorum is the centrepiece of a medley which few
fiddlers could even attempt, yet Natalie pulls it off with apparent ease: double
stopping, dancing bow, ringing strings, the grace of Nathaniel Gow's slow air
Coilsfield House at one extreme, and the power of The Dublin Reel at the other.
Irish tunes feature on at least three other tracks, played with skill and style,
and there are also a couple of mainstream US numbers including Mark O'Connor's
demanding Olympic Reel which finishes this disc. I must also mention track 3,
Torna A Surriento, a Latin medley which steals the show: eat your heart out,
Disc 2 strips the big band down to a trio of fiddle, guitar and piano for the
down home dance set. Natalie's feet are also in evidence, tapping out beat and
counterbeat. All the Cape Breton classic tunes are here: Jerry's Beaver Hat,
The Old King's Strathspey, The Gladstone, and many more. There's also a couple
of the big medleys, ten or a dozen reels set end to end. To my mind, playing
for dancing is the ultimate test of a fiddler: keeping the tunes going without
missing a beat, keeping the tempo steady without losing the lift and swing that
the dancers rely on. Natalie strolls through this test as if she's been doing
it all her life, which is not surprising: she's been doing it all her life.
If you still doubt her ability, listen to the final track which combines three
testpieces: The Mouth of the Tobique, The Night We Had the Goats, and The Gravel
Walk, awesome stuff.
Whether she's fronting a seven-piece show band or leading an acoustic trio,
Natalie MacMaster stamps her authority on the music with a firm bow. Her personality
shines through in the numerous whoops and asides, as well as in her imaginative
variations on traditional tunes. The intensity and passion in her music is astonishing,
yet her fiddling is totally controlled. A hundred minutes of Natalie is just
too good an offer to miss.
Packie Byrne "Donegal & Back"
Label: Veteran VT132CD
Packie Byrne is an important source of material from the folk traditions of
Ulster and beyond. Born in Donegal during the Great War, Packie absorbed more
than his fair share of local music before travel broadened his repertoire even
further. These recordings were made when Packie was in late middle age, and
he still has a remarkably fine singing voice on most of them. He also plays
large and small tin whistles extremely well by the standards of thirty or forty
years ago. Now in his mid eighties, Packie Byrne is a rare example of a traditional
performer who was recorded early enough and well enough for his music to be
Of the 22 tracks here, 16 were previously released on cassette by Veteran. Three
more come from a Topic LP, and three are previously unreleased, making almost
74 minutes in total. The seventeen songs range from mediaeval bawdy ballads
to 20th century parlour pieces, all sung unaccompanied in a strong tuneful baritone.
There are occasional missing verses, and in these days of video nasties and
sophisticated humour the stories may seem tame, but the delivery is spot on.
Whether it's a gentle comic ditty, or a dark tale of murder and incest, Packie
Byrne does the song proud. My personal favourites are Meet An Irishman which
was recently dusted off by Mick Moloney, The Highwayman Outwitted which captures
those Ulster qualities of quick wits and understated humour, and the ballad
McCaffery which has several layers of meaning set to a classic tune.
The five whistle solos encompass but one tune each. Packie plays in a very simple
style, and achieves surprising clarity of tone. Compared with recordings of
Sean Potts or Micho Russell from the same period, this is first class whistling.
The two airs are particularly expressive, and the three faster tunes are all
new to me. As well as the standard Generation model, Packie uses an early low
whistle which I assume is an Overton.
All in all, this is an archive recording of great significance. Its publication
on CD is very welcome, and I'm sure it will be a valuable resource. As entertainment
it has a great deal to offer, and Packie can still teach today's performers
a thing or two. Definitely worth a listen.
Ronan Browne "The Wynd You Know"
Label: Claddagh Records, CC64CD, 14 tracks,
This is a big old-fashioned piping album, full of big old-fashioned tunes. Guest
musicians provide understated accompaniment on four tracks, but the other ten
are just Ronan on pipes and flutes. Half of this recording is given over to
slow airs, some of the most beautiful and demanding tunes for the pipes. The
other half is dance music, well-known and less common tunes, including several
The slow airs alone are worth the price of this CD many times over. The Bright
Lady is a mini masterpiece movingly played in the style of Willie Clancy: it
was a favourite of Leo Rowsome, and this recording shows why. John Doherty's
magical air Paddy's Rambles Through the Park is eerily beautiful on pipes and
fiddle, with a ghostly harmonium on the edge of hearing. Ronan's rendition of
If I Were a Blackbird is disappointing, but his virtuoso treatment of the song
The Green Fields of America is a worthy tribute to Willie Clancy and Seamus
Ennis. Finally, The Lament for the Wild Geese is a six-minute demonstration
of the expressiveness and versatility of the uilleann pipes. This is Ronan Browne
at his best, using chanter and regulators to great effect, not too constrained
by tempo or melody, revealing the hidden notes and tones within the tune.
