FolkWorld #70 11/2019

CD Reviews

Leana & Hartwin "Kodu"
Trad Records, 2019

Trio Dhoore "August"
Trad Records, 2019

www.leanahartwin.ee

Artist Video

Leana & Hartwin are one half of the amazing Estonian/Belgian quartet Estbel (known also in the UK from their tour here last year). And this duo combines in itself Estonian and Belgian roots: Estonian singer Leana Vapper-Dhoore, who plays bagpipes, wooden flutes and bells, and Hartwin Dhoore of the Flemish Dhoore family on diatonic accordion. The couple lives these days together on the lonely Estonian island of Saaremaa, Leena’s home, which provides inspiration for their music - Leana writes songs that distil the magic, melancholy and beauty of open nature, remoteness and peace. The Estonian lyrics sound enchanted, and Hartwin’s wonderful accordion harmonies further underline the melancholic charm of Leana’s singing. Between the songs, we hear three sets of tunes composed by Hartwin which, whilst clearly inspired by the place he now lives, have traces of his BalFolk background, and which feature Leana on bagpipes or flutes. A truly magical album, which makes me hope that these two musicians will soon be on tour as a duo in the UK (and in Suffolk’s Froize!!).

www.triodhoore.com
When he is not playing with Leena, Hartwin Dhoore continues to play with his brothers Ward and Koen in the Trio Dhoore. Their music is steeped in Flemish and Bal Folk music traditions; this album is thus completely different to that of Hartwin and Leena. All tracks are the brothers’ own compositions, and all are instrumental. This is a wonderful soundscape, with harmonic combinations of accordion, hurdy gurdy and guitar/mandolin, with a bit of synths for additional atmosphere. As so often with sibling bands, the Dhoore’s interplay is very tight and feels intuitive. Whilst their playing is energetic, it comes across in a very relaxed way, making the music perfect for chilling out.
© Michael Moll

Trio Dhoore "August"
Trad Records, 2019

www.triodhoore.be

Artist Video

Three Flemish brothers making their own version of traditional music, Trio Dhoore have dabbled in French, Dutch and generic folk on previous recordings,[65] but this one has their own stamp on it. Very much governed by the sound of Koen's hurdy-gurdy and Hartwin's button box, with the guitar of Ward Dhoore an essential but less dominant ingredient, their earlier albums have drawn on the individual composing talents of each brother: in contrast, August was a conscious collaboration and has perhaps a more rounded feel as a result. The nine pieces here fit together and form a coherent whole. The title track comes from a legendary Flemish whaler, and several others have a maritime theme: the chopping and changing Haven, the island-inspired Noord. Others are distinctly land-based, like the pulsating Polderbuur which would make a great dance tune, or the graceful sweeping Innsbruck. Box, gurdy and guitar blend perfectly on Rednak, another distinctly danceable number written for the good friend who created the striking artwork for this CD. There's a gentler feel to Heuvelland and the final Speelhuis, suiting these safe and creative environments where Trio Dhoore developed their distinctive approach to the Flanders tradition. August is a finely crafted and polished manifestation of this band's exceptional talent.
© Alex Monaghan


