FolkWorld #64 11/2017

CD & DVD Reviews

Therese McInerney "Down the Strand"
Own Label, 2017

German CD Review

www.theresemcinerney.com

This young West Clare fiddler and singer demonstrates a very pleasing tone on a wide range of music here. From that mecca of Clare music Miltown Malbay, she has an exquisitely smooth fiddle technique and a charming voice. Three songs and nine instrumentals is a good balance, with a fling and a couple of hornpipes alongside the jigs and reels. Therese opens with The Crib of Perches and The Maids of Castlebar, a few crunchy bowed triplets but mostly smooth as silk. A pair of her own jigs follow, plus one she poached from Finbarr Dwyer - Ahern's Egg. Even the hornpipes are soft and flowing, The Western and Dunphy's stroked and tickled by McInerney's fluid bow.
The three vocal tracks span a broad spectrum: the classic ballad of bitter loss Fair and Tender Ladies, the comic Irish song Casadh an tSúgáin, and the Bothy Band tale of love in the time of squalor, Do You Love an Apple. It's great to hear Therese accompanying herself on the fiddle for the last of these: her feisty delivery fits well with the swing fiddling, conjuring an image of vaudeville performances. The Gaelic singing is sweeter, almost delicate, despite the subject matter. Brian Donnellan provides piano and bouzouki accompaniment throughout this CD, so skilfully that you'd hardly know he was there.
Flatbush Waltz and Cucanandy, the fling Grandmother She and Therese's own reel Cróga - there are some unexpected treats here, as well as big reels such as Sergeant Early's Dream, The Coalminers, and the one which gives the album its title. With attractive artwork and informative notes, Down the Strand is an excellent debut from a performer and teacher who is sure to be even more in demand after this release. Therese McInerney finishes with another powerful set of reels, tamed with ease: Maude Millar's, Lough Mountain, and The Boys of Ballinahinch, trotting demurely like well-schooled ponies.
© Alex Monaghan


Fergus McGorman "Sweeping the Cobwebs Out of the Sky"
Own Label, 2017

German CD Review

fergusflute@gmail.com

This young Meath flute player comes from a long line - or more accurately a swathe - of McGorman and McEvoy musicians steeped in the Irish tradition. His parents are both well known fluters in the Sligo-Roscommon style, and he is accompanied here by a couple of family members as well as the ubiquitous John Blake. Fergus is starting to make his mark as an individual player, and this debut CD shows why: his technique is fine, his appreciation of the tradition palpable, and his choice of material is distinctive. One striking aspect of this recording is its unassuming nature - there's no "I" in Fergus' playing, and very little in the detailed sleeve notes to these scant twenty-two tunes. McGorman's approach seems to be to understand each melody, to play it as it deserves, without putting too much of himself into the music or indulging his own ego with flights of fancy. While that's laudable, and produces good music, it's hard to find a piece here which really stands out or shows the personality of Fergus McGorman. The closest is perhaps the title tune, the great old jig-time march Sweeping the Cobwebs Out of the Sky which provides both an intriguing title and a wonderful cover image for this CD: Fergus learnt this melody from the playing of piper Liam Óg O'Flynn of Planxty fame, who recorded it on his solo album The Fine Art of Piping, and I'm sure O'Flynn didn't put the rhythmic tonguing into it which is a very strong feature here. Young McGorman certainly doesn't stick to the cuts and rolls of his Roscommon background - he has a much more eclectic manner of marking and ornamenting a tune, although you only have to listen to his version of The Green Fields of Glentown to appreciate that he can emulate other styles. The music on this album ranges from Dingle to Donegal with tunes such as The Cuckoo's Nest and The Moving Cloud, and indeed farther afield to embrace the New England reel Rodney Miller's and the final Wynding the Hay by Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll. There's no shortage of big tunes here - The Boys of Ballymote, Lad O'Beirne's, The Battering Ram and others - but I feel Fergus McGorman will need to big himself up a bit more if he is to become as well known as other members of his family.
© Alex Monaghan


Noctambule "A Sweetish Tune"
Own Label, 2017

German CD Review

www.noctambulemusic.com

Marla Fibish and Bruce Victor from California play music of various sorts on mandos and guitars of equally varied sorts. Their previous two albums were quite contemporary, but this one is more traditional: Irish tunes mainly, and a few songs. It's gentle, understated, perhaps a little heavy on the accompaniment, but generally the melodies cut through and the playing by both members of this duo is highly proficient. Paddy Canny's Toast opens proceedings, a slow reel by the great composer Charlie Lennon who is claimed by both Leitrim and Galway. It's followed by three old favourites: The Tempest, Bold Doherty and Bill Harte's Jig, with the pace never more than a trot. The first of three vocal numbers is the Bothy Band classic Pretty Peg, slowed and set to a different melody, with The Sweetheart Reel replacing Craig's Pipes as an instrumental break. John Whelan's Trip to Skye leads into The Good Doctor, a laid back jig by Marla for her husband Bruce. A slow rhythmic rendition of Carolan's air Blind Mary brings us to Cold Missouri Waters, a modern Canadian song with a powerful message sung by Victor in a low country drawl. Three more reels, one by Marla and the others well known, rise to a canter and showcase the mandolin nicely, especially on this sultry version of The Abbey Reel. Another Carolan piece, Mr O'Connor, is given a stately arrangement on mandola and cittern, chased by the reel The Broken Pledge before Fibish sings or chants a Noctambule setting of Song of the Wave by Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran. The final title track is a composition by Fibish and Victor, and a play on words as it sounds slightly Scandinavian, especially when the duo is supplemented by Swedish nyckelharpist Aryeh Frankfurter. A Sweetish Tune is an album to appreciate in moments of relaxed contemplation.
© Alex Monaghan