Ronan's playing is not technically perfect. That's not the point. At times he
appears to be wringing the tunes from a reluctant instrument, but you would
hear equally strained passages in the music of Ennis or Clancy. What this recording
lacks in polish is more than balanced by the raw unspoilt sound of a venerable
tradition. There is a danger that the mistakes and poor taste of previous generations
can be perpetuated by recordings such as this, but I think we have enough technically
brilliant pipers and contemporary influences to make this return to older styles
a welcome addition rather than a backward step.
Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham "Spring the
Whole Summer Long"
Label: Whirlie Records, WHIRLIE CD8, 10 tracks,
Once again, Phil and Aly waltz along the cliff edge of traditional music without
falling into the abyss of easy listening. This recording actually has a bit
more bite than their last one, with some evidence of a return to their Scottish
roots. Don't expect tartan and haggis, though: the Scottish tradition is interpreted
very broadly to include the North American diaspora as well as tunes from its
Irish and Swedish neighbours, and all are sympathetically processed through
Aly's fiddle and Phil's accordion and whistle. There's also some gentle backing
on keyboards and strings, but that's barely noticeable most of the time.
If it's great tunes you want, there's no shortage here. Some will be familiar:
the slip-jig Give Us a Drink of Water and the reel Far From Home have been recorded
many times, and Phil's jig Gingerhog's #2 is almost as well-travelled. Bostonian
Jerry Holland's march James Cameron has quickly become a favourite on the Scottish
scene, and his revealingly titled Boo Baby's Lullaby is among the most beautiful
modern fiddle tunes. Then there's Enviken's Waltz from Sweden, and Phil's slow
air Eleanor of Usan, which both come close to Jerry Holland's benchmark. Four
faster tracks are fitted in between the slow numbers, rounding off with an inspired
set of reels.
No fireworks perhaps, but that's not the point. This is music for listening
to, not dancing to, and for listening carefully to at that. It's full of nifty
little twists and turns, and enlivened by understated humour (they keep the
outrageous stuff for the live act). If you've a musical soul and you're over
thirty, you'll appreciate this CD. If you're under thirty, slow down!
Patrick Street "Street Life"
Label: Green Linnet, GLCD1222, 10 tracks,
Four fine musicians, with over a century of collective experience in groups
such as Planxty, De Dannan, The House Band and The Bothy Band, should be a recipe
for some really exciting music. Unfortunately, it isn't. Not for the first time,
Patrick Street have produced an album of dull and depressing material, and I
wish I knew why.
Street Life opens with a set of well-worn jigs given a lacklustre treatment.
There's no life or imagination in this set, and the tunes aren't even particularly
well played: Boys of the Town is pretty shaky, especially on the box. There's
a little bit of lift on The Frost is All Over, but not enough. Their rendition
of King of the Pipers on the final track makes me want to open Patrick Street
up and change their batteries: the only king it reminds me of is the one in
Sleeping Beauty, nodding off for a hundred year slumber. Reels are similarly
downbeat here: The Old Reel makes no attempt to hide its age, and Drowsy Maggie
is usually a wonderfully punchy and vibrant tune but you can almost hear her
snoring in this resolutely minor version. The closing trio of reels does finally
strike some sparks from the box and fiddle, but it's too little too late for
As for the songs, you never heard such a miserable bunch. "Let my burial place
be Monagea", ends Barna Hill. "Another good union man lies buried", mourns Down
in Matewan. The Irish question is summed up as "eight hundred dreadful years"
in If We Had Built a Wall, a song which was topical a decade ago. The traditional
ballad Green Grows the Laurel closes with the uplifting words "My eyes are like
fountains where the waters do flow": I'm tempted to say they don't write them
like that any more, but they obviously do because the sentiments of Hugh MacDonald's
song The Diamantina Drovere can be paraphrased as "It's been ten long years
... the years have surely gone ... it's been so long ... I won't be back". Cheerful
If by Street Life they mean consumptive down-and-outs, I can see the relevance
of this title. Death in Dark Alleys would be a more appropriate one. Sepulchral
brass and maudlin vocals from Patrick Street's guests are added like the trimmings
at an expensive funeral, and a final bizarre twist is the inclusion of a rather
nice tune called Forget Your Troubles - yeah, right. If you're in the mood for
this album, you might consider spending the money on a really big bottle of
aspirins, or maybe a good old-fashioned razor.