Ivan Karvaix "Musique Traditionnelle des Combrailles"
AEPEM, 2019

Basile Brémaud "Musiques Traditionnelles d'Auvergne et du Limousin"
AEPEM, 2019

Two very different albums of fine French music, joined by the AEPEM series of "one musician, one instrument, one style": both Brémaud and Karvaix are masters of their art, but they take very different approaches. The Béchonnet bagpipe of Ivan Karvaix is a bellows-blown version of the Central French musette, popular in Auvergne around 1900. The Combrailles repertoire is mainly versions of familiar melodies from Auvergne or Berry - polkas, schottisches, waltzes, mazurkas and bourrées - but Ivan plays them in a very virtuosic, showmanlike style. Montagnarde de Pontgibaud, Polka de l'Estivant, and other pieces here have some challenging variations which are played with flair. The beat is maintained by the piper's clogs, sometimes with bells on, beating on the wooden floor. Karvaix plays pipes in various different keys, from the usual 16-inch C/G chanter to 14-inch and 19-inch instruments. His style is florid, flowing, heavily ornamented at times, and very focused on the melody.
Fiddler Basile Brémaud has a much more rhythmic approach, making great use of his feet alongside the violin, but also accentuating the rhythm with double-stops and ringing strings, percussive bowing, and vocals too on some tracks. Despite Auvergne and Limousin having well-documented music, much of the material here is not from the usual repertoire: it comes from remote villages where the fiddler's job was to drive the dancers on, and Basile is a master at that. It's quite remarkable how much energy and lift can come from a single fiddler. My previous experience of rhythmic French fiddle music was based on the trio Planchée, also reviewed here, but Brémaud almost matches their output single-handedly. Bourrées, waltzes and mazurkas, a wedding march where the fiddle immitates a hurdy-gurdy, a trio of bourées tournantes sung and played by turns, and the remarkable Polka selon Alexandre Savignat which sounds more Scandinavian than French: this recording is full of fascinating local melodies. Both Brémaud and Karvaix grew up in small communities where traditions were vibrant, and these new releases show a very healthy dance music scene across central France.
© Alex Monaghan


Esbelin & Simonnin "Le Lilas Blanc"
AEPEM, 2019

www.tiennetsimonnin.fr

This a fascinating, radical, and well-researched recording of Central French music from "La Belle Epoque", the years before the Great War, when the lines between tradition, folk, and popular music were even more blurred than today. Michel Esbelin (pipes and fiddle) and Tiennet Simonnin (continental button box) have reinterpreted sixteen pieces published in the late 19th century which were popular in Paris dance halls. Large numbers of Auvergne natives travelled to Paris to earn a living, numbering over 100,000 in the capital by 1911, and they brought their music with them. Some of these pieces were still popular in the thirties and even in the fifties, and were released as gramophone records; others were recorded on the earlier wax cylinders; and some may never have been recorded previously. Le Lilas Blanc includes thirteen remastered older recordings as a seperate CD, allowing immediate comparison between Esbelin & Simonnin's versions and the archive material which inspired them: this is a wonderful idea, the first time I have seen it done, and may become more common as recorded material passes out of copyright.
While all the old recordings are of singers, most of the sixteen new tracks on Le Lilas Blanc are purely instrumental. Four tracks feature guest vocals, from folk style to classical, and there are touches of piano and tenor banjo - popular instruments in the old Paris dance halls, often playing alongside cabrette and accordion. The melodies here are almost all waltzes, or 3/4 bourrées, at various tempos, and the notes explain that they were quickly adopted by pipers and accordionists for folk dances. There are two tracks of polkas - La Petite Bonne Femme and Mariette / Le Petit Panier - but these have a different character, respectively Parisian and almost Tyrolean. Most of the other melodies here are much closer to traditional Central French music. The showpiece air version of Les Boeufs demonstrates how a traditional musician might turn one of these songs into both a concert piece and a folk dance. The final A Batignolles-Clichy is typical of a style which fits the bal folk as well as the music-hall cautionary tale of the original song. With plentiful notes and online lyrics, Le Lilas Blanc is an absorbing and entertaining release.
© Alex Monaghan