Martin Meehan "The Fox's Lament"
Own Label, 2017

German CD Review

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A second album from this fluter of the Armagh clan which has become almost as central to Ulster music as the Vallelys or the Donohoes. Martin plays with power - an odd thing to say perhaps about the flute and whistle which are his instruments, but there's an energy and a drive to this music, a purpose and direction, which are immediately apparent. He takes no nonsense from Hanley's Tweed, Patsy Touhey's and The First Month of Summer, despite their venerable status in the Irish tradition: all three are despatched with speed and skill. The reel Molly Eamonn Mór shows a slower, more sensitive side to Martin Meehan's playing, with some impressive ornamentation clearly articulated. It's not all flute though: Martin's brother Paul plays guitar, Dónal O'Connor adds fiddle and keyboards, with a touch of harp from Sylvia Crawford and a few lads on double bass and bodhrán. There's plenty of variety with different flutes too, and a full rounded sound for the big numbers.
The Fox's Lament contains many great tunes, some very familiar, some not at all. The Little Pig is new to me, a wonderfully simple yet catchy reel. The French-inspired waltz Lusignac is a composition by English fiddler Chris Wood, I think, and well known in that tradition, but not often heard on the flute. The Horse's Leotard deserves to be learnt for its name alone, but it's also a fine flute-friendly jig. Gort na Móna is another must-learn jig if you don't already have it, and there's a grand slow version here. For reels, try The House of Hamill, an Ed Reavy tune I believe, and The Sandmount Reel which fairly scuds along. The title track is a big piping slow air, perhaps from a version of the pipers' showpiece The Fox Chase, which is stark and brooding on solo flute. Martin ends with another set of reels, including his own What About Manus? written for the youngest member of the Meehan clan. This CD is a worthy follow-up to Martin Meehan's debut Three's Company, with comprehensive notes and a stunning cover portrait by JB Vallely whose work is unparalleled.
© Alex Monaghan


Habadekuk "Mollevit"
Gofolk, 2017

www.habadekuk.dk

Probably my favourite Danish folk-jazz-rock octet, Habadekuk[54] is pretty much what you might get if Carlsberg did traditional fiddle tunes. This third album is a little more traditional than their previous two, but still kicks Aarhus: the three-member horn section still blares out polskas and sløjfes, the fiddle and accordion still sparkle on seksturs and waltzes, and the rhythm section of piano, double bass and drums still refreshes the parts other bands can't reach. In fact, only one piece here is not traditional - the slightly oldtimey Sommerreel by Habadekuk's pianist Theis Langlands who also plays in the duo Rannok. The rest are old, at least a century, waltzes and minuets and other dance tunes, melodies for local dances with exotic names like Femskaft and Tretur and Mollevit, all beautifully played here.
When Danes talk about traditional tunes they can usually put a date on them, so we can say that the pieces here date from at least as early as 1772 (the title track) to perhaps as late as the 1930s for some of the tunes with known composers. Much of Danish folk music has been passed down in manuscript books from 19th century fiddlers, often with no tune titles, and there is also an oral tradition where tunes are named after the person who passed them on, producing names such as AP's Ottemandsdans for a great square dance melody from Himmerland recorded by Evald Thomsen who learnt it from Anders Peter (AP) Andersen, or Kromans Trippevalse for a pair of waltzes which Habadekuk learnt from Jes Kroman, a wonderful fiddler with the Fionia Stringband - another of Theis' projects - but which were published in the 1920s and were already old then. You get the idea. Habadekuk bring their own infectious rhythms and big band arrangements to each traditional piece, in a mix of musical mischief and madness which I find irresistible. It's hard to believe that the eight curiously-dressed gnomes whose photos adorn the sleevenotes like extras from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy story are actually the world-class musicians to be heard making such exciting music on Mollevit.
© Alex Monaghan


Jeremie Mignotte "Miscellanies"
Mustradem, 2017

jeremiemignotte.jimdo.com

A French flute-player spanning folk and jazz, Jérémie Mignotte has played in many line-ups including the dance band Djal and the Breton jazz trio AMR. There are more details of Mignotte's career and recordings on his website jeremiemignotte.jimdo.com - in French. His solo debut mixes all these influences and more: the cool jazz of Atcha, the traditional French feel of Le Daïquiri, the modern Bal Folk dance music of Le Mont Cindre and the jazzier Dancefloor, a bit of Eastern European salsa in Hungary, and even a hint of Irish in La Promenade de Nervi. Mignotte plays a number of different flutes, modern and traditional, and shows his mastery in composition, improvisation and interpretation. His performance is almost flawless, and his technical ability is impressive indeed. The pieces are very subjective, all Jérémie's own, and some grabbed me more than others. Miscellanies finishes its tour of old and new, dark and dangerous French flute moods with an improvised solo on wooden baroque flute which is a real master work and demonstrates the confidence and skill of this eclectic musician.
© Alex Monaghan


Paul Anderson "The High Summit"
Own Label, 2017

Artist Video

www.paulandersonscottishfiddler.com

Another album of original compositions from this surely iconic Aberdeenshire fiddler, The High Summit is like Paul's previous recordings in that it is completely true to the spirit of Scottish music, and to north-east fiddle music in particular, from Royal Deeside to the rugged Cairngorms. It's almost what you might expect if the likes of Skinner or Marshall were releasing CDs today: strathspeys aplenty of course, and reels, a few jigs and hornpipes, some marches for the military-minded, and every so often a beautiful slow air or waltz. Those legendary fiddlers may have had finer technique and more showmanship, but they can't have had Scottish fiddling any more deeply ingrained in their being than this man.
Starting with the stirring jig Return to Kincraigie, Anderson's fiddle switches to soft and tender for the air The Rose of Glen Dovan, and then back to crisp bowing on the march Corporal Hare. From the drumming to the odd spot of singing, Paul Anderson has assembled a fine gang of fellow musicians to help him here: names which stand out are Tony McManus, Malcolm Jones and Ale Carr. Together they make light work of the heavyweight strathspeys Andrew Smith of Torphins, The Mountain Men, The Mar Gathering and more. There's only the one reel, a brooding monster given the name Norman Conboy, but there are several striking slow tunes: Bonnie Glen Quoich, Braeriach, and Jennifer Masson Hay among them. If you're looking for a snapshot of Scottish fiddling in the 21st century, The High Summit would be a good choice.
© Alex Monaghan


