Pay The Reckoning

Reviews

Pay The Reckoning Home Page

Reviews

Original Tunes

New Interviews

New The Blythe Hill Tavern Session

Rants and Raves

Aidan Crossey's Irish Mandolin Vol One

Links

The Glass Slipper/An Maindilin - superb recordings of Irish and Scottish music played on the mandolin

The Humours of Lewisham Volume Two

Contents

Andrew Murray - Hell Or High Water (BCM 001)

Since launching his solo career, the press have been falling over themselves to lavish praise on former De Danaan vocalist Andrew Murray's new CD and the extensive tour which accompanied its release.  The same words are repeated over and over again to describe his voice; warm, deep, resonant, rich, luxurious ... and indeed Murray's voice possesses all of these qualities, and more.  His sonorous tones and deliberately low-key delivery call to mind other fine singers, Len Graham, Tim Dennehy and Murray's fellow county-man, Sean Keane.  And yet Murray is, like all fine singers, "his own man"; a slave to no style or category.

His musical intelligence is keen as a blade, allowing him to sing songs from the Irish and Scottish traditions alongside contemporary songs and yet have the album gel prefectly, anchored by his velvety voice and unrushed delivery.

Among the highlights are a superb rendition of Lord Franklin and a masterly reading of Richard Thompson's The Poor Ditching Boy.  However many singers will be grateful to Murray for the first ever recording of Thomas Moore's Little Miss Kelly.  On first hearing, a deceptively slightish ditty, Murray's highly-swung delivery grows and grows.

Accessible enough to become a best-seller and yet with so much honesty, ruggedness and understated passion to satisfy the demands of the connoisseur.

Available from Copperplate (who now accept PayPal!) on http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

Track listing (with Murray's notes):

1. Castle Garden - Traditional song learned from the singing of Len Graham.
2. The Poor Ditching Boy - Written by Richard Thompson
3. Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards) - Written by Tom Waits.
4. Lord Franklin - Song about Franklin's doomed search for the North West Passage
5. Black Muddy River - Written by Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead).
6. Little Miss Kelly - Written by Thom Moore, never recorded before; Thanks Thom.
7. I Wish My Love was a Red, Red Rose - Traditional Irish song.
8. Another Story - Written by Dougie MacLean.
9. Green Grows the Laurel - Traditional song I learned from the singing of Len Graham.
10. Slow Song - Written by Kevin Doherty. Thanks Kevin.
11. Jock O Hazeldene - Old Scottish song that was adapted by Walter Scott.
12. The Father’s Song - Written by Ewan MacColl. 
Pay The Reckoning, October 2005

Pay The Reckoning's Mini-Reviews, July-September 2005

John Doyle - Wayward Son (Compass Records 7 4408 2)

Co-founder of Solas, and inspiration for countless guitar players ever since, Doyle's 2005 solo outing showcases his ability as an interpreter of song, as an accomplished melody player and as a composer of fine tunes.  The guest list reads like a who's who of traditional and folk music ... Alison Brown, Liz Carroll, Casey Driessen, Stuart Duncan, Seamus Egan, Kenny Malone, John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, Tim O'Brien, Kate Rusby, Linda Thompson, Danny Thompson and John Williams.

Details from http://www.compassrecords.com

Track list

1. The Gallant Poacher
2. Jack Dolan
3. The Glad Eye/The Journeyman/The Wayward Son
4. Captain Glenn
5. Bitter The Parting
6. Old Bush/Expect The Unexpected
7. The Apprentice Boy
8. Tie The Bonnet/Monaghan Twig/A Fair Wind/The Convenience Reel
9. The Month Of January
10. Little Sadie
11. Eddie Kelly's/Reavy's Tribute To Coleman
12. The Cocks Are Crowing

Niamh de Burca - An Ait a Bhfuil Do Chroi (Gael Linn CEFCD 186)

De Burca's cultured voice oozes from the speakers, swathed in multi-textured, polished accompaniment by a "cream of the crop" of Irish musicians.

Featuring James Blennerhassett (double bass), Maire Breatnach (fiddle, viola, backing vocals), Seamus Brett (piano, keyboards, box), Danny Byrt (percussion), Mick Giblin (guitar, backing vocals), Mark Kelly (guitar), Mick O'Brien (pipes, whistles),  Jim O'Leary (vocals, backing vocals), Fergal O Murchu (backing vocals) and Bill Shanley (guitars).

More information at http://www.gaellinn.com

Track listing

1. Faoilean
2. My Johnny Was  A Shoemaker
3. Nansai 'Mhile Gra
4. Seal Tamall ar Strae
5. The Fairy Boy
6. Sile Ni Ghadhra
7. If I Never Spend A  Morning Without You
8. Barr a tSleibhe
9. Farewell Dearest Nancy
10. De Bharr na gCnoc
11. Ye Lovers All
12. Here's  A Health

Caoimhin Vallely - Strayaway (Own Label CVCD001)

One of the talented Armagh dynasty, Caoimhin gives us a thoughtful and dazzling display of musicianship.  Although the piano is forever associated in many people's minds with a strict backbeat to keep solo musicians "on-course", Caoimhin is one of a handful of players who've moved the piano from the background into the full glare of the limelight.

As adept at anchoring others' tunes as he is supremely in control "in the driving seat", Vallely's album will certainly be an inspiration to those pianists who wish to explore to the full the instrument's potential as a melody instrument.  For the rest of us, we'll be content to listen to a skilled and sensitive musician give us his personal take on the tunes.

Brothers Niall (concertina) and Cillian (pipes) share a few tunes with Caoimhin.  Elsewhere, Brian Morrissey (bodhran), Paul Meehan (guitar) and Martin Leahy (drums) lend their support.

More information at http://www.caoimhinvallely.net

Track listing:

1. The Strayaway Child
2. The Drunken Sailor
3. The Bunch Of Keys/Farewell To London
4. Sean O Duibhir a' Ghleanna
5. Paddy Fahy's/The Abbey Tavern/The Braes Of Busby/Ryan's Rant
6. Unapproved Road/Slieve Russell
7. Paddy Kelly's
8. Take A Message To Julia/The Long Distance Runner
9. The Whistler Of Rossleigh
10. The Kitchen Piper/Corise's Goose

Micheal O Suilleabhain - Micheal O Suilleabhain (Gael Linn CEFCD 046)

This re-release of O Suilleabhain's 1976 debut solo recording still retains its ability to stop the listener in his or her tracks.  Using a variety of keyboard instruments (clavichord, harpsichord, piano, pedal organ and mini-moog), O Suilleabhain aimed to apply these to Irish traditional music and to emulate the techniques of the players of native instruments, chiefly the harp and the pipes, in his playing.

O Suilleabhain has, of course, gone much further since in exploring further this experimental approach to Irish traditional music, both in his artistic and his academic careers, where he remains capable of creating controversy.  And yet even a cursory listen to the eponymous debut reveals that while O Suilleabhain may have played controversial instruments, his playing was very measured, elegant and true to the tradition.

More information at http://www.gaellinn.com

Track listing:

1. Bonaparte Crossing The Rhine
2. Salamanca
3. The Wexford Carol
4. Miss Hamilton
5. Jockey To The Fair
6. Sui Sios fa mo Dhidean
7. Le hais na Siuire/Cois Abha Moire na nDeise
8. The Long Note
9. Cailleach an Tuirne
10. The Downfall Of Paris
11. The Lovely Banks Of The Suir
12. Lady Iveagh
13. The Old Copper Plate
14. Oiche Nollag
15. The Wild Geese

Various Artists - Live From The Katharine Cornell Theatre (KCT Concerts KCT1)

Highlights of seven concerts held at The Katharine Cornell Theater (we defer to the American spelling in this piece!) in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts from May 2002 through December the same year, featuring Paddy Keenan and Tommy Peoples with Billy Kelly, Teada, Sean Tyrrell with Fergus Feely, Liz Doherty with Dave O'Neill, Niall and Cillian Vallely with Donal Clancy, Liz and Yvonne Kane with John Blake and finally Tommy Peoples with Billy Kelly.

The album is, of course, a collection of highlights and the quality of the playing and singing comes as no surprise.  However in addition to the excellence of the music per se, the collection is remarkable for the manner in which the many artists, each with their own unique take on the music, sit so comfortably - so naturally! - alongside each other.

Proof that Irish music really does travel well!

More information from KCT concerts, email on kctcd@earthlink.net  The album is available for purchase from Ossian USA http://www.ossianusa.com

Track list:

CD1
1. Paddy Keenan - Johnny's Tune
2. Teada - Tom Roddy's/The Old Firm/The Chicken That Made The Soup
3. Billy Kelly - The Holy Ground
4. Tommy Peoples - Fisherman's Island/The Hunter's House/Johnny Cronin's
5. Niall and Cillian Vallely - Once In A Blue Moose/Over The Moor To Maggie
6. Liz Doherty - Le Tourment/Pacific Avenue/Betty Anne's Jig
7. Liz and Yvonne Kane - The Jug Of Punch/Fred Finn's/Maghera Mountain
8. Sean Tyrrell - Satisfied Mind
9. Tommy Peoples - The Frieze Breeches/The Lark In The Morning
10. Teada - Micho Russell's/Bill Harte's/The Green Gates
11. Paddy Keenan and Tommy Peoples - The Monaghan Twig/The Killavil/The Boyne Hunt
12. Liz And Yvonne Kane - The Bee's Wing/In Memory Of Michael Coleman
13. Sean Tyrrell - The Angels Whisper
14. Paddy Keenan - The Factory Girl/The Man Of The House
15. Teada - The Cordal Jig/Winnie Hayes'
16. Niall And Cillian Vallely - Muireann's Jig

CD2
1. Tommy Peoples - The Fairest Rose
2. Teada - Rossinver Braes
3. Sean Tyrrell - Cap And Bells
4. Liz Doherty - Mouth Of The Tobique/French Canadian Reel
5. Paddy Keenan And Tommy Peoples - The Ace And Deuce Of Piping/Dunphy's Hornpipe
6. Liz And Yvonne Kane - The Ducks In The Oats/Jig For Jimmy/Paddy Fahey's
7. Niall And Cillian Vallely - Molly From Longford/Argyll Lassies/Jenny Dang The Weaver/Malfunction Junction
8. Billy Kelly - Aye Fond Kiss
9. Teada - Cherish The Ladies
10. Tommy Peoples - Candles/The Morning Thrush
11. Liz Doherty - Johnny Sunshine/The Blue Lamp
12. Niall And Cillian Vallely - The Gold Ring/Dan Collins' Father's Jig
13. Liz And Yvonne Kane - Kusnacht
14. Billy Kelly - Jack Tar
15. Paddy Keenan And Tommy Peoples - Reavy's/Paddy Taylor's
16. Teada - Michael Hynes'/Peter Horan's/The Flannel Jacket
Pay The Reckoning, October 2005

The National Symphony Orchestra Of Ireland - Sean O'Riada's Mise Eire (Gael Linn CEFCD 080)

Another in the series of Gael Linn's re-releases of classic recordings, O'Riada's monumental film scores for the films Mise Eire (d. George Morrison, 1959), Saoirse? (d. George Morrison, 1960) and An Tine Bheo (d. Louis Marcus, 1966) demonstrate that he was as adept at capturing the musical pulse of the nation as names such as Vaughan-Williams or Sibelius, each of whom in their time famously drew inspiration from the folk music of their respective home countries.

The "repackaging" of the native music of Ireland for a symphony orchestra was an ambitious - some might say foolhardy - task.  However O'Riada's certainty of touch extracts maximum dramatic impact from the music and avoids sentimentality and histrionics.  The music thus presented is a long way from the hearth and home, but it retains its power to stir the heart and to conjure up its own images.

Available in the UK via Copperplate http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

Elsewhere, via Gael Linn http://www.gaellinn.com 

Track listing

Mise Eire
1. Mise Eire (I Am Ireland)
2. Mionteama (Link Theme)
3. Cogadh na mBorach (Boer War Theme)
4. Sochraid Bachelor's Walk (The Funeral Of Bachelor's Walk Victims)
5. O Donnabhain Rosa os Cionn Clar (O'Donovan Rossa Lying In State)
6. Oglaigh na hEireann (Irish Volunteers' Theme)
7. Cois Uaigh Dhiarmaid Ui Dhonnabhain Rosa (By O'Donovan Rossa's Graveside)
8. Lamhach na dTaoiseach (The Execution Of The Leaders)
9. Eiri Amach (Insurrection)
10. Athshuaimhneas Cois Life (Peace Returns To The Liffeyside)
11. Mionteama (Link Theme)
12. Cathair Bhriste (Dublin Devastated)
13. Teama na nOglach (Irish Volunteers' Theme)
14. An Asgard (The Asgard Sequence)
15. Mise Eire

Saoirse?
16. Saoirse? (Freedom?)
17. Kelly The Boy From Killane
18. An Ceol Sochraide (Terence McSwiney Funeral Sequence)
19. Who Fears To Speak?
20. Na Dubhchronaigh (Black And Tan Sequence)
21. Cloigini Luchaire (Joybells)
22. Ceal Mairseala (Step Together)
23. Mionteamai (Link Themes)
24. Saoirse? (Freedom?)

An Tine Bheo
25. An Tine Bheo (The Living Fire)
26. A Nation Once Again
27. An Tine Bheo (The Living Fire)
28. Ceol An Phiarsaigh (Pearse Theme)
29. The Grand Old Dame Britannia
30. Who Fears To Speak?
31. Mionteamai (Link Themes)
32. God Save Ireland
33. Ruairi Mac Easmainn (Roger Casement Theme)
34. An Tine Bheo (The Living Fire)
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Macalla - Mna na hEireann (Women Of Ireland) (Gael Linn CEFCD 110)

Among Gael Linn's latest batch of re-releases is 1984's seminal "Macalla" project.  Initially conceived as one of Ireland's contributions to that year's International Women's Day, the line-up included many who have since gone on to become household names in the trad world.  At the time, many of the artists featured in Macalla were relatively unknown - the power, sensitivity and soulfulness of this recording ensured that the spotlight would, however, fall on many of the participants in subsequent years.

There have been many debates in recent years as to whether Irish music is gender-biased.  There is certainly no shortage of female artists of influence in previous generations.  However the number of female artists of note is swamped by the much greater presence of men.  There are any number of reasons why this should have been the case and you don't need a PhD in sociology to begin to list these. Suffice to say that a form of music which relied almost up until the present generation for its transmission on protagonists being able to "get out and about" places women - traditionally seen as being more tied to the home - at a disadvantage.

However it must always have been the case - musical talent and the love of music being non-discriminatory - that throughout the history of Irish Traditional Music, as many women as men were good musicians (or had the potential to be so).  And so, in a sense, this album serves as a reminder of the obvious (that female musicians are as brimming with talent as their male counterparts) and, one suspects, as a testament to previous generations of musical Irish women who found it difficult to get the recognition which they may have deserved.

Mostly based in Dublin, the women of Macalla came throughout Ireland and the range of music and variety of musical styles in evidence reflects their diversity.  The songs are sung in a "choral" mannerArtists involved in Macalla at the time of the recording were:

Seosaimhin Ni Bheagloich - vocals
Mary MacNamara - concertina
Roma Casey - fiddle
Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh - fiddle/vocals
Mary Corcoran - fiddle
Maire Ni Chaoimh - fiddle
Siobhan Ni Chaoimh - fiddle
Patsy Broderick - piano/synthesiser
Mary McElvaney - fiddle
Siobhan Breathnach - harp/vocals
Mary Clare Breathnach - vocals
Brid McElvaney - fiddle
Clare Eustace - fiddle
Pearl O'Shaughnessy - fiddle
Mairead Ni Ghallchoir - vocals/bodhran
Joan McDermott - vocals
Nora M. Ni Loinsigh - vocals
Roisin Gaffney - vocals
Ursula Kennedy - vocals
Maureen Fahy - fiddle
Clodagh Mc Grory - flute
Edel McWeeney - fiddle
Catherine McGorman - flute

Available to purchase in the UK via Copperplate http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

In all other areas, go to http://www.gaellinn.com

Track listing
1. An Cailin Aerach
2. O'Dowd's/The Union Reel
3. Mna na hEireann
4. An Seanduine Doite/Paddy Canny's
5. Bhi Mise La
6. Blackberry Blossom/Lord McDonnell/Vincent Broderick's
7. Highlands/The Congress Reel
8. Eibhlin Gheal Chiuin
9. Cobbler's/Strop The Razor
10. Taimse 'gus Maire
11. The Chancellor/Paddy Sullivan's
12. Aililiu na Gamhna
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Paddy Glackin - Glackin (Ceol ar an bhFidil le Paddy Glackin) (Gael Linn CEFCD 060)

It's one thing to be acclaimed as the best player on one's chosen instrument ... quite another to earn the accolade as the best traditional musician of one's generation.  Such has been Paddy Glackin's lot; in many senses a tremendous achievement, although in others, no doubt, a millstone.

On the basis of this re-release of Glackin's 1977 solo debut, it's not difficult to see why the trad world reacted so warmly and so unanimously to Glackin's emergence.  A master of tone and ornamentation, Glackin strikes a stirring balance between incisive attack and acutely intelligent subtletly in a manner which overlays the driving Donegal style with a sense of lyricism and romantic abandon.

Featuring his father, Tom, and brothers Kevin and Seamus on several tracks and accompanied on occasion by Micheal O Suilleabhain on harpsichord, this recording mostly sees Glackin play solo and sets a high standard to which the remainder of his recorded output has lived up.

As for the "best musician" tag ...  Well, here at Pay The Reckoning we have little time for such sterile labels.  Glackin's as good as it gets; end of story.  To those who would perpetuate the endless (and meaningless) search for the best, we'd say stop the measuring and comparing and do yourselves a favour.  Wrap your ears around this record and give yourself over to the music.  You won't regret the experience.

Available in the UK via Copperplate http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

Elsewhere, visit Gael Linn's website http://www.gaellinn.com

Track listing
1. Pat Tuohey's Reel/Old Cuffe Street
2. Sean O Duibhir an Ghleanna
3. The Boys Of Malin/The High Road To Linton
4. The Duke Of Leinster/The Morning Dew
5. The Hare In The Corn/Padraig O'Keeffe's Jig
6. Bonaparte's Retreat
7. McFadden's Reel
8. Miss Patterson's Slipper
9. Top It Off/The Sunny Banks
10. The Cup Of (Overdrawn) Tea/John Doherty's Reel
11. Cherish The Ladies
12. The Pinch Of Snuff/The Wild Irishman
13. Julia Delaney's Reel/Mother's Delight
14. The King Of The Pipes/Arthur Darley's Jig
15. The Gravel Walks
16. Red-Haired Charles
17. The Boyne Hunt/Single Jig Gan Ainm
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Jugopunch - Where Are We Now? (Punchmusic, PM007)

Staffordshire-based, Jugopunch have been described by one prominent critic as sounding how Irish folk music should sound.

Hmmm ... now there's a statement!  We were pondering it's meaning as we dropped Jugopunch's latest 11-track CD into the carousel and hit the play button.  What emerged was music that sounded like Jugopunch should sound.  Irish folk music is a broad church and will continue to evolve in its own diverse way, incrementally here and there, in leaps and bounds in other places.  There's plenty of room within that broad church for Jugopunch whose original songs explore a melancholy vein of losers in love and losers in life.  Loss and regret vie with memories of the innocence and insouciance of childhood as central motifs in Jugopunch's songs.  Inevitably, the protagonist(s) need something to take the edge off the resulting pain or angst and thus "I could never see it, I could never understand/Why you turned so cold, like the whiskey in my hand" (Cold), "A quarter to midnight and what do I see/Through the bottom of this empty glass?" (The Dark Waltz) and "So you pour yourself a brandy, to help you through the night/But it only seems to do the trick, when you take it by the pint" (Red Eyed Boy).

With such themes and with old-timey/"Americana" and rock influences sitting alongside the dominant folk music structures, it's little wonder that Jugopunch have been compared with The Pogues.  Such comparisons are, however, somewhat unfair.  It's now almost twenty years since MacGowan's crew burst on to the scene and while their endeavours may have made it somewhat easier for Jugopunch's sound to become acceptable to a wider audience, their core following will no doubt have been attracted in any event to the band's dark and anxious folk-rock.

Jugopunch are Paul Dunn (harmonica, whistles, melodica, vocals), Cara Beech (drums, percussion, vocals, egg), Andrew Tranter (vocals), Stephen Dunn (tenor banjo, guitar), Pete Davegun (guitar, percussion).

To order the album and to find out about the band's forthcoming gigs, visit http://www.jugopunch.com

Track listing
1. Cold
2. Blackheart
3. Fiver On The Horses
4. MTA
5. Summer In Mayo
6. The Dark Waltz
7. Sweet Nancy Rose
8. Thunder In The Sky
9. Red Eyed Boy
10. Fur Traders
11. Lower Than The Lowest
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Tony O'Connell And Andy Morrow (with Arty McGlynn) (Tocam 001)

O'Connell (concertina) and Morrow (fiddle) team up with guitar maestro McGlynn for a superbly accomplished debut recording, which will surely rank as being among the most exciting CDs of 2005.

Original tunes by Carl Hession, Mick O'Dwyer, John Faulkner, Paddy Davey, Tom McElvogue, Tom Fleming, John  Martin, Paddy O'Brien and Michael Finn are presented alongside rarities from the tradition as well as a liberal sprinkling of trad standards.  The unison playing is remarkably tight; the occasional solos by either O'Connell or Morrow are soulful and mature.

As ever, McGlynn's playing is tasteful and enterprising. McGlynn is one of the few backers in Irish music who manages to anchor musicians rock-solidly while at the same time taking some incredible risks with the structure of his accompaniment.  Yet again he brings a new dimension to the work of supreme traditional musicians.

Visit http://www.musictocam.com for more information.

Track listing
1. The Rambles Of Mike/The Loughing Spoons/The Bluebells Are Blooming
2. Joe Tom's
3. My Former Wife/Paddy In London/Headwood Crossing
4. Tom McElvogue's No. 3/The Heights Of Muingbhatha/The Boy In The Boat
5. The Drunken Sailor
6. Kiely Cotter's/Paddy Jerry's
7. Castle Kelly/Devils Of Dublin/Hare's Paw
8. Sliabh Gallion Braes
9. The Mill House/The Thrush In The Storm
10. Ride A Mile/Dusty Miller/Sport Of Chase
11. Dean Brig Of Edinburgh/The Christening/The Wind That Shakes The Barley
12. Stormy Night/The Maid At The Well/Gallagher's
13. Fred Finn's/Larry's Favourite
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Mike Rafferty - Speed 78 (Larraga Music Project MOR1302)

Rafferty's collection of tunes on flute and pipes has an intimate and personal flavour, the whole endeavour hanging together particularly well as a summary of a lifetime's playing.  The tunes come from many sources, but the musical influences of his youth get special mention in the sleeve notes.  In particular, the Ballinakill Ceili Band - whose impact on the music has, of course, been tremendous - are name-checked often.

Rafferty's generation, it could be argued, have a different relationship to the music than the current generation of musicians.  In our current media-swamped environment, Irish music has never been so readily available and finding tunes never more easy; a quick search on the web and all but the most obscure tunes are available in dozens of settings!

Not so when Rafferty was learning the music; he learnt his tunes from other players or from the odd 78 (hence the collection's title).  And, no doubt, passed many a tune on in the same fashion.  To select a couple of dozen tunes from this long-term accumulation of music over several decades and two continents must have been no small task.

This is a record that will serve as an inspiration for many years to come. It's unhurried, unhurriable pulse beats beneath sensitive and meaningful playing; Rafferty doesn't waste a note, nor a pause.  But please don't imagine that because Rafferty's music is imbued with seriousness, it must be dull or heavy.  Far from it!  The music abounds with charm, with grace and, on occasion, with a certain amount of mischief.

Rafferty has been fortunate to enlist the support of Mary Rafferty (accordion), Donal Clancy (guitar, bouzouki), Willie Kelly (fiddle), Joe Madden (accordion) and Felix Dolan (piano) - an intergenerational band of musicians, some of whom learnt their music with Mike, some who learnt it from him.

Beautiful stuff and one to treasure!

More information from http://www.raffertymusic.com

Track listing
1. Kevin Moloney's/The Scotsman Over The Border
2. The Shaskeen/The Green Blanket
3. Tomgraney Castle/McMahon's
4. Story about first learning to play (caint)
5. The Collier's Reel/St. Ruth's Bush
6. I Have A Bonnet Trimmed With Blue
7. Story about my mother (caint)
8. Cormac O'Lunny's/The Braes Of Busby
9. Pauline O'Neill's/Cuil Aodh
10. Last Night's Fun/The Abbey
11. Sliabh na mBan
12. The Piper's Despair/Peg McGrath's
13. Story about Joe Madden (caint)
14. Ballyoran
15. Collier's Jig/The Lark In The Strand
16. The Bower/Jenny Picking Cockles
17. Queen Of The Rushes/Father John's Jubilee
18. Story about my father's uilleann pipes (caint)
19. Garrett Barry's/The Woods Of Old Limerick
20. Young Tom Ennis/Jerry's Beaver Hat
21. Story about thinking of tunes (caint)
22. Ceo na gCnoc/Father Newman's Reel
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Danu - When All Is Said And Done (Shanachie SH 78061)

We suspect that the title is fairly tongue-in-cheek.  All will never be said and done when it comes to this immensely talented group.

The latest CD, which follows closely on from the recent "Up In The Air" where the individual members of Danu "fly solo", marks yet another milestone in their continuing evolution from a group of session-buddies to one of the tightest and most influential musical ensembles in the Irish traditional music world.

For many traditional groups, this is a difficult stage of their career.  They've attracted the critical acclaim, they've won the support and respect of the hard-to-please core audience and they've begun to infiltrate the consciousness of the larger "popular" musical audience.  Where next?  At this juncture, many bands start to go off the rails, diversifying perhaps so that they lose the trad audience but never quite making it as "contemporary" artists.

Thankfully, Danu are well-aware of the secret of their success and stick to the plot.

That having been said, the album features two contemporary compositions - Paul Brady's "Follow On" (from which the CD's title comes) and Bob Dylan's "Farewell, Angelina".  The latter works particularly well, presumably because Dylan based his tune on the air from traditional American folk songs which in turn borrowed from an older Scottish air "Farewell To Tarwathie".

As far as the traditional material is concerned, let's just say that although you may know what to expect, your expectations will be met and then some!  As ever the playing is energetic, yet soulful. The arrangements within each set are subtle, yet highly colourful. Individual instruments have opportunities to carry certain tunes and yet no member of the band outshadows another.

A special bonus is Gerry "Banjo" O'Connor's appearance on the penultimate set.  O'Connor makes no effort (nor should he!) to tone down the unorthodox elements of his banjo style and this creates an interesting dynamic.  Very few bands could accommodate O'Connor's playing; Danu have not just accommodated him on this track, but assimilated him!

Distributed in the UK by Copperplate, http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

Elsewhere, the album is available direct from Shanachie, http://www.shanachie.com

Up to date information on Danu at http://www.danu.net

Track listing
1. The Highest Hill In Sligo/Garrison Road/Reichswall Forest
2. Follow On
3. The Peacock's Feather/The Old Copperplate/The Boy In The Gap
4. O Dheara, 'Sheanduine
5. Dermie Diamond's Barndance/John Doherty's Pipe March/Around The House And Mind The Dresser
6. Farewell, Angelina
7. Sean Ryan's Reel/The Coachman's Whip/Casey's Reel
8. An Cailin Deas Cruite na mBo
9. Willie's Fling/The Kilfenora Jig
10. Only Nineteen Years Old
11. Ard a Bhothair/Sean Tiobrad Arann/The Heathery Breeze
12. I'll Mend Your Pots And Kettles O/The Spinning Wheel
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Noel Hill agus Tony MacMahon - I gNoc na Grai (Gael Linn CEFCD 114)

Continuing its series of re-releases of classic recordings, Gael Linn has re-issued one of the highpoints of its illustrious catalogue.  Originally recorded in October 1985, live in Dan Connell's pub in Knocknagree, Hill, MacMahon and the assembled audience of dancers and attentive punters storm their way through an evening of quality music.

It's a pity that there aren't more recordings which capture the energy that an appreciative pub audience generates.  Experience the buzz that permeates this CD and others such as "Paddy In The Smoke" and you'll surely agree that studio recordings seem sterile in comparison.  Irish music is meant to be listened to; studio recordings are only half the picture.  A well-timed whoop of encouragement or, conversely, the sudden dampening of background chatter indicate moments of particularly exciting musicality.  The listener at home feels at one with the audience, sharing their reactions, his or her listening pleasure enhanced by this bond of camaraderie with the nameless and faceless folks in the intimate audience at the time the recording was made.

MacMahon is alleged at one stage - reportedly when bemoaning the fact that he hadn't taken up the pipes - that there isn't a pit in Ireland big enough to hold all of its accordions.  Well, on the basis of his playing throughout this CD, then when someone's dug this fathomless pit and the accordion-chucking commences, some brave soul ought to leap in and rescue at least one accordion and hand it back to MacMahon.  For the man is practically peerless when it comes to extracting every ounce of music from the box, as exemplified by his playing of Port na bPucai - his signature tune.

Hill, of course, is no less a player on the concertina.  But while both musicians are top-drawer players on their own account, when playing together their evident sense of pleasure in each other's company elevates the music.  This is not just good music, it's bloody good crack into the bargain.  Good crack had by the select band of dancers and listeners one Autumn night in 1985 but, thanks to Gael Linn, good crack that we can all share second-hand at any time we choose.

Distributed in the UK by Alan O'Leary's mighty Copperplate outfit http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

In all other parts of the world, visit Gael Linn direct on http://www.gaellinn.com

Track listing
1. The Humours Of Castlefin Set
2. The Ash Plant Set
3. Port na bPucai
4. Young Tom Ennis Set
5. The Pure Drop Set
6. The New Custom House
7. An Fainne Oir
8. Cooley's Jig Set
9. The Old Concertina Reel Set
10. The Ace And Deuce Of Piping
11. The Green Groves Of Erin Set
12. Paul Halfpenny
13. The New Mown Meadow Set
14. The Trip To Athlone Set
15. Aisling Gheal
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Johnny Murphy And Friends - Tuned In (Murphy Records MCD001)

Johnny Murphy hails from Armoy, County Antrim - home to that legendary fiddler of years gone by, "The Shadow", Sean McLaughlin.  And therefore it's fitting that Armoy should give rise to yet another self-possessed and soulful fiddler in Murphy, whose energy combines with a sensitivity of touch to produce exhilarating music.

As is common in the far north, Murphy draws on both the Irish and Scottish traditions for inspiration, nimbly adapting his bowing and fingering to the separate demands of tunes from both countries and putting his personal mark on them.

The CD has a rough-hewn quality that will have instant appeal to those who tire of much of the overblown, overproduced and overarranged music that masquerades as Irish Traditional Music nowadays.  Many of the tracks have a "one-taker" feel to them and, as a result, the CD has a purpose, a drive and an intimacy that are sadly lacking in many current recordings of Irish music.  And yet, for many of us, those very qualities define the essence of the music - music that demands to be played directly to the listener and which has no need for tricksy arrangements or studio enhancements.

Nice to hear some widely-played tunes sit alongside some rarities (such as Josephine Keegan's hornpipes," Cross The Fence" and "The Bieir Piper"), some locally-made tunes (e.g. Jim McKillop's "Maeve's Reel" and Leslie Craig's - of Haste To The Wedding - "Craig's Marchh") and two set sof his own compositions (a reel set - Back To 26/The Shamrock Pot/Break Your Bow Arm - and a set of jigs - Wee Man Oliver/Farewell To Padraig Lynch/Poor Boy's Story).

Fair play, then, to your man Murphy for a great value CD which showcases a fine player giving his attention to some fine tunes.  Who could ask for anything more?  (Except, of course, for a return vist before too long!)

Likely to be a hard one to track down on the web, so we suggest that you give the folks at Glens Music a shout if you can't get your hands on a copy.  Go to http://www.glensmusic.com

Track listing
1. The Galway Reel/Beare Island/Siobhan O'Donnell's
2. Siobhan O'Donnell's No 1/Siobhan O'Donnell's No 2
3. Cross The Fence/The Bieir Piper
4. Maeve's Reel/Gerry Cronin's/Dinny Langtree's
5. The Boys Of Lough Gowna/The New House/The Cruel Mother-In-Law
6. Cuz Teahan's/Gan Ainm
7. Denis McMahon's/Barney From Killarney/John McGurran's Polka
8. Come By The Hills
9. Back To 26/The Shamrock Pot/Break Your Bow Arm
10. Coleman's/Langstrom's Pony/Minds Of Two
11. The Silver Spire/The Gravel Walk/The Boys Of Malin
12. Ned Of The Hill
13. Wee Man Oliver/Farewell To Padraig Lynch/Poor Boy's Story
14. The Man Of The House/Camden Town/The Holly Bush
15. Planxty Maguire
16. The Mill Brae/The Spoot O' Skerry/The Auld Fiddler
17. O'Kane's March/Craig's March
18. Splendid Isolation/The Galway Rambler/Port Load Of Kelp
19. Jig Of Slurs/The Atholl Highlanders
20. The Galtee Ranger/Glentown/O'Callaghan's
Pay The Reckoning, June 2005

Gerry O'Connor - No Place Like Home (Myriad Media MMCD002)

As the title suggests, this album marks a return to his roots for Gerry "Banjo" O'Connor, following his recent more experimental forays into other musical forms.  His peregrinations appear only to have whetted his appetite for the oul' stock as the opening track, The Bag of Spuds/The Copperplate, is a blue riband example of fiercely ornamented pure drop playing and sets the tone for the remainder of the CD.

O'Connor is without doubt Ireland's leading exponent of the tenor banjo.  If Barney McKenna is Ireland's answer to Earl Scruggs - i.e. both represent the first great popularisers of the banjo within Irish and American old-timey/bluegrass respectively, then O'Connor is Ireland's answer to Bela Fleck - i.e. the musician from the next generation who based his music on the foundations established by the past masters, but took the music further into unbroken ground, creating a personal musical universe out of imagination, instinct and peerless technique.

Having blazed trails into virgin territory, O'Connor's latest musical adventures are centred on the music of his native Tipperary and hence the album's dedication to Paddy O'Brien, Sean Ryan and Tom Billy Murphy.  The result is proof that there's as much good music in O'Connor's own back yard than in the whole wide world.

We mentioned technique earlier.  O'Connor's technique has been much-analysed - even by himself in a number of tutoorial CDs and DVDs.  O'Connor allies stock-in-trade Irish banjo adornments - picked triplets, etc. - to techniques from the five-string world - cross-picking, playing in high positions, etc.  In the process he has opened up a new range of expressive potential.  Yet while he has mastered this mesmeric fusion of techniques, he's content to give the music room to stand on its own; notably on a few occasions he lets single notes ring out on the third part of "Banish Misfortune" where the temptation of many a lesser player would be to crowd the phrases in question with ornaments.

On "No Place Like Home" O'Connor proves yet again that when it comes to the tenor banjo, he's in a class of his own.  There are other young turks who promise to take the banjo off on other tangents and create their own unique musical visions.  However when the history of the Irish banjo is written, O'Connor will surely warrant a chapter to himself as the first great innovator.

