FolkWorld Issue 42 07/2010

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Vibhas Kendzia "Light on the Path"
Label: Own Label; 2001
Vibhas Kendzia "Longing"
Label: Own Label; 2008
Vibhas KENDZIA (a.k.a. VIBHAS) is a talented musician from the Frankfurt area in West Germany, where he also got his university degree in classical music with piano and flutes, and also Latin percussion and soprano saxophone. VIBHAS’s travels around the world and his interest in the music from other cultures took him to India, where he learned how to play the Bansuri, the bamboo traverse flute traditional in the East side of the country. His master was the flautist Pundit Hari Prasad Chaurasia. But VIBHAS also went to Arizona (USA), where he has learned the Native American flutes, some really unique woodwinds, with double air chamber and pentatonic scale, whose deep sound became popular some years ago in the USA and abroad, mostly by the works of the Navajo musician Carlos NAKAI. After such accumulated experiences, VIBHAS lives now in Sedona, AZ, where he has become an accomplished composer & performer, developing a very personal style where the haunting sound of the traditional flutes are occasionally supported with a background of smooth Classical & Jazz harmonies and Latin rhythms on the piano, sax or strings. The impressive red rock landscapes of the hills and valleys of the Sedona area (not too far from the south side of the Grand Canyon), and the close contact with the music & culture of the Native American peoples, have become a clear source of inspiration well reflected in VIBHAS’s songs such as: ‘Night in the Canyon’, ‘Call from the Mountains’, ‘Dream Catcher’ or ‘River of Life’. Truly beautiful and relaxing music with some modern Jazz & maybe ‘New Age’ flavours, but wisely fused with the characteristic melodies that belong to the traditions of the mentioned bamboo and cedar flutes.
Pío Fernández