Label: Vertical Records VERTCD 005 10 tracks,
Sunhoney was apparently the brainchild of fiddler Aidan O'Rourke. It was a simple
enough idea: team up with top Scottish singer Alyth McCormack, collect a back
line from the Edinburgh folk fusion scene, write some stuff and start gigging.
It worked, and two years later here's the proof on CD.
In a pretty even mix of songs and instrumentals, the fiddle and voice take turns
to provide a strong lead. Alyth's ethereal tones are perfect for the gently
introspective, slightly surreal lyrics by keyboard technician Fergus MacKenzie
and bassman Quee MacArthur. The tunes, all written by Aidan, are similarly light
and airy, with occasional flashes of fire. The actual melodies can be a little
elusive at times, but this album never strays too far towards the New Age or
Easy Listening shelves. It's crisp and clear, with catchy melodies and evocative
words. Winter's Breath is a captivating song, and Favourite Place reveals more
each time I listen to it.
The Sunhoney sound is rich and varied, particularly on the instrumentals. Aidan
O'Rourke's version of The Wishing Tree is a satisfyingly meaty slip reel, and
The Plague is a cheerful little 7/8 number on a par with the best of Shooglenifty,
Coolfin (remember them?) or the Afro-Celts. These are just my favourites: I'm
sure you'll have your own. Guitarist Kevin MacKenzie and Donald "Drummy" Hay
get a bit carried away at times, but that's perfectly in keeping with the laid-back
style and they never detract from the whole.
Sunhoney produce a very polished product without rubbing away the spirit of
their music. It's still fresh and fun, rising above commercial formulae. This
is a truly impressive CD, one of the best recent attempts to fuse traditional
and mainstream musics: you should try it.
Zoe Conway "Zoe Conway"
Label: Tara Music; No. TARACD4012; 2002; Playing
time: 48.25 min
A musician in possession of far more talent than her age would suggest, Zoe
Conway is a fiddler from Co. Louth, with performances in Riverdance, with the
RTE Concert Orchestra and others of such calibre under her belt, not to mention
the All Ireland Senior Fiddle title of 2001. It was with more than a little
anticipation then that this, her debut album, was met. Given that production
was under the guidance of Mr Riverdance himself, Bill Whelan, this album should
be top-notch stuff. As indeed it is. Zoe certainly does not disappoint. She
is a fine player, with a clean, precise style that still manages to exude warmth
and richness of tone. She absolutely radiates confidence, virtuosity and enthusiasm
on tracks such as "The Pizzicato Waltz/The Hangman's Reel", while "The Fiddler's
Hickey/The Green Cottage/Island Wedding Polka" sees her backed up by a wonderful
ensemble including accordion, bass and cajon. Zoe really performs within this
setting: she is a wonderful ensemble player and you can almost visualise her
letting her hair down and really getting stuck in. She also tries her hand at
singing, with a version of "Taimse Im' Chodladh". Her voice is remarkably pure,
almost childlike in essence, although possibly not to everyone's taste. But
the result is charming, and extremely endearing. A very worthy debut, which
should, without question, prove to be a springboard to greater heights.
Homepage of the artist: www.zoeconway.com, contact to artist:
firstname.lastname@example.org , contact to label:
Wendy Weatherby "A Breath On The Cold Glass"
Label: Lochshore Recordings; No. CDLDL1308; 2002;
Playing time: 41.29 min
This album was quite a revelation to me - full of surprise and interest, something
of an intellectual musical adventure. Just when you think you know what's coming
next, there is another twist or turn. Cellist Wendy Weatherby takes traditional
Scottish tunes and songs to another level, the rich velvet tones of her instrument
adding a new dimension to old sounds, paradoxically turning an innovative venture
into something that becomes natural, almost a standard. The sound of a cello
playing traditional tunes seems almost too regal to be stereotypically traditional,
the tunes becoming baroque in their stateliness, but the result is incredibly
beautiful. See "Miss Norma McIntosh" or "Gloomy Winter" (the traditional tune
made famous by the movie, The Piano) for the perfect demonstration. Highlights
for me included "Coilsfield House", Nathaniel Gow's gorgeous slow air, here
performed with just piano and cello. Another is Weatherby's own "Ballachulish
Tango". There is a great section where the cello assumes the usual bass part
and accordion takes off by itself - truly the stuff of smoky, late-night clubs
and clandestine encounters, beautifully film-noirish.