O'Connor is joined by Brendan O'Regan (bouzouki, mandolin, guitar), Tommy Hayes (bodhran, percussion) and Damien Evans (bass).  Together the four musicians box and cox like exhibition prizefighters; the sound is tight and cleanly arranged, yet brimming with the infectious sense of danger and fun that comes from the spontaneous instincts of players at the top of their tree.

More about O'Connor at http://www.gerryoconnor.com

The album is available in the UK via Alan O'Leary's mighty Copperplate distribution company.  Go to http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

Track listing
1. The Bag of Spuds/The Copperplate
2. Tom Billy's Jigs
3. Billy in the Lowground/The Temperance Reel
4. No Place Like Home
5. Thomond Bridge/Sean Ryan's
6. Paddy O'Brien Selection
7. Colonel Fraser
8. Banish Misfortune/The Trip to Killarney
9. Brendan O'Regan's Reels
10. Ruby's Birthday
11. Really Green Reel
Pay The Reckoning, May 2005

Solas - Waiting For An Echo (Shanachie 78060)

You never quite know what to expect from Solas.  While they're capable of belting out some great traditional music and song, they're just as likely to veer into more unfamiliar territory, harnessing contemporary arrangement techniques and studio effects to create music that goes beyond trad boundaries.  In the process they lose the odd die-hard, but doubtless pick up many fans who are bowled over by their combined talent and imagination and who may not care a jot whether or not the music's in keeping with a narrow definition of trad.

Well, the die-hards can come out from behind the sofa!  No need to peek through your fingers!  "Waiting For An Echo" marks a return to a more straightforwardly acoustic Solas.  Sure, there's the occasional sample in evidence and you'll hear arrangements which occasionally nod in the direction of folk-rock, but on the whole this is a prime example of "new trad", brimming with energy and vim, by turns subtle and fragile and devil-may-care boisterous.

The opening tracks set the seal for the album, a blast of reels followed by Deirdre Scanlan's rendition of the trad song "The Silver Dagger", a dark and dangerous ballad with some exquisite, spare lines that will appeal to all those who are delighted by time-honed imagery, e.g. "My daddy is a handsome devil/He's got a chain five miles long/On every link a heart does dangle/Of another maid he's loved and wronged".

That, then is the album's pattern; sparkling tune sets and perfectly-delivered songs, contemporary and traditional.

"Waiting For An Echo?" ... Ah, that'll be the sound of you replacing the CD in in your player and listening again!

Available in the UK via Copperplate, http://www.copperplatedistribution.com (the rumour that Solas decided to record The Copperplate in the first set as a tribute to the estimable Alan O'Leary is surely a wind-up!?).  Elsewhere, visit Shanachie direct at http://www.shanachie.com.

Track listing
1. The Hanover Reel/John James'/The Copperplate
2. The Silver Dagger
3. Tom Sullivan's/Mick's Polka/The Newmarket Polka
4. On A Sea Of Fleur De Lis
5. The Night Visit
6. The Coconut Dog/Morning Dew
7. Doireann's Waltz
8. Lowground
9. The Ballerina Jig
10. Erin
11. The Ploughman
12. Steven Campbell's/The Road To Ringussoon/The Bag Of Beer
13. Mi Pequena Estrella (Little Star)
Pay The Reckoning, May 2005

Various Artists - The Rough Guide To Irish Music, Second Edition (World Music Network/Rough Guides RGNET 1148 CD)

Geoff Wallis has set himself yet another daunting task in compiling this second collection of "the best" in recent(ish) Irish music.  To attempt to capture the essence of a musical scene which is as vibrant and diverse as that of the current Irish traditional network is no mean feat.  And yet this collection of a mere 22 tracks succeeds brilliantly in teasing out many of the strands that interweave to make up the fabric of the current Irish traditional music tapestry.  The collection is accessible to the casual and the "unititiated" listener as well as satisfying the traditional music obsessive.

In an album comprising highlights, it ill-behoves the reviewer to single out individual tracks.  And yet each listener, while appreciating the overall wash of the music in its entirety, will tune in to those pieces which home in to their particular sensibilities, whether it's the intricate interplay of Flook and Lunasa , the naked and sublimely raw simplicity of Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola, the wild piping of Paddy Keenan, Paul Brady's masterful rendering of the timeless "Mary And The Soldier", Frankie Gavin's utter command of the fiddle, Helen Roche's soulful melancholy  or Matt Molloy's and Paul McGrattan's effortless combination of power and grace.  All are beautiful pieces of music in their own right, which - like the tip of an iceberg - bear testament to huge reserves of music just waiting to be discovered.

An ideal gift for the curious friend who'd like to delve into the music to find out just why it is so captivating!  Order up several copies for birthday and Christmas presents!

For more information, please go to http://www.worldmusic.net

Track listing
1. G.D.'s : Hooper's Loop/Pressed For Time (Flook)
2. An t-Ull (Dervish)
3. The Night Cap/The Frost Is All Over (Frankie Gavin)
4. Liostail Me Le Sairsint (Maighread and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill with Donal Lunny)
5. The Morning After (The Prodigals)
6. Paddy Killoran's Highland/Hannah Mhici Mhicheail's (Seamus Quinn and Gary Hastings)
7. Antara/The Twirly Haired Girl/The Mountain Road (Paddy Keenan and Tommy O'Sullivan)
8. Bean Phaidin (Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola)
9. Loughisle Castle (Ciaran O Maonaigh and Dermot McLaughlin)
10. Slieve Gallion Braes (Mary McPartlan)
11. Hughie Travers'/The Cat In The Corner (Seamus Creagh and Aidan Coffey)
12. Mary And The Soldier (Paul Brady)
13. A Stor Mo Chroi/The Primrose Lass/Miss McGovern's Favourite (Matt Molloy)
14. An Seanduine (Seamus Begley and Jim Murray)
15. Callaghan's/The Glen Cottage/Is Trua Gan Peata An Mhaoir Agam (North Cregg)
16. Taimse 'n Arrears (Cran)
17. The Cuil Aodha Slide/Dan Patsy's Slide/The Toormore Slide (Paul Moran and Fergal Scahill)
18. The Walrus (Lunasa)
19. As I Roved Out (Helen Roche)
20. The Lark On The Strand/The Geese In The Bog/The Eavesdropper (Paul McGrattan)
21. The Humours Of Castlefin/Nia's Dance/An Duidin (Altan)
22. Cam a' Lochaigh (Gerry O'Connor)
Pay The Reckoning, May 2005

David Munnelly - By Heck (Frea Records/Music & Words MWCD 4046)

By heck, indeed!

Here's an album that'll get your attention at first listen.  Melodeon and accordion (and piano) player Munnelly wears his heart on his sleeve and his heart lies in the music of "the golden age", when exuberance and a lack of cynicism combined to add an edge to Irish music which is often lacking in the more clinical and more cynical playing encountered today.  Munnelly  has no time for po-faced restraint; like a man possessed, he trots out a gleeful, purposeful intro, then tears into "The Cuckoo's Nest" with such pace and vigour that the listener's left gasping and wondering how he managed to fit so many intricate ornaments and curlicues into the tunes while maintaining such a uncomprising tempo and rhythm, so much so that the change to "The Silver Spire" comes as a shock - a further subtle build-up of energy and foot-tapping fun.  And then Munnelly's guru gets a nod as the rhythm shifts and Munnelly and co apply themselves to the infectious Kimmel's Jigs.

Energy and fun are Munnelly's stock in trade.  This is a great album to lift the spirits, brimming with unselfconscious musicality, at times playfully exploring those jazz tinges that coloured the Irish music of the 20s and 30s (some cheeky soprano sax from Richie Buckley and banjo from Paul Kelly enhancing the effect on, for example, Munnelly's own infectious barndance, the smileful By Heck).

But let's not give the impression that Munnelly is a one-trick pony.  His original composition, the slow air "Ar Boithrin na Smaointe" finds him in soulful mood.

A star-studded cast of friends lend their support.  As well as the aforementioned Buckley (who also provides tenor sax) and Kelly (who also plays mandolin and fiddle), Munnelly is joined by brother Kieran (flute, bodhran), Daire Bracken (fiddle), Gavin Ralston (guitar), Ryan Molloy (piano), Lloyd Byrne (drums) and Joe Csibi (bass, double bass).  His friends Helen Flaherty and Andrew Murray are invited along to sing, Flaherty giving us "The Garden Valley", Murray turning his attention to Richard Thompson's "The Dimming Of The Day" and "P Stands For Paddy".

Unpretentious, uplifiting music like this doesn't come along every day.  Hitch a ride on the Munnelly juggernaut and enjoy the journey!

More information from http://www.davidmunnelly.com and http://www.musicwords.nl

Track listing
1. The Cuckoo's Nest/The Silver Spire
2. The Lark In The Mountain/Devlin's Favourite/The Cordal Jig
3. By Heck
4. The Dimming Of The Day
5. Galope a Eddie/Reel du Chat Graffigne/Joe Corimer's
6. Maguire's Fiddle/Paddy McGurn's
7. Anthony McDonnell's/Josie McDermott's/Johnny Henry's
8. The Garden Valley
9. The Poor Oul' Creathers
10. Ar Bhoithrin na Smaointe
11. Paddy O'Brien's/Mulligan's/Nothing Better To Do
12. P Stands For Paddy
13. Padraig O'Keeffe's/The Rattling Bog/An Spailpin Fanach
14. Last Orders
Pay The Reckoning, May 2005

Various Artists - Wooden Flute Obsession Volume 1 (International Traditional Music Society, Inc. ITMS0201); Various Artists - Wooden Flute Obsession Volume 2 (International Traditional Music Society, Inc. ITMS 0401)

Thank heavens for obsessives such as Kevin Krell, the Executive Director of the International Traditional Music Society!  Without them, Irish Traditional Music would be poorly documented, poorly researched, poorly served.

The Wooden Flute Obsession series (Volume 3 is being compiled as we write) is an attempt to capture the range, variety and, above all, the emotional impact of Irish music - traditional and contemporary - played on one of the trademark instruments of the "Irish sound".  It's all too easy to imagine the huge efforts - of will on the one hand; solid, tangible sweat and tears on the other - required to shepherd such a project through from the original idea to its final stages.  Thankfully Krell is up to the job and in the process has given the Irish Traditional audience an invaluable collection, showcasing players of great sensitivity and grace, lavishing their attention on superbly well-chosen sets and single tunes and ultimately proving the flute's versatility and expressiveness.

And this, of course, is Wooden Flute Obsession's real purpose - to get the audience's ear, to draw them into the music, to experience its power and appreciate why someone would spend a large part of their lives "obsessing" about the beauty of Irish music made on one particular instrument.

"WFO" doesn't set out to present the complete history of recorded flute music and there are factors - many of them commercial - which mean that some of the big names in Irish flute music may not appear in the series.  However many of the cornerstone flute players are present, as indeed are some lesser-known names.  This juxtaposition of the "famous" (in our little niche, in any event!) and those whose playing is less well documented is one of the key features of the collection to date and goes to prove that Irish Traditional Music is one of the most meritocratic musical forms; no lavish PR budgets, no featured appearances on MTV or the like - the player proves his or her mettle in front of his or her peers.  All of the players featured on WFO1 and WFO2 are worthy of their slot!

Gary Hastings (one of the players featured on Volume 2) says of Irish music in the sleeve notes to "Slan le Loch Eirne" (which he made with the estimable Seamus Quinn) that "this kind of stuff doesn't stick too well to shiny CDs and plastic tapes".  Well, Gary, whilst you may have a point generally, WFO is the exception that proves the rule.  For these are outstandingly good CDs, as listenable as they are "important", as lively as they are "worthy".  The music - and indeed the spirit of the music - has stuck, and stuck well!

Players from all over the world contribute their offerings to WFO and with such a wealth of talent on display, it's pointless to draw attention to one or other player.  However the compilation invites the listener to draw comparisons and note contrasts.  For example, it's interesting to listen to players such as Seamus Tansey and Matt Molloy, players who most other fluters would agree are among the most rounded and "complete" of their generation, with relative newcomers such as Barry Kerr, Michael McGoldrick or John Wynne.  Interesting too to compare the laid-back sound of, say, Anthony Quigney or Mike Rafferty with the sheer drive and verve of a player such as Skip Healy.  However one makes comparisons, the fact is that no player comes out of the process a winner or loser - everyone featured is equally deserving of his or her position alongside their fellow flute-players; all are true artists.

These albums deserve a place in every Irish Traditional Music afficionado's CD collection.  However, if you're a flute player, then these CDs need to be on constant rotation.

A very big thanks to Kevin Krell.  We're staggered at just how well his idea has translated into reality.

WFO1 and WFO2 may be difficult to track down in record shops, so why not order direct?  Go to http://www.worldtrad.org for details.

Track listing

Wooden Flute Obsession Volume 1

DISC ONE

1. Garry Shannon (3:34 Reels) Windwood (The Fox on the Town/Lady of the Island/The Primrose Lass)
 2. Eamonn Cotter (3:36 Reels) The Golden Keyboard/Ambrose Moloney's/Jacksons
 3. Marcas Ó Murchú (4:22 Jigs) Maho Snaps/Get Up Old Woman & Shake Yourself/The Chicken That Made the Soup
 4. Michael McGoldrick (4:39 Reels) Teehan's (Terry Teehans/Her Long Black Hair)
 5. Catherine McEvoy (2:39 Reels) The Duke of Leinster/The Ladies Pantalettes
 6. Marcus Hernon (4:22 Air) The Invisible Corncrake
 7. Seamus Tansey (2:29 Reels) Mick Flatley's Delight/Ed Reavy's Favourite
 8. Barry Kerr (3:35 Jig/Reel) Ships in Full Sail/The Three Sisters
 9. Deirdre Havlin (3:21 Highland/Reel) The Mighty Clansmen (King George IV/Johnny Harling's Reel)
10. Noel Rice (2:15 Slip Jig) The Choice Wife
11. Josie McDermott (2:59 Reels) The Kerry Man/The Pigeon on the Gate
12. Laurence Nugent (3:56 Jigs) Old Hag You Have Killed Me/Pride of Erin Jig/The Monument
13. Mike Rafferty (2:02 Reels) The Hard Road to Travel/Shanks Mare
14. Loretto Reid (3:54 Waltz) Leon's Waltz
15. Liam Kelly (4:17) The Hungry Rock
16. Colm O'Donnell (3:10 Jigs) The Battering Ram/The Besom in Bloom
17. Jimmy Noonan (2:59 Reels) Courting Them All/Denis Murphy's Miss McLeod's/Billy Brocker
18. Hammy Hamilton (1:55 Reels) The Dark Haired Lass (Mick Hoy's)/Bonnie Anne
19. Turlach Boylan (3:52) Johnny's Wedding/Colonel Rodney's
20. Tom Doorley (2:12) Are You Ready Yet?
21. John Skelton (4:07 Air/Barndance) The Fire in the Hearth/Around the Fairy Fort

DISC TWO

 1. Cathal McConnell (3:43 Jigs) Scotland-Ireland/The Hangover/The Fermanagh Curves 
 2. Niall Keegan (3:29 Reels) Dunmore Lasses/My Love is in America 
 3. John Wynne (3:41 Reels) The Ballinafad Fancy/Lady Anne Montgomery/The Millhouse 
 4. Martin Gaffney (2:21 Polkas) The Dark Haired Girl Dressed in Blue/The Merry Girl 
 5. Joanie Madden (5:31 Reels) Molly Ban/Paddy Lynn's Delite/Jack McGuire's/King of the Clans 
 6. Paul McGrattan (3:50 Air) Easter Snow 
 7. Mark Roberts (3:47 Jigs) Boys of the Town/The Rollicking Boys of Tandragee 
 8. Skip Healy (2:50 Reels) Silver Spear/Glen Allen/Bay of Fundy 
 9. Sylvain Barou (4:12 Reels) Clare's Reel/The Silver Reel/Brendan's Reel 
10. Grey Larsen (4:53 Jigs) The Walls of Liscarroll/Maguire's Kick/The Lark on the Strand 
11. Eoghan MacAogáin (2:54 Air) Sé Fáth Mo Bhuartha 
12. Fintan Vallely (4:01 Reels) Miss Chalmer's Reel/Brian Gibson's Rockforest Reel 
13. Hanz Araki (3:40 Hornpipes) The Plains of Boyle/The Ballyoran Hornpipe 
14. June Ní Chormaic (2:36 Reels, Live) Fred Finn's/Fr. Newman's Reel 
15. Micho Russell (2:32 Reels, Live) The Fermoy Lassies/The Reel with the Birl in It 
16. Seamus Egan (2:46 Reels) The Maid of Galway (medley) 
17. Terry Coyne (4:26 Reels) Contentment is Wealth/Tom Ward's Downfall/The Wild Geese
18. Matt Molloy (2:12 Reel) Drowsie Maggie 
19. Frankie Kennedy (3:10 Reels) The Cat That Ate the Candle/Over the Water to Bessie
20. Jean-Michel Veillon (3:29) Ton Per Bodouin/Dans Fisel

Wooden Flute Obsession Volume 2

DISC ONE

1. Brendyn Montgomery (3:04 Reels) The Roscommon Reel/The Sweet Flowers of Miltown
 2. Damien Stenson (2:19 Reels) Miss McGuiness/Paddy Gavin's
 3. Tara Diamond (3:40 Jigs) The Sheep in the Boat/I Buried My Wife and Danced on Top of Her
 4. Billy Clifford (4:20 Hornpipes) Spellan the Fiddler/Madam If You Please/Grandfather's Thought
 5. Brian Lennon (3:08 Reels) Colonel Rodgers Favourite/The Happy Days of Youth/Lucky in Love
 6. Kevin Crawford (3:12 Reels) Hut in the Bog/Cregg's Pipes
 7. John Creaven (2:08 Jigs) Killavil/Miller's Maggot
 8. Mick Loftus (2:04 Jigs) The Boys of the Town/The Mist Covered Mountain
 9. Emer Mayock (4:07) The Fickle Lad/On the Strand/Ollistrum
10. Duncan Davidson (4:28 Slip Jig/Jig/Reel) Gan Ainm/Trip to Athlone/Zig Zag Road
11. Desi Wilkinson (4:35 Air) My Lagan Love
12. Mike McHale (3:04 Hornpipes) McGlynn's/Dunphy's Hornpipe
13. Claire Mann (3:10 Slip Jigs) Denis Ryan's/Guzzle Together/Paddy O'Snap
14. Brian Finnegan & Sarah Allen (3:28) Larry Get Out of the Bin/Elzic's Farewell
15. Dan Gordon (2:56 Reel, 3/2) Maid in the Cherry Tree/Jack is Hunting
16. Michael Clarkson (3:25 Reels) McGovern's Favourite/Cronin's
17. Elaine Jeffreys (2:12 Reels) Feeding the Birds/Mary McMahon's
18. Dermot Grogan  (2:48 Hornpipes) The Cliff Hornpipe/Gan Ainm
19. Tom McElvogue (3:27 Reels) Thrush in the Storm/The Cacodemon/The Watchmaker
20. Gary Hastings (2:06 Reels) Bonnie Anne/Hanley's
21. Harry McGowan (2:05 Jigs) The Mill Pond/Brendan Tonra's
22. Michael Hynes (3:53 Lullaby) The Cradle Song

DISC TWO

 1. John Kelly (2:51 Reels) The Bush in Bloom/The Old Road to Garry/Captain Kelly's 
 2. Peter Molloy (3:26 Jigs) The Cuigiu Lassies/Freehan's Jig/The Bride's Favourite 
 3. Peter Horan (2:50 Hornpipes) Lad O'Bierne's/Sean Ryan's 
 4. Gregory Daly (1:47 Reel) Trim the Velvet 
 5. Justin Murphy (4:07 Jigs) The Fly in the Porter/Contentment is Wealth/Gillian's Apples 
 6. Sharon Creasey (2:54 Hop Jigs) The Promenade/Michael Coleman's Hop Jig/Comb Your Hair and Curl It 
 7. Kevin Henry & Maggie Healy (2:25 Reels) Tom Ward's/The New Policeman 
 8. Mick Hand (3:27 Air/Reel) Sliabh geal gua na Feile/Tomeen O'Dea's 
 9. Leslie Bingham (1:54 Polkas) Standfield's Polkas 
10. Anthony Quigney (3:31 Reels) The Bellharbour Reel/The Torn Jacket/The Raveled Hank of Yarn 
11. Chris Norman (4:23 Highland Dances) What Would You Like?/Untitled/Untitled 
12. Michael Hurley (3:06 Jigs) Deirdre Hurley's/Michael Hurley's #8 
13. Peter Woodley (2:19 Air) Grey Dawn Breaking 
14. Michael Tubridy (2:55 Step Dance) The Blackbird 
15. Noel Lenaghan (3:34 Slip Jigs) A Fig For a Kiss/The Slopes of Slieve Gullion 
16. Sean Ryan (Chicago) (3:40 Reels) Saint Ruth's Bush/The Stolen Reel/Dan Breen's 
17. Nuala Kennedy (2:34) Da Sixereen/The Plagiarist/Buntata's Sgadan 
18. Thomas Bernard Ryan (1:58 Jigs) Brendan Tonra's/Killavil
19. Joe Skelton (3:13 Reels) Last Night's Fun/House of Hamill/The Blackthorn 
20. Caoimhín Ó Sé (3:25 Jigs) The Bould Thady Quill/Sean Coughlan's Jig 
21. Brendan McKinney (2:17 Hornpipe)  McGlinchey's Hornpipe
22. Zac Leger (7:09 Air/Reel) The Maid of Coolmore/The Shores of Lough Reagh
Pay The Reckoning, March 2005

Haste To The Wedding - For As Many As Will (Own label, no catalogue number)

The second outing for the County Antrim ceilidh band is an altogether more polished affair than their previous "Take To The Floor" (which, despite its rough'n'ready qualities was nevertheless possessed of no little charm).

Line-up changes lead to a more lush sound than previously with Jim McAuley on fiddle, Leslie Craig on accordion, Colin Urwin on snare, bodhran and occasional guitar, Pete Bouma on guitar and Gerry Rees on banjo and cittern.  McAuley and Craig get writing credits for, respectively, "Austen's Reel" and "Ballymac Set".  This confident tunesmithing further underlines the band's growing maturity.

However we suspect that Haste To The Wedding would shrug off such claims, as the band's key focus remains the straight-ahead, no-frills ceilidh music that first captured our attention.  And yes - that spelling, with the "dh"! - is intentional.  For Haste To The Wedding draw as much from the Scottish tradition as from the Irish, as indeed does much of the music to be heard in the North Antrim region.

Easy though it is on the ear, this music appeals equally to the feet and it's easy to imagine the floor swelling to the lads' insistent rhythms as they play time-honoured sets for the dancers.

Need some lively music for your next "do"?  Then why not email info@hastetothewedding.com?

Further information on the band at http://www.hastetothewedding.com

Track listing

1. Jimmy Ward Set - Lake Shore/Jimmy Ward's/Harte's
2. Flying Scotsman - High Road To Linton/Fairy Dance/Roxborough Castle
3. Dark Island
4. Foula Reel - Wee Todd/Pete's Peerie Boat/The Market Town
5. Austen's Reel/Sheila Coyle
6. Strip The Willow - Hunting The Hare/Foxhunter's Jig/Back O' The Haggard/Redican's
7. Hares On The Mountain
8. Waltzes - Loch Lomand/The Rowan Tree/Bonny Gallowa'
9. Gay Gordons - Scotland The Brave/Lord Lovat's Lament/McCoskey Park/Linda McFarland
10. Dashing White Sergeant - Dashing White Sergeant/Far From Home/Mason's Apron
11. Winter It Is Past
12. Bridge Of Athlone - Mucking O' Geordie's Byre/Maids Of Dromore/Charlie Hunter/Buttermilk Mary
13. Ballymac Set - The Silver Birch/Geordie McCrae's Fancy/The Road To Ballymac
14. New York Girls
Pay The Reckoning, March 2005

Henry Marten's Ghost - High On Spirits (Own label, no catalogue number)

Direct descendants of the ballad groups of yore which mixed "popular" songs with great tune sets, Henry Marten's Ghost turn their back on pretentiousness and thumb their nose at "sophistication" to give us a second shot of the "straight, no-chaser" approach which they established on 2002's "Ireland - A Troubled Romance".

Padraig Lalor (vocals, guitar) delivers some fine performances as he spars with fellow band-members Piotr Jordan (fiddle), Jill O'Shea (whistle, melodeon) and Huw Rees (drums).  Tackling songs as well-known as those which appear on the CD is a risky business.  Henry Marten's Ghost succeed because they shed new light on the material; they're not content to recreate some "classic" version, but rather they re-interpret the songs, giving them a unique and unmistakeable "HMG" sound and feel.

So too for the tune sets.  Well-chosen tunes, played with vigour and attack and yet retaining that vital ounce of understatement.

The band aimed for the feel of a typical HMG gig.  Well, that being the case, a HMG gig is worth catching!  To find out where and when they're next on-stage, contact henrymarten1@aol.com

Website address http://www.hmg-irishmusic.com.  Nothing on the site at the time of writing about the new album.  However we're sure that that will be remedied in due course.

Track listing

1. The Jolly Beggarman
2. A Man You Don't Meet Every Day
3. Raglan Road
4. Gan Ainm/The Lads Of Laois
5. The Wild Rover
6. Charlie Harris' Polka/The Finnish Polka/Jessica's Polka
7. Green Fields Of France
8. Star Of The County Down/The Monaghan Jig
9. Fields Of Athenry
10. Rights Of Man
11. The Irish Rover
Pay The Reckoning, March 2005

Eliot Grasso - Standing Room Only (Own label, no catalogue number)

It isn't often that a debut album by a traditional musician disproves an accepted truth; that it takes 21 years to play the pipes.  However Grasso's CD not only disproves this often-repeated "fact", it kicks it out of the stadium altogether.

Grasso first came to Robbie Hannan's attention as a stripling in his mid-teens (he's barely in his twenties at the time of writing) and, as he states in the liner-notes, Grasso's "... technique and tone had already developed to astonishing levels of excellence and richness and his repertoire was seemingly endless".

With that glowing recommendation, from one of Ireland's most respected pipers, any further endorsement by Pay The Reckoning is a tad superfluous.  However we couldn't let this CD pass without comment.  For here is a piper of tender years, from the other side of the big pond, who has applied himself assiduously to the far-from-easy task of mastering the pipes and in the process has found a unique and compelling musical voice.

The selection of tunes is top-drawer.  Grasso is equally content to take on "big" tunes such as "The Tailor's Twist" (which, incidentally, has long been one of our favourite hornpipes) as well as staple (and rather unfashionable) tunes such as "My Darling Asleep" and "The Blarney Pilgrim".  In the process he comes to own the grand tunes and reclaims those regarded as being somewhat "lesser".  For this latter fact he has earned Pay The Reckoning's grateful thanks; we've long-contended that some of those tunes which are sniffed at by the haughty do not deserve such treatment.  Grasso proves that these tunes have as much life, as much scope for lifting the soul, as those more hefty tunes which have become the focus of many players' plaudits.

Grasso demonstrates that he has a great gift for composing.  Tunes such as "O'Hare's Tilt", "The Grandmaster" and "The Chiaroscuro Jig" are well-made tunes, brimming with character and lift.

Grasso is supported on this collection by Jim Egan (fiddle), Patrick Mangan (fiddle), Zan McLeod (guitar, bouzouki) and Andy Thurston (guitar, mandola).

There's a poignancy in the album's title, which refers to the fact that the funeral of Grasso's teacher - Paul Levin - was well-attended.  A big funeral is a fine tribute to a life lived to the full.  But this album is a very personal tribute and one which any teacher of so gifted a student would surely have savoured.  Given his youth, we expect to hear a lot more from Grasso as he continues to forge his music and nurture further the seeds sown by Levin.  We wish him every success in his endeavours and look forward to his next recorded outings.

To find out how to get your hands on a copy of the CD, which so far isn't generally available in retail outlets, email Eliot direct on illenpypr@yahoo.com

Track listing:

1. Miss Susan Cooper/The Sandpiper/Boys Of The Lough
2. My Darling Asleep/Hag At The Churn/Darby Gallagher's
3. Farewell to Kilroe/The Girl That Broke My Heart
4. O'Hare's Tilt/The Chiaroscuro Jig/Jig Of Quills
5. The Tailor's Twist/The Cuckoo's Nest
6. Quill And The Ivory/The Grandmaster/Belles Of Tipperary
7. The Blarney Pilgrim/Palm Sunday/Gan Ainm
8. The Satin Slipper
9. Barry's Trip To Paris/Hilda'sChoice/Tommy Peoples'
10. Garrett Barry's/An Rogaire Dubh/Frainc An Phoill
11. Dave Normaway MacDonald's Wedding/Toss The Feathers/The Monaghan Twig
Pay The Reckoning, March 2005

Darren Maloney - Who? (Own label CD001)

In his liner notes to this, his debut solo outing, banjo wizard Maloney states that he "... wrestled with the question of recording standard seisiun tunes or recent compositions."  In the end, he chose to "... do something that captured my music, my playing and my ideas".

And so we have a CD which is fearlessly experimental, harnessing the stock-in-trade of the Irish banjo virtuoso to a musical vision whose scope extends far beyond the boundaries of the dance music of Ireland.  Comparisons with Gerry (Banjo) O'Connor have already been drawn.  They are well-made. Like O'Connor and Tony "Sully" Sullivan, Maloney is one of a small handful of tenor banjo-players who seeks to extend the vocabulary of this often-reviled instrument.  Like O'Connor and Sully, Maloney's mastery of his instrument is second-to-none and this mastery enables him to travel deep into the virgin territory of his own wild musical imagination.

Given the innate conservative bent of the traditional music community, we've little doubt that some of our readers will give an involuntary shudder on reading the above.  However we'd ask you to rest easy.  Maloney's experimentation is entirely simpatico with the tradition; the guy's an insider, not some Johnny-come-lately dilletante, splicing "celtic" vibes to add lustre to otherwise bland musical fare.  When he gives us a few doses of the "pure drop" (for example on "An Geall Briste/The Piper's Despair" and "Johnny Leary's Jig/Con Cassidy's/McHugh's") he proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that this is his musical bedrock, the wellspring of his inspiration and fierce, sharply-honed, musical intelligence.

On top of those rock-solid foundations, Maloney adds layer upon layer of individuality.  Recent compositions by contemporary musicians such as Bela Fleck, Mike McGoldrick and Amy Cann fit hand-in-glove with his own compositions.  These range from tunes such as "Annaghmakerrig House" which are so true to the oul' stock that the presence of a composer's credit is a shock to the more obviously recently-crafted "Kandy Girls" and "Run Down".

As well as the choice of tunes themselves, Maloney also sets himself apart from the majority of banjo-players by virtue of his technique.  His playing is intensely vivid, never gaudy.  As noted above, this highly confident and supremely competent technique is the springboard which allows his imagination to take flight.  Only the most gifted player could pull off Maloney's musical high-wire act.

Ably supported throughout by his sparring partners Joe Brennan (guitar), Brian Fleming (percussion) and Richie Lyons (bodhran), credit is also due to Maloney's instruments - a Deering Maple Blossom, Swanelectro Mellowtone and his 1937 Abbott "Monarch No. 2".  Maloney's banjos sound incredible throughout and are evidently integral to his music.

On the strength of this album, we suspect that the title "Who?" will soon prove to be an amusing historical curiosity.  It can't be long before banjo players, indeed the entire Irish traditional community, will become very familiar with this rising star.

More information from http://www.darrenmaloney.com

Track listing

1. Farewell to Whalley Range(Mike McGoldrick)/The First Pint (Colin Farrell)/Atholl's (Maloney)
2. Kissing Fishes (James Fagan)/Reel Des Cing Joumelles (Unknown)
3. Annaghmakerrig House (Maloney)/The Morning Room (Maloney)/The Black Cat (Maloney)
4. Catharsis (Amy Cann)/inP karoNg (Maloney)
5. Vonnie's Poem (Maloney)
6. An Geall Briste (The Broken Pledge) (trad)/The Piper's Despair (trad)
7. Ample Warning (Maloney)/Sergei's (Brian Carolan)
8. Trupenny (Maloney)/Kandy Girls (Maloney)
9. Singing In Irun (Maloney)/Maura On A Bicycle (Bela Fleck)/No. 39 (Maloney)
10. Johnny Leary's (trad)/Con Cassidy's (trad)/McHugh's (trad)
11. Happy-Go-Lucky (Maloney)/Graffiti Fridge (Maloney)/A Fridge Too Far (Maloney)
12. Run Down (Maloney)
Pay The Reckoning, March 2005

Garry Walsh - Uncovered (Ossian OSSCD134)

Flute and whistle maestro, Walsh - a native of Manchester - gives us a recording which shines brightly on two counts.  The first is his lyrical, graceful playing; Walsh is a stylist who adds beauty and charm to the music.  The second is the fact that many of the tunes on this collection have come to him from his grandfathers, John Walsh (fiddle, flute, piccolo) from Drogheda and John Joe Fahy (melodeon) from Skibereen, and are examples of the myriad of "local" tunes that haven't made it into the traditional canon.

Until, we now suspect, Walsh's CD is established among the cognoscenti as one the "must-haves" of recent times.

Walsh is aided and abetted in his exploration of past glories by Dave Hennessy (melodeon), Johnny Neville (guitar), Colm Murphy (bodhran, percussion), Clare Fitzgerald (fiddle) and Isla de Ziah (cello).  The CD captures some spectacular interplay, in particular between Hennessy and Walsh and Fitzgerald and Walsh; the sense of musical companionship bordering on telepathy runs through the CD as a constant thread.

As ever we spotlight individual sets with some reluctance; an album as fine as Walsh's is in many senses a highlight in itself.  However "Thugamar Fein An Samhradh Linn/Casey's" has given us cause to hit the repeat button from time to time.  As indeed has a mighty (and impishly quirky) hornpipe set "Narrow West Street/Butterley's Boat".

A modern classic, whose roots extend back through the generations, "Uncovered" is a collection whose importance cannot be underestimated, by a player whose passion, grace and technical flair cannot be doubted.

Available in Ireland via Ossian http:/www.ossian.ie and distributed in the UK by Alan O'Leary's estimable Copperplate Distribution http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

Track listing

I. The Road to Naul / Laughing Molly - Jigs 
2. The Cross Legged Tailor / Under the Tholsel / Eileen Fahy's - Reels
3. Waiting For Me / Out the Buttergate / John Walsh's Jig
4. Around Lough Ine - Air
5. The Travelling Lamp / Cogar Na Gaoithe - Reels
6. Thugamar Fein An Sainhradh Linn / Casey's - Jigs
7. Narrow West Street / Butterley's Boat - Hornpipes
8. (Robbie's Welcome ) / The Windy Harbour / Gan Ainm - Reels
9. Back to Skibbereen / The Road to Cork - Jigs
I0. Clara's Reel. / Ciaran Jennings
11. (Gan Ainm) / Here's to Temperance /The Barrel of Monkeys - Jigs
12. (Felix Doran's) / Mother Hughes's Goose - Reels
Pay The Reckoning, February 2005

The Border Collies - Unleashed (Own label BC 001)

Just what the vet ordered!  (Sorry, folks ... the Border Collies' revelling in puns is addictive!  We'll endeavour to desist!)