Steel Sheep "Trucker's Tan"
Own Label, 2017

Artist Video

www.steelsheep.org

What do you get when you mix Slovenian fiddle, Galician guitar and American double bass in the eclectic musical environment of Amsterdam? Well, apparently you get a Trucker's Tan - although you also get something before that, because this is Steel Sheep's sophomore release. That means "second" in America according to Google. Why use six letters when nine will do? Anyhoo, to continue the US theme, for a second album this is pretty polished, almost perfect, especially when you consider that a lot of Steel Sheep's music is improvised, in that special sense of improvised where it's written down and repeatable. So if you like bluegrass or modern folk fiddle with a lot of jazzy improvisation, or if you have a taste for Spanish guitar and gypsy violins, you will get a big kick out of this trio.
The album opens with a title track full of Newgrass fiddle and insistent backing, Bela Horvat's melody line rising and falling above the bowed bass from Matt Adomeit, with Virxilio da Silva maintaining the beat on strummed chords. Blades of Grass starts in the same vein, but becomes a contemporary guitar solo before fading out on a bluesy theme. The jarring notes of Four Legs Good are passed from treble to bass fiddle in a short conversation which evokes an angry Vassar Clements. Wisdom of Wombats seems to come from a different place altogether, a Pacific coast road trip perhaps, but still with that underlying bluegrass feel. And so it goes on: the brief calm of Mid-Day Crisis on sleepy guitar and smooth strings, the backwoods or Scottish fiddle on Lazy Susan, swinging through Swine Flew to another oasis of calm in Horvat's Air in D and E, followed by the organised chaos of jazz improvisation that is Trucker's Cyst. The CD finishes with da Silva's slow and rather beautiful musing Outro Tempo, almost a warm-down from the frantic energy which has gone before. Lots to enjoy, lots to wonder at: Steel Sheep has a unique sound, and this album gives a great impression of their music.
© Alex Monaghan


Alma "Oeo"
Col Legno, 2017

Artist Video

www.almamusik.at

Austrian music. Yodelling? Well yes, a bit, but mostly it's fiddling, and mostly not very Austrian-sounding. Three fiddles and a button accordion, backed up by double bass, supply a steady stream of styles: Austrian folk certainly, but also bluegrass, modern jazz and classical, a Danish waltz, a song from the Italian Renaissance, a reworking of Bruckner's motet Tota Pulchra es Maria, and some seriously strange things. Alma's music is both serious and strange. Much of it is composed by fiddler and singer Julia Lacherstorfer, who takes threads from many places and weaves them into unfamiliar and fascinating pieces. Her Möderndorfer Sommervalsen is beautiful and stately, somewhere between Strauss and South Carolina. Hep moves right across the pond to the Boston style of Hanneke Cassel, blending Scots, Irish and American with a bit of Latin fire. Box player Marie-Theres Stickler links her music back to the Austrian tradition: the yodelling melodies of the Tyrolean bands, the early 19th century manuscripts of fiddle master Johann Michael Schmalnauer, but always adding and developing. Together with fiddlers Evelyn Mair and Matteo Haitzmann, and Marlene Lacherstorfer on upright bass, these musicians perform brilliantly throughout Oeo. Don't be fooled by titles such as Ruhe, Tranquilla and Unknown Peace towards the end of this CD: there's little calm or rest once Alma get going!
© Alex Monaghan


Auvergnatus "Auvergnatus"
AEPEM, 2017

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Music from Auvergne, with cabrette, accordion (continental chromatic button box), fiddle, and banjo! This quartet recreates a sound from Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, when a young banjo virtouso Django Reinhart joined Auvergne piper Antonin Bouscatel and Italian box-player Charles Péguri on stage at the dance hall Chez Bousca. This trend continued in France between the wars, and afterwards, with pipes and banjo, fiddle and banjo, and perhaps even that Scottish favourite box'n'banjo combination. Who knew? Auvergnatus features piper Fabrice Lenormand, fiddler Laurence Dupré, accordionist Thomas Restoin, and banjo maestro Jean Blanchard. Their repertoire comes from the sharing of tunes between Paris and Auvergne: grand urban waltzes, rural polkas and mazurkas, and a fair bit of cross-over between the two.
Some of the performances on this debut CD show a remarkable level of sophistication and sensitivity, more concert hall than dance hall: the haunting Mazurka à Rigal, the delicate Rosalie de Bon Matin, and the sentimental waltz Séduction. Others are unashamedly rustic, like La Boiteuse du Longuet, Mazurka à Trapenard, and Flor de Ginesto. There are also two songs here, the relatively modern A la Grande Roue de Montmartre from the Paris dance hall era, and brief vocals on Séduction written between the wars. Auvergnatus finish in fine style with a pair of whirling traditional 3/4s, Bourrée à Ranvier and Bourrée à Berghault, typical central French dance tunes which show this quartet at its best.
© Alex Monaghan


Bougnat Sound "Le Bon, la Brute et le Bougnat"
AEPEM, 2017

Auvergne, France, iconic home of so much traditional French music, with its classic sound of bagpipes, button box, and ... banjo? Bit of a surprise that, but Bougnat Sound have made such a success of this unusual combination that they are back with a second album. Their 2012 debut Bon Esprit! established the trio as a force to be reckoned with, and in all honesty the banjo is aesthetically not much different from the more typical hurdy-gurdy. Plus it has those crucial advantages of being smaller and slightly cheaper, and while it doesn't have the words "Don't Panic" written on it in large friendly letters, it does take literally no time at all to tune. No, really - no time at all.
Joking aside, I suspect that an important factor was that the banjo begins with a B, giving many alliterative possibilities. Bougnat Sound are fond of the letter B: eleven of the twenty-five tunes and songs here begin with that letter, and it's no accident that this album's title parallels the violent Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. To my mind, they could just have called it Le Bon - there's certainly nothing bad on this recording, and who could find ugliness in bagpipes, button box and banjo?
What there is is solid traditional music, nearly an hour of it, bagpipe led for the most part by piper and fiddler extraordinaire Julien Barbances who also sings a bit. Seven tracks have vocals, but most are brief and repetitive, so the dance music dominates. The exceptions are Le Petit Chasseur de Rennes and Adieu les Filles de Lagraulière, both from the neighbouring region of Limousin, and both with lovely old melodies. La Nayracoise, Bourrée de Saint Gervais, Lo Planquet de la Chambre Trembla (a commendable goal) and Je suis Garçon Malheureux sur la Terre are all fine old bourrées - there's that B again - and even the songs are played so they can be danced, as bourrées, waltzes, and a rigadoon. There are some new pieces here too: Loïc Etienne's melodeon comes through strongly on the mazurka La Berlinoise, while Barbances switches to the fiddle for La Tazonière, and the low notes of Olivier Sulpice's short-necked tenor banjo add menace to the dramatic Scottish du Lez. The banjo and fiddle shine in a few places - Na Trist'annada, Réveillez-vous Fidèles (no pun intended) and Bourrée Du Voisin De La Morangie are all good examples, but if you want to hear the typical character of Bougnat Sound I suggest the polka La Valentinou, an Auvergne classic rarely played with more energy and spirit. That's brut indeed, and a great vintage too!
© Alex Monaghan