The Kittiwakes "Lofoten Calling"
Label: Midwich Records; 2009
The Essex based trio The Kittiwakes have released their debut "Lofoten Calling", a concept album with eleven self-crafted tracks from Kate Denny (vocals, fiddle) about the beauty of the Lofoten Islands in Arctic Norway. Two more excellent singers and musicians made the CD a creative masterwork of contemporary folk music: Jill Cumberbatch (fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar) and Chris Harrison (accordion, piano).
Accordion and fiddles accompany the beautiful singing on "Maelstrom", a perfect opener for a CD influenced by the folk tradition of the British Isles as well as Norway. Fine guitar playing is added to bring forward "Lynx", a rhythmic folk song with wonderful singing and on the beautiful ballad "Weaver" piano and fiddle caress the hauntingly beautiful voice of Denny. The title song is a brilliant shanty with breathtaking a Capella singing and "Rown, Birch and Cloudberry" an awesome instrumental waltz. My favourite song is "Midsummer, Midwinter". Harrison's tender piano and Denny's soulful singing start with a gorgeous melody, the others join in and the sheer beauty is doubled with stunning fiddle and mandolin soli and the final choir.
Hailing from Essex with striking songs and tunes The Kittiwakes create an exceptional scenery. One of the best new folk bands, hopefully they will come to festivals and gigs in continental Europe.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Mawkin : Causley "The Awkward Recruit"
Navigator Records; 2009
The Essex based instrumental band Mawkin collaborates with singer and accordion player Jim Causley in the project Mawkin : Causley. James Delarre (fiddle), David Delarre (acoustic guitar), Alex Goldsmith (melodeons) and Danny Crump (bass, piano) deliver the thriving sound to Causley's singing on their debut album "The Awkward Recruit".
Causley's beautiful baritone voice and energetic accordion playing together with brilliant rhythm changes and the first class musicianship of the members of Mawkin make "The jolly Broom Man" a breathtaking opener; these young guys are awesome. The terrific pace of "L'homme Armé", sung in French and English, is a perfect showcase for their musical talent. "Drummer Boy for Waterloo" is a sad and dramatic ballad with beautiful guitar and fiddle playing. No matter if they play the Tango (Keeper of the Game), the Blues (Cutty Wren), or traditional Celtic tunes (Tune Set) you nearly can't refrain from daring a few steps. The songs are sophisticated and feature the modern sound of pop music (Greenlander) as well as traditional Folk (Cropper Lads). Finally accordion and fiddle sing together with Causley "I am the Song", another beautiful trad-style song.
Mawkin : Causley have provided an album that will certainly catapult them into top acts on the folk scene. Unfortunately I listened to this CD too late to include it in my best of list 2009 (FW#41), it would figure on top of it.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Wicked Tinkers "Loud"
Label: Thistle Pricks Productions; 2002
Wicked Tinkers "Banger for Breakfast"
Label: Thistle Pricks Productions; 2003
Wicked Tinkers "Whisky Supper"
Label: Thistle Pricks Productions; 2005
Wicked Tinkers "Rant"
Label: Thistle Pricks Productions; 2008
Since 1995 the Wicked Tinkers enjoy the audiences of Highland Games all over the US with their Tribal Celtic sound. They have released six albums, four of them recorded in a studio and two Live CDs. The four piece band from Glendale, California, started off with Aaron Shaw (Scottish Highland and Small Pipes, vocals), Warren Casey (whistle, tribal drums, percussion, vocals), Keith Jones (percussion, vocals) and Wayne Belgar (bronze age Irish horn, didgeridoo, bodhràn, vocals). Sometime between 2003 and 2005 Belgar was replaced by Jay Atwood (bronze age Irish horn, didgeridoo). I received four of their albums to be reviewed.
The 2002 CD includes 15 traditional, original and covered sets and offers hornpipes, jigs, battle tunes, airs, marches, slip jigs, reels, strathspeys, laments as well as the unofficial Scottish anthem "Flower of Scotland". The studio recordings give a good idea of the energetic and intoxicating live performances of the guys. A good sample of their ancient music transformed into the 21st century is the "Wicked Tinkers" set, composed of a tune sent to them by fiddler Michael Mullen, another one by their friend Don Varella, who unfortunately passed by before being able to have a listen to the recording, and two original tunes by piper Shaw. The combination of the Highland Pipes, the didgeridoo, tribal drums and the Irish horn transports you to a time more than 3000 years before and arouses pictures of ceilidhs and battle scenes in ancient times. Guest performances by Tim Martin on bones and Scott Fraser on the Turkish darabuka complete the Line-up.
The two Live CDs were recorded at Highland Games and in Pubs all over the States and feature tracks from their three studio albums. The first one was still recorded with Belgar and offers amongst other tracks a pipe solo performance on "Danny Boy", a mesmerizing "Belly Dance", Shaw's dramatic "Seal Set", a wonderful interpretation of "Amazing grace" on Highland Pipes, a lot of ranting and daffing with the audience as well as the intoxicating "Jam with Men of Worth", featuring lilting Donnie MacDonald on octave mandolin and James Keigher on bodhràn.
Whisky Supper is recorded almost live, which means that they have rerecorded the didgeridoo and Irish horn parts with Tyler Spencer in the studio. Nevertheless you get the Live feeling when you hear the vivid participation of the audience on "Black Bear", Casey's terrific bodhràn solo on "Fiollaigean", Jones' brilliant djembe playing on "Toasty" or Shaw's saucy a Capella singing on "Farmer". My absolute favourite is "Wicked Bough", performed at Long Beach Celtic Music Festival together with their chummy band Golden Bough. Paul Espinoza (octave mandolin, guitar) sings a beautiful duet with Margie Butler (penny whistle, bodhràn) and Kathy Sierra adds her violin playing to the traditional song "Sixteen come Sunday" and two traditional reels complete the set.
On their latest album the Tinkers provide more singing and vocals as well as the sound of the Irish Uilleann Pipes. It starts with the rhythmic traditional "Dean Set" introducing their new didgeridoo player Atwood. "Donald MacGillivray" is a perfect showcase for Shaw's brilliant singing and Michael Mullen's fine fiddling. Bodhràn, snares, the floor tom, whistle, didgeridoo and Irish horn create a fantastic groove and make this set my favourite. Michael MacFarlane adds his singing to Shaw's lead vocals on the hypnotic "MacFarlane's Lantern", another highlight on the CD. Besides traditional tracks and cover versions we can hear original Shaw tunes like the terrific "Small Pipe Set" spiced with Shaw's intoxicating trumps (jaw's harp) playing. The final set "Shenavallie Farm" stands out with Atwood's fascinating didgeridoo playing and Lesa MacEwan's beautiful harmonic singing.
The Wicked Tinkers are the American way of German "Mittelalterrock". I like their outstanding and fascinating sound.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Chumbawamba "ABCDEFG"
Westpark Music; 2010
Under the Label "Folk against Fascism" the English five piece vocal ensemble Chumbawamba consisting of founding member Boff Whalley (vocals, guitar), Neil Ferguson (bass), Lou Watts (vocals, keyboard), Jude Abbot (vocals, trumpet) and Phil Moody (accordion) released their 17th album "ABCDEFG" with 16 self-crafted songs and one song composed and performed together with the No Masters Co-operativists (melodeons, saxophones, vocals, bells, assorted kitchen sinks).
They start off with the hauntingly beautiful "Introduction", a perfect showcase for their brilliant solo and choir singing accompanied by tender guitar playing. There are some sparkling guest appearances as well. Belinda O'Hooley adds her virtuoso piano playing to the ballad "Pickle". "Wagner at the Opera" deals with a concentration camp survivor swinging a rattle to disturb the premiere of an opera written by the Nazi's favourite composer in Israel; the song stands out with breathtaking a Capella singing. Fascism can also hide behind other dogmas like Stalin's or the communist state's ideology. "The Devil's Interval" is a rhythmic folk song with awe-inspiring playing together of Jon Boden on fiddle and Ray "Chopper" Cooper on cello and "Hammer, Stirrup and Anvil" a song with a classical touch and the Whingate String Ensemble playing a gorgeous air. The British National Party reclaimed the unique right of British folk music for their fascistic aims. Together with the No Masters Co-operativists Chumbawamba ridicule the British neo-fascists on the classic shanty "Dance Idiot dance". Other contemporary problems are covered on the cool and jazzy song "Torturing James Hetfield" (Metallica music being used as a torturing method in Guantanamo) or on the sensitive "Missed" (isolation of the I-pod generation). Cello and strings embellish the lovely singing on "Underground" which tells the story of a teenager listening secretly to a transistor radio under his pillow and a Capella singing in march rhythm reminds us of songs sung by the soldiers going to fight in the first World War. And last but not least The Charlie Cake Marching Brass Band and Jo Freya on saxophone deliver a stunning performance on "Ratatatay", an intoxicating pop song.
Chumbawamba have recorded an album full of wonderful songs, reaching from ballads and folk songs to Pop and Jazz. First class musicians and superb singers got together to make a statement against the small-mindedness and cruelty of fascistic ideas and politics, the run for fame and money in our modern society and the successional isolation of the people. And their receipt for a better life is song and music.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Nuala Kennedy "Tune in"
Compass Records; 2010
Irish Folk singer, composer and flute player Nuala Kennedy is a brand name in her adopted homeland, Scotland's Folk scene. Having worked live as well as on different albums with some of the best musicians and groups, she released her second solo CD "Tune in" with ten tracks, original songs and tunes and five traditional songs.
Tuned in within a glimpse of an eye (Nuala makes reference to Timothy O'Leary's understanding of the word) it starts off with two original tunes, "Footsteps/Julian and Iwona's". The guitar driven playing together of Alasdair White on fiddle and Nuala on flute is absolutely gorgeous. Nuala's beautiful singing on her love song "All of these Days" is accompanied by guitar and Ryan Quigley's fine trumpet playing and she sings the romantic traditional Irish song "My true Love" in English with Brian Kellock on piano, Oliver Schroer on strings and Lea Kirstein on cello. My absolute favourite is the traditional "The Waves of the silvery Tide". Guest singer Bonnie Prince Billy from Kentucky sings a beautiful duet with Nuala, the pace accelerates with Julian Sutton on accordion, Mario Caribé on double bass, Mike Bryan on guitar, Donald Hay on percussion and then comes the breathtaking sound of Nuala's whistle, supported by Iian MacLeod's mandolin and White's fiddle and the soft ballad turns into an intoxicating folk song. Nuala sings the traditional Donegal song, "Thíos cois na trá" (down by the strand) almost a Capella, Nicolas Boulerice playing hurdy gurdy and Nuala replacing her voice at the end with the b flat flute. The final instrumental tunes "Five Mile Town/Cider Street/The New Yorker", two self-crafted and the middle one by Iian MacLeod, are brought forward by a ten piece line up including whistles, flutes, trumpet and flugelhorn as well as guitar, mandolin, bass, fiddle, percussion, piano and accordion. The epic journey starts as a tender air and with rousing rhythm ends with a groovy reel.
Nuala Kennedy is a brilliant flute and whistle player with a hauntingly beautiful voice and she composes terrific tunes and lovely songs. The musicians are first class and the arrangements extraordinary. Have a listen to her modern and creative folk music.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Allan Yn Y Fan "Lle Arall / Another Place"
Label: Steam Pie Records; 2010
Renowned Welsh folk band Allan Yn Y Fan and leading Welsh Celtic harpist Delyth Jenkins have co-produced a five track EP with traditional songs and tunes as well as the hauntingly beautiful title track, a wonderful air composed by Kate Strudwick (vocals, flute, recorders) that literally transports you to another place. Allan Yn Y Fan also include lead singer and fiddler Meriel Field, Linda Simmonds (vocals, mandolin, bodhràn), Chris Jones (accordion, flute, whistles) and Geoff Cripps (guitar, bass).
Field sings the mesmerizing traditional ballad "Mil Harddach Wyt" to the sensitive harp playing of Jenkins before the others join in. Following up a set of rhythmic choir singing (Hen Ferchetan) and an intoxicating tune (Coleg Y Brifysgol Abertawe), brought forward with passion and virtuosity. Jenkins' solo performance on the amazing instrumental track "Llwytgoed/Owen's Jig/Bedd Y Morwr" is awesome. Last but not least Jenkins adds her superb harp playing to another for me unpronounceable dance set "Mwmpwy Portheinon/Breuddwyd y Wrach/Pibddawns Owen Huw".
An unfortunately short but striking sample of Welsh folk music. Brilliant musicians and fine singers found together to offer a taste of their outstanding music.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Wendy Weatherby "A Shirt of Silk or Snow"
Fellside Recordings; 2010
Wendy Weatherby is a talented singer, a brilliant cellist and an experienced stage performer in different theatres. She has worked with some of the finest Scottish musicians and published five albums as a solo artist. On her latest CD “A shirt of silk or snow” Weatherby recorded five traditional songs, four original tracks as well as four historical songs (Robert Burns, William Motherwell, Robert Tannahill) and a cover version. She was joined by Stevie Lawrence (bouzouki, guitar, whistle, percussion), James Ross (acoustic piano), Pete Clark (fiddle, viola), Bruce Adams (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Linda Adams (guitar, banjo, concertina, vocals).
It starts off with the traditional "Helen O'Kirkconnel", here performed as a beautiful piano ballad with Weatherby's wonderful singing. Burns wrote "Willie Wastle" and Weatherby interprets it solo with breathtaking cello accompaniment. The banjo and guitar driven traditional song "The Gardener" stands out with the two hauntingly beautiful voices and Weatherby's instrumental set "Paddy Parish/Alick's Reel/Jim Trease's" is a perfect showcase for the brilliant musicians. Bodhràn and fiddle set the pace, bouzouki and cello join in and create an awesome sound, somewhere between intoxicating dance tune and classic elegance. Singer/songwriter David Scott wrote the beautiful words for the sad Weatherby song "Yet shall you live" and she sings them with much devotion accompanied only by the soft tones of the piano before viola and cello add their tender playing. Weatherby's cello playing on "Tam's Swagger/Time or Tide/Witches' Dance", another of her great compositions, is awe-inspiring.
Weatherby's reputation as one of Scotland's best musicians and singers will be confirmed by this outstanding CD. The line-up is excellent and the arrangements are perfect.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