The Border Collies, from County Sligo, play as Catherine McEvoy notes in the album's liner "... the music of Sligo ... in an uncluttered, relaxed, but tight ensemble".  Ah, yes!  The Holy Grail of ensemble musicianship - relaxed but tight.  A quality that many strive after, but few attain.

This elusive quality is evident from the very first set - "Martin Wynne's No. 3/The Abbey Reel/Corry Hilly/The Cloone Reel" - as the main melody instruments (banjo courtesy of Theresa O'Grady, Colm O'Donnell's flute and Declan Payne's piano accordion) join force for a fast, but at the same time languid, romp through through a fine blast of reels.

Elsewhere a laidback approach predominates, as Maria Lynn's bouzouki takes the lead on the intricate filigree of Peadar O'Riada's superb jig "Sport" with Colm O'Donnell picking up the baton - this time on whistle - in the second tune of the set, a four-part version of "King Of The Pipers".

Great tunesmanship, certainly, but the Collies are no slouches when it comes to songs. Colm O'Donnell's peaty, rugged voice does "Here's A Health To The Company", "The Tinkerman's Daughter" and Andy Stewart and Phil Cunningham's "A Lover's Heart" perfect justice. But his treatment of "Dilin O Deamhas" surpasses words!  Siobhan O'Donnell , the band's bodhran player has inherited her father's gift of a way with song - her harmony vocals on "A Lover's Heart" being a mere prelude for her rendition of "Wild Mountain Thyme" - a standard which she polishes till it gleams like a new penny.

So far the only member of the band who hasn't had a mention is the guitarist - a rock-solid presence throughout - Shanee McGowan and we couldn't let this review pass by without tipping our hat to his uncluttered, understated, spot-on accompaniment.

Not yet as widely-available as it deserves to be, if you can't get your paws (sorry!) on Unleashed, then an email to the band thebordercollies@eircom.net may point you in the direction!

Track listing

1. Martin Wynne's/The Abbey Reel/Corry Hilly/The Cloone Reel
2. Here's a Health to the Company
3. John Brennan's/Mick O'Connor's/The Duke of Leinster
4. The Scotsman Over the Border/Willie Coleman's/Tom Billy's
5. Dilin O Deamhas
6. Sport / The King of the Pipers
7. A Lover's Heart
8. The Man in the Bog/The Luathradain's Jig
9. Wild Mountain Thyme
10. Paddy O'Brien's / The Whistling Postman
11. With a Love that's True 
12. Sailing into Walpole's Marsh/Cregg's Pipes/Gan Ainm/Draggin Across the Road
13. The Tinkerman's Daughter
Pay The Reckoning, February 2005

Johnny Connolly (le Charlie Lennon) - An Mileoidean Scaoilte (Clo Iar-Chonnachta, CICD 157)

So, there are those who'd argue that Connolly is the greatest melodeon player of all time.  Then there are those who are less inclined to make such a grandiose claim, but who say that he's certainly the best melodeon player of his generation.

Well, let's forget all this "best" nonsense ... it just gets in the way of the music and the enjoyment of the music.  To our mind there isn't any such thing as "best", there's "as good as it gets" and that's it.  And Connolly is certainly as good as it gets!

The first and foremost charm of this collection lies in its utter simplicity.  Connolly's box-playing and Charlie Lennon's usual highly sympathetic piano accompaniment are the bedrock of the album and on only two occasions is the mould broken, on "Emmet The Piper/The Frost Is All Over" where Lennon adds a dash of fiddle to the mix and "Boil The Breakfast Early/New Mown Meadows", where Seosamh O Neachtain can be heard dancing to Connolly's and Lennon's exuberant music.

The second charm is the fact that, with few exceptions, all of the tunes on the album are standards.  While we're not averse to albums chock-full of new compositions, there's nothing like the oul' stagers played well to warm our cockles.  We suspect that we're not alone in that regard and we expect that many traditional music lovers will read the track listing below and get their order in purely on its strength alone!

More details from CIC's website http://www.cic.ie

Distributed in the UK by Alan O'Leary's Copperplate empire (one of the most carefully-selected catalogues available!) http://www.copperplatedistribution.com

Track listing

Part 1
1. The First House in Connaught /The Sally Gardens (Reels)
2. Tonra's Jig/ Down The Back Lane (Jigs)
3. Johnny's Reel/ Mick O'Connor's Choice (Reels)
4. The Boys of Blue Hill/ The Peacock's Feather (Hornpipe)
5. The Humours of Glendart/ The Monaghan Jig (Jigs)
6. Bean an Raidió /Paddy in Preston

Part 2 Music for the Connemara Set
7. Boil The Breakfast Early /The New Mown Meadow (reels)
8. Miss McLeod's Reel (Reel)
9. Dowd's No. 9 /The Galway Rambler (reels)
10. Maggie In The Wood (Polka)
11. The Rose of Aranmore/ Glen Swilly/An Raicin Álainn (Waltzes) 

Part 3.
12. Emmet The Piper/The Frost Is All Over (Jigs)
13. George White's Favourite/Love At The Endings (Reels)
14. Amrhán na Trá Báine (Air)
15. The Golden Keyboard /The Silver Spear (Reels)
16. Port Tom Mór/The Flying Wheelchair (Jigs)
17. Lucy Campbell /The Ships are Sailing (Reels)
Pay The Reckoning, February 2005

Various Artists - Seoltai Seidte (Setting Sail) (Gael-Linn CEFCD 184)

Surely one of the most important releases of recent years, Seoltai Seidte brings together all twenty of Gael-Linn's 78 rpm recordings in the Ceolta Eireann series released from 1957 to 1961.

Each recording followed a similar format - unaccompanied songs as Gaeilge on the A-side, accompanied by solo, unaccompanied music on the B-side.  Uncompromising in their rawness and paying no heed to "popular" notions as to how music ought to be presented, the records nevertheless sold in their thousands, proving that in Ireland (and further afield) there was a demand for quality, unadulterated Irish songs and music.

The CD release is beautifully packaged.  A 90-odd page booklet, as Gaeilge agus as Bearla, gives a wealth of information about Gael-Linn, the Ceolta Eireann series of releases, the artists and gives detailed bi-lingual transcriptions of the songs and background notes on the tunes.  The CDs and booklet are housed in a "DVD-style" case, the inner sleeve featuring facsimiles of the original artwork of the discs in the Ceolta Eireann series.

But what of the songs and the music themselves?  Nearly 50 years on, the recordings have lost none of their potency.  From the opening songs (Sean 'ac Dhonncha's "Bean Phaidin" through to a fresh-faced Joe Burke playing "The Dawn/The Moving Cloud"), these tracks remind us of two things.  The first is the primacy in Irish music of the solo musician.  We've grown so accustomed in recent years to listening to Irish music presented by ensembles that for many in the traditional audience, this may have become the only way that they expect to hear the music.  It wasn't always thus and many thanks to Gael Linn for reminding us of that fact!

Secondly we're reminded that although the music evolves over time, if we go back several generations the changes are barely noticeable.  Good traditional music is good traditional music.  These recordings are as fresh and as vital as anything bearing a "copyright 2005" label.  In fact, probably more so.  Ours is a more cynical age (OK ... sophisticated, if you think we're being too harsh!) and try as they might, it's hard for the current musician not to reflect some of that cynicism/sophistication in his/her music.  But at the time these recordings were made, Ireland remained a relatively "closed" and "straightforward" society, where cynicism and ennui were exotic traits.  Hence musicians played and sang with less self-consciousness than we who nowadays attempt to make the music.

The CDs have several surprises in store.  Although the majority of songs and tunes are reasonably well-known, and many of the artists equally well-known, we at Pay The Reckoning encountered several of the musicians for the first time.  So you can imagine our delight on "discovering" Sean McLaughlin from Armoy, Co. Antrim.  What a revelation!  McLaughlin's touch is personal, confident and assured, combining a beautiful tone with some exquisite, precise and daring ornamentation.  We'll be trying to track down more of his recordings in due course!

So, important and historic, most certainly. But whereas important and historic recordings sometimes imply "worthy" and "a hard slog", Seoltai Seidte is nothing of the kind.  If importance and historical value matter little to you and you simply crave some good, honest, passionate music, then Seoltai Seidte will fit the bill!  If, on the other hand, you're after good music which has lasting historic value, Seoltai Seidte will kill two birds with one stone.

Further details from http://www.gaellinn.com

Track listing

CD1
1. Sean 'ac Dhonncha - Song: Bean Phaidin
2. Sean 'ac Dhonncha - Song: Is I Do Mhamo I
3. Sean Ryan - Reel: The Dash to Portobello
4. Seosamh O hEanai - Song: Caoineadh na dTri Mhuire
5. Tommy Reck - Reels: Bonny Kate / Mrs. McLeod's / The Fermoy Lasses
6. Seosamh O hEanai - Song: Neainsin Bhan
7. Tommy Reck - Air: Carolan's Concerto
8. Seosamh O hEanai - Song: Bean an Leanna
9. Denis Murphy - Reels: The Kerry Reel / Colonel Frazer / The Steampacket
10. Sean 'ac Dhonncha - Song: Mainistir na Buille
11. Denis Murphy - Reels: Saint Anne's / The New-Mown Meadows
12. Sean 'ac Dhonncha - Song: An Buinnean Bui
13. Joe Devlin - Jigs: The Blooming Meadows / The Queen of the Fair / The Luck Penny
14. Aodh O Duibheannaigh - Song: Geaftai Bhaile Bui
15. Johnny Pickering - Jigs: Jackson's Rum Punch / The Rose in the Heather
16. Aodh O Duibheannaigh - Song: Uirchill an Chreagain
17. Sean McLaughlin - Reels: The Earl's Chair / Tom Steele
18. Aine Ni Ghallchobhair - Song: Ar Maidin De Mairt
19.  Johnny Pickering - Hornpipes: The Wily Old Bachelor / The Harvest Home
20. Aine Ni Ghallchobhair - Song: Brid Bheasach
21. Aine Ni Ghallchobhair - Song: Ar a Ghabhail chun a Chuain Damh
22. Sean McLaughlin - Reels: Rhattigan's / Mrs. McLeod's

CD 2

1. Sean de hOra - Song: An Gamhain Geal Ban
2. Denis Murphy - Reels: The Piper's Despair / Jim Kennedy's Favourite
3. Diarmuid O Flatharta - Song: An Seanduine
4. Willie Clancy - Song Air: Na Connerys
5. Sean 'ac Dhonncha - Song: An Draighnean Donn
6. Paddy Canny - Jigs: Garret Barry's / Brian O'Lynn
7. Sean 'ac Dhonncha - Song: Ta na Paipeir dha Saighneail
8. Willie Clancy - Reels: The Old Bush / The Ravelled Hank of Yarn
9. Sean 'ac Dhonncha - Song: Brid Thomais Mhurchadha
10. Vincent Broderick - Reels: Down the Broom / The Boys of Ballisodare
11. Seosamh O hEanai - Song: Amhran na Tra Baine
12. Vincent Broderick - Jigs: Old Man Dillon / The Battering Ram
13. Seosamh O hEanai - Song: Amhran na Paise
14. Paddy Canny - Reels: Lord McDonald's / The Fair of Ballinasloe
15. Seosamh O hEanai - Song: Sadhbh Ni Bhruinneallaigh
16. Seosamh O hEanai - Song: Is Measa Liom Bhrodach
17. Willie Clancy - Hornpipes: The Plains of Boyle / The Leitrim Fancy
18. Maire Ni Dhonnchadha - Song: Caislean Ui Neill
19.  Joe Burke - Reels: The Golden Keyboard / Farrell O'Gara
20. Maire Ni Dhonnchadha - Song: Piopa Ainde Mhoir
21. Joe Burke - Reels: The Dawn / The Moving Cloud
Pay The Reckoning, February 2005

Beoga - A Lovely Madness (Own label, BMCD001)

Lovely?  Yes, definitely.  Mad?  Hmmm... good mad, for sure.  Good mad as in abandoned, carefree, adventurous.

This is music which brims with energy and vitality.  Comprising mainly original compositions, the lads from Beoga nevertheless throw a few oul' standards into the mix to prove that their blend of passion, speed and vim works its magic on the traditional tunes just as well as it does on those that they've made themselves.

Beoga are Sean Og Graham (box, guitar, bouzouki, triangle!), Liam Bradley (piano, organ, clavinet, wurlitzer - anything with keys, basically!), Damian McKee (box) and Eamon Murray (bodhran, percussion, rhythm box).

They're joined on their debut recording by such "in-demand" players as John Fitzpatrick (violin), Peter Tomelty (saxophone), James Blennerhasset (double bass), Zoe Conway (fiddle), The John Fitzpatrick String Quartet, Brona Graham (mandolin), Mudd Wallace (electric guitar) and John Duffin (whistles). This line-up of supporting artists is testament to the lads' abilities; you don't assemble a supporting cast of this quality unless you're the top of the tree!  And musically, these guys are very definitely peering down on the rest of us from the uppermost branches ...

So what of the music, then? Well ... pure-droppers may wish to look away at this point! ... the basis of each set is close to the accepted norms of "the music", but Beoga aren't afraid to let shades of other genres make an appearance from time to time. A little "wash" of jazzy saxophone and violin, "continental" rhythms, even the odd soupcon of lazy after-dinner funk!

Some of you will shake your heads in disbelief and, to be fair, Beoga's music is a long way from that of Willie Clancy and Denis Murphy and the like.  But we'd caution against criticism without first giving the music a listen. It's obvious to anyone with half an ear that Beoga are serious about what they do and though they're not afraid to introduce unusual ideas into the overall mix, they're as "trad at heart" as most of us.

More info at http://www.beogamusic.com

Track listing

1. Prelude Polka/Paddy's Polka No.2/Millstream Reel
2. Soggy's/Waterboogie
3. Exploding Bow/Gimme A Minute/Beoga!
4. Funk In Class/Inver Bank
5. Jack Maguire's/The Heather Breeze
6. Hello Again/Eat The Crust
7. Amsterdam Blues/Flamin' Hen Factory
8. The Solid Man
9. Trip To Manila/Daly's
10. August 27th
11. Bill Harte's/Blue Eyes/A Lovely Madness
Pay The Reckoning, February 2005

Paul Dooley - Music From The Robert ap Huw Manuscript, Volume 1 (Own label, PDCD002)

Those of us who play traditional Irish music convince ourselves that our music is ancient. This is something of a conceit and allows us to imagine ourselves as the the latest in an unbroken series of generations of musicians, stretching back through the mists of time to prehistory, all of us consumed by the need to keep the flame alive.  The reality, of course, is that most of the current traditional canon derives from the 18th century onwards.  So, while the traditional music canon is old, it's perhaps a lot more modern than we like to think!

Dooley's music is, however, truly ancient.  Around the year 1613, a young harper from Anglesey named Robert ap Huw transcribed a large number of tunes from the ancient harp music of Wales.  This music itself is believed to have derived, almost unchanged, from the type of music brought to Wales from Ireland around 1100 by Gruffudd ap Cynan when he reclaimed his ancestral throne of Gwynedd.

There is precious little structural similarity between this music and that commonly referred today as traditional music.  Structure aside, there are nevertheless some points of overlap, mainly to do with qualities of "lonesomeness" or "wildness" evident when Dooley loses himself in the music.

Dooley plays a low-headed, bronze and brass strung harp based on the Trinity College "Brian Boru" harp.  Its sound is a million miles removed from the syrupy orchestral harp; it is a loud, imposing instrument, with a rich and ringing tone.  A master of his instrument, Dooley's technical skills ally with his finely-tuned sense of musicality to permit the exploration of a bewitching variety of ringing chords which both underpin and highlight his melody playing.

A fascinating CD, which helps to preserve and to make widely available music from an age far-removed from our modern times.

More information on Paul Dooley and his music at http://www.pauldooley.com

Track Listing
1. Profiad y Botwyn
2. Gosteg Dafydd Athro
3. Caniad y Gwyn Bibydd
4. Caniad Llywelyn Delynior
5. Profiad yr Eos
6. Caniad Marwnad Ifan ab y Gof
Pay The Reckoning, January 2005

Tim Collins- Dancing on Silver  (Own Label CM001)

Young concertina players are relatively rare, even in Ireland. Most people prefer to buy a house, but Tim Collins has chosen to nurture the little-known Sliabh Luachra concertina tradition which he was born to. You'd expect slides and polkas from him, and there's one set of each here: Tim's composition The H Note sits very well after Bridgie Con Matt's Slide, and Tom Billy's Polka is a first rate tune that's new to me.

Tim plays Jeffries and Suttner concertinas. He has performed and recorded with the Kilfenora band for a decade, but this is his solo debut. He's joined by some great musicians. Piper Brian McNamara contributes to two tracks, particularly the set of reels ending with The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Fionnuala Rooney plays harp behind Tim's own slow air An Caioneadh, a great new tune. Tim's wife Claire Griffin joins him on button box for another old favourite, The Thrush in the Storm. Alec Finn and Brian McGrath provide accompaniment on about half the 15 tracks here.

His lovely bouncy style takes Tim through almost fifty minutes of fine dance music and two slow airs. There are times when ornamentation is lacking compared to what we're used to these days: this version of The New Mown Meadow is rather bare, but it fits with the old-fashioned feel of Dancing on Silver. Moran's and The Garden of Daisies are similar in style, as is the set ending with Tie the Bonnet which Tim takes at a good steady pace. The final pair of flowing reels ends this album in grand style, and should whet your appetite for more. Check out www.timcollins-concertina.com for more information.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Farquhar MacDonald - The Ghost Shirt (Own Label FARQ01)

Frenzied fiddler Farquhar MacDonald has been a mainstay of the Skye music scene since he was old enough to get into a session. His high-energy mix of highland fiddle and pipes with contemporary weirdness is a winner at festivals and ceilidhs, and his composing talents are widely acknowledged, but this is his first solo recording. Once you get past the pounding beat and sampled soundscape, there's plenty to recommend this music to anyone who enjoys fine fiddling and well-blown pipes and whistles. And of course, for the young at heart, the "drums & bass" groove is is loads of fun too: perfect party music.

The throbbing opening track The Ladies of Minginish takes liberties with a couple of traditional tunes in the style of 4 Men And A Dog, adding self-indulgent vocals and honky-tonk accordion. Next comes Sevens, a pure dance track in the style of Martynn Bennett or the Afro Celts. Track three is the glorious slow air Bob's Tune which reminds me of melodies by Ashley MacIsaac and Phil Cunningham. Finlay claims it as his own, and certainly the second half of the melody seems original. It's followed by the atmospheric march The Perspex Ball, one of several tracks with a slightly new-age mystic feel and an intriguing story.

For pure atmosphere, though, the title track takes some beating. Composed to mark the return of a Sioux artefact after 150 years, Ghost Shirt is an immensely powerful piece which blends the plangent strains of Scottish piping and native American chant. Here, too, the relentless drums and gut-shaking bass are never far away, but this demonic cocktail is a total success. The music takes over, becomes almost hypnotic, and is somehow deeply appropriate for the mixture of joy and tragedy which it commemorates.

The second half of this recording is more of the same: mystic marches from a Celtic middle-earth, stomping dance tunes from reels to rap, and a breath-taking slow version of The Ness Pipers to finish. The precision quick-fire fiddle on Famous MacLennan is seriously impressive, likewise the controlled piping on the final track. Farquhar's music is fun, fiery and fiercely individual, and at times it's simply beautiful. Ghost Shirt is well worth getting hold of: it'll open your eyes, and perhaps unblock your ears. Try www.non-stop.dj/farquhar if it's not easy to find in the shops.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Borders Young Fiddlers - BYF (Isle Records ISLE 01CD)

Terrible name for a band, but at least it's descriptive. BYF presents five young fiddlers from the Scottish borders, whose musical abilities are well ahead of their years. Most of the album is ensemble pieces, with a tight and full sound, similar to Fiddlers Bid or the Bowhouse Quintet - and equally polished. Young doesn't mean unprofessional or inexperienced here: these fiddlers would give most older musicians a run for their money in that respect. Some of the credit for this must go to Sandy Watson, father of fiddling siblings Lori and Innes: Sandy made the whole project happen.

There's a hidden agenda here, and I suppose a justification for the band's name. The borders style of fiddling is close to extinction, despite previous attempts to revive it, and these young players have learnt from some of the last players in the old borders tradition. Part of the reason for this recording is to rekindle interest in the borders style, and to provide a benchmark for younger players. So what is the borders style? Like the repertoire, it's a cross-over between the Scottish and English traditions: the raw, rhythmic, sparsely ornamented style of Northumberland meets the snap and roll of dominant Scottish fiddling. This marriage of convenience produces some marvellous music, as The Eildon Hills are stripped bare of their fripperies, or The Duke of Roxburgh benefits from added bite.

There are other influences at work here too. You can't produce great young fiddleres in a vacuum - although I can think of many a session where putting the fiddlers in a vacuum would have improved things - so these rising stars are familiar with the music of Scotland, Ireland and beyond. This comes through in the score of own compositions here: slow airs such as Leaving Mull or the American-tinged Lori's Waltz, off-beat reels like Treelights and The Commentator, and jigs with names like Summer on the Tweed and What's All That About? They've also adopted some Scandinavian tunes, and the ringing open strings which go with them: Slow March and Auld Graden Kirn owe more to Sweden than to Scotland.

This CD also contains a multimedia presentation of the music and musicians, with history, notes, and written music for all the tunes here. It will be fabulous if their efforts contribute to a revival of borders fiddling, but in any case Lori and Innes Watson, Rachel Cross, Allan Hyslop and Shona Mooney are names to watch out for. BYF is long on quality and quantity, and speaks of great things to come. More information is available at www.islemusicscotland.com, which also has a mail-order service

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Bilwesz - Hardigatti! (Extraplatte EX589-2)

Let's think of some positive things to say about hurdy-gurdy music which everyone will agree with. It's not easy-listening, and it doesn't leave you feeling indifferent: you either love it or hate it. Personally, I love it. Bilwesz takes the raw, untamed sound of this fascinating instrument, and combines it with the folk harp: their material is mostly from old German collections, but several pieces seem to have been borrowed from neighbouring countries. The first track, Es geht wol zu der Sommerzeit, has all the marks of old Provence, and indeed the arrangement adds the characteristic tambour and pipes. Spieluhr is more like the music of central France, and Movrin aus Hoetting is almost note for note the same as a well-known Galician muineira. Mazurka Schloss Freiberg reminds me of several old Danish tunes, but is actually a composition by the hurdy-gurdy half of Bilwesz, Simon Wascher.

The other half of Bilwesz is harpist Merit Zloch, who plays a Bohemian keyed harp. Merit provides a solid, punchy foundation for most of the tracks, with fascinating harmonies and counterpoint. The harp and hurdy-gurdy work very well together, even when the harp grabs the meolody and leaves the monophonic gurdy to accompany as best it can. Both Simon and Merit were deserved prize-winners at the 2003 St Chartier festival.

Whilst the sleeve notes are sparse, there is a full account of the source collections. The Bilwesz site www.bilwesz.de provides more information on musicians, instruments and concerts, as well as some sample tracks to download. If you're a hurdy-gurdy fan, get this CD and play it loud to educate the neighbours.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Gerry O'Connor - No Place Like Home (Myriad Media MMCD002)

We're talking world-class banjo here, but without the World Music feel. Gerry's third album harks back to his Time To Time debut, taking Irish session tunes to their virtuoso limit. The line-up is pared down to old stalwarts Tommy Hayes on drum, Brendan O'Regan on bouzouki, and Damien Evans on bass. Gerry does the honours on banjo and fiddle: for a banjo-player, he's a great fiddler. There are three of his own compositions on No Place Like Home, but the eight other tracks are almost entirely traditional material. This is a very different beast from Myriad, Gerry's second album, which was more about his own compositions and pushing the banjo envelope: No Place Like Home celebrates Irish music, and the mind-bogglingly brilliant playing is almost a by-product.

Lowlights are non-existent on this album. The Bag of Spuds is worth its weight in gold, and The Copper Plate also enjoys Gerry's Midas touch. Tom Billy's Jigs are a pair of absolute gems: you won't hear better. Thomond Bridge Hornpipe starts a selection of Tipperary tunes, justifying the album title and bringing Gerry's fiddle to the fore. The showpiece Colonel Frazer is taken at a very leisured pace, leaving plenty of room for expression, even on a banjo: this is one of my favourite tracks.

Alright, so there's a bit of African rhythm and Latin flair thrown in here and there. And there's a fair helping of American Old-Time: but most of that's just stripped-down Irish anyway. The Old-Time standard Billy in the Low Ground is a simple beauty, followed by some flawless picking on the American cousin of The Teatotaller. The title track is another of Gerry's Bluegrass-tinged tunes, with the electric bouzouki wailing away like the coyotes in the Texas desert. The jigs Banish Misfortune and Trip to Killarney could have been cloned from the Connaughtman's Rambles set on Time To Time: they have the same strong beat and Eastern swing, but the rest of No Place Like Home is much closer to Ireland. Track 9 is a trio of reels which all appear to be O'Regan compositions: the melodies are totally trad, but the arrangement rocks. Banjo don't get no funkier. Two more top-flight O'Connor tunes finish the CD: a sensuous slow drag called Ruby's Birthday, and the pulsating powerhouse Really Green Reel.

Any recording by Gerry "banj" O'Connor is worth hearing. This one is worth hearing again and again. Treasure it, but don't hoard it: let your friends hear it too. Anyone who doesn't want a copy of this CD is either insane or deaf. If they're deaf and they play banjo, give them two. Available on prescription, or from gerryoconnor@iol.ie.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

BOOK REVIEW Steven Spence - Spencie's Tunes (Published by Steven Spence, no ISBN, Softback £10)

I can't think of a more appealing tune book. Steven Spence has bundled 37 of his Shetland fiddle compositions into a colourful and fun-filled publication to provide any musician with dozens of excellent melodies and hours of entertainment. Photos, cartoons, a health warning, and even a ghost story: this book has everything. A 90-page open-flat A4 softback, Spencie's Tunes will fit in most fiddle cases and sits majestically on music stands or bar stools.

Steven is a fiddler from Unst, the most northerly inhabited island in Shetland. His tunes suit most melody instruments, and they're annotated with John Laughland's chords for a simple but effective arrangement. Many of them flow so naturally that you seem to have known them forever: the reels Uyea Sound and Pig's Reel, the jigs Da B O Lasses and Valaberg Jig, the joyful Sonya & Steve's Wedding Waltz and the poignant Calum's Waltz. Some of Steven's best-known tunes are Gibby Gray, Da Auld Man, Radio Shetland and The Rayburn Reel, firm favourites with fiddlers from Shetland and beyond.

All 37 of Spencie's tunes are recorded on a companion CD, with keyboard accompaniment by John Laughland, but Steven Spence is not a man who needs to play his own tunes for them to be heard: you'll find his compositions on albums by Fiddlers Bid, the Wrigley sisters, Hom Bru, and in the TMSA's Nineties Collection. So you don't have to take my word for the quality of Spencie's tunes. The book and CD are available from www.spenciestunes.com - there's also a T-shirt which is all the rage this year in Lerwick, just right for any fiddler of your acquaintance.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Catherine and John McEvoy - The Kilmore Fancy (Own label Lagore 001)

If gentle dance music on flute and fiddle takes your fancy, you're a Kilmore person. Catherine and John, brother and sister of excellent Irish musical pedigree (Roscommon and Dublin via Birmingham), share a taste for grand old tunes well played. Pace is not the issue here: it's the lift and turn, the loop and twist of the melody, the magic which makes fingers tap and feet tread lightly over the floor. The McEvoy siblings have that magic in spades.

The Kilmore Fancy is a rolling spread of jigs, reels and hornpipes, as fresh and weloming as a Sligo landscape. Pleasant surprises appear like hidden springs, or over blind summits. The Bush in Bloom rises gloriously out of a set of reels. John's fiddle launches into a splendid solo setting of The Maid I Ne'er Forgot. Catherine's flute pours out a powerful version of The Highest Hill in Sligo, jumping for joy at the final measure. The slip jig Humours of Kilkenny twists and turns like a lakeside path, before settling down to the steady trot of Hunting the Hare.

This delightful album also includes a handful of John McEvoy's own compositions. He provides the two hornpipes on the title track, the meandering Kilmore Fancy and the punchier Felix in Paris, written for pianist Felix Dolan who deftly accompanies all tracks here. Two of the three reels on the final track are also John's, leading seamlessly into Kevin Henry's which ends a most enjoyable forty-five minutes of the pure drop. If you can't find The Kilmore Fancy in the shops, give Catherine a ring on Dublin 8256016.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

The Midden - P:igloo (Own label Midden002CD)

Album titles can be absolutely anything these days. It would take too long to explain this one. Suffice to say that The Midden are the three Reid sisters, Kate, Meggan and Hazel, and that they seem to have a thing about pigs and snow. This is their second CD in as many years: the first one was red, this one is blue.

There's an unavoidable sinking feeling when any band opens with Wild Mountain Thyme, especially the unperfumed version, but The Midden quickly redeem themselves with a captivating pipe march. The Shores of Loch Bea is followed by a couple of great reels in the style of Iron Horse, engaging and thrilling. Sadly we have to wait six tracks for the next and last instrumental set: despite its relaxed pace, The Clumsy Lover leaves Meggan's fiddle rather exposed at times, and it's only when the tempo picks up into Lexy Macaskill that any sparks are kindled.

Between the two tune tracks there's an intriguing mixture of songs: Burns' Lea Rig, Man Of War from Show Of Hands, Teddy O'Neill from Irish music hall, and three thoroughly modern Meggan compositions. Kate takes lead vocals on all six, and her strong versatile voice skips from style to style with ease. There's nothing new in the cover versions, although the arrangements are smooth and satisfying. The original songs are like so many contemporary ditties: the story is personal, and without the context it's hard to interpret the words. The Train Song is an exception, with enough of a story to get hold of, and it works well. The tail end of P:igloo adds Annie Laurie to two more Meggan Reid songs, including Walk Through Winter where she takes the lead with sharply contrasting head and chest registers.

There's a lot to recommend The Midden: lush arrangements, clear and powerful singing, and some great instrumental moments. Spelling is not their strong point, and I'm not sure that song-writing is yet. If there's more like The Train Song to come, things could get really exciting. More tunes and less music hall would also help. P:igloo is certainly worth a listen, and www.the-midden.com is more than worth a look.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Blair Douglas - Angels from the Ashes (Ridge Records RR029)

Ever since his early days with Runrig, Blair Douglas has been one of those rare visionaries who can drag Scottish music into the mainstream without ripping its guts out on the way. Angels from the Ashes is the latest step in Blair's successful sexing-up of accordion and bagpipe tunes. Its winning mix of power and pace, poignancy and passion, characterises the best of traditional music and incidentally makes it a more appealing product for the mass market. Granted the arrangements can be a little OTT at times, and there's a conscious sentimentality which smacks of Country & Irish, but that's all part of the fun. Remember De Danann's Star-Spangled Molly, or almost anything decent by Van Morrison? Nuff said.

Talking of Van brings us to the other side of Blair's music. Swing, funk, Latin, Cajun, Kilt'n'Kongas, if it fits then he's used it. The steamy sax track dedicated to Mr Morrison is surrounded by the lush New-Age Country groove of New Island Waltz and the Spartan beauty of super-slow Night Falls. Later on there's a wee Cajun section which starts with Blair's Rockabilly Reel and includes the song La Fleur de Bayou Noir and two more stomping dance numbers. The 15 tracks on Angels from the Ashes are almost entirely Blair's own compositions, and the music stays fresh for all 72 minutes.

If ever an album had it all, this one does. The dozens of supporting musicians provide variety without excess. Enchanting slow airs like An Gaidheal Uasal, storming ceilidh sets like the aptly-named Storming The Ceilidh (which includes The F In Jig), an ode to Michael Collins in Gaelic verse, that Cajun song, and of course the title track remembering the victims of 9/11. Blair excels in every aspect of his music here: composition, arrangement, playing and production. Get it while it's hot.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Douglas Montgomery & Stewart Shearer - Crossing Warness (Attic Records ATCD062)

This is the sort of music that gave the fiddle a bad name in religious circles. Listening to Douglas Montgomery drive into The Trip to Windsor or chassay languidly through The Blue Reel, it's easy to believe that the devil is playing along. And maybe there is something supernatural about a man who can bend his bow to Scott Skinner or Swamp Fever with equal ease, as well as writing his own tunes in several styles. Orkney man Douglas Montgomery has his fingers in many musical pies. He's half of Saltfishforty, one of the Silver Penguins, and here he's teamed up with Orcadian guitarist Stewart Shearer. Between them they've composed about half the material on this CD, and they play nine instruments, leaving hardly any need for guest musicians.

The gorgeous waltz Holland Bay is one of Stewart's, as is the leisurely jig which provides the title. There's a cracking crop of reels in the middle of this recording: a rollicking rendition of The Flowers O' Edinburgh, a super set combining The Silver Spire with McFadden's, and a great tune called Frank's Reel by a mysterious John McKusker. The last three tracks on Crossing Warness are all Montgomery and Shearer compositions, showing their versatility and genius. The Ferry Crossing is a slow fiddle lament for a distant home, and Sunset Over Rona's Hill is in a similar vein on solo guitar. In between, Wulk Fever captures the fiery spirit of island celebrations with that Celtic swing so typical of Scotland's northern outposts. Crossing Warness is hard to categorise, but easy to like. Enjoy.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Hekety - Furze Cat (Wild Goose WGS319CD)

This is strong stuff. If I didn't know better, I'd have guessed that Hekety were an offshoot of one of the better Central French bands of the '90s. But the sleevenotes insist that this is English music, so let's go with that, leaving aside the vexed question of what counts as English music anyway.

Hekety are first and foremost a dance band, with an unambiguous beat and solid tempo. This makes them particularly good for listening to, because you can tap toes and and drum fingers without annoying other dancers. And make no mistake, this is toe-tapping and finger-drumming music. Never mind that some members of Hekety are self-confessed Morris dancers: the closest they come to the Morris tradition is probably The Man Tiger, a Cotswold tune that's been forged in the Sheffield steel mills and now has an edge on it that would cut through baldricks and bells like a chainsaw. There are hints of John Kirkpatrick on The Rambling Sailor too, but they don't last long in Hekety's crucible.

So who are these motley-clad mayhem-merchants? Rich and Jess Arrowsmith provide the basic box'n'fiddle groove, although the fiddle turns into a hurdy-gurdy at full moon. There's a powerful blast of clarinet from Jo Veal, easily mistaken for bagpipes in a certain light. The tried and trusted guitar of Gavin Davenport is joined down below by Nigel Holmes' electric bass. Add some sharp haircuts and shades, short skirts for the girls and long dresses for the lads, and there you have it. As seen on www.hekety.co.uk no less.