Homepage of the artist: www.wendyweatherby.co.uk , contact to artist: email@example.com , contact to label: firstname.lastname@example.org
David James "The Lone Man's Path"
Label: Tiompan Alley Music; 2002
It has always been something of an irony that, while many hammered dulcimer
players can at least attempt to play in a traditional Irish style, there are
virtually no traditional Irish musicians who play dulcimer as their primary
instrument. The hammered dulcimer seems to be enjoying something of a revival
in Ireland at the moment, what with the opening year of the very promising Cork
Dulcimer Festival, the first of its kind in the country. A very respectable
line-up of international dulcimer players made it to the festival, including
David James, thrice winner of the All-Ireland title. "The Lone Man's Path" is
his second album, a blend of trad tunes and songs, plus his own compositions.
The way in which the dulcimer fits O'Carolan compositions is telling in James'
affinity towards pieces by the great composer. The stateliness of the tunes
beautifully complement the instrument, whether played in a supporting or leading
role. Look no further than the very elegant air "Bridget Cruise", in which the
dulcimer assumes the leading melodic and accompaniment roles, or "Carolan's
Draught" where the dulcimer's ancestral links with the piano is in evidence.
Clearly an instrument such as this will, arguably, never have the same drive
as other instruments employed in traditional Irish music - the speed, the volume,
the dynamic quality. It will always assume a position such as that of the harp
- an instrument to be rolled out for that really special occasion. But with
someone such as David James at the helm, the dulcimer is absolutely engaging.
Homepage of the artist: www.tiompanalley.com, contact to artist:
email@example.com, contact to
Deirin De "Wound Up"
Label: Fox Music Records; No. LC02704; 2002; Playing time: 50.51
Deirin De is a German-based group specialising in traditional Irish music. Multi-instrumentalist
Thomas Hecking and bouzouki player Tobias Kurig are also members of German group
Shanachie. Dublin's Ann Grealy is the featured vocalist, and sings quite an
unusual mixture of songs, ranging from Dougie MacLean's "Caledonia" to cheesy
pop song "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to Kate Rusby's "I Courted a Sailor". Deirin
De's instrumental tracks are definitely their strongest point, and in the future,
it would probably be best for all involved if they adhered to what they do best.
To put it mildly, the singing is poor, quite unacceptable for songs of such
precedence. The vocal harmonies are grating on the ear, the tuning consistently
questionable, and the interpretation unsubtle. Deirin De really goes hell-for-leather
on the instrumental tracks and each member is clearly well established on their
respective instrument. Unfortunately, the arrangements are not always very inspired.
Take, for example, the very pretty "Buds in Winter" by fellow German band An
Tor. This is a simple waltz, extremely beautiful, but here played without the
requisite sensitivity of chordal or harmonic arrangement. Additionally, it sometimes
seems that they are floundering slightly on the very fast and ornate tunes,
but then always manage to keep it together. Still, it is rather a disappointing
mark to set the standard of an album by.