The Cottars "Feast"
Rounder Records; 2010
Cape Breton based The Cottars are composed by founding members Fiona (vocals, tin whistle, piano, keyboard pad, bodhràn) and Ciaràn (vocals, piano, guitar, bouzouki, bodhràn, accordion) Mac Gillivray, Bruce Timmins (vocals, guitars, dobro, classic 5-string) and Claire Petit (vocals, fiddle, viola). With some help of Jamie Gatti (upright & electric bass), Shane Timmins (electric bass), Sheppy (percussions) and a bunch of great singers, who join in the final farewell, they recorded twelve tracks, original, traditional as well as covered.
The cover versions include Peter Knight's (Steeleye Span) rhythmic folk song "Seagull", Gordon Lightfoot's tender piano ballad "Your Love's Return", Glenn Yarbrough's romantic guitar ballad "Leave tomorrow till it comes" and last but not least a brilliant version of Mark Knopfler's (Dire Straits) "Fare thee well". The song starts with Fiona's passionate and lyrical singing accompanied by simple guitar playing before the pace accelerates with Claire's gifted fiddle playing bluesy guitar sequences and great choir singing which leads to Claire's beautiful interlude "The purple Wave"; this Celtic Bluegrass is definitely my favourite song.
They recorded three instrumental tracks: the original "Overture" which appears regularly woven into other tracks, three beautiful traditional guitar tunes (The Munster Suite) brought forward with much skill and three intoxicating fiddle tunes (The Contradiction Set) that showcase perfectly their musical skills. Fiona's clear and crystal voice dominates her self-crafted piano ballad "On a Pier" as well as her beautiful love song "Hymn for N". The Cottars also introduce some excellent traditional songs. "Young Munro", an old Scottish song transplanted to Cape Breton, stands out with perfectly harmonious backing vocals by Fiona and Ciaràn and Claire's amazing lead vocals and fiddling. "The 23rd of June" is a rhythmic Irish song featuring awesome Choir singing accompanied by bodhràn and lilting and with "Oidhche Mbath Leibh", a Gaelic farewell, the four Cottars and their friends and guest singers say "Goodnight to you".
The Cottar's fourth album is an extraordinary opus and a perfect showcase for their brilliant musicianship and their hauntingly beautiful voices. Still pretty young these guys have developed impressing musical competences.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

The Askew Sisters "Through Lonesome Woods"
WildGoose Studios; 2010
The two classical trained siblings Hazel (lead vocals, melodeon) and Emily (violin, backing vocals) Askew form the folk duo The Askew Sisters. For their second recording they recorded eleven traditional tracks, eight songs as well as three instrumental sets.
The CD starts with the dramatic title track, a beautiful song and perfect showcase for Hazel's angelic voice, and the soft Morris tune "Saturday Night". The following dance tunes accelerate the pace and stand out with brilliant playing on both, violin and melodeon. One of the highlights is "The Bonny Bows of London Town" with Hazel's soulful and rhythmic singing and Emily's wonderful violin playing and backing vocals. But there're also an intoxicating hornpipe set, the superb epic ballad "Lord Bateman" or the short a capella song "Jack the Jolly Tar". The latter stands out with breathtaking duet singing of the two siblings.
No matter if The Askew Sisters play their up-beat dance tunes, tender ballads or rhythmic songs, there's always a touch of chamber music to their arrangements. The sheer beauty of the two voices and the excellent playing make the album an outstanding work of British traditional music.
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Lúnasa "Lá Nua"
Label: Lúnasa Records; 2010
Lúnasa is one of Ireland's most reputable instrumental bands and four years after "Sé" they recorded their new studio album "Lá Nua" (new day). Kevin Crawford (flutes, whistles), Trevor Hutchinson (double bass), Paul Meehan (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin), Seán Smyth (fiddle, low whistle) and Cillian Vallely (uilleann pipes, low whistles) recorded ten sets with original, covered and traditional tracks.
The five brilliant musicians start the musical journey with Crawford's "The new Day March" and they lead us through traditional and contemporary tunes from Brittany, Ireland and Galicia and by the way they play some more stunning original tunes from Crawford and Vallely. The music of Lúnasa stands out with breathtaking rhythms created by Hutchinson's driving bass and Meehan's terrific guitar playing as well as with inspired whistle, flute, pipes and fiddle solos. Máire Breatnach joins the guys on fiddle and viola when they play "Tro Breizh", a set with three beautiful Breton tunes, and on "Island Lake", an awesome original Crawford set. Vallely adds the three track set "Doc Holliday's", a perfect showcase for his virtuoso piping, Smyth's outstanding fiddling and Crawford's excellent whistle playing and Staffan Astner plays electric guitar on the wonderful traditional set "Unapproved Road". The loop closes with Crawford's "The Shore House Reel" featuring Gerry O'Beirne on ukulele and steel guitar.
"Lá Nua" is another masterwork of Irish/Celtic folk music brought forward with traditional instruments by some of the best contemporary musicians in the folk scene. They go further than most folk musicians and cross the border to jazz and chamber music, have a listen!
Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup

Lúnasa "Lá Nua"
Label: Lúnasa Records; LRCD001; 2010; 10 tracks, 47 min
I haven't heard Lúnasa so frolicsome in a long while. Lá Nua is a breath of fresh air, even by these guys' standards. On album number seven now, you might have expected there to be signs of fatigue: but no! Quite the opposite: Kevin Crawford's New Day March opens a set which takes me back to Sean Smyth's 1993 Blue Fiddle recording, brilliant and boisterous. Doc Holliday's is another playful medley, three tunes by Cillian Vallely including the three-stroke reel Timmy's Place and the eponymous almost-slide. The pumping Snowball jigs bring us to a real Jekyll & Hyde selection, a gentle Marche Processional from Pontevedra (where it's all too easy to step off the bus between Santiago and Vigo), followed by a virile polka and an absolute mosnter of a muñeira. Lá Nua ends on a big set of reels: Inverness County from Canada, The Beauty Spot from the heart of the Irish tradition, and another of Kevin Crawford's which releases the musical floodgates.
I'm assuming you all know the Lúnasa line-up, but there has been a recent change. Donagh Hennessy has vacated the guitarist's chair for the formidable Paul Meehan. Maybe that's shaken up the mix a bit, but the guitar itself is as steady and subtle as ever. The rest of the group are playing with more abandon: Kevin's flute seems freer, unfettereed, and Sean's fiddle is back to its boyish brashness. Even Trevor Hutchinson's bass is more prominent than usual, which I find very positive. There are some calmer moments, twin whistles on the air Raven's Rock and solo flute on Tune for Dad, but most of Lá Nua is lively enough. P-Celtic harmonies on Tro Breizh, Balkan twists on The Connacht Heifers, and a couple of Scottish reels ending with Allan MacDonald's Tatties and Herring: all serve to situate Lúnasa at the centre of European acoustic music. Even so, it only takes a touch of Cillian's pipes to remind us that their roots are firmly anchored in Irish peat. Pure instrumental genius, of course: another marvellous CD from a quintet who must now be beyond supergroup status. They even have their own record label!
Alex Monaghan