Planchée "Musique à Danser de Haute-Bretagne"
AEPEM, 2019

www.planchee.fr

Deep folk - an intense sound, unmistakably old and regional, far from what we expect in modern Western music - Planchée produce a rhythmic, visceral sound which reminds me very much of renaissance dance music. The closest modern recording I can recall is the soundtrack to the film Le Retour de Martin Guerre, geographically not so different from north-east Brittany and the areas towards Limoges where this music has evolved. Musically, the similarities are numerous - bass and treble fiddles, strong beats and simple melodies, tunes that speak to the feet as much as the head. Yannick Laridon's accordion is a modern addition, of course, but the fiddle drones from Emmanuelle Bouthillier and Marthe Tourret, the ad hoc percussion of feet and fists, and the multiple modes in which Dylan James' double bass resonates from the ground up, all lend themselves to the vigorous and protracted dances of this region.
The dance forms here are different from central French bourrées and bransles, and from the Breton gavottes and plinns of further west. There is a polka, a schottische and even a ridée here, but there are many names new to me - avant-deux, passepied, maraîchine and more. Tourret, from Limousin, guests with the trio Planchée and the two female voices lead roughly half the tracks here, singing for dancing in a way very similar to Gaelic mouth music. In fact, the combination of rhythmic singing, strong fiddling, and foot percussion brings this tradition very close to the Hebridean step-dance and song preserved on Cape Breton Island: someone should invite Planchée to Celtic Colours! There are similarities with Nordic music too, particularly the floating fiddle melodies of Norway and the hypnotic yoiks of Lappland. Turn off your preconceptions about folk music and let the driving beat of Avant-Deux du Tube, the simple grace of La Limonade de Sureau and the joyful mayhem of Les Petits Oignons carry you off. Allez, on danse!
© Alex Monaghan


Michael Walsh "Quarehawk"
Own Label, 2019

www.michaelwalshmusic.com

Artist Video

Fascinating, bewildering, uplifting, this very personal offering is so unpolished you'll get splinters just listening to it. Yet that's how Michael Walsh intended it, and he enlisted the help of some smooth operators to achieve this: Mike McGldrick, Sam Proctor, and a good dozen more. Fluter, whistler, singer and seeker of hidden treasures, Walsh is a quarehawk alright - an exception to the rules, an outlier, a wild card, and proud of it. Cutting crackling new tracks with an old vinyl machine, mixing English and Irish and Asturian verses for The Shores of Lough Bran, going back to the music of Sully and Ewan MacColl and Josie McDermott, this trans-Pennine musician pays tribute to his childhood in Manchester and his friends in Sheffield, but also ventures much farther afield to the varied traditions of northern Spain.
The humble whistle ventures an old chestnut, Boys of Bluehill, but Michael makes so much of the ornamentation that it becomes a showpiece, a torrent of tonguing and fingering, a puzzle akin to Micho Russell's music. At the other end of this musical scale, Walsh's flute is almost a passenger on pieces taken from Tejedor and Llan de Cubel, with Paul Bradley on fiddle, Helen Gubbins on button box, Rubén Bada on bouzouki and Leticia González Menéndez on the indispensible tambourine. Songs and poems, jigs and reels, and a title track which comes with or without vocals and always with a large helping of Basque trikitixa from Kepa Junkera: Quarehawk is full of surprises, a switchback ride giving fresh views of Michael Walsh around each corner, rich and rare - but not for the faint-hearted!
© Alex Monaghan


Michael Cleveland "Tall Fiddler"
Compass Records, 2019

www.flamekeeperband.com

Here's a fiddler's dozen tracks featuring one of the hottest bow-wranglers in bluegrass or country music. Michael Cleveland has it all - speed, style, skill, and sensibility. While less than half this album is pure instrumentals - Cleveland persuades the McCoury brothers, Tim O'Brien, Sam Bush and Josh Richards to join him on vocals, and even takes a turn singing himself with his band Flamekeeper - every track is a showcase for this fiddle master.

Kicking off with a high-speed chase through Arkansas, rosin rising above the bluegrass building-blocks of banjo, guitar, mandolin and bass, Tall Fiddler glides through a range of songs: new country for High Lonesome Sound, oldtime's 20 Cent Cotton, and a blast of bluegrass on Beauty of my Dreams. A swing soliloquoy sees Tim O'Brien on mandolin and Bela Fleck on banjo supporting the soaring Cleveland fiddle. A couple of folky vocals, one slow and sad, one hot and saucy, presage the Tommy Emmanuel title track - a true tour de force on fiddle, plenty of breaks but no brakes. Who better to follow that than Fleck again, duetting with the fiddle on the Cleveland/Fleck collaboration Tarnation, six minutes of sultry, slick, smokin' strings.