Arrowsmith and Davenport compositions abound, including the charming waltz Elvaston Castle and the menacing title track which conjures up the sort of barn dance where everyone wears black and carries scythes. Other high points are the dark brooding Panaché de Main and the Breton-influenced Battle Swing. All the material on Furze Cat is played magnificently, with surprising depth for an unadorned 5-piece. Well worth a listen.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Christy Hodder - Celtic Energy (Lochaber Music CHCE2004)

Subtitled "45 Minute Cardio", this novel CD is fronted by a fiddler, dancer and aqua fitness teacher from Nova Scotia. Yes, it is basically a medley of well-known traditional favourites set to modern backing tracks, but before you run screaming from the room (to buy the CD, or to buy an Uzi), you should know two things. Firstly, some of the tracks here are very tastefully done: there's an exciting version of Danny Boy somewhere between Van Morrison and the Afrocelts, as well as interesting treatments of MacPherson's Rant and I'll Tell My Ma.

Secondly, Celtic Energy is intended as an alternative to the 100% pop recordings usually suffered during aqua fitness classes. So this album is definitely a good thing. And it must be said that Christy Hodder is a fine fiddler: she rattles off the reels and jigs from St Anne's to I'll Be Wedded In My Auld Claes. Christy's fiddle is joined by saxophone, drums, pipes, guitars and electronic stuff. Give it a whirl: there are sample tracks at www.lochabermusic.com if you want to try before you buy.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Nuada - Open the Door for 3  (Own label NU001)

These three lads met at Cork University and have been on the go for a year or two now. Full of fun and energy, their music is refreshing and inventive. Open the Door for 3 is almost all material from the heart of the tradition, with a handful of the band's own compositions. There are two songs delivered by Daithi Kearney in a take-it-or-leave-it style, and the other eleven tracks are the usual Munster mix of reels and jigs, slides and polkas, with one slow air thrown in.

Nuada are certainly not short of pace. Castle Jig reaches fever pitch, and we're still only on track 2. A carefully-picked slow reel, Free & Easy, calms things down, but then the pace picks up again and by the time they get to The Green Fields of Rossbeigh the boys are flying. After a gutsy performance of Molly Na gCuach, it's back to the dance music with reels, hornpipes, slides ad polkas. The New Hands set is straight out of the same mould that produced Nomos and North Cregg, a medley of cracking tunes finishing with a cheeky swagger through The Auld Fiddler.

Jeremy Spencer shines on the fiddle. He has a sure touch on the faster numbers, and his playing of the slow air The Poor Distressed Soldier is pure and sweet. Podge King's button box is the power-house of the dance music sets, playing up a storm on the Magic Slipper set, with an impressively steady beat. Daithi adds brilliant banjo to his vocals, and plays tentative mandolin on a few tracks. When they all get together the result can be terrific, as on the title track. The final set disappoints slightly, but this shouldn't detract from an outstanding debut CD. Highly recommended: check out www.nuadamusic.com for more information.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Jim McGrath - Melodious Accord (Own label)

Fermanagh man Jim McGrath's music is well known throughout the northern counties of Ireland. On this CD he has combined thirty of his own compositions into fifteen sets of tunes. Reels, jigs, hornpipes, flings, slides, barn dances, a Breton march, a slow air, a strathspey and even a foxtrot: no highlands or Germans though, and you'll look for mazurkas in vain. The tunes and the playing here are both first rate.

My first reaction, hearing the opening bars of Jim's reel Bouncing Bellows, was "that's a traditional tune". I had that same feeling several times before the end of this eye-opening CD. The hornpipe Raphoe Rhapsody is another tune which has been deservedly absorbed into the tradition. Correl Glen is a swaggering pipe march in jig time, and House To Finish is a catchy barn dance with plenty of punch. Among Jim's many reels, The Knocks Session and The Peake Dancers really stand out. Some of these tunes come very close to well-known traditional melodies, which is probably no bad thing.

Jim is joined on Melodious Accord by Seamus Quinn, Cathal Hayden, Pat McManus and others on fiddles, Gerry O'Donnell on flute and Robert Watt on highland pipes, as well as several accompanists including Jim's son Sean on bodhrán. The sound is rich and full throughout. Whether you use it as a source of tunes or simply as entertainment, this recording is a treasure. More details are available from www.jimmcgrathmusic.com.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

The Kane Sisters - Under the Diamond (Dawros Music DM002)

After the success of their first album The Well Tempered Bow, fiddlers Liz and Yvonne Kane have produced another great selection of East Galway tunes including several more of Paddy Fahey's and a couple of their own compositions. The opening jigs set the scene nicely, with a pair of powerful Paddy O'Brien compositions played in fine flowing style. They're quickly followed by a magnificent set of reels including The High Road To Glin and The Low Road To Glin, two well-loved tunes, and the dive into The Whistler Of Rosslea is simply stunning. A couple of hornpipes next, with a lovely treatment of James Hill's The Acrobat, and the Kane sisters keep up the supply of well-chosen and well-played tunes until the brilliant final set of reels.

Liz and Yvonne play in tight unison for eleven tracks, including the impressive slow air Sean O Duibhir A Ghleanna. There are also two solo tracks, one each. There are a couple of tasty jigs by Liz, too, as well as great tunes by Paddy Fahey and many other living composers. Apart from the two fiddles, Under The Diamond features accompaniment by John Blake on guitar, Mick Conneely on bouzouki and James Blennerhassett on double bass. More information is available at www.thekanesisters.com - but no sample tracks. Take it from me, though: this is a very fine CD of East Galway fiddling, unfettered and full of life.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Gerry O'Connor - Journeyman (Lughnasa Music LUGCD 962)

The tongue-in-cheek title belies this Dundalk fiddler's complete mastery of music from Ireland and beyond. Journeyman treats us to a well-rounded dozen tracks: jigs, reels, slow airs and more, some of Gerry's own and others from the traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton. Since the first time I saw Gerry O'Connor, in Mother Redcap's in 1992 performing with his wife Eithne, his understanding of the relation between Scottish and Irish music has impressed me: this marriage of traditions is apparent on the opening tune Jig in A, and The Chicken's Gone to Scotland is one of the best examples of strathspey (or highland) playing I've heard from an Irish fiddler. Track 6 offers three more excellent Ulster highlands.

After several albums with Skylark and Lá Lugh, this is Gerry's first solo recording. On it he presents a full and varied 45-minute fiddle selection. There is a fascinating version of The Maid Behind the Bar, with a lovely finish on Music in the Glen. The Day the Ass Ran Away is a total contrast, relaxed lyrical playing with Gerry's son Dónal duetting on fiddle. The Star of Munster kicks off track 9, leading into The Boys of the Lough, two classics impeccably played here. The moving air Bessie the Beauty of Rossinure Hill softens you up for the final two sets of mighty reels, ending with the full-on Rakes of Invercairn.

Gerry is joined on Journeyman by his son on fiddle, piano and bouzouki, and by Paul McSherry on guitar and Martin O'Hare on bodhrán. Martin Quinn and Neil Martin drop in from time to time, on accordion and cello respectively. Together they have produced a wonderfully fresh and exciting CD. More information is available at www.gerryoconnor.net, the official website for Gerry "Fiddle" O'Connor.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Chris Norman Ensemble - In the Fields in Frost and Snow (Boxwood Media BOX904)

Subtitled "A Message of Good Cheer", this CD is a collection of tunes for winter and Christmas. From French Canadian carols to The Snowflake Hornpipe, from Christmas Eve Reel to Huron Carol, every tune here is both traditional and seasonal. The Chris Norman Ensemble treats us to acoustic arrangements on flute, pipes, bass, percussion, guitar, mandola and keyboards, with several vocal tracks in English and old French. The whole thing is built around Chris Norman's phenomenal flute-playing, ranging across, Scottish, Irish, and North American traditions.

There's a fine mix of styles here. Starting with Irish polkas, we move to the Renaissance grandeur of the title track with a bit of World Music thrown in, then the first vocals: three male voices in unison. Next, Suzie LeBlanc provides guest vocals on Or Nous Dites Marie, a beautiful duet with the flute. This sublime track is followed by a set of three Scottish reels, including one of my favourites The Ale is Dear - how true. The well-known Huron Carol is joined by two French Canadian tunes, including the cheerful Starvation Waltz: Chris switches to lowland pipes for a rich earthy sound here.

A trio of hornpipes is the first excuse for an explosion of virtuoso fluting: Star in the East is taken at a bruising pace with accidentals flashing past in a blur. Another French Canadian medley adds Ms LeBlanc's voice to the male trio, and then we hear Mr Norman's flute in slow mode as he teases every tendril of emotion from Let the Wind Blow High or Low. The three reels which follow are powerful ensemble pieces. Good King Wenceslas provides the excuse for a second flute cadenza, with five minutes of variations, and the album finishes with three-part male harmony vocals on Sound Your Instruments of Joy. Well, nobody can accuse these guys of not doing that! Great flute-playing, and a yuletide CD with a difference: In the Fields in Frost and Snow is available from www.boxwood.org and from specialist shops. Remember: a Chris Norman CD isn't just for Christmas, but it's a good reason to buy one for your friends.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Brendan Power - Tradish (Own Label Tethnik 109)

Quantity and quality in a nice green box. With 13 tracks of Brendan's own tunes and only two trad arrs, the album title is stretching a point but you won't hear better Irish-style mouth-organ. Some of the material has been around the block. Brendan's M1 Reel is already familiar from other musicians' repertoires. Jig Jazz was the title track of Brendan's second album, and is reworked here. Farewell to Muswell Hill is no stranger either. Other tracks are as fresh as the clover on the cover. The Dingle Angle gives a fair idea of what's in store for the next hour: hard-hitting harmonica with plenty of bottom-end backing, fancy facework with the emphasis firmly on fun.

Brendan's mouthies are joined by Steve Cooney's guitar and Greg Sheehan's tambourine (honest!) on most tracks. There are cameos from Andy Irvine, Gerry "banj" O'Connor, Declan Masterson and others. Mick Kinsella duets on harp for the deep dark Real Blues Reel, and there are memorable moments from great English guitarists Ian Carr and Chris Newman. The Bloom of Youth is the only track which might be almost pure Irish: Gerry O'Connor sparkles as always, and the groove is somewhere between Naas and Nashville. Elsewhere the Irish flavour is blended with blues, big band and Bulgarian. Mainly Bulgarian, which might not be surprising after Brendan's stint with Riverdance. Sweet Bulgarity could be one of Bill Whelan's 7/8 gems, and the traditional Danubska Horo fits perfectly between the mayhem of Monaco Madness and the mellow M1 Reel. Lots to recommend this album, then: look out for it in the shops, or try www.brendan-power.com for online ordering and some sample tracks.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Laura Risk - 2000 Miles (Own Label)

Fiddler Laura Risk has trawled old Scottish collections for neglected tunes, bringing to light several forgotten treasures. Like her teacher Alasdair Fraser, Laura plays in a powerful, percussive style, with tight control and beautiful tone but bursting with energy and passion, turning reels into romps and slow airs into soul-searches. Her debut duet recording with Athena Tergis in 1995 was promising: now, ten years later and two thousand miles from home, Laura Risk has fulfilled that promise with a solo CD worthy of any master fiddler.

The 3/2 reel Dubh an Tomaidh, a rare form in Scotland, reveals Laura's interest in the music of Quebec, her adopted home: 3/2 is a common rhythm for step-dance tunes in French Canada. There are other tastes of Quebec in Laura's own compositions: The Lost Hat is a catchy little gem, and Laura's jig The Big Meeting is a swaggering success.

The slower tunes on 2000 Miles are handled perfectly. Mr Abel Banks and The Efficacy of Whisky both have that spine-tingling effect of moving music played with passion. The slow strathspey Master Francis Sitwell is gorgeous, as are the airs Duncan Lamont and Tha M'Aigne Fo Chruaim. More importantly perhaps, Laura can take a 200-year-old tune and bring it back to life: Skye Air and Another St Kilda Song and Dance might not sound like names to conjure with, but Laura works her magic on them all the same, putting them on a par with today's most exciting fiddle tunes.

Add some more well-known material, the right amount of thoughtful accompaniment, and full and informative notes, and you have an outstanding CD. 2000 Miles is available from www.laurarisk.com if nowhere else: go click!

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Mike Katz - A Month of Sundays (Temple Records COMD2095)

Veteran of Battlefield Band and Ceolbeg, Mike is a piper from the LA Katz dynasty: pipers, doctors, and cousin Ali whom nobody mentions. Like many pipers, Mike plays normal instruments too: whistles and guitars here. He's also joined on this debut solo CD by John Martin's fiddle, Simon Thoumire's concertina, Alasdair White's fiddle, and Kevin MacKenzie's guitar. The result is not unlike a really good Battlefield concert without all those boring songs.

The opening set of reels is framed by two of Mike's compositions, The Best Englishman (William Blake, apparently) and Le Tire-Bouchon (a vital part of any Breton piper's equipment). These tunes are so good, they totally eclipse the pair of reels from Allan MacDonald and Angus MacKay which intervene. Allan gets his revenge on the next track, though: his masterpiece Na Goisidich leaps out at you from behind a set of classic strathspeys.

The huge sound of the highland pipes gives way to the socially acceptable smallpipes on track 3, another set of reels including The Dogs Ate the Tradesmen from an early Gaelic version of the Countryside Alliance. Later on we hear Breton pipes by Jorge Botua, tuned quite differently from the highland pipes. Most of A Month of Sundays features highland pipes, accompanied by various instruments. There are no pipe-free tracks, and only one pipe solo: a set of old quicksteps which are rarely heard these days, despite the attractive cadences of The Black Watch Polka and Miss Forbes' Farewell.

Amidst highlights aplenty I should mention the stick shift into Sunset at Tommy's, Mike's romantic reel named for a burger bar, and the trio of Katz compositions which ends with the exuberant jig Land of Milk and Honey. The sinister rumbling in the middle of this track is mouth-music from a two-metre Californian who can tuck his beard behind his glasses.

We're still only half way through the album, but you get the picture. Still to come are a couple of Breton tracks, a spellbinding rendition of The Unst Bridal March, and several other notable moments before the finale of Dr Angus MacDonald's delightful tune Tubular Peat. Nice album, lots of good stuff, and widely available thanks to www.templerecords.co.uk and world-wide distribution.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Various Artists - The Fluteplayers of Roscommon, Vol. 1 (Feadóg Mór Music)

More of a documentary than an album, The Fluteplayers of Roscommon brings together a dozen musicians representing three generations of Roscommon flute music. None of them are world famous, but the fact that they all come from this small area of Ireland makes their music both exceptional and fascinating. John Wynne, fluteplayer with Providence, is the man behind the project. Other familiar names here are Catherine McEvoy and Brian Duke. The older generation is represented by the likes of Patsy Hanly, a giant in the flute world, and John P Carty (father of fiddler and banjoman John Carty).

Some of these players are in their eighties now. The value of Pat Finn's rendition of Rolling n the Ryegrass, or Frank Jordan's version of Andy McGann's Jig lies mainly in the view it gives us into the past, into the way the music was played sixty and more years ago. This is a very different picture from early commercial recordings by McKenna and Morrison, where time pressures and audience preferences were such that the music was often played unusually fast to uncoached piano accompaniment.

If it's the stars of today or tommorrow who interest you, have a listen to Molly Bawn and The Kerry Reel from Brian Duke. Formerly with Cían, Brian produces dazzling fingerwork and brilliant ornamentation. John Wynne and Catherine McEvoy are still at the top of their game, particularly on their Trim the Velvet duet. John Carlos, John Kelly, and Bernard Flaherty are somewhere in between, with masterly touches on Adam and Eve or The Mountain Top.

The Fluteplayers of Roscommon is a warts-and-all recording, with little post-production: this is how fluteplayers really sound in the wild. There's a big thick wad of notes on flutes and players, and some appealing artwork too. Unfortunately, this CD may not be widely available. Try www.roscommonarts.com, or email feadogmor@roscommonarts.com for more information. We can expect Volume 2 at some point.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Rona Lightfoot - Eadarainn (Between Us) (Macmeanmna SKYECD 28)

This CD is one of the nicest surprises I've received recently. An accomplished singer, piper and lilter, Rona Lightfoot personifies the music of South Uist. Many of the ten Gaelic songs here come from Rona's family repertoire and are still not widely known. The three sets of pipe tunes are all familiar melodies, but Rona's settings and style are uniquely evocative of the South Uist Gaelic tradition. It's hard to believe that this is a debut recording.

One of the most intriguing and impressive tracks on Eadarainn is the trio of lilted pipe tunes, perfect examples of "canntaireachd", the old method of learning the pipes without written music. Rona's vocal renditions of Roderick MacDonald's Strathspey, The Spinning Wheel, and The Duntroon Reel are expertly delivered in what is sadly a dying art. Iain MacDonald's small pipes match the vocals note for note, underlining the close relationship between piping and singing. Another aspect of this relationship is illustrated in the "puirt-a-beul" Gille Bhàin set to a well-known dance tune. Rona gives us two "puirt-a-beul" tracks on this album: the other one is a pair of powerful but neglected old reels.

Iain MacDonald's contribution to this recording is worth emphasising. As well as playing large and small Scottish pipes, flutes, whistles, concertina, bodhrán and jaw harp, Iain has definitely excelled in the role of producer: the full and vibrant sound of this album shows the strength and character of South Uist music at its best. The collaborations between Iain and Rona are among the highlights of Eadarainn: Rona's pipes and Iain's Bb flute on Maol Donn, Rona's vocals and Iain's piping on Eadarainn Mòr Ruadh, and the Canntaireachd track. Maol Donn is a microcosm of Rona's art, with singing, piping and cainntaireachd all combined.

The backing vocals, fiddle, piano, accordion and clarsach are almost gilding the lily on what is already an outstanding album. I hope we'll hear much more from Rona Lightfoot in future, especially her old-style piping which is under-represented on this CD. Eadarainn is available from www.gaelicmusic.com or from exceptionally good music shops.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

BOOK REVIEW : Josephine Keegan - A Drop In The Ocean (Traditional Irish Tunes Collected by Josephine Keegan) (Self-published)

2004's follow-up to the Keegan's 2002 collection of her own tunes sees Keegan gather together a varied and inspiring collection of tunes, mostly from the tradition, with which she's been associated throughout her long life in the music.

A Drop In The Ocean features some 260 reels, 64 hornpipes, 131 jigs, 46 single jigs, 26 slip jigs, 33 "miscellaneous" tunes (airs, waltzes, barndances, marches, etc.) and 58 original compositions (of which more slightly later).

The beauty of a highly personal collection of tunes is that it represents a little window into the collector's soul. Unlike, say, O'Neill's collection - fine though it is, but in one sense a raace against time effort to set down tunes from here, there and everywhere before they disappear - these tunes carry the stamp of having been played and cherished by a gifted and insightful musician; they're a part of the Keegan and they're a part of her legacy to current and future generations of musicians.

No doubt we at Pay The Reckoning, and other musicians like us, will add tunes from this collection to our repertoire and no doubt when playing them, no less than when playing her own compositions, we'll pay a spoken or silent tribute to the Keegan for the gift of the music.

As regards the original compositions, we hesitate to say it in case it  sounds like bragging, but Keegan has included 7 compositions of Pay The Reckoning's own Aidan Crossey in the book. Aidan says, "To see my humble efforts sitting alongside great tunes from the tradition, as well as those new tunes written by luminaries such as Josephine Keegan herself, Seamus Connolly, Joe Burke, John Daly, Billy McComiskey and others is a source of great pride for me personally (particularly since one of the tunes she's included is named after my maternal grandfather, Arthur John Donnelly, RIP, and I'm delighted to see him given this tribute)."

On behalf of all Irish musicians, go raibh mile maith agat, a Josephine.

The book can be ordered direct from Josephine Keegan by mail at josephine@keeganmusic.freeserve.co.uk

We're given to understand that Claddagh, Custy's and Walton's are selling the book, but we haven't been able to track down a link.  You may, however, wish to email them to enquire if it is available, in which case you will need the following email addresses

claddagh@crl.ie

custys.ennis@eircom.net

info@waltonsmusic.ie

Pay The Reckoning, November 2004

Beolach - Variations (Own label WS - 05 - 22 - 04)

Beolach blew us away with their self-titled debut album, a dazzling, intense and immensely uplifting selection of original tunes and tunes from the Cape Breton tradition.  And so another CD of "more of the same" would have suited us just fine.

But "more of the same" obviously isn't Beolach's style!  Variations sees the outfit ratchet up the energy, often (such is the paradox of traditional music) by stripping out some of the previous album's wall of sound approach and allowing more occasions where individual instruments or a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of duets take centre stage.  As a result Variations has less of a session feel and more resembles a conversation between band members about the tunes they're playing.

There are no gimmicks on the album; this is pure-drop CB trad.  Repeat pure-drop CB trad!  Often players of Beolach's vintage find the need to "update", "modernise" or otherwise destroy the music. Beolach have much more respect for their music, their muse and the music repays their respect with captivating performances.

Beolach's reputation can only continue to grow after such a breathtaking showcase.  Pay The Reckoning wishes them well!

More at http://www.beolach.com

Track listing

1. Pipe Major George Ross' Welcome To The Black Watch/Yesterhouse/Goilden Anniversary/The Way To Mull River/
John Morrison of Assynt House/The Sandwich Maker
2. Norman's Reel
3. Jenny Belle Lane/The Girls In Boisdale/The Sisters' Reel
4. The Golden Keyboard/Steevo's Jig/Drover Lads/Sweet Willie
5. Sandy MacIntyre's March/Lord Lyndoch's Welcome/Hoch Hey Johnny Lad/Kentucky Mandolin/A Johnny Wilmot Reel/
The Sheep Shanks
6. Corporal AB/Sarty Party/Will Ye Not Come Back To Yon Toon
7. Mrs Crawford
8. The Forest Of Garth/Strathspey Gan Ainm/Moving Cloud/The Watchmakder/Stone Frigate
9. Memories of Father Charlie MacDonald
10. David Rankin's Strathspey/Brose And Butter/Lala's Jig/Francis Aucoin
11. Toss The Fiddles/Bras D'Or House/Castle Bay Scrap/My Great Friend John Morris
12. The Night We Had The Goats/West Mabou/West Mabou/Pipe Reel Gan Ainm
Pay The Reckoning, November 2004 

Molly's Revenge - Molly's Revenge Four (Own label MR-04)

Sometimes a band takes a while to hit its full stride.  It's not that it's been coasting previously; instead the listener gets the sense that between one album and the next, a band has caught a spark and collectively the musicians have fanned it into a mighty flame.

So it appears after the release of Molly's Revenge Four, an absolute belter of an album.  David Brewer (pipes, whistles, bodhran), Stuart Mason (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), John Weed (fiddle) and Pete Haworth (bouzouki, vocals) shift effortlessly between Scottish and Irish sets, their playing bearing all the hallmark inflections and treatments of the native Irish and Scottish players.  Thus they ensure that the resulting mix retains depth of character and style and doesn't meld into some uniform, generic "celtic" sound.

Of the current crop of US-based traditional groups, Molly's Revenge are quickly establishing themselves as one of the key trailblazers.

More info at http://www.mollys-revenge.com

Track listing

1. Cameronian Rant/Gan Ainm/Ballivanich Reel/4th Floor
2. Collier's/Tommy Gunn/In And Out The Harbour
3. Rover Seldom Sober/Redican's
4. Salamanca Reel/The Conspiracy/Ashmolean House/Nuala's Bonnet
5. Boys Of Ballysodare/Humours of Lissadell/Trip To Herve's
6. Jagged Rocks Of Nelson Bay/Delvinside/Gan Ainm/Bogan Lochan/The Brolum
7. Road To Rio/The Mason's Apron/The Earl's Chair
8. Brewer's Lament/Slip Reel Gan Ainm
9. The Saga Of Molly's Revenge : Part 1/James Kelly's
10. The Siege Of Ennis/O'Keefe's/Tolka Polka
11. Lord Gordon's/Kerry Huntsman/Mrs Crehan's
12. Durham Gaol
13. Hag At The Churn/The Creeping Docken/The Humours Of Ennistymon
Pay The Reckoning, November 2004

Helen Roche - Shake The Blossom Early (Love Songs From The Irish Tradition) (Own label HRCH 2323)

We've known Roche for some time, our paths crossing at this and that session where, when the ebb and flow of the nights' proceedings have reached an appropriate spell, Helen has regaled the assembled musicians and punters with her beautifully intense songs of love lost and love gained, of hearts lifted and broken by love.  Few singers have Roche's ability to demand a gathering's complete attention; to quieten even the most rowdy of pubs and then to fill the space with a swell of sound.

The launch of Helen's album is a gear-shift; time to bring her voice and her vision to a wider audience.  They won't be disappointed.  Helen's exceptional way with song may be well-known to a select few at the time of writing, but Pay The Reckoning predicts that by this time next year, there'll be few afficionados of traditional song who won't have been charmed by Helen's CD.

There is a delicacy about Helen's singing which underscores the often savage emotion of the songs which she favours.  An inspired collector, Helen has zeroed in on songs which suit her perfectly, from Dobbin's Flowery Vale where raw feelings are masked in an outpouring of euphemisms as florid as Dobbin's Vale itself to Willie O, whose unflinching directness is heart-scalding.  Along the way, Helen treats us to some of the top-drawer standards of the Irish tradition - The Verdant Braes of Skreen, Green Grows The Laurel, When A Man's In Love and I Wish My Love amongst others.

Equally top-drawer are Helen's backing musicians, Harriet Earis (harp), Colman Connolly (pipes), Conan McDonnell (bodhran, accordion), Michael Lempelius (guitar, bouzouki), Richard Bolton (cello) and Andy Metcalfe ( the album's producer on guitar).  The arrangements are subtle and sympathetic, always adding to and never distracting from Helen's central role in the endeavour.

We've watched this CD develop from the sidelines - at times, here and there, receiving snippets about progress.  Many of Helen's friends in London and, indeed, across the world have fretted with Helen during the gestation.  Well, we're pleased to report that the wait's been well worth it!  But the waiting's over and the end result is a credit to all concerned but particularly to Helen.  Well done, girl ... now, let's see what happens!

Further details about Helen and the new CD at http://www.helenroche.net  UK distribution by Copperplate http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

Track listing

1. Green Grows The Laurel
2. The Dark Eyed Gypsy
3. Lovely Annie
4. As I Roved Out (The Lassie That Had The Land)
5. The Irish Maid
6. The Wee Weaver
7. Dobbin's Flowery Vale
8. The Lisburn Lass
9. The Draighnean Donn
10. When A Man's In Love
11. I Wish My Love
12. The Verdant Braes Of Skreen
13. Willie O
Pay The Reckoning, October 2004

Joe Derrane, Seamus Connolly and John McGann - The Boston Edge (Mapleshade Records 10332)

Following Mapleshade's release of accordionist Derrane's comeback album - Ireland's Harvest, which featured Frankie Gavin and Brian McGrath - Mapleshade have succeeded in coaxing the National Heritage award winner back into the studio.  In the process they've assembled yet another "dream team", with Connolly on fiddle and McGann on guitar.

No mistakes, this is a superb album, every bit as compelling as his comeback.  Despite (or perhaps because of!) his advanced years, Derrane hasn't lost the magic touch that teases impossibly inventive ornaments from his box; at the same time he manages to be incisively precise and crisp in his playing.  Connolly, oif course, is  equally renowned for his inventivess and McGann is a much sought-after accompanist, whose chords and runs anchor the tune but never dominate his fellow musicians.

So it's no surprise that this is an album which elevates the senses.  It brims with good humour and abandon.  Three master musicians have chimed in to create a modern masterpiece.

UK distribution by Copperplate http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

Official UK release date 22nd November 2004.

Track listing

1. The Curragh Races/The Skylark/The Reconciliation
2. Billy Rush's Jig/Brosnahan's Frolic/The Miner's Jig
3. The Devil And The Dirk/The Trip To Windsor/Brumley Brae
4. Remembering Curly/The Twins/Mordaunt's Fancy
5. John Kelly's Concertina Reel/Kiss The Bride/Martin Ainsboro's
6. Whiddon's/The Nightlight/Hannah McGann's
7. The Humours Of Lisheen/McMahon's Jig/The Merry Old Woman
8. Miss McLeod's Hornpipe/Petticoat Promenade
9. Patsy Touhey's Reel/The Gooseberry Bush/Reilly's
10. Chief O'Neill's Favourite/The First Of June
11. Sporting Paddy/Sheila Coyle's/The Hare's Paw
12. The Killaloe Boat/Gan Ainm/Gan Ainm
13. The Man From Newry/The Last Of The Twins
14. The Dash To Portabello/McFarley's Reel/Geegan's Reel
Pay The Reckoning, October 2004

Rig The Jig - Passing Through (Madacy Label Group MLG2 50668)

The follow up to Stormy Brew, Passing Through finds Rig The Jig continuing to explore their mix of trad Irish and acoustic Americana.  The rich seam they've opened up continues to produce nugget after nugget.

We've come to associate Irish people playing country music with the execrable polyester and hairspray brigade, all dense brogues and whining steel guitars.  Rig The Jig take a step back from such nonsense; whether you happen to like country music/American folk or not, you'll have to admit that they play it tastefully.

As indeed they approach "the trad".  Some mighty sets here for you, such as the opener "Frieze Britches/Sweet Biddy Daly", where the guitar takes the lead.

Another feather in Rig The Jig's cap.

Find out more at http://www.rigthejig.com

Track listing

1. Frieze Britches/Sweet Biddy Daly
2. Barley And Grape Rag
3. Passing Through
4. I Still Miss Someone
5. Goldsmith's Lament
6. City Of New Orleans/The Maid Behind The Bar
7. Over The Moor To Maggie/The Green Mountain/The Red Haired Lass
8. My Home By Lough Ree
9. The Pigeon On the Gate 1/The Pigeon On The Gate 2
10. Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness
11. Kathleen Hehir's/The Stick On The Hob
12. The Liftin' Of The Latch
13. Hector The Hero/The Clumsy Lover
14. Raglan Road
Pay The Reckoning, October 2004

McDermott's 2 Hours v The Levellers - Disorder (HAG Records LP/HAG011)

Brighton-based, Irish-influenced folk-rock (for want of a better term) band McDermott's 2 Hours (Nick Burbridge, Ben Paley and Matt Goorney) join forces with The Levellers' rhythm section (Charlie Heather and Jeremy Cunningham) for another album of Burbridge's brooding, thought-provoking and often disturbing original compositions.

Burbridge introduces us to a world of rebellious outsiders, dissenters, the defilers and the defiled, the mad and the bad.  And all the while the band sugars the pill with a version of folk-rock that tips its hat to its predecessors, but leaves them standing way behind.

Lavishly packaged, the artwork  (from Giotto's "The Last Judgement") hints at the darkness and desperation which weaves throughout the album.

Not for the faint-hearted, but a rare treat for those who like to be challenged.

More information at http://www.burbridgearts.org  and at http://www.levellers.co.uk

Track listing

1. Tod The Ranter
2. Summer Song
3. Black Sun (In Genoa)
4. The Old Man's Retreat
5. Watering The Wine
6. Party To The Process
7. The Madness Of John Clare
8. Bloody Sunday
9. A Fable From Aigge
10. Just A Life (Sol)
11. The Dutiful Man As A Moth
12. Johnny And The Jubilee
Pay The Reckoning, October 2004

Neck - Here's Mud In Yer Eye! (Hibernian Records HIB 02)

A new retrospective from North London's hoolie-gans, Neck, "Here's Mud In Yer Eye!" is a raucous gallop through their career to date, with two never-before-released tracks ("Spancil Hill" and a cover of the Saw Doctors' "To Win Just Once").

To those unfamiliar with "psycho-ceilidh", Neck are one of the leading lights in a movement which fuses traditional Irish music and song with the energy and anarchy of punk.  Not everyone's cup of tea, we'll grant you, but a movement which has seen bands spring up in every quarter of the globe as first, second and umpteenth generation Irish musicians get "Loud 'n' Proud 'n' Bold".

Like the recent "Necked", this is a boozy, lairy, noisy collection.  However the newer tracks suggest that Neck's soon-to-come album will be a little more polished than their earlier outings.

So thanks for the retrospectives, Leeson and co ...  But let's get the new stuff out soon, eh?!  And in the meantime, keep the faith!

More information at http://www.neck-neck.freeserve.co.uk  Interested in this whole psycho-ceilidh/celtic punk phenomenon?  Then go to http://www.shitenonions.com to get the lowdown.

Track listing

1. McAlpine's Fusiliers
2. Loud 'n' Proud 'n' Bold
3. Spancil Hill
4. To Win Just Once
5. Here's Mud In Yer Eye!
6. The Maid Behind The Bar/The Sally Gardens
7. Suzie MacGroovie
8. I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day
9. A Fistful Of Shamrock
10. Hello Jakey!
11. Topless Mary Poppins
12. The Fields Of Athenry (Full Length Version)
12a. Ol E Hooley
Pay The Reckoning, October 2004

Sean O Riada le Sean O Se agus Ceoltoiri Cualann - O Riada Sa Gaiety (Gael Linn CEFCD 027)

One of the most controversial figures in the recent history of Irish Traditional Music, O Riada assembled the famous Ceoltoiri Cualann - later to re-emerge as The Chieftains - with a mission to present his vision of the music, a vision which admitted grace and poise and closed the door on heavy-handedness and one-upmanship.  A vision which, depending on your point of view, was disciplined and exacting or "genteel" and a trifle contrived.

The live setting of the Gaiety, in front of a receptive audience, pours cold water on claims that O Riada's music was stiff.  Compared with the jovial boisterousness of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and the streetwise devil-may-care Dubliners - one of the other major Irish music influences emerging at the time - O Riada and his company may have seemed a tad "cultured".  But the balance was necessary; the audience for Irish music was hungry and it needed some substantial fare before it would be satisfied.  O Riada provided that substance; music which was undeniably Irish, undeniably from a "folk" tradition and yet was presented with the care previously afforded only to the "high music" of classical compositions.  Yet the presentation was neither starchy nor overly formalised.

Both Sean O Se and Ceoltoiri Cualann were trump cards.  O Se, the consummate singer of the sean-nos song, nevertheless possessed a voice of such subtle power and so well-developed, that he appealed to a huge spectrum.  And Ceoltoiri Cualann, although each an accomplished, natural traditional player in his own right, were nevertheless able to assimiliate a "scripted" approach to the presentation of the music.

Captured live at a legendary concert to mark the bicentenary of Peadar O Doirnin, in 1969, the recording throbs with musicality and possibility, with pride and fervour.

Re-released as part of its celebration of 50 years in the business by Gael Linn, O Riada Sa Gaiety is one of the most "important" recordings in Gael Linn's impressive back-catalogue.

More information on Gael Linn's 50th anniversary celebrations is available at http://www.gaellinn.com  The album is available in the UK from Copperplate at http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

Track listing:
1. Marcshlua Ui Neill
2. Mna na hEireann
3. Planxty Johnson
4. Im' Aonar Seal
5. Cnocain Aitinn Liatroma
6. Marbhna Luimnigh
7. Do Bhi Bean Uasal
8. An Ghaoth Aneas
9. Mairseail Ri Laoise
10. An Chead Mhairt den Fhomhar/Na Gamhna Geala
11. Inion na Phailitinigh
12. Ril Mhor Bhaile an Chalaidh
Pay The Reckoning, September 2004

Paddy Keenan - Paddy Keenan (Gael Linn CEFCD 045)

Ah!  The 1975 debut "solo" album by Keenan, recorded just prior to his incendiary membership of The Bothy Band.