Jim Guttmann "Bessarabian Breakdown"
Label: Kleztone Records; 002; 11 tracks; 56 min; 2010
About half of this CD is straightforward Klezmer music, expertly played, with all the excitement and emotion you'd expect: Strident trumpet solos, tearful clarinet soliloquies, the energy and drama of European Jewish music is here in virtuoso style. Philadelphia Sher is a swaggering march full of fun and laughter. Doyne, Hora, Sirba is a medley of traditional melodies featuring fabulous fiddling from Mimi Robson, with accordion adding a Teutonic touch. The set entitled B Freylekhs is another great selection of traditional tunes, this time on clarinet. In fact, almost all the material here is traditional. A crazy jazzed-up version of Beregovski 90 strays into the contemporary, but it's still a highlight for me, as is the more traditional Sadegurer Chusidl.
The other half of Bessarabian Breakdown is a mixture of light jazz, Latin and North African influences (hence the title).Jim Guttmann is a bass player, a member of the upright society, and his playing shows through on sparser tracks such as And the Angels Sing or the title tune. The final track is an impressive bass solo, requiring good hi-fi to appreciate. There's plenty to enjoy throughout this album if you have any leaning towards jazz. I could get picky about intrusive electric guitar, or long sections of drum and bass, but hey, it's good-time music, what's not to like? Plus there are no vocals on this recording, unusual for Klezmer. There are also some outstanding pieces I haven't heard before. My personal favourite, and my children's, is the wonderfully open version of Cuando El Rey Nimrod with its Moorish percussion and strings. Plenty of good stuff!
Alex Monaghan

Breabach "The Desperate Battle of the Birds"
Label: Own Label; BRE001CD; 11 tracks, 52 min; 2010
A second CD from this Scottish quartet, and the first four tracks are full of promise. Powerful piping on the opening medley, big tunes by Iain MacDonald and Gordon Duncan, culminates in a breathtaking change into Vig the Jig. Breabach's composing skills are on show with Calum MacCrimmon's fetching Shetland Turtle and Patsy Reid's reel Baby Broon's. The first of four songs is Greenfields, a compelling love story skilfully delivered by Ewan Robertson. More excellent piping from Calum on RS MacDonald's modern classic Last Tango in Harris, then a step up to Duncan the Gauger and the traditional title tune: this is top quality stuff.
All the instrumental tracks hit the spot, with Donal Brown jining Calum to provide double pipes versions of Captain Campbell and Good Drying amongst other highlights. Calum takes The Waterhorse's Lament as a solo, an unusual choice. The Scott Drive set features Calum and Donal playing their own impressive compositions on whistle and flute. One minor niggle carries over from Breabach's first album: the flute of Donal Brown is still a midge's whisker off the pace at times, and unfortunately his talent for slow airs goes largely unexploited here. That said, the combination of the woodwind with Patsy's fiddle is still outstanding, and Ewan does sterling work on guitar behind the tunes.
A more serious problem for me is the decision to give Patsy Reid two songs: Patsy is a fantastic fiddler, but her voice struggles with the range of The Morning Lies Heavy and is no match for Rescue Me at all. There's no need for two singers and four songs on this recording. Ewan makes a reasonable job of his namesake's song Shoals of Herring, but Greenfields is the only strong vocal track here. Breabach definitely miss a trick on the instrumental breaks in all these songs - only one out of the four really takes off, and I can't help feeling that Mr Brown's flute should have exploited these opportunities, or even replaced them with a flute slow air. However, I'm inclined to forgive a lot when the double pipes and fiddle cut loose on Allan MacDonald's reel The Plagiarist for a final dose of full-on Scottish music. This CD is well worth hearing for the instrumentals alone, and I hope Breabach play to their strengths in future.
Alex Monaghan

Tony DeMarco "The Sligo Indians"
Label: Smithsonian Folkways; SFWCD 40545; 15 tracks; 53 min; 2008
How do you put thirty years of music on one CD? Fifteen tracks is a step in the right direction. A 32-page booklet also helps, with contributions from Mick Moloney and Kevin Burke. But it's the music itself which really counts. When Smithsonian decided to record and document the music of Tony DeMarco, it wasn't only because he was an influential player who had hardly been recorded before: it was also because of the vibrancy and power of his music. Tony has spent most of the last thirty years entertaining audiences with his New York Sligo fiddling, and still performs regularly at several venues in New York. His music is a living thing, as well as being a window onto the past and a source of new inspiration for today's players.
Paddy on the Turnpike, The Mullingar Races, The Boys of the Hilltop, The Steampacket: Tony DeMarco's music is the music of Coleman, Morrison, McGreevy, Reynolds, McGann, Wynne, and many other great Sligo fiddlers. It was also shaped by Paddy and Johnny Cronin, emigrant Kerry fiddlers, as well as by American old-time music. Minnie Dempsey's Polka, written by Tony for his maternal grandmother, captures the Munster style, and the title track of this recording is straight out of the Appalachian backwoods, but the core of Tony's repertoire is the Sligo classics, played in the classic Sligo style. Not that Tony doesn't bring anything new to the music: as well as his own compositions, he has unusual versions of The Monaghan Jig, The Old Dudeen and others, some inspired by Coleman's recordings. There are three lovely slow airs on this recording too, two well-known traditional pieces - one with striking accompaniment on uilleann pipes - and Andy McGann's gorgeous tune Rosemary which ends the CD. As if this wasn't enough, there's even a song from Seamie O'Dowd to showcase Tony's back-up fiddling.
Tony is joined here by pipers, fluters, other fiddlers, and a range of accompanists. Peter Horan, Seamus Tansey, Kevin Burke and Jerry O'Sullivan all appear on duet tracks. Charlie Lennon provides piano accompaniment in several places, and the increasingly popular Natalie Haas backs Tony on cello for two slow airs. This is an indication of the high regard in which Tony DeMarco is held by Irish musicians worldwide. Tony also plays the baritone fiddle - a viola, I assume - to add harmonies on a few tracks. The Sligo Indians is full of variety, an entertaining and eye-opening recording of one of Irish music's vital living links between past generations New York Sligo fiddlers and the players of today. Now Tony DeMarco's music will be heard more widely, and that's surely a great thing.
Alex Monaghan

Gannon, Smith & Blake "The Ewe with the Crooked Horn"
Label: Own Label; JCB01; 16 tracks; 51 min; 2010
American born and bred, now living in Ireland, Colm Gannon and Jesse Smith were reared on the Irish music of Boston and Chicago but they also bring the wider musical awareness of the modern generation to bear on this CD. Not that there's any dilution or compromise of the pure drop here: this is old style music, played by musicians who are familiar with modern artists from Moving Hearts to Martin Hayes, and who still stick with the Irish American classics of a century ago, adding a contemporary touch here and there. Colm's button box and Jesse's fiddle are backed by John Blake on guitar and piano: John learnt his music in the broad church of the 1980s London scene, and can turn his hand to most accompaniment styles, as well as firing up the old flute for a few tunes.
The sleeve notes read like a who's who of Irish music. Give us Another is credited to John McFadden, My Former Wife to piper Bernard Delaney, and many tunes were learnt from the almost holy trinity of Coleman, Morrison and Killoran who recorded in America in the early twentieth century. Whilst this collection concentrates on reels and jigs, there is a set of sweetly turned hornpipes including the title tune, and two track of flings: The Old Stack of Wheat, Johnny Will You Marry Me, and The Four Courts which comes from Frank Quinn's eccentric version. As Tommy Keane puts it, "the myriad of sources quoted by them for the music they have presented on this recording indicates a common and original journey of searching, listening and learning" - in other words, Colm and Jesse have certainly done their homework!
Speed the Plough, The Connemara Stockings, Drimroe Cross, The Boy on the Hilltop, Dunboyne Straw Plaiters, The Killavil Reel: old recordings are reawakened on this CD, some from long deep slumbers. The only two recent compositions here are Burnt Cabbage and Richard Dwyer's Jig, both with an old-fashioned dark side to their minor melodies. Apart from one or two solos, box and fiddle duet throughout and at times their tightness and empathy is outstanding. The melody constantly demands your attention, and its raw intensity can be quite overpowering, John Blake's accompaniment always keeps a respectful distance and concentrates on enhancing the tunes, perfectly fulfilling its side of the Irish musical bargain. On this evidence, old style Irish music is alive and well on both shores of the Atlantic, at least in the hands of Gannon and Smith.
Alex Monaghan