Winding up to the big finish, Tall Fiddler presents a trio of country songs, tales of woe and wandering, with a bittersweet sound from Jerry Douglas on steel guitar, Michael's fiddle soaring and swooping, gritty lyrics overlaid with a smooth instrumental gloss. The final track, Cleveland's own composition Lazy Katie, blends bluegrass and older fiddle styles into a modern equivalent of those Bill Monroe and Kenny Baker classics, clear justification for Michael Cleveland's current pre-eminence among bluegrass fiddlers.
© Alex Monaghan


Benedicte Maurseth "Benedicte Maurseth"
Heilo, 2019

www.maurseth.net

Hardanger fiddle from a master - or rather a mistress of the art. Despite her relatively young age, Benedicte Maurseth plays fiddle, and croons wordless harmonies, with an eerie majesty that evokes the stark Nordic scenery of her homeland. This is not dance music - there are rhythms here, but not of any traditional dance form. Perhaps the most rhythmic piece is Den 4. Gorrlausen, a relatively quick 3/4 tempo played in a fiddle tuning quite close to the standard GDAE. Other melodies here are much freer rhythmically, based on unusual tunings - and freedom is one of Maurseth's trademarks, even within the constraints of the Hardanger tradition. Her own compositions are stunning, with multiple layers, still true to her regional style but playing with counter-rhythms and harmonics: this creates a very rich sound together with the sympathetic resonances of the Hardanger fiddle's extra strings. Still in her mid thirties, Benedicte Maurseth is one of the leading exponents of this style. Her performances look back to players from almost two centuries ago with Hulderslätt 1 & 2, and with Bygdatråen, tunes handed down aurally, learnt originally from magical creatures, like the faery pipers and fiddlers of Ireland, or the trowie tunes of Shetland and Orkney. Wherever it came from, this unique music with its mystical qualities still has a power and an appeal today.
© Alex Monaghan


Goitse "Úr"
Own Label, 2019

www.goitse.ie

German CD Review

Artist Video

Four songs and seven instrumental tracks from a band that is snapping at the heels of the best in the world. Appropriately, this fifth album opens with Dog Reels and Goitse's music hits you right between the ears. I listen to a lot of albums, as you'd expect, but rarely do the first notes pack the punch of Úr. No gentle ramp-up, no long self-indulgent intro: it's straight in there with bodhrán and bass giving a solid thump behind the box and banjo of Taidhg Ó Meachair and Alan Reid. When Áine McGeeney's fiddle comes through on The Callan Lasses it lightens the mood somewhat before the lads pile back in for a rattling reel jointly written by McGeeney, Reid and Ó Meachair. Despite their Donegal background, Goitse handle polkas with panache, and there's a trio of them here which take some beating.
On the vocal tracks, Goitse have followed the Beatles' advice: take sad songs, and make them sadder. Áine's high clear voice is already exceptional, and she pours pain and pathos into the lyrics here in English and Irish. Henry Joy is a timely reminder of Irish history which we all hope will not be repeated. Andy M Stewart's Queen of All Argyll has a note of optimism although the arrangement shares that same ominous mood created by Colm Phelan and Conal O'Kane. Emerald is a grim tale of star-crossed lovers who meet a grisly fate on the Isle of Gola. I don't understand the words of Úrchnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte, but from the tone here I'm guessing it doesn't end well for these lovers either. Fortunately the instrumentals are more cheery, despite titles such as Months Apart, The Invasion and My Lodging is Uncertain: half traditional and half newly formed, they include more reels and jigs at various tempos, a 5/4 of course, and the final Denis Murphy slide. Among the highlights are another sultry tune from McGeeney in Nancy's Arrival and a glorious version of Geese in the Bog. If you aren't already a fan of Goitse, this CD says you should be.
© Alex Monaghan