Kevin Crawford, Dylan Foley & Patrick Doocey
"The Drunken Gaugers"
Own Label, 2017

thedrunkengaugers.bandcamp.com

Kevin Crawford has been the front man of megastars Lúnasa for almost as long as anyone can remember, his flutes and whistles shaping their world class sound. Fiddler Dylan Foley doesn't quite have Crawford's stature, but he is a big part of the New York Irish music scene and has figured prominently on recent recordings with Dan Gurney and with the band The Yanks. You can google Patrick Doocey yourself, as I know nothing about him except that he provides strong guitar accompaniment here - to my ear just a little too strong at times. This trio pushes out glorious music, mixing well-loved and well-hidden old tunes with almost a dozen recent compositions which illustrate the unbroken heart of the Irish tradition, from Padraig O'Keeffe to Paddy O'Brien to Charlie Lennon to Kevin Crawford's own reel An Giúdach Fánach.
Reels and jigs abound here, with a few unusual comibations: a pair of jigs joined to Michael Hynes' bouncy reel Farewell to Philip Lane, Lennon's hornpipe Step it Out Joe spliced onto a couple of old reels, and even a medley of an air, a barndance and a reel. Crawford and Foley's duets are magnificent on The Sailor's Cravat, The Humours of Aylehouse, The Sloping Meadow, The Hare's Paw, Heather Breeze and Contentment is Wealth, flute and fiddle tightly melded yet each able to bring their own character and creativity to the music. Each member of this trio also takes a solo: Dylan grinds firmly through Ratholdran Castle and The Abbeyleix Reel in an almost Donegal style, whereas Kevin switches to low whistle for a flurry of jigs and his version of The Flogging Reel. Patrick fingerpicks a beautiful air, The Cursed Kerryman - some sporting reference no doubt, but a lovely melody whatever the cause. The lads finish up with The Old Morning Dew, another grand old reel brilliantly performed to end almost an hour of the finest Irish traditional music.
© Alex Monaghan


Grupo Falso Baiano "Depois"
Massaroca Records, 2017

Artist Video

www.grupofalsobaiano.com

Shorter than their previous album Simplicidade,[46] but just as exciting and exotic, this is the third CD from California's Bay Area choro band, mixing traditional Brazilian dance music with modern influences from samba and suchlike. Still essentially a four-piece of saxophone and flute (Zack Pitt-Smith), mandolin (Jesse Appelman), guitars (Brian Moran) and percussion (Ami Molinelli), GFB have a big instrumental sound, augmented by guest vocals on five tracks here. This recording also introduces Moran as a composer, providing five new pieces in a modern choro style which also extend to flamenco and other genres but still fit snugly between the older numbers here.
Smooth flute, punchy sax, attacking mandolin and toe-tapping rhythms combine to make this music extremely attractive: it's fun, touching at times, high-energy at others, and very danceable. Most of us are only familiar with a handful of choro classics, or perhaps just the much-covered Tico Tico, so it's great to hear more of this sultry style. Since I reviewed Simplicidade about six years ago, I haven't encountered another choro album: GFB claim to be the only group of this kind in the USA, so maybe that's not surprising, but another dose of this lively tradition is certainly welcome. At times it's hard to draw a line between choro and jazz - the Dixieland echoes of Bole Bole or the Hot Club feel on Frevo no Morrozinho - but mostly Depois has a very distinctive sound performed with poise and panache by an awesome foursome.
© Alex Monaghan


Gueneau & Poutoux "Chemin de la Bergaudière"
AEPEM, 2017

Melodeon and hurdy-gurdy music from the Nivernais and Morvan regions of central France - this duo produces a full, bright sound on a wide selection of dance music, and they have chosen one of the most attractive selections of French melodies I've heard in a long time. Joupe Don Pu Haut qu'çai, Mazurka de la Fiole, Bourrée Tournée à Quatre, Montgusty, and the lovely schottische Le Canal en Octobre by Burgundy melodeon virtuoso Frédéric Paris, are all delightful. These traditions of western Burgundy are just a hop and a skip from Auvergne and Berry, so there is a wide overlap of repertoires and styles, but many tunes here are distinctive: Polka-Marche du Morvan, Tes Petits Sabots, Montée des Bois de Vaux, and the final waltz La Majuscule are all new to me, and all are "crooked" tunes with extra beats or bars, not sticking to the usual eight-bar phrasing of generic dance music, either because they were played to accompany a specific dance with irregular steps, or because the melody has a mind of its own.
Chemin de la Bergaudière is a very polished and technically excellent recording, and the music has great lift and expression. Jean-Luc Gueneau's hurdy-gurdy is sweet and rhythmic, beautifully balanced between melody and drones, with a clear treble sound. Gilles Poutoux plays melodeon in a flowing style with sensitive accompaniment, and the beat is augmented by the solid thump of at least one foot on most pieces. This is a very enjoyable album - a little slow for some dancers perhaps, and rarely showing the flash playing of younger musicians, but Gueneau and Poutoux allow these pieces to be fully appreciated by the listener. Every note is crisp and precise, and the musicians complement each other perfectly. Chemin de la Bergaudière is a great introduction to the music of Morvan and Nivernais, and a fine example of the core French dance music tradition.
© Alex Monaghan