Julie Fowlis "Uam"
Label: Shoeshine Records; SPIT038; 13 tracks; 50 min; 2009
A third solo album, and another delicious feast of Gaelic music: Uam includes twelve vocal tracks, and several touches of Julie Fowlis' excellnt whistle-playing. It's the songs people will be most interested in, I'm sure, but personally I think the tunes complement the singing beautifully and make this a much more rounded CD. In fact, another couple of instrumental tracks wouldn't have gone amiss, miss! The change out of Nellie Garvey's Favourite into a lovely lyrical jig is sublime, and Julie's own air The First Step is quite enchanting. The Trip to Galway and The Cat and Dog Set throw some outstanding tunes behind traditional songs, and Skye piper Allan MacDonald duets with Julie on the penultiimate song A Mhic Dhùghaill ic Ruairidh for a final instrumental flourish.
The bulk of this recording is solo Gaelic song, eight tracks of Julie's gorgeous voice with a range of accompaniments. Bothan Àirigh am Bràigh Raithneach is expressively delivered over a rich piano, oboe and string arrangement. At the other end of the spectrum, Julie sings Hò Bha Mí unaccompanied with three-part vocal harmonies on the chorus, as pure and beautiful as the snow on Ben Mor. Her Uist inheritance is often tempered with a more cosmopolitan smoothness and attack, not unlike the Mackenzie sisters or perhaps Mary Jane Lamond. In two duets with Lewis singer Mary Smith, Julie's lighter voice cuts through like a laser. Hé Gràdh, Hó Gràdh in particular is a powerful combination of these two wonderful singers, again hauntingly arranged. There's also a version of The Wind and Rain, translated into Gaelic and sung with Eddi Reader, more an indication of the musical stature of this young Hebridean singer. Julie Fowlis has plenty of reasons to hold her head high on Uam.
Alex Monaghan

Slide "Beo"
Label: Own Label; SDE004; 10 tracks; 51 min; 2010
Recorded live on tour in Ireland, this CD plays to the strengths which Slide have demonstrated in their three studio albums. Mighty Munster music in the shape of McHugh's Single Jig is followed by the first of several Donegal touches with The Low Highland. Flowing flute and fiddle alternate with the percussive power of Aogán Lynch's concertina. A couple of cracking slides complete the opening track. Most of Beo is instrumental, most of that being traditional dance music with a smattering of new compositions. Aogán's polka The Humours of Ballycullen sits well with Padraig O'Keeffe's Slide and the Scots classic Cutting Bracken: no reference to fiddler Daire Bracken, I trust, whose graceful reel The Watchmaker's Cloth joins tunes by Vincent Broderick and Dermie Diamond in the climactic set here.
Slide have taken the wise step of recruiting Dave Curley to sing the three songs on this recording. Dave's strong pleasant voice makes a good job of Paul Brady's Follow On, the traditional Maid of Culmore, and Daire's See Thru Blue with intriguing lyrics and a fine melody. Dave's guitar complements Mick Broderick's bouzouki, which is a key part of the Slide sound in songs and tunes alike, whether delicately backing Gordon Gunn's sublime Gillian's Waltz or pumping energy into Paddy Taylor's Reel. The reels on this CD are plentiful and varied, with a seven-minute medley of solos and ensemble playing culminating in a fabulous rendition of Fred Finn's. Other highlights include Ol' Man Lynch, an old-timey selection, and a sparkling flute foray on The Highland Man from Eamonn De Barra. Eamonn's galvanising performances are too often in the background here, but that's pretty much my only criticism of Beo. This is an exceptionally fine live album from a great wee band, and I'd recommend it to anyone.
Alex Monaghan

Xarnege "Ixo-Sho"
Label: Pyrene; PYR003KD; 11 tracks; 50 min; 2009
Basque music. Unusual names, unfamilar instruments, unforgettable arrangements. Xarnege mix songs and tunes, ranging from the almost mediaeval Lo Peu de la Mia Aimada to the thoroughly modern Sokadantza. The sleeve notes are bilingual - in Basque and Occitan, I think - with one final paragraph in English, so I'm struggling to read them based on a knowledge of French and Spanish. The album title means "Hush! Listen!" - highly appropriate, as these are sounds which rarely reach our ears through the hubbub of more mainstream music. Roughly half the tracks here involve vocals, and in the manner of French and Spanish traditions may be married to other melodies or intricate instrumental arrangements.
Xarnege have three strong singers, two male and one female. There's a troubador-style love song, a humorous ditty about the priest's donkey which gives birth to twins, another comic song about an overloaded donkey. Three more serious songs follow: an angry denouncement of the treatment of peasants by the nobility, the lament of a young mother abandoned with her five children, and lastly a short blessing. All are expressively sung and powerfully arranged, with simple but striking melodies. On the instrumental side, Xarnege uses three very different sounds. The hurdy-gurdy, common in France and Northern Spain, combines sweetness with a rough rustic edge: it's played brilliantly here. The high-pitched Basque whistle, played one-handed in combination with a large coffin-shaped zither held at shoulder height, provides a piercing and rhythmic sound: find Xarnege on YouTube, and you'll see what I mean. The final weapon in this band's arsenal is the Basque bagpipe, very similar to Southern French pipes, which harmonises beautifully with the hurdy-gurdy, particularly as at least two of the five members of Xarnege are pipers. A related sound comes from the Alboka, a type of clarinet made from animal horns.
The opening Belats Xarmanta is one of several darkly threatening pieces on Ixo-Sho. It has the raw savagery found in some French and Scandinavian music. Los Banakos deu Passaire starts more gently, but comes back to this dark vein in the second half: this is one of my favourite tracks, a combination of hurdy-gurdy, whistles and pipes. Marin Congo is a complete contrast, a song air played on twin whistles and zithers, with one of Xarnege's electronic extravanagzas to finish. Adarbakan is a fairly standard French-style waltz, a nice hurdy-gurdy showpiece. There are more electroic effects as we near the end of this recording, adding atmosphere to Trabuko and Passaia. The final track is suitably climactic, building from whistles and violin over a bass drone, adding electric keys and hurdy-gurdy, then pipes and percussion for a rousing finish. Full of surprises, familiar yet aien, Xarnege's music is certainly a new experience for me and I feel enriched by it: I hope you'l feel the same.
Alex Monaghan

Fidil "3"
Label: Own label; FID002CD; 13 tracks; 45 min; 2009
The Donegal duo of Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and Aidan O'Donnell has become a fiddle trio with the addition of Damien McGeehan, which is why album number two is called 3. How Irish is that? Unashamed Donegal character is a large part of the charm of this music - eccentric phrasing from the great John Doherty, local nicknames for tunes associated with players such as Hudí Gallagher or Francie Dearg Ó Beirne, and the very idea of three-part impromptu fiddle harmonies as a manifestation of traditional music. In fact, the fiddling here is so sweet and assured that you hardly notice the absence of other instruments, and the Donegal tradition has many ways of varying the sound of the fiddle: octave harmonies, drones, double stopping, percussive bowing, everything short of sfortzando.
There's variety in the tunes here too. Plenty of Donegal reels, of course, but also the germans, highlands and airs adopted from other traditions by Donegal fiddlers. Hector the Hero, written by Scott Skinner to mark the death of Ross-shire soldier Hector MacDonald, was popularised by Tommy Peoples and The Bothy Band among others. Skinner's composition Le Messe is less often heard, and the triple violin version here is a rare treat. A set of four highlands includes some popular Scottish tunes, back to front of course, and the fine Bluestack Highland. There are hornpipes and marches too, jigs and waltzes, and even a new take on the descriptive Fox Hunt. In this version it's a hare they're after, and the three fiddles run her down in fine style, but she takes longer to die than many a Hollywood heroine! Be that as it may, the quality on this recording lasts right to the end with a great set of reels culminating in Dinkie's followed by the stately pairing of McConnell's Barndance and Francie Mooney's German. Grand old music well played: may tell you more, but this CD should be widely distributed.
Alex Monaghan