Iain MacFarlane & Ingrid Henderson "Cockerel in the Creel"
Old Laundry Productions, 2019

www.iainmacfarlaneingridhenderson.com

Scottish fiddle and harp, with keyboard accompaniment, piano accordion and whistle, all provided by this husband and wife duo steeped in West Highland traditions: this is a most welcome return to recording by two of the leading lights of Lochaber music. Their new album is short on information but long on quality, and although it didn't quite make the shortlist for Scottish CD of the year, it is still one of the best of 2019 in my view. Reels, jigs, some gorgeous slow tracks, hornpipes and strathspeys, man: there's even a pair of bagpipe 2/4 marches on fiddle, Inspector Donnie Barra's by Iain and the traditional Athol Highlanders' Farewell to Loch Katrine. You can hear the piping influence in the fiddle, and in harp and accordion too, although they grab slightly less of the limelight here. Maggie 'Hearach' MacDonald's Waltz is a highlight, as is the air Flower of the Quern, a rather different interpretation from Aly Bain's recording of this Skinner classic. James Scott Skinner, William Ross, and Phil Cunningham compositions all feature here, alongside several traditional favourites such as the title tune, but about half of Cockerel in the Creel is new material from Iain and Ingrid. Iain's fiddle leads on his air Alistair, Dailbeag and Ingrid's clarsach opens a lovely trio of Whisky Jigs (no age statement). The harp hornpipes sparkle and dance, and Bob Ramsay's Set is a great example of highland fiddling. The final Houghton House is the icing on a fine confection of choice music expertly played.
© Alex Monaghan


Alpinis "2019"
Zytglogge, 2019

www.hslu.ch/...

This group has quite a bit in common with the Thorntons chocolate confection of the same name: they're tasty, pretty much continental, and loaded with nuts. Folk music nuts in this case - Alpinis is the folk ensemble of Lucerne's music department, university level music students playing folk for fun. There are twelve of them here, and they are stunningly good: none of the awkward formality of classical musicians playing trad, none of the fumbles of amateur folk players, just smooth and expert performances of dance music, folk showpieces, and several new compositions. Most of the 2019 offering is Swiss or similar - an A minor schottische to start, then the cheeky Gluteus Maximus, and a pair of pieces by this group's leader Albin Brun, split by the eclectic Helándler which combines Tyrolean dance with Nordic and Balkan influences.
The appropriately named Vortex twists and spins like a techno shaman. Erschte Mai is a melodeon fest with basso continuo behind a spiky modern tune. There's a traditional waltz arranged for concert band, a bit of contemporary jazz in Petrichor, the descriptive Glen Ogle which may refer to the village near the head of Loch Tay, and Brun's Asphalt Alpin which sits somewhere between samba and symphony. A couple of traditional dance tunes bring 2019 to its final brooding Potteresque piece, less folk than filmic, with elements of Fiddler on the Roof as well as Peer Gynt and Prokofiev. All this music is delivered on fiddles and cello, hammered dulcimer and button box in the Swiss style, piano and upright bass. The lack of woodwind and brass makes the Alpini sound quite different from town bands or most Alpine dance groups. They can't resist a bit of yodelling though: powerful harmonic singing features on a few tracks, complementing the instrumentals.
© Alex Monaghan


Les Fireflies "Les Fireflies"
Own Label, 2019

facebook.com/...

On their all-too-brief debut album, three outstanding New Brunswick fiddlers have put together a fabulous collection of tunes old and new, plus three vocal tracks and one of those wonderful French Canadian song-tune medleys. All with solo albums to their names, Les Fireflies bring enormous combined talent to bear here. Christine Melanson, Louise Vautour and Samantha Robichaud share fiddle and vocal honours, while Melanson doubles up on piano and guitar, with JP Cormier filling in on pretty much everything you can think of, including shaky egg. All three ladies launch into a set of traditional reels for openers, followed of course by a set of jigs where Vautour takes the lead on the catchy Harry-O Jig backed by Robichaud's fiddle and Melanson's ivories. Christine steps up for the first song, her own Where You Gonna Sleep, a lament for the touring life, backing herself on guitar and beautifully supported by both her buddies on vocals and fiddles.
Sam and Louise duet on a pair of Robichaud originals before it's Louise's turn to sing, a seductive traditional French song with a full band arrangement. The funky title track is a 3-way composition, three fiddles back by JP on drum'n'bass. Debbie's Waltz gets a novelty makeover as a vinyl single in honour of Graham Townsend's prodigious output of LPs and cassettes, pure fiddle, setting up a trio of big old reels topped by John Morris Rankin's great Hull's Reel. Samantha's song How to Fly is a dreamy ballad co-written with Christine, arranged in a contemporary style for piano and violins with three-part vocal harmonies, breathtaking. Much of this recording was done old-style, all parts played together, so the tight 3-voice fiddle and vocal numbers are all the more impressive. Les Fireflies' final powerful track combines vocal and fiddle leads on the traditional En Filant ma Quenouille, earthy and raw, with a great Jerry Holland reel for a spectacular finish to a pretty special album.
© Alex Monaghan