Lena Jonsson & Martin Coudroy "Sur le Chemin"
Own Label, 2017

Artist Video

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Versatile Swedish fiddler Lena Jonsson is well known from her work with Brittany Haas, The Goodbye Girls, Skenet and others. Breton accordionist Martin Coudroy is a bit more of an enigma, at least outside Sweden, because it seems Sur le Chemin is actually the third CD by this duo, although the other two were a few years ago now. It's easy to see how a box-player from Rennes would be seduced by the beauty of Swedish music, to turn away from the bourrées and gavottes of France and embrace the polskas and waltzes of Sweden. In fact, Jonsson seems to have been pulled in the opposite direction, picking up the dance music of Brittany and incorporating it into her own compositions, so this is a symbiotic relationship producing some quite exceptional pieces as both partners mix the two traditions.
Their third album starts with three Coudroy originals: the distinctly French waltz La Tête en Caoutchouc, the more Scandinavian-sounding Ça Roule, and the hypnotic Grain de Sable which is one of only a few Breton-tinged tunes here. The melody lines are strong, with both button box and fiddle hitting harmonies around the tune: the bass line is lighter, restricted by the limited possibilities offered by diatonic accordions, but Coudroy does enough to fill out the sound on most tracks. Jonsson's Vågvalsen adds superb pizzicato fiddle to this pair's repertoire on a beautiful stark Nordic melody. The title track is another Coudroy creation, a jig which I would class as Anglo-French, contemporary melodeon music with dark chords and sliding fiddle effects, a great tune to learn.
The next track is another with a Breton flavour, a medley of march and gavotte with the modal scale and repetitive motifs of old Breton dance music. The classic French Petit Grain de Froment with a Breton call-answer pattern on box and fiddle is paired with the Swedish-sounding Palskopolska, and leads into a couple of Lena's compositions which blend French, Scandinavian, and even Balkan genres. More new music by both players, with a Manouche waltz thrown in for good measure, brings us to the final Fri i Gaspésie, a dramatic slow air, almost a bridal march in the Scandinavian tradition, ending an intriguing and charmingly gentle CD. At the time of writing there is no obvious website to find this on, but both Martin and Lena have sites which can be googled.
© Alex Monaghan


Laura Feddersen, Joel Wennerstrom & Owen Marshall
"Wooden Nickels"
Own Label, 2017

2woodennickels.bandcamp.com

Originally from Indiana but now based in Boston, Laura Feddersen first came to my attention through her excellent duo CD of Irish fiddle music with Nathan Gourley, Life is All Checkered. Here she plays oldtime, with two other fine exponents of the art on banjo and guitar. This is really just a taster, and I believe is only available as a digital download, but it's well worth hearing. The trio start with an unusual version of the song melody Goodbye Girls I'm Going to Boston with some fancy banjo picking and plenty of growling strings on the fiddle, followed by a great tune they call Coondog, a version of one called Walking' Up Georgia Row which I learnt from Jane Rothfield. Greek Medley is less familiar, but we're back on home territory with The Girl that Broke my Heart.
All this music is fiddle-led, while Wennerstrom's clawhammer banjo duets on the melody and Marshall's guitar backs up with chords. Durang's is trotted out with great lift and drive, a real toe-tapper. Lost Girl is more of a grinding slow shuffle, an old backwoods melody. The well-known White River flows into an understated version of Billy in the Lowground, a close relative of the tune known on this side of the Atlantic as The Teatotaller Reel. Last but not least, the title track is a gorgeous slow drag with Laura alternately grinding the strings and dragging her bow to great effect. Pretty much everything here is in 4/4 time, so we don't get a chance to hear what Feddersen and friends can do with waltzes or jigs or polkas, but if they play like this on the park benches of Boston they'll be getting more than Wooden Nickels thrown in their hat.
© Alex Monaghan


Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards "California Calling"
Compass Records, 2017

Artist Video

www.thisislauracortese.com

Two fiddles, cello and bass - a string quartet? Or a folk band, as fiddlers Laura Cortese and Jenna Moynihan are both traditional players? But wait - there's banjo too, and keyboards, so this is maybe country music. And they all sing, although when these girls give voice to some of the songs here it's more like a rock concert than a rodeo. Whatever you choose to label it, California Calling comes from a wide background and is delivered by an extremely talented team of young ladies. While Cortese claims almost all the composing credits, the contributions of all four musicians are crucial to this sound. As well as Moynihan, cellist Valerie Thompson and bassist Natalie Bohrn are multi-instrumentalists and fine backing singers. In fact, with this amount of talent in the foursome, it's hard to see where keyboards wizard Sam Kassirer squeezes in! br>I must admit that I would prefer some instrumental tracks, some good old fiddle music without all the crowd-pleasing vocals, but I understand that I'm in the minority here. I can't fault the purity of the singing, or the range of styles and emotions conveyed by The Dance Cards: you'll find everything from barbershop to boogie, redneck to rock, happy and sad, lonesome and joyous. The otherworldliness of The Low Hum, the bluntness of Three Little Words, the regrets of Skip Stone, the simplicity of Swing & Turn, the dark urban vibe of Stockholm, the introspection of Pace Myself - it's all here. Give California Calling a whirl, and don't try to make a label stick: just enjoy the energy and adaptability of Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards.
© Alex Monaghan


Lena Ullman & Anna Falkenau "I Can Hear You Calling"
Own Label, 2017

Artist Video

www.annafalkenau.com

Oldtime banjo and fiddle from this duo: Lena and Anna are equally proficient in Irish traditional music, and there is a bit of Irish mixed in here, but I Can Hear You Calling is mainly new compositions in the oldtime style. Both write great tunes - Falkenau's Apatchy Hunting in the Garden and Ullman's Waiting for Anna are good examples. Ullman also had a hand in all four songs here, whether writing the whole thing or just the melody. Black Jack David is a version of The Raggle Taggle Gipsies, while Homeless is a new song by Ullman about one of the big issues in contemporary America and Ireland.
Both Ullman and Falkenau have adopted Ireland as their home after growing up in Sweden and Germany respectively. Ullman started on the five-string banjo in Sweden, but has been absorbing Irish music since the 1970s. Falkenau is a more recent convert, and also spent time in Connecticut with the backwoods players, so the shared experience of the duo spans Irish, oldtime and Germanic styles.
The sound this pair produce is quite old-fashioned, raw acoustic instruments with little post-production, just the two musicians with no backing track, and plenty of old modal cadences somewhere between major and minor on most tunes. I Can Hear You Calling raises the hairs on my neck at times, that primal edge on the fiddle particularly. The final Easter Lambs by Charlie Lennon is quite a contrast, a stately air with an almost baroque feel, Ullman's banjo taking the role of a Vivaldi or Telemann mandolin as Falkenau switches to German or possibly Swedish smooth technique in the manner of a 19th century town fiddler. If fiddle and banjo is your thing, you should definitely give this CD a listen.
© Alex Monaghan