Jeremy Kittel "Chasing Sparks"
Compass Records; 7 4531 2; 11 tracks; 65 min; 2010
See also the German
review in this issue
If you're one of those people who find sleeve notes an irritation, never read them, can't get them back into the case, and frequently throw them away, then this album is perfect for you. Over an hour of fiddle music, from the devilish to the divine, played by a consummate musician whose style and repertoire sit somewhere between Nashville and Nairn. That's Nairn, Scotland. Track 1 is a modern showpiece with clever touches around some funky driving reels, could be Alasdair Fraser holding the bow. Track 2 is more akin to the languid jigs of Clare, followed by a modern offbeat rhythm on twin fiddles and cello. Track 3 is a poignant air, solo fiddle then some slightly overpowering keyboards, with a beautiful finish. Track 4 is back to reels, ish, fiery and frantic, full of sound and fury. You know who you're listening to, and he's better than good: it doesn't really matter what the tunes are.
If, like me, you do want to know what the tunes are, who wrote them, where they came from, and maybe even why thery're on this CD, then you'll have to read the small print. You'll have to find it first. Even then, it doesn't tell you much. Except maybe that Jeremy Kittel just plays stuff, and writes stuff, without too much navel-gazing. Which is fine, and let me stress again that he is a brilliant and exciting young fiddler.What he plays is actually a lot of good old-fashioned celtic music. That languid Clare jig was The Rolling Waves. Tola Custy's catchy Up Downey is at the core of the opening medley. Mr Kittel makes a magical job of The May Morning Dew as a solo slow air. The massive Bear Island Reel growls and dances in his hands, alongside compositions by Hanneke Cassel and Rodney Miller. Jeremy is joined by some Nashville names I recognise - Edgar Mayer, Chris Thile and Mike Marshall in particular - as well as the charming Haas sisters Natalie and Brittany on cello and fiddle. Think Alasdair Fraser again. Another aspect of this recording which really impressed me was the number and quality of slower tracks: the slightly alternative Woods by guitarist Kyle Sanna, the virtuoso final Napkin Tune, and Jeremy's own Remember Blake. More than half the material here is credited to Kittel, and there isn't a weak link in the chain. It's fresh, it's fun, and it's technically excellent. Chasing Sparks? Jeremy Kittel kicks up enough of his own. Very highly recommended.
Alex Monaghan

Kasír "Chilling on a Sunday"
GO Folk; GO0810; 11 tracks; 42 min; 2010
See also the German
review in this issue
So this bodhrán player Oisin Walsh lands up in Denmark, meets a couple of musicians, and they form a band. An Irish band, with three multi-iinstrumentalists. Rune Cygan Barslund from County Denmark plays accordion and whistles. Aske Fuglsang Ruhe, also from County Denmark, plays guitar and mandolin, and sings two of his own songs here. Oisin fronts up the band on bodhrán and shaker. The result is astonishingly good. Rune leads most of the instrumental sets, alternating box and whistle. His box style is crisp and punchy, a cross between Sharon Shannon and the more aggressive contemporary Scottish players, and he's up to the mark in both Irish and Scottish idioms. Kicking off with reels by Aidan O'Rourke and Kevin Henderson, the accordion makes its next appearance on a pair of Rune tunes, before a strong finish including jigs by Padraig Rynne and Oisin MacAuley and a final pair of Aske compositions with Latin American influences. In between are some wonderful whistle tracks, from the flying fingers of The Funky Spider to the graceful slow air The Winter Sky.
For me, Rune is clearly the star of the show here, but don't underestimate the contribution of Aske and even Oisin. Guitar accompaniment is tasteful and imaginitive throughout, and there are several string cameos scattered across The Gypsy Cab, Piotr's Reel, the slow air Happy Times, and The Crazy Mexican Dude. The percussion is delicate where appropriate, on the Breton Laridee for instance, but provides a positive pulse on Eamonn McElholm's jig The Broad Walk and the funkier title track. In many ways, Kasir is a perfect blend of instruments and talents, and their music is certainly exciting. I can't choose between the box and whistle: Rune Cygan Barslund is superb on both. The songs provide interesting contrast, not quite celtic but not out of place in contemporary Irish music. If you get a chance to hear these guys, take it: might be the easiest way to find them.
Alex Monaghan

The Outside Track "Curious Things Given Wings"
Label: Lorimer Records; LORRCD02; 12 tracks; 48 min; 2010
See also the German
review in this issue
A lot has changed since The Outside Track released their debut CD a couple of years ago. From a loose collection of Limerick music students, this quintet has evolved into a powerful focused group. Take the first track here: The Turkish Revery, an uncommon song learnt from Daithí Sproule who got it from Burl Ives, a clear combination of Irish and North American influences. Norah Rendell sings this and the other five songs on this recording in a strong voice which reminds me of Touchstone' s performances, another transatlantic collaboration. Norah is an Irish Canadian who drifted south, and she's joined by the formidable firepower of fiddler Mairi Rankin from Nova Scotia, forming the New World side of The Outside Track. The other three members are from Edinburgh, Easter Ross and Limerick, giving this group their rather broad focus on Irish, Scottish and North American Celtic music.
That focus is stretched slightly for the first of six instrumental tracks, but it's a justified departure: Eric St-Pierre is a box-player from Quebec, and his swirling reel Le Voyage is worth bending a few rules. Norah's flute is joined by the piano box of Fiona Black and the versatile harp of Ailie Robertson, while guitarist Cillian O'Dálaigh strums solidly behind. This track like many others shows the arranging skills of the band, weaving instruments tightly together. The second song Silvy Silvy is a New Brunswick version of a well known ballad, and in traditional Canadian fashion it's paired with a complementary melody on fiddle. The next set brings us back to Europe with three splendid jigs: a lovely inventive version of Frankie Gavin's tune Doberman's Wallet which hasn't had too many outings since he recorded it on A Jacket of Batteries, then the flowing Peter Byrne's Jig, and Ailie's soaring composition Swerving for Bunnies.
And so it continues. A stirring set of Sliabh Luachra polkas shows off those great arranging skills again. Caroline of Edinburgh Town sees the band in sad and gentle mood. The following two medleys are back to the core of Celtic dance music old and new, with melodies by Jerry Holland and James Kelly. The traditional songs Hares on the Mountain and Madam Madam are paired with a fabulous version of The Maids of Galway and Fiona's interpretation of Lauren MacColl's reel The Dealer. Cillian's tune Crusty the Clown starts a distinctly funky pre-final track. The album finishes with the haunting Farewell Song, written by Missouri's Julie Henigan and introduced by a charming fiddle air. Curious Things Given Wings - an intriguing title for an enthralling CD which sets The Outside Track on a very promising course, highly recommended.
Alex Monaghan