Jenny Gustafsson & Hans Kennemark "Ornunga"
Own Label, 2019

www.gustafssonkennemark.se

A second album from these two impressive West Sweden fiddlers, Ornunga focuses on the legacy of one particular musician from a village a few miles north-east of Gothenburg. Johan Albert Petterson was born in 1852 and travelled widely for work, as far as Oslo and beyond: he gained a great reputation as a musician, but it wasn't until 1919 that his music was collected by the Swedish Folk Music Commission. It seems he was still a fine player, and despite his wide repertoire, for the Commission he played almost exclusively local tunes which he had learned as a child. This information and much more is contained in the excellent album notes in Swedish and English.
The majority of the tunes here are polskas, played on fiddles, with some accompaniment on piano, harmonium and double bass. There are also three tracks with vocals, two songs written about Johan and his mother Ella Maja, and one wordless melody which Ella Maja sang to Johan as a child. Finsken efter Ella Maja Johansdotter is a beautiful gentle piece, an old dance form in 6/4 probably. Jenny and Hans have added a couple of local tunes to the dozen collected in 1919, one of which is clearly a version of the popular English polka Jenny Lind and may provide the missing link between the two common variants. Ornungavals was recorded on Gustafsson and Kennemark's previous album, and is offered here with its Syster, a similar melody also collected from Petterson. Many of Johan Albert's polskas are new to me, but they soon hook in: Spetarspolska and Vispolska are particularly catchy. Jenny and Hans perform regularly in Gothenburg, so try and catch them if you visit!
© Alex Monaghan


Anders Rosén & Jonas Åkerlund "Hälsningar"
Hurv, 2019

Dance music from central Sweden, played on two fiddles, Hälsningar is filled with delightful melodies and driving rhythms. Numerous local dance forms as well as the more widespread polskas are played with power and precision here. Anders and Jonas provide everything the dancers need, marking the beat with strong bowstrokes and double stopping. These tunes are not complex, and in fact this is a very approachable taste of Swedish music for listeners and players alike.
About half the material here is old, passed down through the tradition, and half is written by Rosén. The opening En Lugn Låt is a fine example of the newer compositions, gentle but firm, swaggering to a simple melody underpinned by multiple harmonies. Svalan is another of Rosén's, a solid 3/4 beat emphasised by the feet while the melody glides smoothly across it. The last 4 tracks are a sort of suite, titled Älvalek or "Elf Play", more descriptive than dance music. Another exception is the wedding march written for Anders and his wife Lena by Niklas Nåsander, a very graceful piece. Hälsningar is well worth a listen, and the website also has links to several other albums which look very interesting.
© Alex Monaghan