With contributions by brothers John (Johnny) on banjo and Thomas on whistle and by long-time sparring partner Paddy Glackin on fiddle, the album benefits from Seamus Ennis' highly idiosyncratic sleeve notes.

Keenan gives us the sort of edgy playing we've since become mightily accustomed to.  Time and time again, we hear the young piper lose himself in the tune, allowing it to transport him to the absolute limits of daredevilry.  For surely it's Keenan's sense of danger, his willing risk-taking that sets him apart from other pipers.  But let's not forget that when this album first made an appearance, Keenan wasn't yet the immediately recognisable player that he's since become.  Imagine, if you will, the excitement that this album must have caused when the first few copies made their way into the hands of afficionados!

It's not just fans of piping whose pulses would have quickened!  Johnny Keenan's banjo-playing is a total revelation.  Little-recorded prior to his untimely death, Johnny Keenan's name lives on today mainly via the annual banjo festival held in his honour.  This album is one of only two sources which we've tracked down which features his playing, which is every bit as fierce as that of the brother on the pipes!  (The other album we've come across is his collaboration with Tony Sullivan, better known as "Sully", the superb "Dublin Banjos".)  Johnny's solo version of "The Tarbolton/The Longford Collector" is a joy, bettered only - in our humble opinion - by his duet with Paddy on "The Ace And Deuce".  On the latter, although the two brothers play perfectly in unison, nevertheless Johnny's right-hand dexterity never fails to capture the listener's attention.

As for Paddy's solo pipering, his rendering of "The Blackbird" where he moves from a slow air version of the tune to the more familiar set dance version (a set he later recorded again with The Bothy Band) is a show-stopper.  As Ennis says, with uncharacteristic reserve, he ... "has a nice piping -version of it".  Elsewhere his piping of "Coppers and Brass/The Rambling Pitchfork" is remarkable; even those unschooled in piping lore must surely detect the influence of earlier generations of pipers who created the bedrock of the style which Keenan takes to new heights.

Re-released as part of its celebration of 50 years in the business by Gael Linn, Paddy Keenan is a jewel in the catalogue of recordings of the music.

More information on Gael Linn's 50th anniversary celebrations is available at http://www.gaellinn.com  The album is available in the UK from Copperplate at http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

Track listing:
1. The Steam Packet/Miss McLeod's
2. Drops of Brandy
3. The Lark In The Strand
4. The Humours of Ballyconnell/Toss The Feathers
5. Dunphy's Hornpipe/The High Level
6. The Tarbolton/The Longford Collector
7. Barbara Allen
8. Coppers And Brass/The Rambling Pitchfork
9. The Ace And Deuce Of Piping
10. The Blackbird
11. The Job Of Journeywork
12. Farewell To Erin/The Youngest Daughter
13. Paddy Keenan's Jig
14. The Swallow's Tail Reel
15. The Wild Irishman/The Sailor's Bonnet
16. Colonel Frazer/My Love Is In Americay
Pay The Reckoning, September 2004

Mary Bergin - Feadoga Stain (Gael Linn CEFCD 071)

To celebrate 50 years of business, Gael Linn is taking the opportunity to sift through its extensive back catalogue and to re-issue some of the most inspired and inspiring music to have come out of Ireland.

Bergin's first solo album, originally released in 1979, has never been bettered.  Widely acknowledged as a virtuoso on the tin whistle, Feadoga Stain (literally "tin whistle") captured Bergin at the peak of her artistic powers.  Expressive, joyful music, brimming with ornament and variety.  And yet, Bergin is self-effacing to boot; she allows the music to stake its claim on our ears.  The restrained packaging and the quiet release of the album, give no hints as to the explosive nature of the delights in store.

Alec Finn (bouzouki and mandocello) and Johnny McDonagh (bodhran, bones) - best known, of course, for their roles iin De Danaan - provide Bergin with sympathetic and unobtrusive support throughout.

So, for how long will Feadoga Stain remain the gold standard of tin whistle recordings?  We have little doubt that in a hundred years, people will be discussing this superb collection in the same reverential tones in which we nowadays discuss the recordings of Morrison and Coleman.  For just as those musicians raised the bar for fiddle music, so Bergin raised the bar for the tin whistle!

More information on Gael Linn's 50th anniversary celebrations is available at http://www.gaellinn.com  The album is available in the UK from Copperplate at http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

Track listing:
1. Gan Ainm/Ah Surely/The Union Reel
2. Miss Johnson's/Micho Russell's
3. Tom Billy's/The Langstern Pony
4. Sean Reid's/The Drunken Landlady
5. Liam O Raghallaigh
6. Mrs Crehan's/Gerry Commane's/The Rainy Day
7. Port Sean Seosamh/Sean Thiobraid Arann/The Wheels Of The World
8. The Blackberry Blossom/Maud Millar/I Wish I Never Saw You/Up To Your Knees In Sand
9. Garrai na bhFeileog/Miss Galvin
10. The Lady On The Island/The Concert Reel/The Hut In The Bog
11. Mo Mhuirnin Ban
12. Mick Hand's/The Reel Of Mullinavat
13. The Monaghan Jig/Nora Chrionna
14. Kitty Gone A Milking/Last Night's Fun/The Wind That Shakes The Barley
Pay The Reckoning, September 2004

Various Artists - Tracks North - Music From Shetland (Shetland Arts Trust SAT03)

Two CDs of mighty Shetland music.  The first lays out the traditional sound of the islands, the second showcases recent efforts to take the music into new territory.  Both are remarkable recordings.  The wealth and depth of talent here, as well as the variety of musical influences and the scope of musical imagination, belie the fact that the islands are home to only around 20,000 people.

As an introduction to Shetland music, Tracks North is impossible to beat.  Fair play to Shetlands Arts Trust for putting their weight behind it and let's hope it's a commercial as well as a musical success.

Further information from http://www.shetland-music.com

Track listing:

CD1 - Traditional Imprints
1. Filska - The Quarff Lasses/Beth's Tune/The 2nd Of May/Bobby Crowe of Balmullo/Da Sooth End
2. Steven Spence - Da Auld Man/Uyea Isle/George's Reel
3. Heritage Fiddlers - Pigs Reel/Gibbie Gray/The Banshee
4. Cullivoe Dance Band - Holland Jig/Len Grace Jig/Ken McConnal's 1st Change
5. Judi Nicolson with Brian Gear and Violet Tulloch - Sailing South
6. Fiddlers' Bid - The Pumping Bass/Unknown/Fr Bob Doyle's/The Laughing Cavalier
7. The Jim Halcrow Trio - The Margit Vals
8. Margaret Scollay - Orfasay/Izzy's Jig/Jig For Life
9. Graham Edwardson Band - Canadian 4 Step/The Murray River Jig/I C Muir
10. Mark Laurenson - The Rights O Man/The Peerie Norwegian Pilot/Chicago's Shine
11. Da Fustra - Thorvald Thoreffon's March/Mousa Broch
12. Brian Gear with Judi Nicolson and Violet Tulloch - Off To The North/Miss Gillian Yellop's Favourite/The Staircase Reel
13. Chris Stout - Hillswick/Party Scene
14. Shetland Fiddlers Society - Da Bride's A Bonnie Ting/Woo'd An' Married An' A'
15. Alan Nicholson Band - There's No Business Like Show Business/Mister Sandman/I Could Have Danced All Night/Happy Days Are Here Again
16. Gemma Donald - George Robertson Nicolson
17. High Strings - Central House/Jack Broke Da Prison Door
18. Laura Lockyer - Hamish's Boat
19. New Tradition - Maggie's Pancakes/Mouth Of The Tobique

CD2 - Comtemporary Imprints
1. Rock Salt And Nails - In My Head
2. Maddrim - Sail Her Ower Da Raftrees/Shalder Geo/Oot Be Est Da Vong
3. Sheila Henderson Band - Clear Your Mind
4. Bongshang - At The Mercy
5. Shoormal - Migrant
6. Fridarey - Tinkin
7. Borderline Blues Band - Mary
8. Drop The Box - Cloud Burst
9. Malachy Tallack - Zepherelli Juliet
10. Mackie Sutherland - Adies Honky Tonk
11. Nomad - Coral Eyes
12. Yellicrack - Powerless
13. Hom Bru - Somewhere Over The Rainbow
14. Shetland Youth Jazz - Some Of My Best Friends Are The Blues
15. Lisa Ward - Salt Water Poison
16. Jillian Isbister - Imagine
Pay The Reckoning, September 2004

Mick West - A Poor Man's Labour (Claytara Music CLCD042)

West and his band are a pedigree outfit.  In addition to West (vocals), the line-up comprises Stevie Lawrence (bazouki, 5-string guitar, hurdy gurdy), Frank McLaughlin (guitar, small pipes) and Fraser Fifield (soprano saxophone, low whistle, percussion, keyboards, piano, programming and production).  Karine Polwart leands her support on a number of tracks.

The tension between West's earthy vocals and Fifield's left-field production ethos is evident throughout the album.  The tension is a creative one, highlighting and underlining West's great strengths as a singer and as a song collector.

A must for any fan of Scottish song.  Information available from http://www.mickwestband.com and http://www.claytararecords.com   Information on Fraser Fifield's projects from http://www.fraserfifield.com

Track listing
1. Wild Rover
2. He Called For A Candle
3. Ramblin' Irishman
4. T'was A' For Our Rightfu' King
5. Shift And Spin/Funny Valentine
6. Rantin' Rovin' Robin
7. Old Arbro
8. Prody Dogs And Papes
9. Jamie Raeburn/Last Chicken In Tesco's
10. Time Wears Awa'
11. Good Friends And Companions
12. I Was A Young Man
Pay The Reckoning, September 2004

Kevin Keegan - The Music Of Kevin Keegan (Clo Iar-Chonnachta CICD 156)

A master of the two row B/C accordion, Keegan - a former member of the famous Aughrim Slopes Ceili Band - remained behind in America after the band's 1956 tour and there he lived and played his music until his untimely death at the age of only 54.

Initially settling in Chicago, Keegan teamed up with the wealth of the musically talented who had taken up residence there. His playing days were far from over!

CIC's new CD of Keegan's work has been compiled from cassette tapes and reel-to-reel recordings made by friends and musical acquaintances.  The sound quality is not always of the highest order.  However Keegan's playing cuts through the hiss and the background noise like a knife.  With touching sleeve notes by Keegan's long-time friend Joe Burke - no mean accordionist himself!- the CD is both celebratory and melancholy in equal measure.  Celebratory of a mighty talent; melancholy in its reflections on a man taken from us too soon - a man whose music still had a way to go.

Information from http://www.cic.ie

Track listing
1. Caint; Kevin Keegan
2. Contentment Is Wealth/The Cat In The Corner
3. Dunphy's Hornpipe
4. Dinny O'Brien's Reel
5. The Little Thatched Cabin
6. The High Level Hornpipe
7. Caint; Padraicin McGillicuddy, Radio KPFA
8. Kevin Keegan's Waltz
9. The Rambles Of Kitty/The Pipe On The Hob
10. The Maid Among The Roses/Rolling In The Ryegrass
11. Adeste Fideles
12. An Comhra Donn
13. Moloney's Wife/The Blackthorn Stick
14. Caint; Joe Cooley
15. The High Reel/The Bunch Of Keys
16. The Trip To Athlone/The Pipe On The Hob
17. George Whyte's Favourite
18. Off To California/The Harvest Home
19. The Battle Of Aughrim
20. Caint; Richard Lundy, Ellen Patterson
21. I Wish I Never Saw You/The Pullet
22. The Blackbird
23. The Cuckoo
Pay The Reckoning, September 2004

Danu - Up In The Air (Shanachie SH 78059)

At one time or another the follower of Irish traditional music will have been drawn into the debate.  You'll have been having a pint or two and your man (for only a man would approach the debate in this way!) will throw down the gauntlet.  "Boys", he'll say, "The music's been destroyed altogether by th'oul groups!"  With half an eye cocked to ensure that his words are having the desired enraging effect, he'll go on.  "Sure the music was great when it was just one man and his pipes, or his fiddle or his what-have-you.  But you get half a dozen musicianers on stage and, sure, it's a bloody contest for the one fella to be heard over the next ..."  And so on.

Resistance is futile, of course.  The sane amongst us recognise the beauty, the power and the subtlety of both the solo musician and the group format.  But for the bar-room purist, nothing else will do but the individual player - preferably old as the hills, of course, and with a thick layer of cow-dung on the soles of his boots!

Well, Danu might well have come up with the ultimate answer to the hoary old rigmarole.  (Mind you, they're still on the young side and - as far as we can tell - the soles of their boots rarely reek of cows' offerings!)  For here are a bunch of musicians who've forged a formidable reputation as one of the tightest, most keenly intelligent and exciting trad groups of recent years.  Their feel for ensemble playing is undisputed.  But their latest outing sees them showcase their individual talents instead.

The band are at pains to point out that this isn't an official follow-up to "The Road Less Travelled".  However it's obvious from the word go that the recording is no self-indulgent folly either.

Each track sees one of the players take the lead on a set of tunes or, in Muireann's case, a song with restrained backing from one or two band-mates.  The end result highlights the sheer wealth of talent in Danu - a wealth which has a number of dimensions.  Not only is each player on top of their instrument, each has a unique and distinctive personal style which is used to great advantage in the band setting but is allowed even freer rein on "Up In The Air"

It would, of course, be a fruitless task to select one or other track as a highlight.  From Benny McCarthy's opening tour de force, a variation-laden rendering of "The Moving Cloud/Gan Ainm" through Tom Doorley's exquisite flute playing, Donal Clancy's and Eamonn Doorley's inventive lyricism, Donnchadh Gough's heart-rending "Taimse Im' Chodladh", Oisin McAuley's assertive and deeply-rooted fiddling to Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh's closing reel set on the whistle, all members of the band have the ability to lift the listener's heart.

A superb album which deserves a place in any fan's collection. Official follow-up or not, another feather in Danu's cap!

Available via Copperplate http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

Track listing

1. The Moving Cloud/Ril Gan Ainm (Benny McCarthy)
2. Mooney's Minuet/The Graf Spay/The Long Strand (Tom Doorley)
3. The Stone In The Field/The Walls Of Liscarroll (Donal Clancy)
4. Raghardsa's Mo Cheaiti (Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh)
5. Taimse Im' Chodladh (Donnchadh Gough)
6. The Jiggedy Jiggedy Highland/Francie Dearg's Highland/Miss Ramsey's (Oisin McAuley)
7. Slip Jig/Jig Gan Ainm (Eamonn Doorley)
8. The PowerOut/The Dublin Reel (Tom Doorley)
9. Spike Island Lasses/Toss The Feathers (Donal Clancy)
10. Reel In D/Mary Bergin's (Benny McCarthy)
11. Kelly's Mountain/Liam Archie Reel (Tom Doorley)
12.  Molly na gCuach Ni Chuilleanain (Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh)
13. King Of The Fairies/The New Policeman/The Langstrom Pony (Oisin McAuley)
14. Sean O Duibhir a' Ghleanna (Donal Clancy)
15. The Girl From The Big House/Liam O'Flynn's (Donnchadha Gough)
16. Slip Jig/The Humours Of Glendart (Benny McCarthy)
17. Welcome Home Grainne (Oisin McAuley)
18. Sean sa Cheo/John  Doherty's/The Highlandman Kissed His Granny (Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh)
Pay The Reckoning, August 2004

Murphy Roche Irish Music Club - Twos and Threes (Own label, no catalogue number)

Now, like most people who pay any heed to Irish music recordings, we have to confess to a slight ennui from time to time at the latest big production number by the latest big-name ensemble.  You know the score ... flawless musicianship, countermelodies galore, "daring" backing and arrangements ... and yet, somehow these epics can seem a tad soulless!

And so it's a mighty treat from time to time to come across a CD of musicians who play the music because they simply love it ... simply LOVE it.

A bit of background.  The Murphy Roche Irish Music Club is named after Edmond Murphy, a fiddler from Sligo and Pat Roche, a County Clare dancemaster, the memory and influence of both of whom provide the inspiration for a bunch of players in Illinois.  A mixed bunch of folks, but all passionate about the music.  And boy does this recording capture that passion!

To the non-player the recording may seem a little wayward at times; the takes aren't flawless, the music doesn't ripple with the sleekness that the "names" achieve.  However to the common-or-garden player, this is the album's beauty.  We're there with the players.  We know how it feels to play THAT tune at THAT tempo and struggle to make THAT phrase.  We know how elusive the "perfect" chord change is at THAT point in THAT tune and we doff our hats to the accompanists for lifting the tune at the same time as the melody players!

There are some who'd argue that "the diddly" is "easy".  We've only one answer to that ... bollocks!  To "get" the music is hard work; to build your repertoire is hard work; to develop your tone, your timing, your touch is hard work; to find a bunch of people whose company you enjoy and who share your vision of the music is hard work.  Many people give up ... it's just too challenging, too unremitting, too unrewarding.

But those who stick with it have few regrets and we suspect that regrets are few and far between in the Murphy Roche Irish Music Club!  Here are a bunch of people who evidently have a deep respect for each other's playing and who buoy each other along on the journey of the music.

The CD's premise is to showcase small groups (the "twos and threes" of the CD's title, but if the showcased players are four or five at times, sure who's counting?) from the overall cast and from time to time to give the full outfit free rein.  The formula works very well.  The players have a range of styles and the small group format allows for a very personal reading of certain tunes (e.g. Glen Pekin, Mel Goraci and Kate McMillan give the opening jig in the "The Crabs In The Skillet/Three Ladies Drinking Whisky Before Breakfast" set a distinctly "dotted" treatment in the manner of Scottish/Cape Breton players; Anne Hatfield, Mary Hatfield and Tony O'Connell play "The Blackberry Blossom" hornpipe with an impertinent and carefree jazzy swing).

However, the full ensemble pieces capture the club spirit. Like the best ceili bands, MRIC keep the "arranging" to a minimum. The music is pretty straight-ahead, welcoming, played at a steady pace.  On "I'll Tell My Ma", a tongue-in-cheek "all-purpose" old-timey intro sets the scene for Al Marbutaitis to sing the first verse after which the players weave "The Rose Tree", "John Ryan's" and "The Rattlin' Bog" in and around his vocals. The final blast of reels is a joyous, exhilarating set of tunes, each tune introduced for a few bars by one or two of the players before the combined masses join in.

To own this album is a privilege. It affirms the fact that the music is, as Gary Hastings has it, ultimately about the people who play it.  These people have no commercial or selfish interest in the music.  Their sense of companionship and their evident passion for (and feel for!) the music come through in each tune.  We salute them, one and all!

The Murphy Roche Irish Music Club are:

Louise Brodie, fiddle
Kell Chole, flute & vocals
Mike Chole, banjo & guitar
Susan Coglan, fiddle
Mel Geraci, fiddle & vocals
Cathy Grafton, fiddle & vocals
Alyce Graham, fiddle
Anne Hatfield, fiddle
Mary Hatfield, fiddle
Jeff Lindblade, pipes & whistle & guitar
Mike Macken, accordion
Bob McLaughlin, flute
Kate McMillan, keyboard & vocals
Al Narbutaitis, guitar & vocals
Tony O'Connell, accordion & piano
Rob O'Connor, mandolin & whistle
Glen Pekin, fiddle
Glauber Meyer Pinto Ribeiro, flute
Marty Walsh, bodhran

To find out more, please visit http://www.murphyroche.com

Track listing

1. Castle Kelly/The Salamanca/The Cup Of Tea
2. Gallagher's Frolics/The Dusty Windowsill
3. Redican's Mother/The Kid On The Mountain/James Byrne's
4. The Blackberry Blossom/The Red Haired Lass/Tam Lin
5. Will Ye Go Lassie, Go?
6. Jackie Coleman's/The Green Gates/The Glass Of Beer
7. The Bell Table/Tommy Bhetty's
8. The Humours of Tullycrine/Mayor Harrison's Fedora
9. The Humours of Ballyconnell/Swinging On The Gate/The High Reel
10. Tommy Hill's
11. Will You Come Up The Stairs?/Tim Clifford's
12. The Crabs In The Skillet/Three Ladies Drinking Whisky Before Breakfast
13. Drumshanbo/The Butrcher's March/The Connaughtman's Rambles
14. I'll Tell Me Ma
15. Christmas In Kinsale/The Lark In The Morning
16. The Pigeon On The Gate/The Mullingar Races/Over The Moor To Maggie/The Earl's Chair/The Concertina Reel
Pay The Reckoning, August 2004

Gavin Whelan - Gavin Whelan (Tallaght Records, no catalogue number)

We would wager a week's wages on our pet theory, that in every house in Ireland there will lurk at least one tin whistle. Down the back of a sofa, in a kitchen drawer, corroding in a cellar, attic or outhouse.  Such is the instrument's ubiquity, its role for many as an "introductory" instrument that it's often accorded little in the way of respect.

Whelan turns that vision of the whistle on its head. A razor-sharp musical intelligence and an infectious joie de vivre at one minute coax from the few ounces of tin a soaring celebration and, the next, a heartfelt and heart-searing cry of anguish.

Whelan's ability is attested to by the roll-call of quality musicians who've turned out to give him their support.  Eoin O'Neill (bouzouki), Mick Brodrick (bouzouki), Ian Lamb (guitar), Donnacha Moynihan (guitars), Gavin Ralston (guitar), Colm Murphy (bodhran), Donnacha Gough (bodhran), Finbarr Naughton (mandolin), Zoe Conway (fiddle) and Aogan Lynch (concertina) at one time or another lend their shoulder to the wheel, colouring and inflecting Whelan's graceful, powerful music.

Whereas Whelan is capable of gripping the listener on his own - as in the opening reel set and the haunting A Hiudai Pheadair Eamainn- he obviously gets a kick out of duetting with another melody player and nowhere is this more evident than in his jig set with Aogan Lynch, The Pipe On The Hob/The Piper's Chair/Na Ceannabhain Bhana. No sooner has that track finished than Whelan pulls out all the stops to render a fluid and exuberant set of reels, The Westwind/The Gooseberry Bush.

Whelan has every reason to be proud of his work, and we all would have good reason to be give it a listen at our earliest opportunity.

Check out Whelan's home on the web, http://www.gavinwhelan.ie or drop him a line at mail@gavinwhelan.ie

Track listing:

1. The Blackhaired Lass/The Mountain Top/Paddy Fahey's
2. Seamus Connolly's/Tommy Peoples'
3. Brogan's Ferry/Lough Mountain/Paddy Fahey's/Josephine Keegan's
4. James Byrne's Highlands
5. The Eel In The Sink/Mamma's Pet/Miss Langford's
6. A Hiudai Pheadair Eamainn
7. The Pipe On The Hob/The Piper's Chair/Na Ceannabhain Bhana
8. The Westwind/The Gooseberry Bush
9. Mary MacNamara's/The Fairy Queen
10. The Cliffs Of Moher/Wallop The Spot/Paddy's Resource
11. John Brady's Palmers Gate/Thady Casey's
12. Bean Dubh An Ghleanna
13. Tie The Ribbons/The Girl That Broke My Heart/Devany's Goat
14. The Walls Of Liscarrol/The Kilmovee Jig/Scattering The Mud
15. Micheal Relihan's/Gan Ainm/Patsy Tuohey's

Pay The Reckoning, August 2004

Maeve Donnelly and Peadar O'Loughlin - The Thing Itself (Claddagh Records CCF36CD)

The love affair - perfectly chaste, we hasten to add - between these two fine Clare musicians has been taken to the next level.

O'Loughlin guested on Donnelly's superb solo debut and Donnelly lent her support on the outstanding O'Loughlin/Browne CD, Touch Me If You Dare!. It was only a matter of time until the pair would seek to give free rein to their shared passion for each other's playing and present us with a whole CD of elegant, restrained musical company.

Elegance and restraint ... now there's the difference between Donnelly's and O'Loughlin's music and that of many of the more fiery, angsty players of the music, whose exuberance and attack may excite for a few moments but whose attractions quickly pall. Donnelly and O'Loughlin have no time for flashiness, for the quick fix.  Just as still waters run deep, so does this quiet CD contain more depth, more soul than a thousand wham-bam merchants.

Steady, attentive playing such as the listener will be treated to on this album is a matter not just of immersion - God knows how many people immerse themslves in the music and fail to grasp its essence! - but of instinctive ability to see and feel the character and temperament of a tune and to approach it in such a way as to allow the tune's personality to assert itself.  For many lesser players, the struggle with the music is to "subdue" the tune, to capture and domesticate it.  Donnelly and O'Loughlin have the ability, the confidence and the generosity of spirit to give the tune its freedom.

Details from http://www.claddaghrecords.com

Track listing:

1. Jack Rowe's/Sailing Into Walpole's Marsh
2. Moll Ha'penny/Poll Ha'penny
3. Jimmy Kennedy's/Henchy's Delight
4. Dan Breen's/The West Clare Reel/The Sandmount
5. Johnny Gorman's/Leather Away The Wattle-O
6. Ryan's Rant/Eileen Curran
7. Dunguaire Castle/Garrai na Saileog
8. Bobby Casey's/The Rathcroghan Reel
9. Miss Walsh/Eddie Moloney's
10. Mike Casey's/The Fairhaired Boy/The Dublin Lads
11. The Chorus Jig/Cathaoir an Phiobaire
12. The Templehouse/Kiss The Maid Behind The Barrel
13. The Monasteryeden Fancy/The Ivy Leaf
14. Pat Canny's Jig/By Golly
15. The Pride Of Rathmore/Ceol na Ceartan
Pay The Reckoning, August 2004

Pay The Reckoning's ringing endorsement is echoed by Alex Monaghan in his December 2004 review

Change and change about. Last time I reviewed a recording by fluter Peadar O'Loughlin (Touch Me If You Dare), it was a duet album with Ronan Browne: fiddler Maeve Donnelly guested on a couple of tracks. This time, Maeve and Peadar are the duo with Ronan guesting on flute and whistle. Either way round, the three of them make great music. Piano accompaniment is supplied on most tracks by Geraldine Cotter.

There are some lovely flowing reels and bouncy jigs here from Peadar's West Clare repertoire: Dan Breen's and The West Clare Reel are well known but given a fresh feel. Ryan's Rant was one of the first tunes I learnt on the whistle, and it's powerfully paired with Eileen Curran. Among the jigs, Jimmy Kennedy's and Henchy's Delight are indeed delightful, and there are lovely versions of Paddy O'Brien's and Queen Of The Rushes. The pair of old Clare polkas Johnny Gorman's and Leather Away The Wattle-O are a rare treat, as are the spirited versions of The Templehouse and Kiss The Maid Behind The Barrel, two well-worn session tunes which brush up beautifully in these hands.

The five pages of tune notes by piper Pat Mitchell are a unique enhancement of this CD, giving sources and pedigrees in as much detail as anyone could wish. For the student of Irish music, there's plenty to follow up here: manuscripts, recordings, players and collectors, and a fascinating story or two. For the less studious, the stories and names are entertaining in their own right.

The mathematically minded among you will have noticed that the average track length on The Thing Itself is a mere 2 minutes and 48 seconds. That's short by modern standards, especially given the slow tempo on most tracks. Time was when recorded Irish music was played as fast as possible, to get as many turns done before the wire ran out. Nowadays we don't have that problem, but the music is often played as fast as possible anyway, so it's lovely to hear some of these tunes slowed down to a more relaxed pace. On the other hand, a few more tunes wouldn't go amiss: most tracks here have only two, and the contrast and combination of tunes is one of the great things about Irish dance music. But that's really the only thing wrong with this album, and I can't in fairness complain if Maeve and Peadar leave me wanting more.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Pierre Schryer & Ian Clark - Heat of the Moment (New Canadian Records NCCD 0005)

"Excitement, adventure, and really wild things", as Ford Prefect said. Well, maybe not adventure, but certainly plenty of the other two. Pierre Schryer is an Ontario fiddler who hasn't toured much in Europe but he's definitely hot property in North America. For his fifth album he's teamed up with exiled Scot Ian Clark on equally hot guitar. Demonic fiddling is the name of the game here, bags of classic tunes torn apart and reassembled in interesting ways by Pierre's bow and Ian's false nails. Irish, Scottish, Quebecois, Cape Breton, and American music from Mexico to Manitoba, these guys do it all, with energy and panache. Recorded live in Rasputin's Folk Cafe, Ottawa, there's a slightly home-made feel to this recording which adds charm and warmth to what is definitely a red-hot performance by both musicians.

If you've ever seen Pierre Schryer live, solo or with his band, then you know he wrings every drop of music from a tune. Even without his trademark foot-percussion, the man is nothing short of possessed when he bows the strings. Master of many styles, Pierre handles reels, airs, and everything in between. The Rose in the Heather is a gallop over the moors, The Teatotaller and Lady Ann Montgomery are roller-coaster rides, Mitton's Breakdown is given the sort of virtuoso work-out normally reserved for The Mason's Apron, and that's only track 1.

At well over 6 minutes per track, Heat of the Moment is long on quantity too. Pierre and Ian squeeze in three dozen tunes, from the blisteringly fast to the achingly slow. Cape Clear shines in a solo guitar setting, Pierre's fiddle brings a tear to the eye on Willie Hunter's soulful air Leaving Lerwick Harbour, and the total contrast with foot-tapping Canadian reels is breathtaking. There's a set of polkas in fine old Denis Murphy style, a pair of Liz Carroll tunes at a lovely languid tempo which suits That's Right Too beautifully, and then the boys mix in a bluegrass showpiece and a little Latin swing with Tico Tico before the big five-reel finish.

This is a first-rate album, and a unique encapsulation of the chemistry between two great performers. There are some rough edges, as you'd expect from a one-take live recording, but if anything these add to the whole experience. If you fancy an hour of intense music which takes your mind off everything else and leaves you glowing, try this album. If in doubt, http://www.pierreschryer.com will sort you out. As they say in North America, enjoy: it's all good today.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Allan Henderson - Estd 1976 (Macmeanmna SKYECD 24)

Okay, so he's only 28. Big deal, just because he's mastered three instruments (fiddle, pipes and piano) and written loads of brilliant tunes (fifteen on this album). It's taken him two years to finish his debut CD, so he does have his faults ... but that means he started it when he was only 26! Prodigious little upstart.

Anyway, leaving middle-aged envy aside, Allan Henderson has been no slouch in his short life. He and sister Ingrid produced a couple of albums in their teens, and Allan has been involved in several major musical projects since, including supergroup Blazing Fiddles. The music on this CD is brimming with energy and passion, fiery traditional reels on track 1 contrasting with a gorgeous piano version of Farewell My Love. A couple of sets of Allan's own tunes follow, jaunty little numbers which grow on you like the well-named Fungus Reel. Sleeve notes notwithstanding, track 5 is a set of stirring strathspeys and track 6 brings Allan's pipes to the fore on a roller-coaster set including Welcome Home Gráinne and The Piper's Ceilidh. Two of Allan's own slow airs are divided by a wonderful set of pipe jigs:Petticoat Loose, Donald MacLean, Islay's Charms, and The Goatherd, famous tunes every one, all fitted neatly into Allan's down-to-earth fiddle style. The Wonderful Oban Surrealist is a smashing wee tune with a story to tell: it's followed by a descriptive piece, combining several instruments and Gaelic song, called Lochaber after Allan's homeland. The final track is a pair of charming jig-time marches, a new one by piper Allan MacDonald, and a lovely old one named Dugald Gillespie.

Unfortunately, Allan forgot to make a note of who played what when. Reading between the lines, there's flute and whistles from the album producer Iain MacDonald, harp and probably some keyboards from Ingrid Henderson. Guitar and button box are supplied by unknown Highland geniuses, and I think the vocals are Margaret Bennet's. The arrangements and combinations of instruments are pleasing and varied, producing a full sound which never dulls. Allan gives first-class piano performances: his piping and fiddling is not quite in the same league here, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear him playing in the premiership before he's my age. Estd 1976 is a very pleasant CD, and a treasure trove of great tunes.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Philip Duffy - Killin' Clocks (Own Label BPCD001)

Killin' Clocks is one of the best debut CDs to come my way in a long time. There's power and passion aplenty in Philip Duffy's fiddle, and there's tight control and technical genius too. He has a wonderful strong tone on the reels and jigs, and a rare sweetness in the pair of his own waltzes 1868 and 1927, as well as in the stunning Doherty slow air Paddy's Rambles Through the Park. The accompaniment on guitar, piano and bodhrán leaves plenty of headroom for the fiddle, and as Paddy Ryan's sleevenotes say it's never overdone. Other highlights include the deft handling of Mike McGoldrick's popular Whalley Range jig and a distinctive version of The Bucks.

Philip Duffy is a Sligo man, and his music is drawn mainly from that county's rich heritage as well as from musical neighbours Donegal and Leitrim. There's a handful of tunes from the rest of Ireland, and a few from further afield, plus two American songs delivered by guitarist Declan Courell which add to the general appeal of this CD. The reels Kilcoon and Brendan Tonra's Carraigin Ruadh, the jigs Larry's Delight and The Green Hills of Woodford are all local treasures, and Philip adds four of his own compositions to the Sligo fiddle repertoire. There are many unusual tunes here, but the feel of this music is so right that even an unfamiliar melody seems instantly comfortable and familiar. The whole recording is a joy to listen to. For more information drop Philip a line at killinclocks@eircom.net or visit http://www.geocities.com/killinclocks before this outstanding young fiddler is snapped up by a record company

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Ivan Drever & Duncan Chisholm - A Long December Night (Highlander Music HRMCD011)

This duo is one of Scotland's hidden treasures. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Ivan Drever hit the big time with Wolfstone, and has earned an enviable reputation as a song-writer too. Fiddler Duncan Chisholm is one of the longest-serving members of Wolfstone as well as a founder of Blazing Fiddles, and is a marvellous interpreter of Ivan's compositions. Together this pair conjure magic from a simple formula: brilliant songs and tunes, no-nonsense arrangements, and flawless execution. This is their second duo recording, and I'm told there'll be a version on DVD as soon as the graphical details are sorted out. Recorded at Duncan's home near Inverness, the warmth and relaxation of highland hospitality pervades the album.

Ivan contributes five of his own songs, the well-known Brave Souls and four less well known numbers including the title track. The Viking Bride is an enchanting ballad in the powerful Scandinavian style of Ivan's Orkney home. Song For Yesterday sets a vivid description of homesickness to a haunting tune, and I Will Be There is a love song for all seasons. Ivan's tune The Flower of Kristiansand is one of many beautiful airs that he has written for the women in his life, played perfectly on cittern and fiddle here. Sadly, there are no notes on any of the tracks, and no lyrics provided for the songs, but that's about the only thing wrong with this CD.

The other five tracks are all instrumentals, fiddle-led with a solid guitar backing. There's a gobsmacking set of reels which sandwiches The Bunny's Hat between two Irish classics. There's a pair of Scottish pipe marches, Farewell to Clachantrushal and the ever-popular Jim Christie of Wick, followed by Charlie McKerron's reel The Rizla. Even better, there are three more slow airs including the late great Johnny Cunningham's opus Night In That Land and two traditional Scottish melodies. Coinneach Glas An Fhomair is a solo fiddle masterpiece, and a strong contender for best track.