Solas "The Turning Tide"
Compass Records; 7 4530 2; 12 tracks; 45 min; 2010
See also the German
review in this issue
In the words of Kevin Kline, somewhere around the middle of A Fish Called Wanda, "I'm disappointed!" Like his character Otto, I was looking forward to treasures and what I found didn't meet my expectations. Half this CD is given over to Máiréad Phelan's vocals, and in general she does not do herself justice here. The words are strangely unclear on several tracks: I find it hard to tell what is going on in Girl in the War particularly, and unfortunately the sleeve notes don't provide any lyrics. Songs by Richard Thompson and Bruce Springsteen may be very popular, but they don't come across especially well here and the words are curiously muddied again. Máiréad is beautifully clear on Karine Polwart's hard-hittting song Sorry, and this is definitely the strongest vocal track on The Turning Tide. The choice of traditional ballad A Sailor's Life is surprising, one of the most nonsensical versions of this well-known story, but the tune is catchy and the singing fine. Irish classic Sadhbh Ni Bhruineallaigh is marred by a very breathy delivery and some pitch problems, which is a shame because it's a lovely song.
The instrumental genius of Seamus Egan, Mick McAuley and Winnie Horan still offers up music which is fresh, exciting, and identifiably Irish. Starting with Hugo's Big Reel from Seamus' prolific pen, the Solas sound is rich and powerful. Guitarist Eamonn McElholm wrote the slippery jig The Crows of Killimer, and the clearly labelled Box Reel Number 2 which gives way to a monster modal version of The Boys of Malin. Winnie Horan's Waltz for Máiréad is a fiddle masterpiece, smooth but rhythmic, somewhere between Paris café and Pennsylvania Avenue. Box-player Mick McAuley contributes Trip to Kareol, a challenging Balkan dance, bags of percussion behind a great melody. Two more Egan tunes complete the set, one a galloping modern reel and the other a timeless floating air. The arrangements are so good, you barely notice that each track is only a single melody. SThe Turning Tide may not have met all my expectations, but it still bears the stamp of Solas' greatness, and the tide will surely turn again.
Alex Monaghan

Genticorum "La Bibournoise"
Label: Roues et Archets; RA012; 2008; 12 tracks; 57 min
This second CD from French Canadian trio Genticorum is entertaining and varied. Their 50-50 mix of songs and tunes on flute and fiddle is spread over almost an hour here. Genticorum's sound ranges from the stripped-down title track of three voices and foot percussion, through driving dance tunes like the slip-reel Brandy Culotté and charming melodies such as Hommage à André Alain, to a rich arrangement of the rollicking nonsense song Les Culottes de V'lour. Genticorum are not augmented by guests on this album, and there's little if any overdubbing, so La Bibournoise should be a close approximation to their live performances. Although the sound is simple at times, it's no less pleasing for that: one of my favourites on this recording is J'y Vas Mon Train, a sparsely arranged song of solitary simplicity with some lovely guitar work by Yann Falquet.
Pinson et Cendrouille is another highlight. Also known as The Birds' Wedding, its lyrics are pure fantasy but the tune is catchy and Pascal Gemme's fiddle weaves all kinds of magic in the background. But my absolute favourite track here is the beautiful Valse Beaulieu, exquisitely played on flute by Alex de Grosbois-Garand. Apparently this sublime melody was inspired by the town of Beauly, near Inverness. It should be a source of pride for all Invernesians. Almost all the instrumentals on the CD, including Valse Beaulieu, were composed by Pascal Gemme, so he can also be justly proud, as can his two companions: La Bibournoise is a first class recording, and a very welcome second release from Genticorum. You can find out more about them at
Alex Monaghan

Pørtners Komplot "Oldefar på Tour"
Gofolk; GO 0410; 2010; 12 tracks; 48 min
It seems the musical joke of leaving a ten minute pause in the last track is still alive in Denmark. In fact, the last track is a good place to start with this album. The first five minutes contain a light and graceful air, an improvisation on an old tune from Jutland, and a charming waltz composed by box-player Frey Klarskov. After the pause, there's a blast of much funkier stuff in fifties swing style, Astrid Neilsen's backstreet violin teaming up with Johan Knudsen's bluesy sax. That's about the range of Pørtners Komplot: digging through dusty manuscripts for fine tunes, drawing inspiration from traditional and jazz styles, and even writing some of their own material. The core of this recording is old Danish dance music, from a 19th-century manuscript: polkas, waltzes, and the rousing hopsa På Bjerget which refers to a small mound. Sekstur is also known as an English country dance, and indeed many of the melodies here have an English ring to them, but others are clearly central European: Obo-Polka, Høstblomsen, and of course Kontraseire fra Polen.
Pørtners Komplot's own compositions are equally pleasing. Anne Lines Polska is one of Johan's, a moody Scandinavian melody, full of dark magic. Felicia D'Amore is a truly beautiful waltz by the group's bassist and pianist Nicolaj Wamberg. Frey's tune Mod Verdens End returns to the dark vein of Scandinavian winter, a very powerful rhythmic piece. I have to say that Pørtners Komplot have shown me some hidden depths to Danish music which I hadn't previously appreciated. Oldefar på Tour is very pleasant, but also innovative and menacing at times. The standard of musicianship is as high as you might expect from such a musical country, both in the traditional idiom and in the more jazzy numbers. Give this CD a listen - I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Alex Monaghan

Le Vent du Nord "La Part du Feu"
Borealis; BCD199; 2009; 13 tracks; 49 min
Just shy of fifty minutes, and just over a dozen tracks, La Part du Feu is almost identical to Le Vent Du Nord's previous recording in length. The quality of album number 4 doesn't disappoint either: rich vocal harmonies, powerful foot percussion and jaw harp, plus the front line instrumentals on fiddle and button box. Backing instruments aplenty are played by quartet members, and by a visiting brass ensemble. La Part du Feu is three parts song and one part tunes, but the songs have that irresistible Quebecois energy and often come with toe-tapping arrangements, so this album feels much more like a dance party than a concert.
War, seduction, murder, deception and disaster: all the usual fun of the folk song is here. Octobre 1837 celebrates an uprising against oppression, while La Mine laments the precarious existence of ordinary workers. Elise recounts a young man's attempt to deceive his intended, and Rossignolet presents a wife poisoning her husband. There are a couple of more light-hearted numbers too. Montcalm employs the brass section in a very creditable approximation of La Bottine Souriante at their best. The final song, Ecris-moi, is surprisingly gentle: more a lullaby than a love song.
Reels are the order of the day on the instrumental tracks, all composed by fiddler Olivier Demers, who also wrote the contemplative Petit Reve 5. This is contemporary tradition in fine style, muscular and energetic, with attractive melodies and strong harmonies. I'd like to hear more instrumental sets from Le Vent Du Nord, but you can't have everything and the vocal pieces are probably their greatest strength. The title La Part du Feu refers to all the things you would leave behind if you had to travel light, what you would abandon to the fire: this album would definitely be some way down the list!
Alex Monaghan

Anxo Lorenzo "Tirán"
Label: Zouma Records; ZRCD061; 2010; 11 tracks; 38 min
See also the German
review in this issue
Everything about this CD is dazzling, from the virtuoso piping to the reflective silver packaging. In fact, there's perhaps too much light and not enough shade on this solo debut from Galician gaita and whistle prodigy Anxo Lorenzo. The first respite from his relentless blistering brilliance comes on track 5 with Diarmaid Moynihan's much admired composition Ivory Lady, a brisk waltz which follows four full-throttle selections in the style of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Tirán opens with its title track, a rock anthem on pipes, followed by a sprint through Adam Sutherland's composition The Road to Errogie. Am I the only person who thinks of this tune as a double-time version of the song Johnny Todd? The Venezuelan waltz La Partida barely slows before a suite of reels at speeds usually reserved for the A9 between Perth and Inverness: The Humours of Tulla, Alick C MacGregor and The Antrim Rose leave trails of sparks as they fly by, and a hint of burning rubber.
Traditional Galician favourites Polca Dos Areeiras and Aires de Pontevedra are taken at a fair clip too, although Anxo does leave space for some trancelike Bollywood percussion before the fiddle and gaita launch into a march which has become the trademark of Spanish piping. As we draw towards the end of Tirán, the hormones begin to settle down and Anxo picks up his recorder for a relaxed interpretation of A Bruxa: this classic air also features Galician hurdy-gurdy, or zanfona, as well as pipes and whistles. Spiritu launches straight into the Irish reel Rip the Calico, one of many which also fit the Scottish pipes, before a blast of Lorenzo's own improvisations soars well beyond the nine note scale. Alma de Pedra returns to earth with a bump, a firmly grounded slow air which precedes the ultimate earthiness of the vocal intro to a final brief track: The Very First Fish, Kathryn Tickell's idyllic rural waltz combining her Northumbrian smallpipes with Anxo's gaita. Some relief from the blazing sun of Galician virtuosity, at last. Tirán packs plenty of piping punch, and provides an insight into the world of pan-celtic piping which is attracting so many modern players.
Alex Monaghan