Vi Wickham "Long Time Comin'"
Own Label, 2011

Artist Video

www.vithefiddler.com

A mix of old-time, swing and country fiddling, this solo debut follows on from a few duo recordings and quite a reputation established in part through Vi Wickham's year-long tune-a-day project on YouTube. Google it - there's plenty of good stuff there. On this CD, Vi is joined by friends on fretted strings and percussion, as well as three ladies who deliver one song apiece. Vi also sings, three numbers from Blues to Broadway, but for me the main interest is in the fiddle. Vi's feisty version of Turkey in the Straw, some sparkling fingerwork on Cripple Creek and his fun take on Forked Deer would actually be enough for me to recommend this album to fiddle fans, but there is so much more: a powerful performance of Bonaparte's Retreat after the old chestnut Midnight on the Water, a wonderful fiddle line on Milk Cow Blues which is really just an excuse to show off, and the melancholy modern country waltz Midnight over the Rockies to finish this selection in fine style.
The swing groove of Wickham's own Bitter Sweet introduces a strand of more jazzy music here. From Lennon & McCartney's I Will to Gershwin's Summertime, that fiddle weeps and screams and sings so strong. A bit of gospel with Be Thou My Vision, a bit of whimsy on Rainbow Connection, and of all the vocal tracks my favourite is probably Fats Waller's Honeysuckle Rose with its perfect blend of down and dirty fiddle over a toe-tapping rhythm. Vi's version of Le Reel du Pendu which he calls Hangmans Reel is intriguing, less of a showpiece than what you might hear from Aly Bain or André Brunet, but with other fragments buried in there. Just under an hour long, and just over a dozen tracks, Long Time Comin' offers quantity as well as quality. This CD is well worth checking out, and you'll probably enjoy Vi Wickham's other recordings too.
© Alex Monaghan


The East Pointers "What We Leave Behind"
Own Label, 2017

Artist Video

www.eastpointers.ca

A second album from this trio out of Prince Edward Island sees them on a more mainstream heading: more songs, more modern vibe, and a lot more post-production polish. Collaborations with Liz Stringer, Gordie Sampson, Chris Kirby and Patrick Ballantyne have resulted in four of the five songs here - only the final Hid in your Heart comes straight from Jake Charron, Koady and Tim Chaisson. All the instrumentals are still credited to these three, and the core sound is certainly Tim's fiddle, Koady's tenor banjo, and Jake's deft work on guitar and keys. Tim is the lead vocalist, with his buddies providing backing on songs from the folk-rock 82 Fires to the almost-disco Two Weeks: if you've never thought of the banjo as a disco accessory, think again!
There are parallels here with Moxie, Mànran, Bongshang, Runrig, and Canadian pioneers such as Ashley MacIsaac or JP Cormier, but The East Pointers have something distinctive too. Perhaps it's the Acadian influence, perhaps it's the tight pairing of fiddle and banjo, or perhaps we should just blame it on the boogie. That disco dance groove crops up again in the ballad John Wallace, and even in some of the instrumentals. Party Wave certainly lives up to its name, with a thumping beat and toe-tapping triplets, while the pair of jigs Pour Over has enough lift to float you clean over the Northumberland Strait. The slower title track is a spooky air, almost transcendental. No Bridge Too Far brings us right back to ceilidh culture, a medley of reel and polka rhythms to wake the dead, or at least disturb their sleep. Lots to enjoy here, all of it new but redolent of that pot pourri of cultures which co-exist on Prince Edward Island.
© Alex Monaghan


Còig "Rove"
Own label, 2017

Artist Video

www.coig.ca

Dropping to a foursome since their first album Five with the loss of fiddler Colin Grant, that hasn't stopped these Canadian young guns from producing a second CD with even more firepower. Rove opens up with storming sets of reels and jigs, a mix of old and new: the Irish classic The Earl's Chair is sandwiched between compositions by Crowley and Roach, while three traditional tunes frame the jig Chloe's Passion by Glenuig piper Dr Angus MacDonald. Still boasting two excellent Cape Breton fiddlers in Chrissy Crowley and Rachel Davis, with piano ace Jason Roach and incomer Darren McMullen on fretted strings and flutes, Còig hardly needed to draft in sideman Dave Gunning: but no Nova Scotian album is complete without a bit of guitar accompaniment.
In seven sets of tunes and five songs, Rove spans Canadian country, Scottish, Irish, modern jazz, and even English folk. Fiddle music from William Marshall's reel Burnside of Tynet to the great modern Quebec reel for the Dionne quintuplets, piano pyrotechnics on Dave Brubeck's Three to Get Ready and Jason's own New Prairie Spurs, funky pipe tunes by Allan MacDonald (but curiously not the third Glenuig brother Iain), Ross Ainslie, and of course Gordon Duncan, and inspired touches such as the pairing of the great pipe reel Lexie MacAskill with the more recent Princess Flower Puppy - I know it seems an obvious choice in hindsight, but it took Cóig's instrumental genius to carry it off!
The songs are no less impressive: an old Gaelic puirt a-beul made famous by The Bothy Band half a century ago, a number of emotional rollercoaster rides from folk and popular music, and the much older English song Bedlam Boys. Davis and McMullen share lead vocals, and despite the wide range of genres every number is convincing and compellingly delivered. This group's ability to back songs on piano, fiddles, cello, guitars and more gives them enormous scope, and keeps the surprises coming throughout Rove. Slow reels and strathspeys, smooth fiddle and staccato banjo, plenty of their own material as well as the best of three centuries of tradition: there seems to be no end to Cóig's talents, and I'm sure their story will continue well beyond this outstanding recording.
© Alex Monaghan