You couldn't wish for tighter playing or better arrangements. The material on this recording is of the highest quality, and there's no finer duo than Ivan and Duncan to while away A Long December Night. Forty-one minutes is a bit on the short side, but you can always play the CD twice, and more material is promised on the DVD. Available from http://www.highlandermusic.com, or drop William Crawford a line at this hot little Inverness label: info@highlandermusic.com to you. Visit http://www.duncanchisholm.com while you're about it.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Various Artists - Thistle Do 1&2 (Iona Records IRCD070 & IRCD071)

These two compilations are drawn from the extensive back catalogue of Iona and Lismor recordings. There are plenty of great tracks here, new and old. The "red hot" CD boasts the St Kilda Wedding set and The Road to Drumlemman from Ossian albums of the early eighties, plus timeless classics The Easy Club Reel and John MacLean's March from Tonight At Noon. The real fireworks come from Aly Bain in the shape of Reel du Pendu, and from Wolfstone who contribute the stirring song Holy Ground and the instrumental medley Erin which I never considered to be one of their best efforts.

The idea behind these releases is to get Scottish music into the mainstream, at least in Scottish pubs and clubs, as part of a national effort to oust imported muzak. A laudable goal, but commercial reality also figures here: Iona have pretty much stuck to the safe, easy-listening side of Scottish traditional music. Scottish piping takes a back seat (there's actually more emphasis on the Irish pipes, with a track by Watkin Lees), and almost all the material is heavily arranged. On the plus side, there are excellent tracks from Paul Mounsey and Bongshang representing folk-pop fusion, and a great pair of tunes from Oliver Schroer (a young fiddler from Ontario) which are sort of a bit Scottish.

According to Iona, the "cool blue" CD presents the "morning after" side of Scottish music: slow, moody, and multi-coloured. Again, there's some great stuff here: three more Paul Mounsey tracks, two more Wolfstone tracks including the brilliant Hector The Hero, another song and a beautiful harp piece from Ossian, and the delectable My Lily set from fiddlers Aly Bain and Jerry Holland (Boston, near Partick). Watkin Lees provides two more Irish piping sets, jigs and reels which are a bit of a surprise on a chill-out compilation. There's a Pearlfishers number, and one by Terry Neeson who's new to me, and finally a Scottish piping set: The Bells of Dunblane from the incomparable Robert Mathieson. Dalriada provide a Burns song, Ae Fond Kiss, one of his best in terms of sentiment and melody.

Compilations are notoriously difficult to choose, and to review. It seeme to me that Iona could have chosen better, and put more emphasis on traditional Scottish music. However, even I would agree with about half the tracks they selected on these two CDs, and I'm not the target audience. If you want a good quality overview of easy-listening Scottish music, try these but ignore the Irish piping. If you have friends in Japan or America who don't know much about Scottish music, Thistle Do.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Nollaig Casey - The Music of What Happened (Old Bridge Music OBMCD15)

In a double handful of fiddle tracks and four songs, Nollaig Casey showcases her very contemporary approach to Irish music and other Celtic traditions. From the Galician jig which opens this album to the Simon Jeffes classic Music for a Found Harmonium which ends it, eclectic is the name of the game. Not surprising really, for the solo debut of a musician with a career spanning two decades and including work with Donal Lunny, Riverdance, Enya, Emmy Lou Harris, The Indigo Girls, and many others. The Music of What Happened also features several of Nollaig's own compositions, six in all, ranging from the toe-tapping reel The Silver Strand to the spine-tingling slow air The Last Lord of Beara in honour of one of the many Irish chieftains on the losing side at the battle of Kinsale in 1601.

The four songs here, all in Irish Gaelic, are beautifully sung and sparingly arranged, just the way Irish songs should be. Nollaig is less well known as a singer than a fiddler, and this recording will certainly enhance her reputation in that respect. The instrumental tracks range from Spartan treatments of traditional tunes such as The Yellow Wattle and The Mountain Lark, through the Baroque feel of The Clergy's Lamentation and Nollaig's own Song of the Seven Streams, to the brazen blast of her catchy Beehive reel and a truly virtuoso rendition of the Penguin Café Orchestra favourite.

With keyboards by Rod McVey, button box by Sharon Shannon, percussion by Liam Bradley, and guitar by Arty McGlynn, this is a quality-packed recording. There's also a fiddle cameo by sister Mairéad. Hard to pigeonhole, and equally hard to put away. There should be a sample track or two at http://www.oldbridgemusic.com if you want to try before you buy.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Michael Rooney & June McCormack - Draíocht (Own Label DOORLACD003)

This young couple have already achieved great things individually, including major awards and acclaimed recordings. This is their first duo album, but with any luck it won't be their last. Michael is a harpist from Monaghan, God's own county, and June is a fluter from Sligo. They're joined on some tracks by Fergal Scahill on guitar. The material on Draíocht is mostly off the beaten track, with many little-known tunes unearthed over several years, as well as four Rooney compositions.

Starting with a delightful jig which was previously recorded by the McKennas but isn't widely played, then a pair of jaunty hornpipes from Michael, the first real surprise is the graceful minuet Na Maithe Móra which is a masterpiece of composition and arrangement. Then it's June's turn to take the lead on two neglected reels, The Concert Reel and Salute to Baltimore. Three more of Michael's tunes follow, all from his Millenium Suite: a slightly bland slow air, and two very fine slip jigs. Michael and June ring the changes with solos and duets throughout the album, and the harp provides highly versatile accompaniment in these hands.

The second half of this recording is almost all straight trad. There are a few old favourites like The Killavil Jig, The Graf Spee and The Shores of Lough Gowna. There are also some more surprises, all pleasant ones: Planxty Aisling O'Neill by Vincent Broderick, the reel Homage to Rooney written by Johnny Og Connolly for Brian Rooney, and the air An Bhuatais which sits beautifully on the harp. By the time you reach the end of Draíocht, you'll be captivated by the charming music of this young couple. Michael and June are spending a year on a world tour and honeymoon, due back summer 2005, so don't expect a speedy reply from michaelandjune@hotmail.com but do check out http://www.draiochtmusic.com in the meantime.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Brian McNamara - Fort of the Jewels (Drumlin Records BMNCD2)

Brian McNamara is a Leitrim piper who was featured on the excellent McNamara family CD Leitrim's Hidden Treasure in 1998, and since then he's established quite a reputation as a player and tutor. This is his second solo album, packed with pipe tunes from South Leitrim and beyond, played in Brian's distinctive style. From track 1 it's obvious that the music here is first class. The packaging is spot on too, with excellent notes and graphics.

Brian plays in a precise and measured way, taking things at a reasonable pace so all the intricacies of his fingerwork are plain to hear. His technique is more akin to the closed, staccato style of Rowsome or Ennis than the fluid open traveller style, but the notes are nicely spaced, giving an open weave to the music. Brian isn't wedded to the staccato style by any means: the slow air Dún na Séad shows all the marks of traveller piping with its wild blasts of sound and haunting slides. One of the things which makes Brian McNamara such a fine piper is his intuitive feel for the music, and he adapts his style to suit the tune rather than the other way round. The opening set of jigs includes a free-flowing interpretation of Charlie Lennon's Handsome Young Maidens, and a couple of minutes later there's a crisp controlled canter through the snappy slip-jig Top The Candle, perfect for each melody.

Brian is joined on several tracks by young harpist Gráinne Hambly, and this combination evokes the ancient glories of Irish music. There are also three powerful duet tracks with fellow piper Benedict Koehler, who also made one of the sets Brian plays here: pipe duets are rare in recorded music, and these are a treat indeed. The tunes are mostly well known: Mrs Crotty's Hornpipe, Hardiman the Fiddler, Ormond Sound and the like - but the playing is rich and intoxicating. The two pipers mix and match perfectly, complementing and exhorting each other on The Arra Mountains and a wonderfully impromptu version of The Connaught Heifers.

Highlights? Too many to list. The blaring Bs on Redican's Mother, those opening jigs starting with Paddy From Portlaw and ending with the fabulously titled I Love You Not And I Care Not, presumably an early draft of What's Love Got To Do With It? Only one third of Fort of the Jewels is given over to reels, leaving plenty of room for pieces like The Humours of Glynn and the hornpipe The Not So Bashful Bachelor which ends this most enjoyable and satisfying album. The reels, when they come, are all the better for the wait: a sumptuous version of Patsy Touhey's Favourite, the swaggering Spike Island Lasses with percussive chanter and singing regulators, and a gentle build-up to the sparkling Sandy Over The Lea on the flat pipes. If you can't find this CD in the shops, try http://www.piperbrian.com - and check out the other Drumlin recordings too.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Keep It Up - On Safari (Foot Stompin' Records CDFSR 1725)

The combination of Eilidh Shaw on fiddle and Simon Thoumire on English concertina, with strummers Malcolm Stitt and Kevin MacKenzie on guitar and bouzouki, is guaranteed to produce thrilling and innovative music. This is their second CD, and it lives up to high expectations. Punchy reels and jigs are balanced by a couple of slower tracks, but Keep It Up is mainly about rapid-fire tunes and rhythms with flashes of inspired experimentation.

The ringing fiddle harmonies on Eilidh's tune The Grappa Groove turn a quirky melody into a powerful dance mix. Ed Pearlman's Uist Regatta is another recent composition which benefits from the bouncy brilliance of Keep It Up. Several older tunes are buffed to a dazzling shine here: The Glasgow Hornpipe is taken at a perfect pace, and Lexy MacAskill rumbles along with the unstoppable energy of a steam locomotive. The Skylark's Ascension is a cracking wee pipe jig, Pat and Al's by Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll sits beautifully with the traditional Fosgail an Dorus, and Eilidh treats us to a sumptuous version of the Gaelic song Griogal Cridhe. Sparring guitar rhythms and sheer virtuosity on fiddle and concertina, never a dull moment.

Almost. As Sandy Brechin's fine composition states, Sometimes It Doesn't Work. There are a couple of experiments gone wrong, blemishes on this peach of an album. Why doesn't The Dismissal Reel start another track, instead of being jerkily tacked onto a lovely pair of jigs? And what is a straight set of unexceptional Bobby MacLeod waltzes doing in the middle of such an exciting recording? But these irritations are far outweighed by highlights such as the slow version of Arthur Gillies, an idea pinched from Ceolbeg's second album, and a seemingly endless stream of great tunes like Dan Breen's Reel and Dance of the Woodbug. All in all, On Safari is a lively and interesting album with lots to recommend it: http://www.footstompin.com has all the additional info you might need.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

BOOK REVIEW - Hidden Fermanagh by Cyril Maguire

Published by Fermanagh Traditional Music Society http//www.fermanaghmusic.com;180 pages, £12 softbound

It's hard to know whether to review the book or the accompanying CDs: both are equally excellent, and equally valuable as sources of the somewhat neglected music of Fermanagh. I say somewhat, because much has been done by The Boys of the Lough (particularly Fermanagh fluter Cathal McConnell) and others to bring Fermanagh's music to a wider audience. However, it remains true that Fermanagh hasn't received the sort of musical exposure which Clare, Donegal, Kerry and other Irish counties have enjoyed. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, the music of Fermanagh is certainly made more accessible by these publications.

The music in this collection comes mainly from the repertoires of the Gunn and McManus families, and there's plenty of first-class material here to choose from. Some of it is well known throughout Ireland, perhaps in slightly different versions: Dick Gossip, The Stony Steps, The Opera Reel, The Monaghan Twig and others. Much is from Scotland: Lady Gardener's Troop was originally Lady Garten of Troup, and Big John's Reel may have started out as Big John MacNeill's. Still, most of the material, songs and tunes, has been little known outside Fermanagh - until now.

As an icon of the Fermanagh tradition, Cathal McConnell has been instrumental (!) in bringing this project to fruition. Apparently, he and others were inspired by the success of a similar project in Leitrim. Most of the actual work was done by Cyril Maguire and Sharon Creasey: collecting the forty photos, transcribing the tunes and songs (including the famous Gunn manuscript), and preparing the book for a very high standard of typesetting and printing. The contents are roughly divided between a history of Fermanagh music, with fine long contributions from Cathal McConnell and the McManus family, and a collection of over 100 tunes and 30 songs with a handy index. The music presented here is essentially a transcription of the Gunn manuscript, and there's a fascinating chapter which describes the manuscript's history and contents.

The whole package is attractively produced and carefully presented. If you can't find it locally, try the mail-order service at http://www.fermanaghmusic.com: there's a special price for the book and CDs together, and lots more information about the music of Fermanagh, hidden no longer.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Teada - La An Dreoilin (Gael Linn CEFCD 185)

Such was the splash made by Teada's magnificent debut outing, that pulses are already racing in anticipation of the availability of their latest CD (UK Release Date 7th June 2004).

There are high expectations of the youthful outfit, whose passion, command of their instruments and sheer tastefulness epitomise the cornerstone virtues of the music.  The original line-up has been augmented by Paul Finn on accordion and concertina.  His presence fills out the sound nicely and his playing is so sensitive to that of his colleagues that the new element is an evolution rather than a revolution.

As before the CD features cracking tunes alongside songs in Irish.  And, as with their first release, rarities (several sourced from O'Neill's Waifs and Strays) shake hands with more familiar tunes.  There's no mileage in directing the listener to this or that high spot.  Each track is consistently spot-on, the sets are well-balanced, the melody and backing are hand-in-glove.

And yet, if we were asked to select just one track which captures the spirit of the enterprise, then we'd point to the lads' rendering of "The Ace And Deuce Of Piping".  We've all heard numerous versions of this classic set-dance, a tune which is as easy on the ear as it is notoriously difficult for the musician to master.  We'd wager a few quid that those familiar with the tune will stop in their tracks when they hear Teada's version.  Oisin MacDiarmada's fiddle fades in at the start of the track, overlayering the muffled tramp of the "wren boys'" march and gives way to Finn's box-playing.  After several repeats, during which the band circle Finn's outstanding playing, MacDiarmada takes centre-stage again with a magnificently drone-heavy rendering of the tune.  This is a courageous and an inspiring version of the tune; its drama comes not from mad flailing and edge-of-endurance speed but from the subtle layering of sound, the interplay of strings and reeds and the timeless majesty of the confident musician.

When it comes to sheer visceral understanding of the music, quiet assurance and the innate ability to communicate the soul and passion of the music to the listener, then Teada have no peers.  A health to you all and long may you prosper!

Available from 7th June 2004 via http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

More information from http://www.gaellinn.com and http://www.teada.com

Track listing
1. Brid Thomais Mhurchadha
2. The Stepping Stone/An tSeanbhean Bhocht
3. The League Reel/Peter Horan's/The Flannel Jacket
4. The Ace And Deuce Of Piping
5. The Humours Of Lissadell/Maude Miller/The Jolly Tinker
6. Thios i dTeach an Torraimh
7. Highland Chluain Aird/Clarke's/The Foxhunter's Jig/The Old Maid
8. John Egan's/Saunders' Fort
9. Tom Cawley's/Ta an Coilleach ag Fogairt an Lae/Rowsome's/Clancy's
10. The Trip We Took Over The Mountain
11. King Of The Pipes/Queen Of The Fair/The Woodcock
12. Piopa Ainde Mhoir
13. The North Wind/Up Roscommon/Sporting Nell
14. The Green Blanket/Up Sligo/Up Leitrim
Pay The Reckoning, May 2004

Susan McKeown - Sweet Liberty (World Village Records 468029)

Quite simply one of the most awe-inspiring recordings we've heard in many a while, McKeown's Sweet Liberty ranks alongside Mary McPartlan's "Holland Handkerchief" as a glorious celebration of the female voice.

Members of Flook, Lunasa, Cherish The Ladies, the Ensemble Tartit (a Malian female choir), Mariachi Real de Mexico and others line up to give their support to McKeown and when you have musicians of the calibre of McKeown's sidekicks on board, then you can rest assured that the main attraction is a special singer indeed.  The final track , When I Was On Horseback, is especially poignant in that it features Johnny Cunningham.  Within a short time of the album's release came the tragic news that Cunningham had passed away and the trad world lost one of its most gifted ambassadors.  Undoubtedly this track will have bittersweet memories for McKeown for the rest of her days.

McKeown captures the attention from the word go, with a surprisingly jaunty version of "The Wee Birds Have All Gone" (better known to most as The Verdant Braes of Screen), where Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan of Flook weave countermelodies around the vocals while Ed Boyd and John Joe Kelly anchor the track with their usual solid and inspired rhythms.  As McKeown comes to the end of the song, she steps back from the limelight and allows Flook to do what Flook do best with the superb "Fisherman's".

Lush arrangements such as the opening track sit alongside more spare tracks such as the melancholy "Shamrock Green" and "Sweet Liberty/Promenade". Throughout good taste prevails; the choice of material and the restraint with which it is presented ensure that each track works perfectly.

"Johnny Scott" is a gem beyond measure. A "courtly" ballad, rich in incident and narrative, it benefits from McKeown's rich tones.

However - and we're surprised to find ourselves committing these words to paper! - the stand-out tracks on the album are those which incorporate music from other traditions.  On "Eggs In Her Basket" - an English ballad of the "Quare Bungle Rye" family - McKeown is joined by musicians from Mariachi Real de Mexico. The iconic mix of trumpet, guitars and violin lend an exotic air to the song which counters the earthiness of the lyrics.

The track to which we've returned time and time again over the course of the past few weeks is the exquisitely beautiful "Oro Mhile Gra". McKeown is joined by the musicians from the Ensemble Tartit, Tuaregs from the Kel Antessar confederation of northern Mali. The ensemble's traditional call and response vocals and sparse accompaniment sit happily alongside McKeown's; neither music is adapted to fit in with the other, but presented as they ought to be.  And yet both dovetail perfectly, without any sense of shoehorning or dilution. Hair-raising on first listen and heartwarming on subsequent returns.

Lots of information available on the net.  McKeown's own website may be found at http://www.susanmckeown.com. Alternatively, visit http://www.hibernianmusic.com and http://worldvillage.com

Track listing
1. The Wee Birds Have All Gone/Fisherman's
2. Shamrock Green
3. Johnny Scott
4. Oro Mile Gra
5. Sweet Liberty/Promenade
6. Eggs In Her Basket
7. Fair Annie
8. Caledonia
9. The Winter It Is Past
10. When I Was On Horseback
Pay The Reckoning, May 2004

Planxty - After The Break (Tara Records TARA CD 3001)

Released just after the recent reunion of the seminal 70s outfit who, with the Bothy Band, enthused an audience reared on rock about traditional music, After The Break is Planxty at their absolute finest.

Kicking off with the belting Good Ship Kangaroo with Christy taking lead vocals, and taking in the fabulous East At Glendart/Brian O'Lynn/Pay The Reckoning set (coincidentally, the first time we at Pay The Reckoning heard of the tune after which we are named was when listening to this very album), After The Break sees the lads stick closer to "the knitting" than some of their other jaunts.  And perhaps that's the secret of this album's success.  There's no "oul' nonsense"; it's straightforward traditional music from the word go.  The only "deviation" (for want of a better word) being a version of the Bulgarian tune Smeceno Horo, but played so assertively and confidently that you'd near think 9/16 is a normal Irish rhythm!

It's been a pleasure to revisit this album and reacquaint ourselves with Andy Irvine's soulful singing of "You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure" and his lusty "Rambling Siuler".  Likewise it was hard to stop ourselves grinning like a pack of eejits as Christy canters through the braggardry of "The Pursuit Of Farmer Michael Hayes".

And the toes didn't half tap when resubjected to "The Blackberry Blossom/Lucky In Love/The Dairy Maid" and "The Lady On The Island/The Gatehouse Maid/The Virginia Reel/Callaghan's".  For those of us whose musical teeth were cut on this prime example of ensemble trad musicianship, whose ears ring yet to the interplay of Irvine's mandolin and Lunny's blarge, who go weak at the knees when pipes come wailing in over a song and who go into rapture when a set of tunes reaches its climactic end-game, melody instruments straining to be controlled and strings underscoring the insistent pulse, then the value of this re-issue will be immediately apparent.  For those callow individuals who have not yet heard After The Break - who are only now tearing the cellophane wrapper off the case - well then, gird your loins!  This could be the start of something big!

Available from Tara Records http://www.taramusic.com or from any decent CD retailer!

Track Listing
1. The Good Ship Kangaroo
2. East At Glendart/Brian O'Lynn/Pay The Reckoning
3. You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure
4. The Blackberry Blossom/Lucky In Love/The Dairy Maid
5. The Rambling Siuler
6. The Lady On The Island/The Gatehouse Maid/The Virginia/Callaghan's
7. The Pursuit Of Farmer Michael Hayes
8. Lord McDonald/The Chattering Magpie
9. The Bonny Light Horseman
10. Smeceno Horo
Pay The Reckoning, May 2004

Mark Saul - Mixolydian (Own Label MSCD001)

As the track "It's An Instrument" kicks off Saul overlays a sample of a fellow Scot (maybe himself?!) ranting about the pipes.  "One of the things I would instil in them is to treat their instrument as a musical instrument, the same as a bloke treats his violin or his oboe or his clarinet or whatever.  That's what I would say.  Because after all it is a musical instrument.  But the way some of the (pause) purists (pause) talk it's not a musical instrument, it's an instrument that plays bagpipe music.  Well that's what I think the purists would say - it's an instrument that plays bagipe music, it's not a musical instrument as such.  An instrument that plays bagpipe music.  And that's wrong.  The attitude's got to be it's an instrument for playing music. Full stop!"

And this, friends, is the very philosophy that Saul makes flesh throughout Mixolydian.  It's bagpipe and whistle music, Jim, but not as we know it!  Saul fuses traditional piping and low whistle techniques with heavy dance beats; he conveniently ignores the rules of piping and whistling - e.g. on "Forget The Golden Rules", wheree he plays in a blues scale in 6/4 rhythm.

Some will find the end result appalling; but just as many will find it appealing.  Like Fraser Fifield and, to a lesser extent, Breda Smyth, Saul is interested in finding a way of bringing the tradition into close contact with the new global dance music "paradigms".  Such ventures are risky.  Saul succeeds where many others would falter for two reasons.  Firstly he is sufficiently gifted as player of his instruments to be able to play beyond the instruments' "natural" limits.  But more importantly he has a sense of humour that carries the listener along like a wave.  Too many such attempts at fusion become bogged down under the weight of their "importance".  We suspect that although Saul is as desirous as any musician of achieving the "just so", he's also set out to have a damn good laugh in the process!

Fair play to him.  If you fancy seeing what life's like at the cutting edge, pay Saul a visit at http://www.marksaul.tv

Track listing
1. Prelude and Theme in Eminor
2. The Gateless Gate
3. Forget The Golden Rules
4. Journey To The Centre Of The Celts
5. Beyond
6. A Dimension
7. Digital Breakdown
8. It's An Instrument
9. Wicked Train Of Thought
10. Eminor End Theme
Pay The Reckoning, May 2004

Alex Monaghan was impressed with Saul's CD.  Here's Alex's review from December 2004, as the album was released on Greentrax Records.

Greentrax CDTRAX267

This is amazing stuff. Experimental piper Mark Saul is well known in the Scottish piping scene for his inventive and sometimes downright crazy compositions. Based in Australia, Mark draws on everything from aboriginal chant to acid techno: eclectic meets kleptomaniac. His music is more full of contrasts than a home-decorating make-over, with never a dull moment but no shortage of shock and surprises. Think Martyn Bennett with multiple personalities. For that subtle Antipodean touch, the back cover is printed upside-down.

Mark plays pipes and low whistle over an electronic landscape which ranges from gentle New Age to frantic rave. The notes to one track read "Blues scale improvisational bagpipe solos in a 6/4 time signature. No rules here." - like there are rules on the other tracks?! If you want more explanation, visit Mark's website www.marksaul.tv which also has samples of the album.

All ten tracks on Mixolydian are Mark's own compositions. His pipes and whistles are complemented by stringed things from four guest musicians, and by a broad palette of sampled sounds. The opening track is a very catchy low-whistle piece with a bit too much guitar, then comes The Gateless Gate, a brash New Celtic mixture of thunder and mysticism. Next is that 6/4 one - very flash and funky - followed by a pann-Celtic extravanagza a la Dan Ar Braz titled Journey to the Centre of the Celts. The Balkan-style dance/hymn Beyond is a definite highlight, akin to some of the great piping slow airs from Shotts & Dykehead, then we plunge into turbo ceilidh and night-club dance mixes before an intriguing track which insists that the highland pipes are "an instrument for playing music". Point taken. Wicked Train of Thought is another experiment that went right, and the closing track is a reprise of the opener in a much lusher arrangement.

Comparisons are onerous, but many of Mark Saul's compositions have the same multi-cultural urgency as Paul Mounsey's music. The actual melodies are more avant garde, similar to work by R S MacDonald or Jimmy MacRae. When Mark sticks to a sane time-signature, there are hints of Gordon Duncan or Finlay MacDonald, and the actual piping is not far off their standard. Mixolydian was originally an own-label release, but when Greentrax heard it they were hooked: it's not hard to hear why. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in contemporary piping.

Alex Monaghan, December 2004

Tim O'Shea and Friends - The Lake Of Learning (Lackeen Records LAKCD003)

With friends like these, who needs big-name guest musicians?  O'Shea (guitars, vocals, bodhran, bones) is joined by Barry Magee (concertina), Paddy Jones (fiddle), Ger Culhane (accordion) and Matt Bashford (pipes, clarinet and low whistle) for his third album of songs and tunes that linger in the memory.

The tunes are firmly rooted in the Sliabh Luachra tradition with slides and polkas taking centre-stage; even the reels and jigs have the familiar Sliabh Luachra lift - that combination of "busyness" and effortless langour which the best musicians of this part of the world project.  When accompanying tunes, O'Shea has all the muscularity of Steve Cooney.  When accompanying the songs he demonstrates a lightness of touch and a feel for the depths of his material which ensures that his material is beautifully backlit.

A cover of Ron Kavan's "Reconciliation" brings out a whole new layer of meaning and poignancy.  His own "Lake Of Learning", around which Bashford weaves snatches of "O'Neill's March", is an odyssey through myth, legend and recorded history, centred on Loch Lein - the largest of the Lakes Of Killarney.

Listen out for an absolutely cracking slow version of Cronin's Hornpipe by Magee.  The pace allows Magee to ornament the tune subtly and masterfully and puts paid to the lie that the music needs a bit of speed to capture it's pulse.

A subtle, restrained and deeply musical album from subtle, restrained and musical artists.

More information available at http://www.timosheaandfriends.com

Track listing
1. The Cat Jumped Into The Mouse's Hole/Going To The Well For Water
2. The Lake Of Learning
3. The Humours Of Lisheen/The Mouse In The Cupboard/The Drisheen Rambler
4. Kelly's Cow/Top Of Maol/O'Connor's
5. Reconciliation
6. Cronin's Hornpipe
7. Birdsong/The Butcher's March
8. Freedom Is Like Gold
9. Feartha Famine
10. Mr. O'Connor
11. The New Customs House/The Sailor's Cravat/The Small Hills Of Offaly
12. Willie Taylor/Roll In The Barrel
Pay The Reckoning, May 2004

Alistair McCulloch - Wired Up (Fellside FECD179)

A second solo CD from this Ayrshire fiddler, and it's a very fine sequel to his Highly Strung debut. Roll on the trilogy: number three could be called The Return of the String. Alistair kicks off with one of his own tunes which is not out of place beside Mike McGoldrick's Farewell to Whalley Range, next there's a world-class change into Ivan Drever's Tinnie Run tune, then just where you'd expext Wolfstone to come in with Boys of Ballymote we get a masterful switch to Gordon Duncan's jig The Famous Baravan. And that's only track 1.

There are four more McCulloch tunes spread through this album, all slow airs and all excellent. The Small Isles is a serene pastoral air with echoes of Burn songs. Magdelane Fjord is a bright and bouncy waltz with catchy guitar backing, in some respects a better tune than the Ook Pick Waltz that follows it. Hazelwood mimics the grand slow airs of Gow and Skinner, soaring and dramatic. Phil Cunningham's sublime melody Sarah's Song is carefully combined with Alistair's joyful composition Kevoc Cottages which could easily be another of Phil's great tunes.

What I like most about this album is that it manages to combine concert fiddle virtuosity with ceilidh band energy. Track 2 wouldn't be out of place at a fiddlers' rally, reels and strathspeys reined in by a thumping piano accompaniment. At the other extreme, the showpiece set of Reel Beatrice, Andy Broon's Reel and Catharsis is the stuff of solo gigs: Alistair goes for it in fine style here, and once he's found his feet the excitement builds wonderfully. There's a real ceilidh feel to the set which starts with Tom McKerron's Reel, and I defy any celtic toes not to be tapping by the time Alistair's finished with McFadden's Handsome Daughter. And finally, the virtuoso Hanged Man's Reel provides a fitting end to a first class CD.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

Wendy MacIsaac - Timeline (Own Label WS031703)

A very welcome second CD from this young Cape Breton fiddler, Timeline is long on quantity and quality. Wendy MacIsaac has lost some of her youthful impetuosity, and most of her penchant for rock'n'roll accompaniment, but there's still plenty of fire in her fiddling. The musician's dozen tracks here are full of first class tunes. There are compositions by young Cape Breton stars such as Dave MacIsaac, John Morris Rankin, Kinnon Beaton, and a handful of Wendy's own. There are classics by James Scott Skinner, William Marshall and Neil Gow, and several from modern geniuses including Jerry Holland and Gordon Duncan.

Most of this album is straight Cape Breton dance music, medleys of reels and strathspeys or jigs. Wendy has a fine driving style, with the rhythmic punch that's ideal for dancing, and she's ably assisted by many of Cape Breton's best musicians: guitarists Dave MacIsaac and Gordie Sampson, pianists Ryan MacNeill and Tracey Dares, and multi-instrumentalist Howie MacDonald among others. Wendy herself doubles on piano and banjo for one track each: the three banjo reels are a joy, starting with Jerry Holland's Just Cruisin', then The Flax In Bloom, and finally Geraldine's Reel which Wendy claims as her own although it's basically a variation on that old chestnut The Mason's Apron. There are a couple of cracking jig sets, including Wendy's catchy compositions Donald MacIsaac's Retirement and Steevo's Jig. The icing on the cake for me is the rumbustuous set of reels starting with The Rink (okay, it's actually a clog, but that's really just a slow reel) and ending with Gordon Duncan's masterpiece The High Drive given the best fiddle interpretation I've heard. The only criticism I have of Timeline is that the fiddle and backing are not always as tight as we've come to expect from modern studio recordings. Wendy occasionally lags behind slightly, or maybe the guys with the easier job are racing ahead, who knows? But this is rare, and only noticeable if you listen closely.

Between the jigs and the reels, Wendy has squeezed in some unexpected treats. The CD starts with a brief recording of her grandfather playing jaw harp and lilting at a ceilidh, before plunging into a storming set of strathspeys and reels. There's a little lilting step-dance cameo later on, from Wendy's mother Geraldine, leading into the gorgeous Gaelic song An t-Alltan Dubh sung by Mary Jane Lamond. The album finishes with half a minute of lilting from Wendy at the age of three, an endearing touch of humour to end a memorable recording. All in all, Timeline is an excellent CD that should endure as a fine example of the Cape Breton tradition. Maybe it will become more widely available outside Canada, but for now it's probably easiest to get by mail-order: try www.wendymacisaac.com first.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

The Finlay MacDonald Band - Pressed For Time (Foot Stompin' Records CDFSR1721)

Ace young piper and whistler Finlay MacDonald has already made enough of a reputation for himself to front his own band. Since his eponymous debut album, he has gathered together a group of musicians from bands like Fiddlers Bid, Ceolbeg, On this CD, named after one of Gordon Duncan's most challenging compositions, Finlay plays Highland pipes, border pipes and low whistles.

The opening track should be taken as a manifesto: three powerful reels, two of them Finlay's own, ending with a bang. This is flamboyant, full-blooded music from one of the flashest pipers around. Finlay follows them with the first of many exotic tunes, a Breton medley with full band backing: drums, bass, the works. Next it's pipe jigs reminiscent of Wolfstone, quick-fire notes streaming out from Finlay's pipes and Chris Stout's fiddle.

Before the pace becomes overwhelming, Finlay throttles back for the first of two breathtaking slow tracks. This one was inspired by a bar, and it's beautifully played on the big pipes. The other one is a very slow reel called My Mighty Friend, a description Finlay clearly merits from the way he fits his composition onto the low whistle.

Reels again, including a Duncan Johnstone tune, with plenty of the trilled high A favoured by today's pipers. A slower reel from Macedonia is next, the name left in another bar. After My Mighty Friend, it's back to the pipes for more reels at a nice swaggering pace, this time with a drum solo in the middle. Charlie McKerron's offbeat tune Bulgarian Red builds up the pace for the big finish.

The title track is an inspiring rendition of an absolutely brilliant tune. It takes an exceptional musician to play Pressed For Time with expression and flair: Finlay goes one better, rivalling Gordon Duncan's own performance for style and inventiveness. This is a suitable climax to an outstanding recording: thoroughly modern piping full of skill, energy and bags of style. A must-hear CD.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

Paul Smyth - Up and Away (Reel Records ReelCD 001)

A cousin of the great fiddler and whistler Sean Smyth, Paul is a Mayo fluter from the old school - and the old school is where he learnt a lot of his music. He plays with a relaxed, unpolished style: there's plenty of wind in the tone, and the tunes themselves are given much more time to breathe than we're used to on commercial recordings. The combination of a languid style and a slow delivery is perfect for a slow air such as The Rocks of Bawn, and works well for the currently popular slip-jig A Fig for a Kiss: this slow version is an excellent opportunity to appreciate the subtleties of a great melody.

It's not often that I complain of people playing too slowly, but there are a couple of places here where Paul is just a notch off the pace. After the opening set of jigs, there just isn't quite enough drive on The Humours of Lissadell and Trim the Velvet although both are very fine tunes well played. The pair of hornpipes that follow are likewise slightly too much of a backlash against the Irish habit of playing hornpipes at reel tempo: hornpipes need a bit of punch on those dotted notes, and they don't get it here.

Track 4 brings in Tipperary piper Michael Cooney on three great reels. If Down the Broom starts a little slow, Paul and Michael pick up the pace nicely on The Trip to Cullenstown and by the time they reach The Raheen Reel they're flying. After the Rocks of Bawn set, Paul picks a perfect pace for another three great reels: Tim Maloney's, Richard Dwyer's and The Noon Lasses. Then there's a bit of a novelty in the shape of an Italian mazurka learnt from John Skelton, a lovely tune which sounds pure Donegal Slav to me.