Homepage of the artist: www.deirinde.de, contact to artist:
firstname.lastname@example.org , contact to label: email@example.com
Maeve Donnelly "Maeve Donnelly"
label; MDCD001; 2002; Playing time: 51.13 min
Strings that sing: Irish fiddler Maeve
Donnelly, best known from Ennis' Moving
Cloud (featuring Kevin Crawford
-> FW#12, FW#21)
is based in Quin, Co. Clare, but her music is rooted in her native Loughrea
(Patsy Touhey, Joe Burke -> FW#17,
Vincent Broderick, Lucy Farr -> FW#1,
Mike Rafferty -> FW#4,
FW#23). Yet it is
not the slow and expressive East Galway style for being expected, related to
neighbouring East Clare (Martin Hayes & Co). Maeve's bowing is full-blooded
and buoyant. There's the occasional excursion into Scottish and Canadian territory,
the descriptive piece "Nóra
Críona" (Wise Nora), a fling and even a clog. Help comes from Geraldine
Cotter (piano), Steve Cooney (guitar -> FW#17,
FW#23), Peadar O'Loughlin
(flute -> FW#6), Dermot
Byrne (button accordion -> FW#2,
Maeve and her siblings Mal (accordion), Declan (fiddle) and Aidan (banjo) recorded
the "Fr. Quinn"-Set together. Not only is the Flax
in Bloom and the hornpipe's Virtuoso, it's female fiddle power
at its best with jigs and reels and everything.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola "An Raicín Álainn"
label; LNC 001; 2002; Playing time: 43.10 min
Oileán Arann, the Aran Islands, three small Karst islands 30 miles off the west
coast of Ireland. Promontory forts, dolmen, crosses, round towers, beehive huts
and churches bear evidence of the colonisation from prehistoric times. A rocky
but fertile place: The Arans have possibly attracted more anthropologists and
linguists than Oceania. Because of their remoteness the islands have preserved
a considerable amount of traditional folklore which has been lost elsewhere,
and to this day it is one of Ireland's last and strongest Irish speaking areas.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola from the smallest
island Inis Oírr (Inisheer, the
eastern island) is raised on the local songs and stories. She exhibits a beautiful
earthy voice, conjuring up images of the the place and the magic spell of the
Irish language. There's the big songs of the sean-nós tradition, as "Úna
Bhán" (much too demanding even to tell the story of Fair Una here), as well
as the humorous "Bean Pháidín" (the narrator curses Páidín's Wife longing to
take her place, maledictions include broken legs and bones) or "Casadh an tSúgáin"
(the obtrusive suitor comes wooing and the mother puts him Twisting A Straw
Rope, as he walks back he finds himself outside the door). But there's also
more unusual suspects, Lasairfhíona's own compositions and her arrangements
of her father Dara Ó Conaola's. Her tribute to her island home is an Irish translation
Inisheer" set to the tune of Thomas Walsh's classic air, titled "Inisheer"
as well. The songs are gently accompanied, e.g. by Máire
Breathnach (fiddle), Mary
Bergin (tin whistle), and Johnny
McDonagh (bodhran). I feel sean-nós is getting sexy again! Or should I say:
Faigheann cois ar siúil rud éigint ach ni fhaigheann cois ar cónai tada.
Iain MacFarlane & Iain MacDonald "The first
Records; RRCD001; 2002
These two Iains are well known faces on the Scottish scene. Besides their involvement
in various other projects, Iain MacFarlane is one of the fiddlers of Blazin
Fiddles, and Iain MacDonald has earnt his fame during his period as piper and
flautist in the Battlefield Band. They have not only in common that they are
both experienced and highly talented musicians, but they also have been born
and brought up in the same part of Scotland, in Moidart on the West Coast of
Scotland, an area full of Gaelic music traditions.
On "The First Harvest", the Iains play mainly traditional material,
mostly from Scotland or Cape Breton. Their playing sounds refreshing and full
of musical passion. Although the music is focused on the duo, they have gathered
some superb musician friends, mostly also hailing from the West Coast, to record
this album - most significant are Ross Martin on guitar and Phil Cunningham
on accordion/piano/cittern; other guests include Ingrid (piano/clarsach) and
Tom (keyboards) Henderson, James MacKintosh (percussion) and Ewan Vernal (Double
Bass). To round up the album, singer Kathleen MacInnes provides two Gaelic waulking
This is one of those traditional albums that comes along as fresh as it can
get. Wonderful music from a highly enjoyable CD that is quite a "must"
for lovers of traditional Scottish music.
Contact to the artists (also for CD purchase): firstname.lastname@example.org,
contact to label: email@example.com
Den Flygande Bokrullen "Tarrschwein"
Label: Arko Records/distribution: Amigo;
ARKOCD005; 2002; Playing time: 46.03 min
This Swedish band plays brass music from Central and Eastern Europe, based on
Klezmer traditions. The band has obviously a good feeling for music from that
region; the music sounds lively and rather authentic. The instruments featured
in the band are accordion/trombone/baritone horn, tuba/piano/tenor horn, cornet/mandolin/tenor
banjo/euphonium, clarinet/alto sax and drums/baritone horn.
The music comes along lively and wild, at times a bit cheeky and shrill. The
band plays own compositions in the Klezmer or Eastern European tradition, as
well as some traditional numbers.
Well played, and it sounds like they are also a great live band. However, the
music becomes a bit too much for me after a while. Maybe it is because I did
not follow their recommendation: "For best performance use a laser grammophone"...
Homepage of the artist: http://www.denflgandebokrullen.nu
More English CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page
2 - Page 3 - Page 4 -
More German CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page
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