Leveret "Inventions"
Root Beat Records, 2017

Artist Video

www.leveretband.com

Cutting, Harbron and Sweeney are back with more of their magnificent arrangements of English music - and this time it's personal! Every one of the sixteen tunes here was written by one or other of our three musicateers, so I don't feel too bad about stealing a Jaws tagline to describe this CD. But is it just a CD? The sleevenotes are more like a music book, with notation for each piece, although you'd have to guess at the rhythms and tempos if it weren't for the accompanying disc. The two together constitute a masterclass in new English music, with very interesting lessons to learn.
Some of these tunes are so true to the tradition that I feel I already know them. In particular, the opening reel Rain on the Woodpile fits so naturally on flute and fiddle that it's hard to believe nobody thought of it before, especially in the Irish-American tradition which it resembles quite strongly. Similarly, Andy Cutting's Lady Grey has an affinity with the Scottish 3/2 Cam Ye O'er Frae France, and has all the character of a Northumbrian or Border piping hornpipe which makes it seem very familiar: in this case I may be biased by hearing the tune recently on The Shee's album Continuum for which it was written. Perhaps the ease with which Leveret's compositions slot into the wider English repertoire is the ultimate compliment to these tunesmiths.
The trio's performance of their own music is of course exemplary. Strong confident fiddling from Sam Sweeney on the jig Two Nights at Chievely is underscored by deep concertina harmonies. Andy's button box knocks out Henry Blogg with just the right balance of staccato and legato notes. The slow air Down to the Beach starts as a solo concertina showcase for Rob Harbron, and gradually adds fiddle to the melody with melodeon chords filling out the sound beautifully. It's impossible to say which of these new compositions will stand the test of centuries like Jack A Lent or The Rising Sun, but I'd say some of them will. The graceful joak Corton Ridge, the punchy Byron's, and the languid 9/8 Lola Flexen are strong contenders. Time will tell.
© Alex Monaghan


Shillelagh "Hemels Douwe"
Own Label, 2017

www.shillelagh.fr

With a name like Shillelagh, I was expecting more of an Irish sound from this Belgian band - not so. Hemels Douwe is pretty much a standard set of dance music from those disputed lands between Paris and Amsterdam, a Belgian "bal folk" or whatever the Flemish equivalent is. Schottiches, waltzes, Circassian circles, bourrées, mazurkas and polkas are delivered on fiddle, guitar and button box. The mix is melody-heavy, with little accompaniment from Benjamin Macke's melodeon, and considerable passages where Aurélien Tanghe's guitar carries the tune, although mostly it's the fiddle of Gabriel Lenoir which leads. The overall effect is pleasant and polished, with arrangements which bring out the best in these relatively simple tunes. My only reservation is that it may be hard for the dancers to pick out a beat at times.
There's plenty of enjoyable music on this CD, from the traditional Scottisch-Mazurka which I first heard played by the Brabants Volksorkest around 1980, to Macke's waltz Bleu which is rather more recent. Polka Surplas made the short trip to England at some point, and Du Bruit dans le Bourg is one of many modern French folk tunes which has a distinct North African tang. Polka Poortjes is more firmly Germanic, while Polka du Presbytère leans further east. The title track Het Viel eens Hemels Douwe serves as short introduction, then as a brief solo interlude for each of the three members of Shillelagh, and finally as a farewell song from the group - a nice touch. The band's website has quite a few samples from earlier recordings.
© Alex Monaghan


The Byrne Brothers "Family Tree"
Own Label, 2017

Artist Video

www.thebyrnebrothers.com

What should I compare this to - any semi-professional trio of button box, banjo and bodhrán? Or your typical bunch of lads who haven't even got to secondary school yet? Because that's what the Byrne Brothers are: with an average age of ten, and admittedly a very committed and involved father, they are touring the world with Irish music and dance while their classmates are still wondering whether to tie their shoelaces and which cereal to have for breakfast. Luca (13), Finn (11) and Dempsey (8) hail from Donegal and have various county championships under their belts as well as Ulster titles in Irish dancing. Having become something of a media phenomenon with their cute appearance and remarkable musical skills, they've now produced an album which is a little bit kitsch - but a big bit impressive.
Showpiece after showpiece is included in quite a short CD: The Humours of Tulla, Jean's Reel, The Swedish Jig, The Flaggon, and of course Music for a Found Harmonium. There's a dance track, a bit of highland piping, a lot of rock band showmanship from dad Tommy Byrne, and a final song for all the doting mammies and grannies. Tommy's whistle and pipes add an extra dimension, but the boys are well able to manage without him, even on slower numbers like Mark Kelly's Snowy Path and the climactic MacArthur Road by Dave Richardson. It's not perfect, but it will be in a couple of years. Expect to see Luca's button box, Finn's banjo, and Dempsey's cheeky face fronting some serious music in the not too distant future, unless they've retired before leaving school!
© Alex Monaghan


I Fratelli Tarzanelli "Vivat Vivere"
Appel Records, 2017

vi.be/...

Fiddle and button box, everything from French café songs to frenzied gypsy violin, this duo has a decade of experience in carving new shapes from the old stone of central European traditions. A bit of Spanish, a bit of Italian, a lot of French influences and a touch of Balkan madness: this combination makes interesting music. Accordionist Pablo Golder and fiddler Baltazar Montanaro are not brothers, and neither of them is Tarzan, but it's thrilling to hear them swing through the folk music jungle and swim through cliché-infested rivers to reach dangerous and forgotten places.
With three or four vocals tracks and a few calmer instrumentals, Vivat Vivere has a nice mix of moods but is at its best when Golder and Montanaro turn up the tempo. The opening Bourka and the Klezmer-like Fabiola are among my favourites here, but the highlight has to be the subversive lovesong Alice. There are similarities with groups such as Habadekuk and Bosca from Denmark, Will Pound and Eddy Jay from England, or Irish iconoclasts This Is How We Fly - but I Fratelli Tarzanelli have their own style which is not quite like anything else. Give them a listen.
© Alex Monaghan