Early influences come to the fore in the second half of this album. The Kilmovee Jig is from Paul's own parish. It's followed by a Josie McDermott reel, Lord Mayo picked up from Seamus Tansey and joined to the famous Hammy Hamilton jigs, then the title track of John McKenna polkas, and a spirited set of jigs including the beautiful Shores of Loch Gowna learnt from Peter Horan. After this veritable Who's Who of Irish fluters, Paul rounds off the CD with a trio of grand old reels: Ged Foley, who's been plugging away on guitar, switches to the fiddle for this one. A very creditable debut recording, worth seeking out. Try www.paulsmythmusic.com if you can't find Up and Away locally.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

Neff Brothers- Each Other's Shadow (Teaghlach T003 )

This is the second album from piper Flaithrí and fiddler Eoghan Neff. Anyone lucky enough to have heard their debut CD Soundpost & Bridle will know that the brothers are a class act. Each Other's Shadow doesn't disappoint in this respect, or in any other: long on quality as well as quantity, there's a feast of fine music on this recording. Neff Bros draw their inspiration from several sources: their native Cork, musicians such as Paddy Glackin and Robbie Hannon, and of course the Bothy Band. There's also a good helping of tunes from the Breton tradition here, and one or two from northern Spain, plus a handful of Neff compositions. It all adds up to a rich and varied hour of powerful music.

Each Other's Shadow opens with a fine emulation of Keenan and Burke on the Bothy Band classic This Is My Love: praise indeed. The Asturian jig which follows is a smasher, and then it's back to Burke and Keenan for The Longford Tinker. But this isn't just a Bothy Band tribute album: track 2 starts with a wonderfully innovative arrangement of the great slow march The Battle of Aughrim, and the innovation continues with fiddle fireworks on the following set of jigs. Eoghan's party piece Clockworx is a reel arranged for six contrapuntal fiddles, using all the acoustic possibilites of his instrument. Then it's all change for a pair of Neff compositions with an Indian flavour before plunging back into old favourites such as The Glens of Aherlow and Rakish Paddy.

A quirky set of polkas leads into a pair of heart-stopping slow airs on the pipes. Then there's a pan-Celtic romp which ends in a brilliantly sparky treatment of Toss the Feathers, followed by an absolutely perfect fiddle slow air. The grand finale is a set of jigs from Ireland and Brittany given the time of their lives by Neff Bros. And then it's over, and you're wondering where the time went. These two brothers from Cork, and a small roomfull of their friends, have put the universe on hold for an hour with Each Other's Shadow.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

Grey Larsen & Paddy League - Dark of the Moon (Sleepy Creek Music SCM 103)

Flute and concertina player Grey Larsen is probably best known for his composition Thunderhead. Here he plays mainly traditional Irish material, plus a pair of his own tunes. He's joined by Paddy League on guitar and bodhrán. In a little under an hour, Larsen and League run through eleven tracks of well-chosen and well-written tunes.

The opening two sets show the classic Irish untongued flute style, with flashing fingers doing all the work. Larsen gets great tone out of his flute, especially in the lower octave, and his expression is first class. The reels The Cat that Ate the Candle and John Stenson's are deservedly popular, and the Palm Sunday jig that follows is a favourite of mine. Larsen's smooth, flowing flute contrasts sharply with his punchy concertina style. The Michael Kennedy Jigs set demonstrates percussive playing on concertina, guitar, and of course the good old Irish drum. These tunes have extra or missing beats, an occasional feature of the playing of many older musicians in Ireland and Scotland. I'm not convinced that this wasn't just a mistake at some point in the past, but it keeps things interesting.

The slow air The Blackbird is a corker, played with feeling and finesse on the wooden flute. The change into the pipers' favourite The Gold Ring is masterful, and the deft bodhrán backing gives this great jig a rare lift. After a few more workmanlike tunes, there's a charming slow version of the Scottish pipe jig The Drunken Gauger. This is followed by Dowlandesque guitar on a classic slow air, tasteful but palling after three minutes, and then three reels finishing with a nice bouncy romp through The Collier's. The end game finally reveals the two Larsen compositions. The Slopes of Mount Storm is a delightful waltz, and the traditional jig Hurry the Jug picks up into the very pleasant slow reel which provides the album title. The flute is superb here, deep and resonant. The last track is a trio of jigs: catchy first and fun second, well-known third, again with that earthy flute, a good one for anyone who wants to know the difference between a jig and a slide.

Larsen and League show themselves to be a formidable combination on this recording. The melody line is solid and compelling, and the accompaniment is mostly kept well back. This leaves the sound slightly thin at times, but that's traditional. If you like your music acoustic and unadorned, you'll find plenty to savour on Dark of the Moon.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

La Bottine Souriante - J'ai Jamais Tant Ri (Mille Pattes MPCD2043)

If you've seen La Bottine live recently, you'll know that their average age has decreased considerably. Gone are stalwarts Yves Lambert and Michel Bordeleau, to be replaced by the accordion and vocals of Pierre-Luc Dupuis and the dancing feet of Sandy Silva (remember her from Kevin Burke's Open House?). The new sound is not so different from the old: a little thinner, perhaps, and the foot percussion is higher in the mix, but it's the same winning combination of comic songs, punchy tunes, and organised chaos that you should all know and love by now. Enough said, right?

Well, not quite. Some of you may want to be reassured that the tunes are still as exciting (they are: French Canadian fiddle classics like The Man With 2 Wives jockey for position with sparkling new tunes such as fiddler André Brunet's Reel Ados). Others may wonder if the songs are up to La Bottine's previous enviable standards (they are: gems recently mined from the rich seam of octogenarian Québecois singers include Le Moine Simon and the title track J'ai Jamais Tant Ri, while La P'tite Boulangère and the jazzed-up Tiguidou Pack-Sack are brilliant recent compositions). You can rest assured that the mish-mash of trad, jazz, funk and fun is as entertaining as ever too. The vocal harmonies are perhaps not quite as rich as before (La Bottine has lost something here), but there are fresh delights to provide compensation.

An exciting new lease of life, then, for one of the very best bands in the business. Satisfaction guaranteed, as always with La Bottine, and the CD is available from www.millepattes.com even if your local shop hasn't got it. Allez-y!

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

Iron Horse - The Wind Shall Blow For Evermore (Lochshore CDLDL1315)

After a long absence, this release marks the welcome return to silicon of one of the most exciting Scottish bands of the nineties. The Wind Shall Blow For Evermore is in many ways a return to the best of Iron Horse.

It's a return to the original line-up, with three of the founders: Gavin Marwick on fiddle, Annie Grace on whistles, and Ross Kennedy on vocals. The missing talents of Mr Rod Paul and Miss Lynn Morrison are substituted by late-comer Stevie Lawrence on stringy things and new boy Stuart Glasgow on keyoards, but fortunately neither of them has opted for long blonde hair.

It's a return to the roots of the band, to the mix of old and new material which they brought so vividly to life a decade ago. The last two Iron Horse albums were teetering on the brink of the New Age Celtic abyss, but this one is back on traditional terra firma. Ross Kennedy brings old chestnuts like Duncan Gray and Twa Corbies to vivid life, and tells a very convincing tale of lost love with Helen of Kirkconnel. Gavin Marwick's tunes are as rich and rare as ever: The Clover Field vies with the slower, slightly Scandinavian Marstein for pride of place.

Most importantly, it's a return to top form for Iron Horse. The opening track could come from either of the band's first two albums: full of fire, with an untamed beauty. MacLeod's O'Rafferty is a wonderful tune which deserves to be up there alongside Paddy O'Rafferty whence it was derived. The slow air Cille Choirill is a masterpiece, mournful and echanting, and the waltz which follows is equally captivating. The set of reels starting with Da Grocer is another winner, combiing dazzling technique with a deep passion for the music.

This album is much much more than a harking back to former glory: there are plenty of pleasant surprises. Stevie plies the wheel of his hurdy-gurdy to great effect, turning Marstein into a spine-tingling triumph, and he also contributes a lovely jig in Cara's Bite. Eastern European influences are also a new departure: Charlie McKerron's Bulgarian Red continues its popular run, and it's joined by a couple of traditional tunes from similar vineyards. And there's more. So whether you're a long-time fan of Iron Horse, or just a lover of good music who hasn't been lucky enough to encounter them before, this CD is essential listening - and extremely enjoyable too.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

Natalie MacMaster - Blueprint (Rounder Records 7056)

You instantly know you're listening to a MacMaster. The power, the lift and the sheer exuberance are there in spades, all the hallmarks of this great Cape Breton fiddling family. Three of Natalie's own tunes prelude a heart-stopping switch into the piping masterpiece Mrs MacPherson which ends the first stomping set of reels and strathspeys. Track 2 takes Phil Cunningham's Appropriate Dipstick to new heights, with some fabulous fingerwork from Matt MacIsaac who is a revelation throughout on electric and acoustic pipes.

It's no accident that this album appears on the Rounder label. Natalie is joined on most tracks by names from the bluegrass hall of fame: Bela Fleck and Alison Brown on banjos, Sam Bush on mandolin, fiddler Darol Anger, and the best dobro player ever in Jerry Douglas. There are a couple of vocal tracks too, written by Natalie and sung by John Cowan and Kate Quinn, but it's the instrumentals that really score for me. Plenty of great reels and jigs, of course, but that's not all. Natalie has taken Phil Cunningham's slow air Eternal Friendship, which left me cold before, and turned it into a bluegrass hymn of outstanding beauty. She follows this with a brilliant version of the Canadian classic Carignan Clog that any fiddler would be proud of. Then there's Josefin's Waltz from Sweden, one of my favourites ever since Dervish picked it up, alternating earthy bass with angelic mandolin from Matt Flinner.

The soul of this recording is still in those Scots and Irish reels, though. They shine out like beacons in the sea of bluegrass picking and Nashville production. Tarbolton Lodge, The Silver Spear, Lad O'Beirne's, Lord Gordon's Reel, Ed Reavy's The Street Player, and Jerry Holland's Reel for Carl all make an appearance, often at the end of a set when Natalie maybe wants firmer ground under her fiddle. Nashville's fine for a visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Blueprint is a truly MacMasterful CD, full of life and spirit. Don't miss it.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

Battlefield Band - Out for the Night (Temple Records COMD 2094)

Battlefield are in very fine form on this album. The current line-up has gelled nicely, and the mix of tunes and songs here is delivered with skill and spirit. The new material is a nicely balanced dozen tracks: high-energy tunes, songs old and new, and slow airs. There are also three bonus live tracks, taken from Battefield's 2002 UK tour, bringing the total running time up to 70 minutes.

Out for the Night opens with compositions from Battlefield's fiddler and piper. Alasdair White's tune Ms Dynamite of Benbecula is dedicated to a certain pop diva, and Mike Katz's reel The Alewife T is named after the Boston underground line that has carried him home after many a late night soaking up the local culture, so we already know what a night out means for these guys. The leisurely, hypnotic rhythms of these two tunes are shifted smoothly up for a couple of traditional pipe reels to finish the set. Track two is a very old song of infertility, infidelity, litigation and divorce in the 17th century, given the familiar Battlefield upbeat treatment. This is followed by John Sheahan's divine slow air Christ Church, named for Dublin's protestant cathedral, followed by an unknown Irish reel and another of fiddler Alasdair White's tunes.

And so it goes on. Great tunes like Seudan A'Chuain by Allan MacDonald, The Road to Benderloch by Angus McColl, and traditional favourites An Cota Ruadh and McKenna's Jig. Three more old-style songs including The King's Shilling and Lord Randall, and one very contemporary song by Henry McCullough full of bluesy melancholy. And of course those surreal tune titles from Mike Katz: Barbhas agus Butthead, Trouble at Baghdad Roundabout, Clan Coco and Fifteen Stubbies to Warragul, fine melodies all, and worth learning for the stories behind the tunes.

Well, there you have it. Good music, good fun, good value and widely available. If you plan on buying a Battlefield album this millenium, I'd recommend Out for the Night. There's probably a sample track or two at www.templerecords.co.uk - check it out.

Alex Monaghan, May 2004

Mary McPartlan - The Holland Handkerchief (McP Productions MCPRCD 001)

McPartlan has had a distinguished career as a music producer, both in television and in theatre.  This, her debut solo album, confirms that in addition to her skills in recognising musical talent and ensuring it is presented in the best possible light to the audience, McPartlan is a mighty talent in her own right.  Irish music has its fair share of iconic female singers - Dolores Keane, Margaret Barry, Delia Murrphy to name just three.  McPartlan's voice, her passion and her consummate control put her on a par with singers of this calibre.  The Holland Handkerchief is an explosive first outing, a mature and well-rounded singer who has waited for the moment and if others around her have been impatient for the off, we hope they'll agree that the wait has been worthwhile!

McPartlan's reputation is such that she's been able to assemble a blue-chip cast of supporting musicians.  In addition to her main musical sparring partner, Shamie O'Dowd (guitars, bass, fiddles, harmonicas, vocals), McPartlan is joined by Mairtin O'Connor (accordion), Paddy Keenan (pipes), Liam Kelly (flute, whistle), Tom Morrow (fiddle), Eddie Lynch (piano, keyboards), Cathal Hayden (banjo), Fergal Gallagher (string bass), Danny Byrt (drums, djembe, percussion), Mary Staunton (vocals) and Martina Goggin (vocals).

The songs are a mixture of traditional, contemporary folk and a few left-fielders (such as Saw You Running and Aura Lee) which showcase the breadth and range of McPartlan's style.  Needless to say, we at Pay The Reckoning were immediately drawn to the more traditional material.  The opening number, The Holland Handkerchief, which features Paddy Keenan's wistful piping over an increasingly rocky accompaniment by O'Dowd, is an attention-grabber and sets us up nicely for the surprising cover of Shane MacGowan's "Rainy Night In Soho".  A departure from the Pogues' normal raucous shenanigans, this song has appealed to us since its first appearance many moons ago; brimming with sentiment and yet avoiding sentimentality, it's an honest love song, whose pay-off - "You're the measure of my dreams" - is arrived at obliquely out of a stream of almost mundane speculations about times gone by.  It's good to hear MacGowan's talents as a songwriter receiving recognition from a singer of McPartlan's standing.

Elsewhere, a moving version of Johnny Lovely Johnny competes for pole position with a spectacular rendering of The Lovely Sailor Boy.  However the keynpte song on the album is a mesmeric Slieve Gallion Braes where Mary Stauntion and Martina Goggin harmonise subtly with McPartlan on a song which has long been one of Pay The Reckoning's favourites.

Bound to cause a stir in the Irish music world, The Holland Handkerchief is an auspicious debut by a major-league talent.  We can't commend it too highly and would urge all our readers to get their hands on it and to sing its praises to their friends.

Available via Copperplate at http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

Track Listing
1. The Holland Handkerchief
2. Rainy Night In Soho
3. Johnny Lovely Johnny
4. The Tide Full In
5. Ladybird
6. Lord Gregory
7. John Riley
8. Lovely Sailor Boy
9. As I Roved Out/Joe O'Dowd's Barndance
10. Peat Bog Soldiers
11. Saw You Running
12. Aura Lee
13. Slieve Gallion Braes
Pay The Reckoning, April 2004

John Carty - At It Again (Shanachie 78054)

"At what again?", we hear you ask.  As well you might!  Carty is, after all, a man who flits between the banjo and the fiddle, equally gifted on both.  The front cover of this CD gives the game away.  He leans nonchalantly on the bar of a pub, an amused/bemused smile on his face and the neck of a fiddle in his sturdy left hand (the type of hand, by the way, that you know is as capable of a quare grip as it is of delicately teasing notes from the fiddle's strings).

So, there you go.  It's a fiddle album ... but just about one of the mightiest bits of fiddling you're ever likely to hear.  Brought up in London, Carty's ancestral roots were in County Roscommon to where Carty has now returned.  Those roots are evident in his style; an ornate, impossibly vibrant approach to the tunes.

Although this is very much a solo album, where Carty's unique playing commands and deserves centre-stage, he is joined by a host of luminaries.  His brother James Carty joins him on flute on two effervescent sets (Major Moran's/Peg McGrath's and Lad O'Beirne's/Fionn O'Donnell's) and elsewhere in-demand players such as Alec Finn (bouzouki), Francis Gaffney (guitar), Arty McGlynn (guitar), Brian McGrath (keyboard, tenor guitar) and John Blake (keyboard) put their shoulder to the wheel in Carty's honour.

It's not often that the opening track of an album is the musical high point.  However, after many listenings we have never failed to be impressed with Carty's version of Jim Donoghue's Reel.  His playing of this reel typifies everything that is exciting and intriguing about his approach to the music.  Starting off at a steady, yet quite brisk, tempo, Carty explores the nuances of the tune, uncovering numerous possibilities for lift and verve.  And then, he finds another gear and raises the pace as McGlynn, Finn and McGrath fall in step with him.  And finally, having taken the tune through any number of twists and turns, he finds time to give us a few bars played sweet and slow.  Not only is his version of this reel a bloody good listen, it's an education!

Carty mixes the familiar and the less common to great effect.  Let's face it, while we all love to hear tunes that we've not come across before, we all like as well to hear some of the oul' favourites getting an airing.  And so "The Frieze Breeches/Old Tipperary", "The Silver Spear" (incorrectly noted in the track listing as The Silver Spire) and "The Sligo Maid" give us an opportunity to compare Carty's playing with other classic versions of these tunes.  Needless to say Carty is not found wanting; his playing is as compelling as any you'll have heard, brimming with passion and a fierce imagination.

And then there are seldom-heard delights such as the polka set, "The Roosky/Tom Morrison's" (unless we're much mistaken, the latter tune is better known in some locales as "The Happy Birdie") which illustrates just how the North Connaught way with polkas differs from that in Kerry.

So Carty's at it again and doubtless he'll be at it again and again for some time to come.  Give him a listen when you get a chance.  Who knows, he might well have you at it, too!

Available via Copperplate at http://www.copperplatemailorder.com

Track listing
1. Jim Donoghue's
2. The Frieze Breeches/Old Tipperary
3. The Roosky/Tom Morrison's
4. Major Moran's/Peg McGrath's
5. Paddy Lynn's Delight/Hughie's Cap
6. Farewell to Gurteen/Kitty's Rambles
7. The Silver Spear
8. Connemara Stockings/The Flowers Of Red Hill/The Prohibition
9. The Sligo Maid
10. John McHugh's/Dinny Delaney's
11. Lad O'Beirne's/Fionn O'Donnell's
12. The Killavil Jig/Paddy Jim Frank's
13. The Copperplate/The Flogging Reel
14. The Bellharbour/Harp And Shamrock
15. The Crosses Of Annagh/The Cloone
Pay The Reckoning, April 2004

Mark Nangle - The Silver Strand (Private recording, own label, no catalogue number)

Nangle - originally from County Armagh, now resident in Australia - is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist (octave mandola, guitar, whistles, keyboards), equally at home with interpreting traditional music and song and with presenting his own impressive compositions.

We've had the good fortune to hear a previous collection of Nangle's work where his beautifully spare acoustic work sat alongside more textured arrangements, incorporating electronic instrumentation and effects to good avail. Here are Pay The Reckoning, we've been known to furrow the oul' brow when presented with music which fuses the tradition with electronica.  However Nangle's approach was genuinely interesting; the transistors and PCBs were deployed to supplement the music rather than to dictate its course. Stand-out tracks on that earlier collection included a radical take on "A Blacksmith Courted Me" and a version of "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" that unravelled the perennial reel into a number of key phrases which, after several repeats and diversions, eventually knitted themselves into the familiar session favourite.

The Silver Strand sees Nangle give the electronics the elbow. From the word go (a lyrical version of "PJ Fahey's Reel" on octave mandola), it's clear that Nangle is in search of a more immediate, earthy feel. And, much though we've admired his earlier work, we have to admit a preference for the more pared-down approach.

Nangle's latest outing appeals not just because of the choice of material (superb taste in  evidence - e.g. "Hewlett/The Munster Cloak"; Mark Kelly's "The Snowy Path"; his own compelling slow reel "Give Her The Diddy") but because of his instinctive musicality. Nangle doesn't just play tunes.  Like all good traditional musicians he explores the tunes and, together, tunes, player and audience embark on a journey.

The instrumental pieces are complemented by a number of fine songs.  Nangle's decision to round off the collection with the old '98 song "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" is a nice touch in that he closed his previous release with a version of the reel by the same name. The symmetry, whether intentional or not, lends a sense of completeness to the album; the contrast between the "fused" version of the reel and his straight rendering of the song speaks volumes. It's as if Nangle is signalling journey's end (or at least a fork in the road).

"Glencolumbcille", the only self-penned song on the album, is the undoubted highlight of the set. Image after vivid image, conjured up from childhood, stack up alongside each other. A song full of surface joy and yet the mood is one of melancholy. Glencolumbcille - "The best place in the world to me" - is many thousands of miles away. It was never "home"; it was always "down the valley, up the highway", but farther away than ever it casts its spell on the memory.

"The Silver Strand" is proof yet again that some of the most interesting, personal and impressive music is currently being made not by the "stars" of Irish music, the pros with record deals and diaries full of festival appearances and European tours, but by committed, passionate "local" artists.

Here's a health to one of that number! Good luck, Mark and we look forward to hearing more from you in future.

If you'd like to get your hands on a copy of "The Silver Strand", then please drop us an email (aidan@paythereckoning.com) with "Silver Strand" in the subject line and we'll forward it to Mark Nangle who will contact you direct.

Track Listing
1. PJ Hayes' Reel
2. The Maid On The Shore
3. Hewlett/The Munster Cloak
4. Cumha Eoighan Rua Ui Neill
5. The Snowy Path
6. Lough Erne Shore
7. Miss Hamilton
8. Farewell To Old Ireland
9. Abruxa
10. Glencolumcille
11. Give It The Diddy
12. Long Way From Home
13. The Road To Moruya
14. The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Pay The Reckoning, March 2004

Shantalla - Shantalla (Wild Boar Music WBM 21004)

It sometimes happens that we come across a band's or an artists latest output before we chance upon their debut.  Such was the case with Shantalla's eponymous first outing, which we heard long after we heard the magnificent "Seven Evenings, Seven Mornings".  Like its successor, Shantalla is a superb album, mixing songs and tunes from the Irish and Scottish traditions (and those of other "celtic" traditions) with contemporary material, many composed by members of the band.

The blend of strings, reeds, flutes/whistles and Helen Flaherty's pure, powerful voice makes for a potent brew.  At times the energy levels go well into the red zone; when Shantalla go into overdrive, the effect comes as close to that of the Bothy Band in full flight as any other band we have heard.  Take the second last set (Sean Sa Cheo/The Hunter's Purse/Duncan Johnstone/Mairtin Quinn's/The Pigtown Fling/Storming Through) for example.  Horgan kicks off the set with a soaring version of the great high reel Sean Sa Cheo, before handing on the baton to Kieran Fahy and before long all hands are flaying away, making short work off a set of addictive tunes.

But Shantalla are no one-trick ponies.  As subtle as they are exuberant, Helen Flaherty's reading of The Blantyre Explosion and Fine Flowers In The Valley demonstrate the band's ability to hang back and explore an atogether more melancholy vein.  Likewise Shantalla's rendering of Thomas Walsh's superb Inisheer deftly highlights the poignancy of this magnificenly-crafted slow waltz.

Based in Belgium, Shantalla are one of the big draws on the European circuit and on the strength of this and the follow-up "Seven Evenings, Seven Mornings", it's easy to see why they've built up a huge and discerning following.  More power to their collective elbow!

For further information about the band, please visit http://www.shantalla.com

Track listing
1. Gan Ainm (Breton)/The Road To Cashel
2. Fine Flowers In The Valley
3. Finbar Dwyer's/Paddy Fahy's/The Little Hills Of Offaly
4. P Stands For Paddy/The Flowers Of Red Hill
5. The Woods Of Old Limerick/McGraevy's/Meghan's Reel/The Piper On Horseback
6. The Blantyre Explosion
7. Cam Ye O'er Fae France?/Hey For Cockolorum/Highland Gan Ainm/Sporting Paddy
8. Inisheer
9. Sixteen Come Sunday
10. The New Age Polkas
11. The Highland Widow's Lament
12. Sean Sa Cheo/The Hunter's Purse/Duncan Johnstone/Mairtin Quinn's/The Pigtown Fling/Storming Through
13. McCallum's/Jackie Small's/The Road To Glencar
Pay The Reckoning, April 2004

Gibb Todd - Goin' Home (Compass Records 7 4374 2)

Scottish-born, now resident in Australia, Todd is a veteran of the festival scene where his wit and geniality ensure he is always greeted with enthusiasm by fans of long standing and by newcomers to his music.  We class ourselves in the latter category; until this album showed up unexpectedly, we weren't at all familiar with Todd's work.  However, we're very grateful to have had the opportunity to check out this well-balanced collection of traditional, contemporary and self-penned songs.

Drawing on his "old" and "new" roots, Todd moves deftly from songs with an Australian theme, through Applachian ballads to those in broad Scots.  A man whose well of experience is deep and plentiful, the master raconteur finds universal messages in each of his offerings.

Todd's treatment of Eric Bogle's "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" breathes fresh life into a standard of the folksinger's canon which has - unjustifiably - suffered a little from overexposure in rrecent years.  Todd reminds us of its powerful themes - the horrors of war and, afterwards, the nagging doubts of those who fought, were injured or otherwise suffered as to the purpose.

The mood is lightened with "Cape Cod Girls", a roustabout version of "South Australia".

Of his own compositions, "Where The Bangelows Are" and "The Belle Of Byron Bay" stand out.  The former draws a great deal of its charm from the litany of Australian place names which Todd recites - names which combine familiarity (Ballina, The Tweed) with the exotic (Mullumbimby, Billinudgel, Nimbin, Burringbar).  The latter could very well be a traditional song, such is its classic construction, the ease with which it unravels.  The hardest job for any songwriter working in the folk medium is to craft a song which bears the patina of age and yet doesn't sound contrived.  In "Belle of Byron Bay", Todd has created a song of which he may be jusitifiably proud.

Of all the tracks on the album, the highlight as far as we are concerned, is "Come All You Fair And Tender Maidens".  An old Applachian ballad, with obvious predecessors in Irish songs such as "Love Is Teasing", the song gives Todd an opportunity to showcase his vocal accomplishments as the verses tail off into a low register.  Although these few closing phrases of each verse are well below his normal range, Todd holds his own with ease and grace, caressing the words as they caress the listener's ears.

Providing Todd with first-class musical backing are John Doyle (guitar, bouzouki), Stuart Duncan (fiddle, octave fiddle), Alison Brown (banjo), Danny Thompson (double bass), Garry West (electric bass, percussion), Kenny Malone (drums, percussion), Andrea Zonn (strings), Andy Hall (resonator guitar) and Tim O'Brien (harmony vocals).  What a line-up of bluegrass and "celtic" musicians!

Find out more about this and other releases at http://www.compassrecords.com

Track listing
1. Belle Of Byron Bay
2. Where The Bangelows Are
3. The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
4. The Last Trip Home
5. Don't Put Taxes On The Women
6. Canada
7. Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies
8. Goin' Home
9. Strong Women Rule Us All
10. Cape Cod Girls
11. Norlin' Wind
Pay The Reckoning, April 2004

Airla - The Eagle's Whistle (Own label)

Airla are Mick de Hoog on fiddle, Joe McHugh on uileann pipes and whistles, Alan Burke on guitar, bodhrán and vocals and Christian Fotsch on bouzouki and double bass. Guest musician is Giles Lewin on fiddle.

Their debut album features a brilliant selection of traditional tunes like slow airs, marches, jigs and reels as well as some beautiful traditional songs in both Irish and English.

Mick, a fiddle maker from Dublin, feels equally at home with hauntingly beautiful love ballads and slow airs as well as with passionate jigs and reels. The Highest Hill of Sligo, a rarely-heard tune which he learned from James Kelly and the three reels which follow (The Bag Of Spuds/The Star Of Munster/Paddy Taylor’s) give Mick the opportunity to show his skilful fiddling.

Joe from Co Derry is not only an excellent piper - a fact of which you become aware of as soon as you listen to the opening reels, Bean an Tí ar Lár/Colonel Rodgers/The Black Haired Lass, or the march of the O’Donovan clan, The Eagle's Whistle, after which the album is named - but a very accomplished whistler as welll. On The Destitution, a wonderful slow air, he plays the low whistle and the Connemara song Bean Pháidín is accompanied by Joe’s vivid tin whistle.

Alan sings three English and two Irish songs. His expressive and beautiful singing goes well with romantic love songs (Lovely Jane), tragic Irish stories (The Galtee Mountain Boy) as well as with more funny songs (Joe Higgins). His guitar playing gives the music a very rhythmic touch and you can tell that he originally was a percussionist.

Christian frames the sound with his double bass and adds his wonderful Irish bouzouki playing to the ensemble on (amongst others) the Bheara Reel set and on Tom Busby’s.

A stunning debut album full of wonderful Irish tunes and songs and a very good live band as well.

Available by email via mchugh@goldnet.ch or christian@ssassa.ch

Further information about the band on http://www.airla.net

Track listing:
1. Bean an Tí ar Lár/Colonel Rodgers/The Black Haired Lass (Donegal and Sligo reels) 
2. The Destitution (slow air by Ian Stevenson) 
3. Bean Pháidín (Connemara song) 
4. Tom Busby/Father O’Flynn/Gan Ainm (traditional tunes) 
5. Lovely Jane (song from the Co Louth) 
6. When Sick Is It Tea You Want/Na Ceannabháin Bhána (traditional jigs) 
7. The Eagle's Whistle (March of the O’Donovan clan) 
8. An Chearc is an Coileach  (Donegal song) 
9. The Bheara Reel Set (The Cottage In The Grove/The Peeler’s Jacket/The Bheara Reel) 
10. Joe Higgins (song) 
11. The Highest Hill Of Sligo/The Bag Of Spuds/The Star Of Munster/Paddy Taylor’s (reels) 
12. The Galtee Mountain Boy (1922/23 song about the Civil War) 
13. Grania’s Welcome Home (Donegal march, jig and reel)
Adolf Goriup, March 2004

Hugh Healy and Colm Healy - Macalla na hÓige (Killeen Music KM CD 001)

Brothers Hugh (concertina) and Colm (button accordion) are steamin' musicians. Hailing from Clare, and exponents of that fluid, almost languid style which is associated with "The Banner", Messrs. Healy combine technical accomplishment with soulfulness and passion. A top-drawer crew assists the lads. Fergal Scahill (guitar/bodhran), brother Eric Healy (fiddle), Paul O'Driscoll (double bass), Noel O'Donoghue (flute), Karol Lynch (banjo) and Michael O'Connell (pipes) complement the lead musicians perfectly, adding to the potent brew and taking care not to distract the listener's attention from the main draw!

Any doubts as to whether the combination of two free-reed instruments might be a little "samey" in the mix are quickly dispelled.  Colm's ornate style - influenced by fiddling as much by the work of other accordionists - contrasts with Hugh's more direct approaach which sees the concertina linger over long notes, an effect which lesser musicians might spoil through over-eager application of frills.  Exquisite engineering by Martin O'Malley ensures that both instruments are kept sufficiently apart in the mix to maintain their own identity.

From the opening reel set (The Laurel Tree/McCarthy's/The Bird On The Bush), it's evident that we're in the company of unique, highly accomplished musical talent.  The set builds with each change; Scahill adds a touch of drama with his cheeky intro to the second reel and when the final change occurs, all hands are in top gear for a superb finale to the set.

Unsually the CD features three hornpipe sets (as well as a hornpipe/reels set) and the afficionado of steady, subtle playing will find much in these sets to admire.  No harm to Colm, but as far as the hornpipes are concerned, Hugh's solo version of "The Independence/Mrs McGrath's" is the CD's show-stopping hornpipe set.  Also known as "Fiddler's Cramp", the second part of The Independence (or The Independent) switches from 4/4 to 12/8 time, requiring the player to squeeze out swathes of triplets.  A tune on whose rocks many a player has foundered, Hugh negotiates its treacherous waters with supreme ease!

Mind you, Colm gives us a solo performance as well - The Girl That Broke My Heart/Tom Billy's Reel - and proves that when it comes to musicianship there's nothing to choose between the pair of brothers.  Each is at the very top of the tree!

Throughout the album there is a great sense of warmth.  This is genuine playing, played with affection and played so as to please not only the listener but the players themselves.  In our imagination we sense there were moments when, during a particularly affecting diversion, one of the brothers nods and smiles at the other - a silent acknowledgement of a tasteful bit of playing.  We suspect that there were many such occasions during the recording of this fine CD.

With very little in the way of fanfares and hullaballoo, the Healys' album has arrived on the scene.  But its immediacy, its charm and grace, its sheer honesty will ensure that, fanfares, hullaballoo or not,  it will secure pride of place in many trad fans' collections.

Visit Hugh and Colm's website at http://www.healymusic.com

Track listing

1. The Laurel Tree/McCarthy's/The Bird On The Bush
2. The Gaelic Club/The Humours Of Balingarry
3. The Chancellor/The Western Hornpipe
4. Christmas Eve/Master Crowley's/The Milliner's Daughter
5. JP Daly's/Shores Of Lough Gowna
6. La Tombe Dans Les Pommes
7. The Girl That Broke My Heart/Tom Billy's Reel
8. Pidder a Dreska/Three Little Drummers
9. The Independence/Mrs McGrath's
10. Jenny Picking Cockles/George White's Favourite/Jenny's Wedding
11. Thomond Bridge/Richie Dwyer's Favourite/Sean sa Cheo
12. Jackson's Morning Brush/Slieve Russell/Con Cassidy's
13. Galway Hornpipe/Stack Of Oats
14. The Broken Pledge/Tommy Peoples'

Pay The Reckoning, February 2004

 

LIVE REVIEW : Robin Laing, January 30th 2004 in Bern Switzerland – Whisky & Song

Mark Chesterfield, an event manager situated in Luzern Switzerland, has organized several shows in Switzerland with Robin Laing and I was lucky to attend the Bern gig in the Mahogany Hall, a small and therefore perfect venue for this kind of event. Robin Laing played two sets, the first one with his whisky songs mainly from the CDs “Water of Life” and “The Angel’s Share” and the second one with ballads from his other CDs, “Walking in Time”, “Imaginary Lines” and “Edinburgh Skylines”. At the beginning, during the break and after the sets Mark served four exclusive single malts for a very fair price, explained their origin and their qualities and answered all our questions.

Robin opened the show with the song “Our Glens” from The Angel’s Share, a song that stresses with a twinkle of the eye the importance of single malts for the Scottish. The tune is from George Donald and the words from Buff Hardie. Then he sang his beautiful hymn to the recently reborn distillery of Bruichladdich on Islay. The whisky turned out to be so perfect that it drew the attention of the US who sent spies to find out about that “lethal weapon of mass destruction”. So Robin decided to write another song about this excellent whisky “We Can’t Let Al Q***a Get Their Hands On This” – what a laugh, Robin. "More than just a Dram", Robin’s recipe to produce a fine single malt followed and led us to “Willie Brew’d APeck o’Maut”, a song from exciseman Robert Burns, who might have joined in the drinking contest…“The Queer Folk i’the Shaws” by James Fisher is the story of the country lad going to Glasgow Pollockshaws’ horse races and is taken advantage of by the more street-wise city folks. “The Tall Tale”, another Glaswegian story (according to Robin, you can tell as women are bigger and stronger than men). Do I feel some Edinburgh versus Glasgow rivalry there *wink*? And to give us the rest (we couldn’t stop laughing for a while) he added the song “Give Me Strong Whisky and Weak Women”. The last verse was Swiss made: Give me lots of Whisky and no women and according to Robin it’s due to our drinking habits (Kirschschnaps and stuff like that, which kills all our romantic feelings – we should stick to single malt, which is Scotland’s answer to Viagra). The last song of the set “Twelve an’a Tanner a Bottle” by Will Fyffe was a sad song about the increase of taxes on “distilled waters” and we were able to stop laughing and concentrate on the upcoming whisky tasting session.