Chrissy Crowley "The Departure"
Label: Own Label; CCCD10; 2010; 12 tracks; 47 min
Now out of her teens and onto her second album, this Cape Breton fiddler is breaking the mould - mostly in a good way! There are several moments of sublime music on The Departure: a gorgeous change into The Moving Cloud, a fabulous piano version of Calum Crubach, impressive double stopping on Chrissy Crowley's Reel (written by guitarist Ian Hayes), and the beautiful air Memories of Archie Neil to finish. There are also a couple of memorable moments on the opening track, either side of some guitar weirdness: Chrissy's arrangement of The Glen Road to Carrick is spontaneous and surprising, certainly a departure from the norm, but quite breathtaking in places. Scott Macaulay's tune Highland Storm also deserves a mention in justifying The Departure as an album title: arranged for Latin rhythms and Carribean steel pans, it works perfectly and provides a nice contrast to the more traditional tracks. I'd have put it in the middle of the CD, but you can position it as you wish.
I wrote of Chrissy's 2007 debut that her jigs were not as strong as her reels, and I think that's still true here. There is only one set of jigs on this recording, and whilst it's nothing to be ashamed of, the reels are better. There are a lot of them, too: almost two dozen, and they're all pretty good. Chrissy plays with a low-down dirty tone that suits the more grungy reels, tunes which hover around low E particularly. Her own tunes The Doppleganger and Hayezed & Confused (returning the compliment to Ian Hayes) are good examples. As well as Mr Hayes, who plays mean fiddle and banjo in addition to his guitars, Chrissy is joined by pianist Jason Roach to give this album the classic Cape Breton sound: fiddle, piano and guitar. The arrangements here stretch from the traditional to the theatrical, with some elaborate intros and cadenzas. Sometimes it doesn't work, as Sandy Brechin famously said, but generally Chrissy and friends carry it off in style. I'm not sure what Chrissy Crowley will do next, but it will probably be interesting! The Departure is definitely worth checking out: listen to samples online where mail order should be available.
Alex Monaghan

Dàimh "Diversions"
Greentrax; CDTRAX343; 2010; 11 tracks; 47 min
See also the German
review in this issue
Dàimh is a West Highland outfit with an eclectic front line of Canadian pipes, Californian fiddle and Irish banjo. Album number 4 sees vocals fully integrated into the Dàimh grùmh, with six Gaelic songs from Callum Alex MacMillan. The sleeve notes are annotated with symbols for drink, love, war, murder, emigration and death: using icons to explain the themes of each song is a great idea. It also supports my theory that Gaelic song is really just another instrument: the words are irrelevant for most listeners, they simply want to know if the song is sad or happy, plus maybe the body count. Indeed the lyrics of many Gaelic songs don't actually make much sense anyway, puirt a beul particularly. So maybe Dàimh are still an instrumental outfit at heart. The songs on Diversions range from Jacobite rants to jaunty chorus songs, penned by highland bards from Lewis to Paisley. Callum Alex sings engagingly, calling to mind a young kilted Jim Malcolm. Sporan Dhomhnaill is the most cheerful vocal number here, followed by a couple of dark brooding ballads and the lighter romantic tale of An Caol Loch Eilt. This particular story must ring true throughout the highlands: a young couple separated by a narrow stretch of water, close enough to fall in love but unable to touch, lacking the ability to swim, the money for a boat, or the wit to simply walk round.
Every second track here is a strong instrumental medley. Starting with Ida's Jigs, we have the first of several compositions from fiddler Gabe McVarish whose playing does exactly what it says on the tin: West Highland style, piping gracenotes with a Gaelic lilt, and just enough Californian sunshine to keep the music warm and bright. Angus MacKenzie's pipes pile in for Marianne's Reel, and there's a cracking double pipes arrangement on Taighean Geala: both border pipes and highland pipes feature on this recording, doing full justice to tunes by Gordon Duncan, Dr Angus MacDonald and Roddy Campbell amongst others. Dàimh haven't lost their talent for turning fiddle tunes into pipe tunes too, with excellent settings of the traditional Shetland reel Scalloway Lasses and Paul Cranford's Union Street Session. Angus MacKenzie's Cape Breton background combines stylish kitchen piping with a feel for the Gaelic in tunes and songs. The banjo of Irishman Colm O'Rua is hard to spot on this album, a disappointment for me. On the plus side, the lads are joined by two of the formidable Vallely brothers for the modern Irish reels Malfunction Junction and Stone of Destiny, once again cunningly set for the pipes. This pair of instant classics follow the only slow air on Diversions: Gaelic song seems to have taken the place of the slower tunes, giving new scope for the full and complex harmonies which were lavished on airs such as Sealg a's Sùgradh on Dàimh's previous release.
I'm always skeptical when an instrumental band adds a singer: how will this change the character of the music, will there be unity or duality, will the instrumental strengths be preserved? Callum Alex MacMillan joined Dàimh for their third album, and gets the lion's share of the limelight here. In my worst case scenario, their next release will be by Callum Alex and the Divers, with Callum front and centre on the cover, and maybe three instrumental tracks on the CD. Best case, Callum Alex gets between a quarter and a sixth of the solos next time, with equal prominence for pipes, fiddle, banjo and other instruments. Time will tell, but Diversions is not a bad compromise for now. The song arrangements are rich and rewarding instrumentally, the whole ethos of the album is still firmly based on Gaelic culture from both sides of the Atlantic, and the tunes will frighten sheep for miles around.
Alex Monaghan

Gabe McVarish "Eclection"
Greentrax; CDTRAX348; 2010; 12 tracks; 57 min
See also the German
review in this issue
You probably know him as the fiddler with Dàimh. Now California's golden boy has recorded a solo album, and it's 24 carat. US junior Scots fiddle champion in his teens, Mr McVarish brings a touch of brashness to the traditional music of the Old World. As the CD's title suggests, Gabe's bow embraces Irish and Scottish traditions plus a number of North American styles. Eclection opens with a swaggering march setting of The Braes of Castle Grant, into a meaty highland strathspey, before the classic piping reel Cecily Ross: all pedigree tunes, full of guts and energy. A couple of Gabe's own compositions feature in the next medley, the lilting jig Ida McVarish of Morar and the reel Miss Angela Gillies of Borve, flanked by the work of Iain MacDonald and Liz Carroll. Many of the melodies here stick to the nine notes of the Scottish bagpipe scale, even though they're written and played by a fiddler, which gives this recording a gritty modal edge.
All the Capers is pure Cape Breton fiddle, strathspeys and reels by many of Nova Scotia's big names, with back-up piano from Mac Morin helping to drive the set along. The air Mrs Jean Campbell BSc reveals a more contemplative side of McVarish, which is echoed later in two feather-light waltzes. Four solid tracks of Irish tunes cover everything from polkas to Donegal highlands, including a nice crisp selection of Tommy Peoples reels and a hypnotic canter through the big reel Colonel Fraser with Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes. Gabe's Gordon Duncan Tribute combines three of the composer's finest tunes, ending this collection on a firmly modern Scottish note. Gabe is joined by colleagues from Dàimh on a couple of tracks, adding to an impressive guest list, but Eclection remains largely a solo album, and a first rate one at that. The material is mainly traditional, with contributions from Charlie Lennon, Niall Vallely, Phil Cunningham and others. Just under an hour of excellent music is complemented by informative notes and attractive packaging.
Alex Monaghan

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