Nolwenn Arzel "A Nezh Kalon"
Coop Breizh, 2017

www.nolwennarzel.com

Like most cultures, Breton music and tradition is a continuum: from the French-leaning borders of the Vannetais and Rennes regions to the westward-looking area of Finistère with its proximity to Cornwall, Wales and Ireland. This CD seems to come from the more accessible eastern end of the Breton continuum: its melodies are not too far removed from familiar cadences, and its lyrics are all in French. Harpist and singer Nolwenn Arzel is fiercely proud of her celtic heritage, as are her accomplices here Loïc Bléjean on pipes and whistles, Yvon Molard on percussion, Yann Quéféléant on guitar, and singer Gilles Servat who joins Nolwenn for a song dedicated to her great uncle Alphonse Arzel and his fight to right the wrongs of the Amoco Cadiz disaster.
As a harpist, Nolwenn shows rare skill on both traditional Breton pieces and the modern Irish-influenced Pachelbel's Reel. The opening set of Breton dances is a gentle delight, and this Hiberno-classical crossover version of Pachelbel's Canon in D is superbly arranged and played by all four musicians. Nolwenn's compositions here include an air, a mazurka and a waltz, all demurely attractive. The songs are more striking - a perruquier tries in vain to buy a girl's gorgeous locks, another girl succumbs to teenage seduction with drastic consequences, and a young wife is struck down on her wedding night. All standard traditional fare, leavened only by the jaunty little Irish hornpipe Her Golden Hair cascading from the harp of Nolwenn Arzel. If you enjoy this album, try Nolwenn's previous recording Strewiñ, a mainly instrumental mix of Breton and Irish traditions.
© Alex Monaghan


Karen Tweed & Timo Alakotila "Midsummer May Monday"
Own Label, 2017

www.karentweed.com

Reminding me of the Red Dwarf Japanese banquet quip, this album crams two dozen short tracks into thirteen stes of tunes which can be played individually or as medleys. Many of them are composed by accordion diva Karen Tweed or piano virtuoso Timo Alakotila, but there are others by their friends from Ireland, Finland, Sweden and beyond. Each piece is exquisitely arranged, a hallmark of May Monday music, and this pair pays homage to traditions from Stockholm to Spanish Point while putting their own unmistakable stamp on the music.
Planxties and polskas, tangos and two-steps, all these tunes were written in living memory (I think), and each one has a known composer, but that doesn't stop them being traditional. Celtic, Scandinavian and even Latin dance forms are supplemented by some more free-form airs. Some may be familiar - Seán Ó Riada's iconic Mná na hÉireann, a reel known as Richie Dwyer's for obvious reasons, and even Karen's waltz Lovely Lorraine are all well known and distinctive enough to stick in the memory. Others will probably be new to you: Rosa Kvint by Swedish guitarist Mattias Pérez, Ruane the Man by prolific composer Tom McElvogue, Col Sig of the 2-2-6 by highland fiddler and Poozie extraordinaire Eilidh Shaw, and of course many by Timo or Karen. It comes as no surprise that there are a lot of waltzes of various kinds here: both Tweed and Alakotila incline to 3/4s, but there are also fine examples by Elina Sipilä, Roger Tallroth, and even Billy McComiskey. Dip into this broad and deep pool of musical possibilities, and see what tickles your fancy.
© Alex Monaghan


Karen Tweed & Tom McElvogue "Luckpenny"
Own Label, 2017

www.karentweed.com

Flute and piano accordion, a rare combination in Irish music, but it works perfectly here. Unusually, there is no left-hand action on the accordion from Karen, and only the occasional right-hand chord, so this entire recording is a duet between two melody instruments without any additional accompaniment. Both Karen and Tom are well known as composers in addition to their virtuosic musicianship, but here they play none of their own tunes, preferring to stick to the tradition and recreate the feel of their early years playing Irish music for fun with friends and family. This recording is dedicated to one of those friends who passed away recently, Paul Ruane, and his fine composition Orla's Reel is one of a dozen or so tunes here with known composers: the rest are unattributed.
Virtuosic is no exaggeration. Tom and Karen are among the top performers of Irish music on their instruments, and while the tone of this CD is warm and informal, their musicianship here shows technique and expression which are quite exceptional. Reels, jigs and the occasional hornpipe are mesmerising, a session in miniature, perfectly conceived and executed by this pair. The flute soars up to the heights of Miss Thornton, then plunges to its resonant low notes for Maids of Mount Cisco. The accordion punches those offbeats on the fourth part of Dr O'Neill, and skips up and down the octaves for The Victory Reel. There's an occasional foray outside the strict bounds of the Irish tradition - Scott Skinner's Rosewood Jig in A is a challenge which Tweed and McElvogue take in their stride, and Sam Cormier's Reel by Daniel Lanctot brings a distinct Quebec feel to the final track - but Luckpenny is pretty much a straight-ahead Irish traditional album. Shandon Bells, Devaney's Goat, The Tailor's Twist, Crowley's and Castle Kelly - music doesn't come any greener.
© Alex Monaghan


WÖR "Sssht"
Appel Records, 2017

Artist Video

www.WeAreWOR.com

Well I said I wanted to hear mör from WÖR, and my wish has been granted with their second album! This quintet plays Flemish dance music from a forgotten period in the 18th century, based on old manuscripts dusted off and reinterpreted on fiddle, guitar, bagpipes, anachronistic accordion and that great Belgian invention the saxophone. WÖR's chosen music actually predates the creation of Belgium, but Flanders was always on the map and the musicians around Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and Leuven had a common tradition from the constant flow of merchants and soldiers across the Low Countries. Not much is known about the provenance of these sixteen tunes, and some of them don't even have titles: the opening VB 71bis gets its name as the second tune notated on p71 of the collection by Petrus Josephus Van Belle, dated 1743 in Viane just across the border from the Walloon village of Silly and its wonderful brewery (www.silly-beer.com if you're interested). Despite this lack of information, it's a great tune, a real piping showpiece, probably used for solo performance or a formal concert rather than local dances.
Other pieces on Sssht include sacred music such as Saligh Heijlig Bethleem, an untitled pastoral air notated by Frans de Prins in Leuven around 1781, jigs and triple-time dances (too early for the waltz), marches and minuets. The grinding fiddle melody which starts Gedachten could easily become a polska or an old-time promenade, while the stately tune which follows it has passed into the English folk canon via John Playford's publications. The first part of Péeken is known in both Scotland and England, as Stumpie and a version of Buttered Peas respectively, but Wevers Marche doesn't seem to be related to the Irish Weaver's March. All these tunes have been brilliantly reconstructed from manuscripts with presumably little or no indication of tempo, phrasing, rhythm or other niceties: WÖR are to be congratulated on taking museum pieces and bringing them to life as part of a vibrant tradition, a missing link between more recent Belgian dance tunes and the time of Charpentier, Lully, Praetorius and other late Renaissance or early Baroque composers and collectors in northern Europe. The final Meijskensberg track seems to revel in this new lease of life, a wonderful late renaissance for some great music.
© Alex Monaghan



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