Torridon "Break the Chains"
Own Label, 2019

www.torridonlive.com

With the end of Runrig's official career,[68] various folk rock bands have become more prominent in Scotland. Torridon is one of these - re-invented since its inception two decades ago, with Kenny Smith now penning and fronting all the songs, and an instrumental line-up strengthened by Grant Milne on pipes and whistles plus Michael John MacMillan on keys and pipes. Break the Chains offers eight new songs and three broadly traditional instrumental sets. The songs share certain elements of highland life and Celtic rock themes with the likes of Runrig, Dougie MacLean, Hothouse Flowers: homesickness, striving for opportunity, shipwreck, disappointment, love, and of course drink.
The songs are punchy, the words resonate, and the Torridon groove is a pleasing one. This is geat party and festival material, hind brain stuff, despite the dark subtexts. If it's dancing you're after, the pipes provide a sultry set of reels, some cracking polkas including a stripped-back version of Calliope House by Dave Richardson, and some storming highland jigs. Perhaps the most Gaelic track here is the well-known song air Togail Curs air Leodhas followed by a couple of pumping pipe reels. The final football anthem Drinking Away will win hearts among the Tartan Army or indeed any Scottish fans who follow their teams without the need for tickets to the actual game.
© Alex Monaghan


Norman MacKay "The Inventor"
Own Label, 2019

Artist Video

www.normanmackay.com

We all know what happened to the famous Thane of Cawdor. Well, here's another Nairnshire lad who's on track to be crowned Scotland's button accordion king. This second "solo" album is all Norman's own compositions. Although the button box fronts almost every track, it is joined by a pantheon of Scottish and other musicians: Megan Henderson, Kristan Harvey, Claire Campbell, Greg Lawson and Jani Lang on violins, Su-a Lee on cello, Duncan Lyall on bass, Jack Badcock on guitars, Lorne MacDougall on pipes and Toby Shippey on trumpet are the ones I recognise, but there are many more. Phil Alexander takes a piano solo on the final track, a reprise of the opening title piece, a waltz in the French style with scope for feeling as well as fancy fingerwork. There are a lot of waltzes on The Inventor, at least six, all different, from the unmistakably Scottish Mackenzie Cottage to the sultry Latin Monachil Waltz which belongs in a pirate film about burning another king's Spanish mane and suchlike.
The Inventor keeps to a moderate tempo, nothing too fast, but the music is intense and demanding at times. Gentle pieces like the haunting air Ian Mackay and the graceful Coach House are balanced by the insistent slow reel Carly's Trip to Ecclefechan (a sort of Scottish Shangri-La without the health benefits, but with more tarts) and the musing Gellatly's March which gets an injection of highland bagpipes over a choral canvas of Edinburgh singers. On the march Missy of the Mhor, Mackay's arrangement builds from a simple accordion melody to include piano and trumpet lines, a string section, and multiple harmonies. This album reaches its energetic climax - peak heuch, you might say - on the improbably-named Disco's Inferno, a modern contrapuntal jig approaching ceilidh speed, with added banjo and percussion. In general, though, this is not music for letting your hair down: keep it up, lift it right off your ears, and really listen to Norman Mackay's music, a dozen exquisite melodies arranged and presented here with rare skill.
© Alex Monaghan


Colm Mac Con Iomaire "The River Holds its Breath"
Ceirníní Ardchlár, 2019

German CD Review

Artist Video

www.colmmacconiomaire.com

A beautifully presented CD, with a striking graphic motif which could have been even better if the designer had allowed for the placing of the actual disc in the package, but still this is one of the nicest-looking albums to come my way in a while. The music is somewhere between easy listening and light classical, all composed by fiddler Mac Con Iomaire who is used to writing and arranging for the big screen. He certainly spreads a large canvas here, using drums and bass, a small choir, trumpet and electric guitar, and of course the trusty string quartet, as well as Bill Whelan on piano and Colm's own fiddle, guitar, bouzouki, ukulele and more. The result is impressive, powerful at times, soothing at others, flowing and shifting to follow the river metaphor.
Despite his Kila background,[67] Colm's own music has none of the urban bite or the Irish rhythms which are the hallmarks of that group. The River Holds its Breath reminds me more of the gentler passages in Riverdance, or of film music from Once, Into the West, Dancing at Lughnasa and similar Irish movies of time and place. The title track's high sweet violin melody floats over a more grounded piano part, then changes into the oriental sliding notes of Golden Hour. Ó Shliabh go Cuan portrays the changes as the river moves from the uplands to the coast, and loses itself in the ocean's waters. Solasta provides a handy Irish translation for the topical film The Shining, almost as topical as Amhrán Venezuela. The motifs and arrangements swirl and merge, mix and flow, emeralds glinting in deep pools, while the surface stays smooth and tranquil. There's Irish in there, but you have to dive for it.
© Alex Monaghan


Ciarán Ryan "Banjaxed"
Own Label, 2019

www.ciaranryanmusic.com

Pretty much everything you can legally do with a banjo is on this debut solo release from a young talent already widely recognised across Europe and beyond. Ciarán's proud Irish and Roma ancestry led to the formation of Hungarian-Celtic band Dallahan whose eclectic mix of styles spans bluegrass, jazz and contemporary Scottish folk. Mr Ryan's tenor banjo and fiddle have graced many an Edinburgh session: he plays whatever's in front of him, in a modern Irish style which sits easily with pieces by Donal O'Connor, Michael McCague and Stevie Dunne here. Aside from these three, and the reel Black Pat's by the late great Tommy Peoples, all the tunes on Banjaxed are Ryan compositions. Starting from the relatively traditional Border Pint, they meander away from straight Irish through the American backwoods and the fringes of Europe towards the bright lights of Chicago Fire.
Sixteen of Ciarán's tunes spread a rich carpet of colurs and textures as he switches from banjo to mando to fiddle, aided and abetted by Bevan Morris on bass and Donald Hay on percussion. The opening Tongue in Cheek set is a great taster for this album: an almost traditional reel with modal hints of middle Europe is ousted by the more contemporary Cast the Net edging towards funky Cajun blues, before a distinctly Asturian Trip to Oviedo. Not all Ryan's titles are so helpful, and there are surely stories behind Stumble Weed, Beaver Island, Plug Away and The Fair of Muff. You have to draw the line though: I like cheese more than most, but Ode to Pecorino?! Great tune all the same. Skew-Whiff is a tale we maybe don't want to hear, and it makess a rare departure from the clubbing 4/4 rhythms here. The title track ends a feast of fine music, touches of whistle and trumpet, a bit of Wurlitzer, but the banjo grabs the limelight every chance it gets, and I wouldn't begrudge it a single photon for its rare star quality.
© Alex Monaghan


Las Migas "Cuatro"
Own label, 2018

www.lasmigas.com

Artist Video

The first time that I saw the Spanish female band Las Migas (‘The Bread Crumbs’ . Don’t get it mixed up with the word ‘amigas’, friends, although the intention exists I’m sure), it was in 2011 in the Nürnberg Bardentreffen. An exciting concert inside the ruins of St. Katharina’s church, absolutely packed with a stand up audience which enjoyed maybe the last Migas’s performance with the charming singer Silvia Pérez Cruz. At that very event, Silvia was announced to be starting a solo career.
‘Las Migas’ at that time was a band of four girls, who had studied & played together in the city of Barcelona. Today’s ‘Las Migas’ is still a four musicians band and that gives the name to this 5th album: ‘Cuatro’. They still play flamenco music in a new but still conventional style (when compared to other recent artists like Rosalia), although since the beginning they incorporated for instance the fiddle, a still infrequent instrument in this tradition from southern Spain. The band’s line up in 2019 is: Roser Loscos (violín), Marta Robles (guitar), Alicia Grillo (guitar) and Carolina Fernández «La Chispa» (lyrics & dance). I understand that Marta is the only ‘Miga’ remaining from the initial band. ‘Cuatro’ compiles a set of ten refreshing tunes, often keeping some distance from what the flamenco experts would consider the purest forms of this music (not so much ‘cante hondo’ in here), but still entirely inspired and respectful with the traditions of this mainly southern style of Spanish folk.
Songs that I specially like are : ‘Perdóname Luna’, ‘La Maleta’, ‘Soñé’, or ‘Con lo Bien que Yo Estaba Sola’. ‘Cuatro’ is an album full of lovely performed, totally cheerful and uncomplicated flamenco music and, why not..., with a female flavor. Also very recommendable for those who want to start getting familiar with this Spanish genre, or even just to enjoy dancing its rumbas in a party.
© Pío Fernández



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