This turned out to be a blast. Unfortunately I had to drive and thus content myself with a strict minimum of three small tasting glasses. The first was a Delaig from the Isle of Mull, which surprised with its mild but spicy flavour, an excellent whisky. Then I tried a 22 years old Brora whisky, an exclusive and fantastic rare single malt. The last came from the Isle of Islay, Caolila, and satisfied with its strong and peaty flavour.

The second set started with “The Wife of Usher’s Well”, a celtic story of a witch who puts a spell on the weather, because she’s lost her three sons. This song from “Imaginary Lines” was one of the musical highlights of the evening for me, a wonderful song. Carmichael Mill, a song about an ancient mill that had been restored, followed and the dreamy mood of this song led to Robin’s love songs, first he sang “Black Clothes”, a song dedicated to his beloved wife and then the beautiful ballad “I believe in you”. And we were off for a serious laugh attack again when he played his love song to Italian coffee “Black Coffee”. The song about the two Irish scoundrels “Burke and Hare” and the story of the Irish, the English and the Scotman travelling to Saudi Arabia made us laugh till we cried... This was the moment for Robin to bring in his beautiful hymn to the beauty of the “Islands”, my absolute favourite of the evening and judging by the reaction of the audience I wasn’t the only one who was captivated by Robin’s “mise en scène”. The air was trembling at that very moment and everyone could feel the special mood.The witty song about the “Punters’ Race” on the Edinburgh-Glasgow canal with the audience’s participation and a frivolous song called “Baby I’m never going to let you down”, the story of the man and LL (Latex Lady), closed the second set. But the audience demanded an encore and Robin had to wait before taking his first dram….. Closer to heaven, another “slightly frivolous but very clean song”, ended the second set and Robin finally could be seen at the whisky bar.

Besides the beautiful songs and ballads, the funny songs and stories and the excellent whisky, we had the pleasure to meet two very likeable guys, who shared their passion with us, whisky & song.

Thanks a lot Robin and Mark

Visit Mark's website http://www.thewhiskyexperience.com

Adolf Goriup, February 2004

LIVE REVIEW : Moya Brennan And Band, February 6th 2004, Bierhübeli in Bern, Switzerland

The full moon is standing in the sky like a perfect, silvery circle, surrounded by a misty court. I am sitting in the Lounge of the Bierhübeli, a building from the 19th century with a wonderful theatre hall, a pint of Murphy's Stout in front of me. Some groovy sound, a fusion of different beats and jazz, is coming out of the loudspeakers, but I am waiting for a different kind of music that would match perfectly the beautiful view outside: Moya Brennan's hauntingly beautiful voice accompanied by seven excellent musicians, all except Yoshi from Dublin:

Moya started the set with two songs from her solo album "Perfect Time", "The Big Rock" and the title song "Perfect Time", and an old Clannad song "Siúil a rún" (from the album Dulaman). At once I realized that Moya brings live another "sound dimension" in as on her studio albums, something like a further kick to her beautiful music. When will you release your first live album with that band, Moya??? The four following tunes underlined the fantastic musicianship of the band members. Eamonn, piper of the young Dublin band Galldubh, started with his "Jig of the Gulfs" and was followed by his Galldubh companion Fionán's tune (can't remember the title of the tune). Fionan is definitely the best guitar player of the band, even though he sometimes is predictable (I think Eamonn and Fionán will understand the joke *wink*). Then Moya played "Lady Marianne" on her harp and afterwards gave place to Cormac who made the others join in his tune inspired by chocolate biscuits (were they Swiss, Cormac?). Now it was clear to everyone that Moya has gathered an excellent ensemble with the three guys from Galldubh, Eamonn, Fionán and Paul, Cormac, Sam, Yoshi and last but not least the charming Sineád and I was looking forward to a night that exceeded all my (already high) expectations.

Moya began to introduce her new album "Two Horizons". She started with the beautiful opening track "Show Me" and narrated us her story of the mysterious stranger, who told her about the ancient harp which used to be played on the Hills of Tara long ago. The harp has been lost and the stranger implored her to find it - "Change my World". "Bí Liom" (Stay In Time) - here ended the stranger's journey and here Moya's began. Now it was Moya's task to find the harp - "Bright Star" - and the blind stranger disappeared and Moya was alone - "Falling" - and the mist revealed a medieval castle where Moya first laid her eyes on the harp, shown on a portrait hanging on the stone walls.

Here Moya brought another Clannad song in "I Will Find You", the love theme from the soundtrack for "The Last Mohican" partially sung in Mohican and Cherokee. The last song before the break made me think Christmas and my birthday had been rescheduled: "Alasdair Mhic Colla Ghasda", a Scottish song that I already knew in several versions by Capercaillie and Clannad and which now I heard for the first time live by Moya Brennan and Band. Definitely one of my all times favourite songs and I love each version for their own specific beauty. This deserved to be praised by raising a pint of Murphy's during the break….

The second set continued with Moya's story of the harp. The Hill of "Tara", through the ages a meeting place for kings, warriors and saints yearns to get back the ancient harp and Moya's trail finally led her to the great desert where the "Mothers of the Desert" protected the harp for centuries. As soon as Moya began to play the harp she was carried homewards by the "Harpsong". And then back to Tara, standing on the hill, Moya saw the "Two Horizons", the sun rising on one side and the moon setting on the other. When day and night meet, the past and the future will be brought together. Thank you, Moya, for sharing this wonderful story with us. And I remembered the silvery shining full moon, still standing high in the sky. What a perfect night for a perfect gig.

Moya now sang "Against the Wind", a song from her first solo album "Máire" and you really could see that the musicians enjoyed the gig. Cormac could not resist beating the rhythm on his harp during the song. Then they played another three tunes, "Mary of the Gaels", "Roundabout" - a wonderful fusion of folk, gypsy sound and jazz played by Sinéad - and the reel "Father Francis Cameron". The soundtrack from "Harry's Game" and Moya's song "Na Páistí" (The Children from "Perfect Time") followed, before Moya remembered a song she once sang with a young lad in Dublin "In a Lifetime" and she sang it again this evening with another young lad from Dublin, Fionán Debarra., excellent. The last song "A Mhuirnín Ó" (I'm not sure though), a Clannad song, ended with frenetic clapping of the audience and soon Moya came back for the encore: The drinking song "Nil Sé Ina La" (It's not yet daytime) from the first ever Clannad album and "Teidhir Abhaile Riú", a matchmaker song, from Clannad 2.

As the evening ended, I went out in the night where the moon still was lurking in the sky. It was past midnight and after 2 hours and a half of the most beautiful music I took the road home with Moya's new CD making me hover on the highway on my two hour's ride….

Adolf Goriup, February 2004

Brendan Bulger, Marty Fahey & Kathleen Gavin - Music At The House (Music At The House MATH001)

Bulger (fiddle), Fahey (box, piano) and Gavin (piano) are three great mates with a shared musical vision; their musical and social sharing of the same wavelength makes for a superb recording.

Called "Music At The House" because the three chose to dispense with the soullessness of the recording studio, the end result proves the wisdom of their decision.  There's a warmth and an unhurried feel to this recording which suggests that all hands benefited from being able to relax while the album was being made.

The selection of tunes owes a lot to Bulger's and Fahey's musical upbringings; both were born in America and hence the aptness of sets such as "Jimmy Neary's/Tommy Maguire's/Conroy's" these tunes being particularly associated with players of the so-called "golden age" in Irish America.

As well as superb ensemble playing, each of the three gives us a solo. Fahey switches from box to piano to play Ed Reavey's air "In Memory Of Coleman".  Bulger fires of a stunning blast of reels "The Girl Who Broke My Heart/Maude Miller" and Gavin turns her attention to the Shetland Isles with Tom Anderson's "Da Slockit Light".

Mighty though the solos are, the music really starts to catch fire when all three join forces.  You'll hear few sets as quietly, undemonstratively incendiary as "The Blackthorn/The Drunken Tinker" or the insistent "My Mind Will Never Be Aisy/Paddy O'Snap/Lough Key".

Forget your "Transatlantic Sessions", this is hands across the water at its best!

Available  in the UK via Copperplate http://www.copperplatemailorder.co.uk

Elsewhere, check out http://www.musicatthehouse.com

Track listing:
1. Jimmy Neary's/Tommy Maguire's/Conroy's
2. The Lone Bush/Eugene Stratton's
3. Mickey Callaghan's/The Man In The House
4. Butermilk Mary/Failing Memories
5. In Memory Of Coleman
6. The Blackthorn/The Drunken Tinker
7. Kit O'Mahony's/Paddy Walshe's
8. The Girl Who Broke My Heart/Maude Miller
9. St Gilbert's/The Stage
10. Da Slockit Light
11. The Chandelier/Christmas In America
12. My Mind Will Never Be Aisy/Paddy O'Snap/Lough Key
13. Dooish/The Musical Manicure
14. McGreevy's/The Humours Of Castlefinn
15. The Galway Jig/Willie's Fiddle
16. The Yellow Tinker
Pay The Reckoning, February 2004

Mick Mulvey - Within A Mile O' Jamestown (Coolathuma Music Coolathuma 001)

It's one of the ironies of Irish traditional music that the best Irish music is often (but by no means always!) made outside of Ireland.  London, of course, has always had a thriving Irish traditional music scene and the names of many London pubs have a particular resonance in the Irish music community - The Favourite, The Stag's Head, The Kilkenny and The White Horse, to name but a very few.

The last-named, a pub in Bethnal Green in the East End, has particular significance for it's here that Mulvey and the crew make camp once a week for a night-long (with the emphasis on the word "long") session.  Mulvey's music was forged in this and similar pub sessions throughout London, and through regular summer holidays in Lisgarney, not far from Jamestown, County Leitrim where he was entranced by the particular cadences and accents of the North Connaught musical style.

Nowhere are these worn more visibly on Mulvey's sleeve than on the album's second track, "The Leitrim Thrush/Roger Sherlock's/Father O'Grady's Visit To Bocca/Darby's Farewell To London", a blast of reels which careers forth from his flute, issuing an invitation to every man-jack en route to throw caution to the wind and/or their legs in the air.

Elsewhere sets of session classics such as "The Primrose Lass/Craig's Pipes/Tom Ward's Downfall" and "Tie The Bonnet/The Shoemaker's Daughter" rub shoulders with less well-known tunes from Mulvey's highly personal store of favourites, sets such as "Within A Mile O'Jamestown" (The Elder Tree/The House On The Hill) and "Duignan's Odd Jig/The Hag With The Money/The Castlebar Jig".

Mulvey is joined by some of the cream of London's Irish music talent.  Simon Wroe (guitar - and the album's producer), Pete Quinn (piano), Brian Rooney (fiddle), Reg Hall (piano) and Karen Ryan (fiddle) engage with Mulvey at various points, not so much in a supporting role as in a partnership of equals, co-conspirators in the making of music that brims with charm and honesty.

(And when you're listening, watch out for the wee hidden extra about ten minutes after the end of the supposed last track!)

Available from Copperplate at http://www.copperplatemailorder.co.uk

Further details about Mulvey and his music at http://www.mickmulvey.co.uk (or email him via info@mickmulvey.co.uk)

Track listing:
1. Kiss The Maid Behind The Barrel/Lucky In Love/The Bloom Of Youth
2. The Leitrim Thrush/Roger Sherlock's/Father O'Grady's Visit To Bocca/Darby's Farewell To London
3. Willie Coleman's Jig/The Gold Ring
4. Oliver Goldsmith's Lament/The Broadway Hornpipe/The Plains Of Boyle
5. The Primrose Lass/Craig's Pipes/Tom Ward's Downfall
6. Bridie Morley/Corney Is Coming (Packie Duignan's)
7. Duignan's Odd Jig/The Hag With The Money/The Castlebar Jig
8. Within A Mile O' Jamestown (The Elder Tree/The House On The Hill)
9. Maguire & Paterson/The Belltable
10. The Coachman's Whip/The Tailor's Thimble/The Red Haired Lass
11. Tommy McGuire's No 1/Peter McAlinden's
12. Tie The Bonnet/The Shoemaker's Daughter
13. The Rakes Of Clonmel
14. Colonel Rodgers' Favourite/The Happy Days Of Youth (McKenna's)
Pay The Reckoning, February 2004

Pay The Reckoning weren't the only ones to be impressed by Mulvey's outing.  Alex Monaghan was also taken by Mulvey's album.

Mick Mulvey may be London born and bred, but his flute playing betrays his Leitrim heritage. Influenced by Roger Sherlock, Brian Rooney and others from the vibrant London Irish music scene, Mick plays beautifully smooth reels in the Sligo/Roscommon style. He also accompanies himself on piano and guitar. More than half this CD is given over to reels old and new, starting with old favourites Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel, Lucky in Love and The Bloom of Youth. Mick continues with reels from Roger Sherlock and Josie McDermott. After a couple of jigs and hornpipes including the ever-popular Trans-Roscommon Airways, he's joined by Brian Rooney's mighty fiddle and Reg Hall's stylish piano for The Primrose Lass, Cregg's Pipes and Tom Ward's Downfall. A trio of Packie Duignan reels follows, delightful tunes which Mick delivers with great tone and fine breath control.

The home-spun feel is quite strong in places, but single-take recordings have an extra spark and this one is no exception. Duignan's Odd Jig is another grand old tune from Packie, and it's coupled to a pair of John McKenna jigs on which Mick lavishes his skill and energy. This track is one of the highlights for me, offsetting a weak treatment of The Gold Ring. Then it's back to the reels with the title track, ending in a spirited version of Miss Thornton's. Two classic Irish waltzes, Maguire & Paterson and The Belltable Waltz, bring a refreshing change of pace and a chance to appreciate the lyrical qualities of Mick's playing: I don't think I've heard better interpretations of these melodies.

Guess what? It's back to the reels again with a Vincent Broderick tune The Coachman's Whip and two more John McKenna favourites, this time joined by Karen Ryan on fiddle and pianist Pete Quinn from The London Lasses. A couple more sets of reels, two fine jigs, another duet with Brian Rooney on The Rakes of Clonmel and a curious little Easter egg on the end, and Mick's solo debut is over. With eight great tracks of good auld reels and a few other high points, this is an album well worth hearing. How you find it is another matter, but www.mickmulvey.co.uk can probably help: you'll also find some samples there.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

Carl Nelkin - Irish Heart, Jewish Soul (Own Label CJN001)

Nelkin is the proud owner of a rich and timbrous tenor voice.  Small wonder, then, that he's often invited from his native Dublin to sing at many prestigious and important Jewish festivals and religious occasions around the globe.

The album is a tribute to the small, but influential, Irish Jewish community.  Featuring songs in Yiddish alongside some of the better-known staples of the Irish tenors' canon, Nelkin has assembled a first-class band to help him put his musical vision across.  Peter Eades (keyboards, guitar, percussion), Christy Sheridan (banjo, mandolin), Vince Milne (fiddle) and James Wilson (pipes, whistles) like Nelkin display equal facility on both the Jewish and the Irish numbers.

Mind you, at their heart, the Jewish and Irish songs have much in common.  Both document the highs and lows of life in communities which are immensely proud and self-contained, where wit and repartee are highly valued.  The musical forms themselves are very different; but the common thread allows each to sit alongside the other in a complementary manner.

A fascinating glimpse into the musical heart of a small community, Nelkin's album is nevertheless first and foremost a mighty listen!

Carl may be contacted at cnelkin@iol.ie

Track listing:
1. Der Rebbi Elimelech
2. Love Thee, Dearest
3. Vos Geven Iz Geven Un Nito
4. The Star Of The County Down
5. Dos Pintele Yid
6. The Short Cut To The Rosses
7. Mazl
8. Little Bridget Flynn
9. Moishele, Main Fraind
10. The Low-Backed Car
11. Bantry Bay
12. Eishes Chayll
13. Danny Boy
14. Yankele
Pay The Reckoning, February 2004

Various Artists - Shite'n'Onions Volume 1 (Omnium Records omm2036)

Irish music is, as we all know, a hell of a broad spectrum.  From the so-called "celtic hush" of the Clannad contingent, through the booze'n'balladry of the numerous Dubliners/Clancies-fixated pub bands, the quasi-classical tenordom of the McCormacks and their ilk through the high-octane (or lower-octane) jiggerypokery of which Pay The Reckoning is fond. And somewhere in amongst the mix is one of the lesser-known sub-genres - Celtic Punk.

So what are the essential components of the Celtic Punk sound?  Take traditional folk instruments (banjos, fiddles, mandolins and accordions feature heavily among the 22 tracks on offer here) and harness them to distorted electric guitars; anchor the whole shebang with a heavy dollop of bass and drums and Bob's Yer Uncle, Fanny's Yer Granny and Gerry's Yer MP!

But of course, that glib summary misses out the variety of approaches adopted by each of the 15 bands featured on the album. The punk rock genre proper has its "punk pop" merchants, and so Celtic Punk has bands such as "The Tossers" whose "Dicey Riley" is a classic end-of-the-night singalong, complete with handclaps.  On the other hand Celtic Punk is host to bands such as "Blood or Whiskey", whose "Bucharest" is genuinely scary.  (We dare you not to flinch as it ends!  Do not listen to this track for the first time when driving!)

Stars of the show are, we're pleased to say, London's very own Neck whose two previously unreleased tracks - "The Holloway Hooley/Shite'n'Onions" and "Star Of The County Down (Busta Hollywood Mix)" - demonstrate just how well all those who roam the seven seas in the Good Ship Neck have developed their act.  Raw and exhilarating music, but as the same time as tight as a gnat's chuff (and, for the benefit of those unacquainted with the diameter of the chuff of the said gnat, believe us ... we're talking TIGHT!).  Which augurs well for the new album from Neck which we hope to review in these here pages in due course!

Some of the acts captured in full flow on Volume One worship at the altar of Shane MacGowan.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; after all, Shane and his mates get top marks for having dragged the concept of Celtic Punk into being.  However, The Pogues didn't themselves come out of nowhere.  Irish music has had a history of bands, players and songwriters whose music walked on the wild side and all of who, in their own ways and in their own times, gave rise to as much excitement, as much outrage, as The Pogues.  Perhaps subsequent volumes will see the MacGowan influence become more dilute as some of these bands, who are near the start of their learning curve, mature and begin to find a voice and a vision which owes nothing - other than mutual respect - to the North London troubadours.

And since we're talking of respect, let's hear it for John Murphy, who edits the webzine Shite'n'Onions and whose hard work and tireless efforts ensure that the Celtic Punk community are kept up to date with all the latest.  Visit http://www.shitenonions.com (and pick up a copy of Shite'n'Onions Volume One while you're there!).

Track listing:
The Mahones - Queen & Tequila; Drunken Lazy Bastard
Greenland Whalefishers - July Morning
The Skels - One For The Road; Streams Of Whiskey
Siobhan - The Kilfinane Parish
Nogoodnix - Angelina; Set In My Ways
Big Black Cadillac - Wasted Years
Neck - The Holloway Hoolie/Shite'n'Onions;The Star Of The County Down (Busta Hollywood Mix)
The Electrics - Kiliecranked Up
Blood Or Whiskey - Bucharest; Your Majesty
Bates Motel - Never Say Never
The Tossers - Dicey Riley; Monday Morning
The Devil's Advocates - The Town I Loved So Well
The Spunk Lads - Iron Lady
The Steam Pig - Stoneybatter Me; The Wise Old Men Of Dominick Street
Croppies - Young Ned Of The Hill

Pay The Reckoning, February 2004

Tim Dennehy - Between The Mountains And The Sea (Tim Dennehy Sings The Songs Of Sigerson Clifford) (Sceilig Records - SRCD004)

Dennehy is a master of restrained and poetic singing; a style full of ornament and decoration and devoid of artifice and histrionics. Blessed with a rich and powerful voice, Dennehy has over the years done justice to self-penned ballads, "comics" and top-drawer sean-nos songs, rendering all with equal facility and delicacy of approach.

Garry O Briain deserves his share of the credit for this fine album, providing Dennehy with accompaniment (on those songs which are accompanied - Dennehy is well able for the solo rendition!) on guitar, mandocello, piano and harmonica. And a nod of the head to Marie Clifford (who reads Clifford's poem "MJ MacManus"), Danny Byrt (percussion) and Bebhinn Ni Bhriain (flute).

Clifford was a native of Cahersiveen in Kerry and his songs have a very particular local focus. Clifford sung about people he knew, places he knew, events he himself took part in or which helped form part of the intimate folk mythology of the people he lived amongst. And yet like the work of any musician or writer of any importance, Clifford's passionate and direct songs have universal applicability.

Clifford was by no means a preacher. Any message as such is implied in his songs; the listener draws conclusions by him or herself. Often he looks back on his own past and convinces us that it was a special time; that somewhere along the line in our "development" we've left behind things of great value. "Lenihan's Big Bazaar" is such a number and Clifford packs some mighty imagery into its lines. "He roofed the sky with smiles for slates ..." and "All my dreams were spancelled to her little twinkling feet".

Neither was Clifford afraid to tackle big issues. Witness his commentary on both social inclusion and the horrendous catastrophe that was the Irish Civil War in "The Ballad Of The Tinker's Son".

All of the elements that informed Clifford's work come together in his best-known song, the epic "Boys Of Barr na Sraide". Vivid reminiscences of happy times and hard times revolve around the central image - the boys out hunting the wran. Its few lines say more about modern Irish history and the ravages of emigration than any weighty tome by this or that professor or commentator. Needless to say, Dennehy does the song proud. Unaccompanied, Dennehy sings from his heart directly to ours.

Dennehy includes his own "Between The Mountain And The Sea", a song written in tribute to Clifford. Dennehy's understanding of Clifford's vision is evident; his respect for the man and his music and his sadness at his passing are worn proudly on his sleeve.

The production values are of the very highest. An accompanying 48-page booklet gives the words to all of the songs, provides lots of background (including Clifford's feisty and touching funeral instructions) and is graced with some breathtaking photography by Tony O'Shea.

This is one to treasure. One to take time over; to listen through time and again; to be enchanted by the company of a great songwriter and an equally fine singer.

Available in the UK via Copperplate http://www.copperpplatemailorder.co.uk whose carefully selected musical catalogue is of the highest quality. Those based elsewhere should stop off at http://www.sceilig.com

Track listing:
1. The Kerry Christmas Carol
2. The Boys Of Barr Na Sraide
3. Lenihan's Big Bazaar
4. The Ballad Of The Tinker's Son
5. The Old School (song and poem)
6. The Ballad Of Johnny Golden
7. The Boy Remembers His Father
8. The Races
9. The Ballad Of The Tinker's Daughter
10. Between The Mountain And The Sea
11. MJ MacManus (poem)
12. I Am Kerry (poem)
Pay The Reckoning, February 2004

Jim McKillop - Tru The Years (Online Music School Ltd OLMSCD15)

Fiddler and fiddle-maker, Mc Killop is one of those rare musicians who is a master of a range of traditional, folk and popular idioms.  Grounded in Irish and Scottish traditional music, McKillop neverethless casts his musical net widely and is as content to play, and as capable of playing well, big reel sets such as "Reavey's/The First Month Of Summer/Farrell O'Gara" alongside tunes such as "Ashokan Farewell" or that notorious American test-piece "The Orange Blossom Special".  In fact we can think of no other fiddler who could get away with playing the old-time American reel "The Forked Deer" in a set with "The Bucks Of Oranmore"!

This collection of recordings spans some 24 years and casts McKillop with a host of other musicians.  Some of the tracks are evidently recorded in a session environment, e.g. the joyful "The Silver Spear/The Pigeon On The Gate/Hand Me Down The Tackle" and the glorious "Lord Gordon's".  Others are more polished recordings, such as the western swing classic "The Rose Of San Antone" and Willie Hunter's "Leaving Lerwick Harbour".  A virtuoso player, McKillop dares to take on some difficult technical challenges as evidenced by his version of "The Banks".  Neither is he cowed by the emotionally loaded tune.  Hence he gives us a spell-binding version of "The Coolin", a delicate piece whose melancholy can turn to mawkishness in the hands of the insensitive player.

As an introduction to McKillop's lifetime of music, Tru The Years is a great listen.  Find out more at http://www.onlinemusicschool.com

Track listing:
1. Reavey's/The First Month Of Summer/Farrel O'Gara
2. Leaving Lerwick Harbour
3. The Four String Polka
4. Moonlight On The St Laurence
5. The Gold Ring/The Silver Spear
6. The Joy Of The Isles
7. The Rose Of San Antone
8. The Isle Of Inishfree
9. The Banks
10. Maytime Swing/Whistling Rufus
11. Margaret Anne Robinson
12. Lord Gordon's Reel
13. The Shannon Waltz
14. The Forked Deer/The Bucks Of Oranmore
15. Rosie's Waltz
16. The Auld Resting Chair
17. Forrester's Reel
18. The Coolin
19. Joe O'Dowd's/The Kylebrack Rambler/Maeve's Reel
20. The Tennessee Waltz
21. The Lark In The Clear Air
22. Ashokan Farewell
23. The Silver Spear/The Pigeon On The Gate/Hand Me Down The Tackle
24. Fading Love
25. The Orange Blossom Special
Pay The Reckoning, February 2004

Barry Kerr - The Three Sisters (Spring Records SCD 1040)

The Three Sisters is the name given by Lough Neagh fishermen to a series of waves which occur in particularly rough weather and which capsize any craft in their path.  Kerr's album - now out of print, unfortunately - is a killer, but thankfully not in that sense!

A mere lad at the time the album was recorded, Kerr's years belie his musical maturity. Adept on flute, whistles and pipes, Kerr is no mere player.  He's a conjuror of emotion, capable at one moment of rakish wit and at another of plumbing the depths of melancholy.

The album contains a well-balanced mix of the well-known, the unusual and the original.  Sets of "classics" such as "The Silver Spear/Molly On The Shore/Miss Monaghan" and "John McKenna's/Dowd's No 9" sit alongside Patrick Davey's "The Inver Bank/Headwood Crossing" and "Ships In Full Sail/The Three Sisters" - the album's title track being a Kerr original, one of three self-composed tracks on the album.  The others, a reel - "The Wrong Medicine" - and a slow reel "Shane's Tune" (co-written with Gerard Thompson who provides elegant guitar backing throughout) are equally fine tunes.

We returned time and again to "Ronan's March", a belter of a tune which Kerr picked up from the estimable Ronan Browne and fair play to Kerr for spotting its potential, for working up a host of individual and imaginative ornaments and variations, thereby making the tune his own.

With a glowing recomendation from none other than Seamus Tansey, there's little doubt that Kerr is among the most gifted traditional musicians of his generation.  We gather that he's changing tack for his next album, which looks set to be a selection of self-penned songs.  If he brings to his songwriting the same incisiveness and imagination that he brings to his playing, then the new album will be some handlin'!  (And here's hoping he still finds time to stick at the tunes as well!)

We also gather that there's talk of "The Three Sisters" getting a re-release.  All very speculative at this stage.  However if it comes off, then our advice is to get yourself a copy and revel in the artistry of this dazzling young musician.

Details about Barry's musical and artistic output can be found at http://www.barrykerr.com

Track listing:
1. The Wrong Medicine/Sean Ryan's/The Fling
2. Ships In Full Sail/The Three Sisters
3. Shane's Tune
4. Ronan's March
5. Donegal Reel/Bush In Bloom/Gan Ainm
6. Tuirse Mo Chroi
7. Clancy's Jig/Abbey Reel
8. The Inver Bank/Headwood Crossing
9. Brendan's Air
10. John McKenna's/Dowd's No 9
11. Gan Ainm/Otter's Holt/Dunphy's
12. Silver Spear/Molly On The Shore/Miss Monaghan
Pay The Reckoning, February 2004

Various Artists - Live Recordings From The William Kennedy Piping Festival (William Kenedy Piping Festival/Armagh Pipers Club WKPFCD001)

Now, believe it or not, there are those who baulk at the sound of the pipes; for whom the hum of the drones, the chatter of the reeds, the cranning and the general "busy-ness" of the sound serve as a turn-off!  And then there are those, such as we at Pay The Reckoning, who - without wishing to belittle the contribution of any other instrument to the traditional musics of Ireland, Scotland, Northumbria and elsewhere - would unhesitatingly declare the pipes to be the ace, king, queen and jack of musical instruments.

And therefore to those of our persuasion (may our tribe increase!) this album - 21 tracks, recorded between 1997 and 20001 and featuring pipe music from Ireland, Scotland, Northumbria, Asturia, Sardinia, Galicia, Wales and mainland Italy - is a gem.  The William Kennedy Piping Festival is a unique event, allowing audiences access to a variety of piping traditions.  An education as well as a source of great entertainment.

Irish piping is, as you'd expect, well-represented with Robbie Hannon (Speed The Plough/The Beare Island Reel), Tiornan O Duinnchinn & Cillian Vallely (Excerpt From The Singing Stream III/The Dark-Haired Lass/Dan Breen's Reel), Mick O'Brien (The Green Fields Of America), Michael McGoldrick (a highly spiced set, Jenny Picking Cockles/The Earl's Chair), O Duinnchinn solo (The Whinny Hills Of Leitrim/McGoldrick's No 2), Tommy Keane (The Buck From The Mountain/Cal O'Callaghan's) and Vallely solo (The Singing Stream Part I).

Elsewhere McGoldrick and Jose Manuel Tejedor give us Tejedor's own composition "Barralin" while Tejedor gives a solo rendition of two traditional Asturian tunes "Salton/Floteu de Remis".  Gordon Duncan provides Highland flavour with the infectious "Lorient Mornings/Grade Nuit in Port du Peche/Webster's", while Allan MacDonald, The Field Marshall Montgomery Mini Pipe Band, Robert Watt and Moebius give us their take on the Highland pipes.  Add to that a fine set of Welsh tunes from Ceri Rhys Matthews (Difyrrwch Gwyr y Gogledd/Dydd Trwy'r Dellt) and some exotic Sardinian and Italian piping care of Luigi Lai and Gianni Perilli & Guido Iannetta, the CD is a truly smorgasbordian affair, brimming with familiar and more strange sounds.

In such a galaxy of superb players and superb tunes, you might think it hard to isolate a single highlight. However, Pay The Reckoning commend Kathryn Tickell's version of Billy Pigg's "Bill Charlton's Fancy".  From a brooding, staccato opening, Tickell builds the tune, eventually adding a multitude of superbly-executed decorative triplets to create a technically challenging and genuinely exciting final repeat.

An excellent distillation of an event that goes from strength to strength.  After listening to this CD, we reckon more than a few people will be making plans to visit next year's festival!

More information at http://www.armaghpipers.com

Pay The Reckoning, January 2004

Len Graham, Garry O Briain and Padraigin Ni Uallachain - When I Was Young (Children's Songs From Ireland) (Fonn Records FONNCD001)

A re-issue of Gael-Linn's celebrated 1996 recording.

When musicians of the calibre of Graham, Ni Uallachain and O Briain convene to make an album, then there's little doubt that the result will be anything other than pure quality.  Their decision to record an album of "children's songs" shouldn't dissuade those unencumbered with ankle-biters from listening in.  For while a few of the songs are one step removed from the nursery, the majority are songs which have appeal to both adults and children alike.

Ballads such as the epic "Henry, My Son" rub shoulders with stalwarts of the traditional canon such as "The Wheel Of Fortune", "As I Roved Out" and an elegant, understated "The Frost Is All Over", in which Graham and Ni Uallachain conspire with O Briain's driving, yet graceful, mandocello to provide us with a version of this evergreen jig-song which may well yet prove to be as lauded as that by Seamus Ennis or Planxty.

For many the ditties and "bigger" songs will trigger waves of nostalgia.  Here at Pay The Reckoning we were transported back to our (metaphorical) nest in the ashes by Ni Uallachain's "My Aunt Jane" - a song which was a particular favourite bit of nursery nonsense when we were mere striplings!  "Weelia Weelia Wallia" as recorded here may display more restraint and control than the lusty well-known version by the Dubliners - but, to our ears, packs more of a punch as a result.  "Do You Love An Apple?", as befits its inclusion in an album of childhood songs, is slightly sanitised when compared with Triona Ni Domhnaill's Bothy Band version, which will doubtless be very familiar to our readers! And no bad thing!  The young and impressionable may, after all, want to lay claim to this CD (despite their parents' protestations.)

Joined by such luminaries as Nollaig Casey, Mairtin O'Connor, Ronan Browne and Tommy Hayes and with the ringing endorsement of Marie Heaney and Paul Brady, "When I Was Young" will prove to be one of the most welcome re-releases of recent years.

Available via Gael-Linn at http://www.gael-linn.ie

Pay The Reckoning, January 2004

Seán O'Driscoll and Larry Egan - The Kitchen Recordings (Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD155)

O'Driscoll (banjo, bouzouki) and Egan (accordion) cook up some rare music (sorry, folks, there'll not be too many "kitchen" puns!) for the discerning Irish traditional gourmand (the puns stop here, honest!).

This album dropped through our letterbox just days after a musical acquaintance was singing the praises of recording in his kitchen as opposed to fruitless, soul-destroying hours spent in recording studios. The oppressive presence of banks of equipment, the sound-proof, deadened booths and rooms and the lack of anything "homely" conspire to sap the spirit from his music.

O'Driscoll and Egan prove his point by presenting us with the opposite. Here's an album recorded at home and two musicians at home with each others'playing. Banjo, accordion and bouzouki fit around each other like hands in a glove. Each produces virtuoso playing, but unlike some musicians' recordings, we suspect that Egan and O'Driscoll were less concerned with impressing the eventual audience for their recordings than they were with egging each other on to play wild and spirited versions of their favourite sets.

The opening set - The Trip To Birmingham/Down The Broom/The Ivy Leaf - is a brave and a bold statement. Three classic reels, each of which presents the player with a fair degree of challenge, played with a degree of lift and airiness that elevates the senses. This is life-affirming territory; premier league musicians and premier league tunes!

And the quality standards are maintained throughout. "The Nightingale/The Return To Burton Road/Na Ceannabháin Bhána" is a stirring jig set; "Father Kelly's/The Whistling Postman/The West Clare Reel" a driving blast of reels.

A steady and even pace is the order of the day. O'Driscoll and Egan aren't your boy racers. And so they make a great job of a slow reel set "Johnny Henry's/The Lilies In the Field" and a superior fling set "The Cúil Aodha/Nettles In The Soup".

Elsewhere you'll be taken with "An Gobán Saor/The Muskerry Tram/Garrett Barry's". The first tune is one of O'Driscoll's own compositions and will redden the cheeks of those who claim that slow airs don't sit well on the banjo! The two jigs that follow are perfectly chosen to vary the mood created by the air, to shift the focus back to the feet again!

An album full of charm, passion and no little subtlety.

From the excellent label Cló Iar-Chonnachta, whose quality standards never fail to impress. Find out more at http://www.cic.ie

Pay The Reckoning, January 2004

A few reservations aside, Alex Monaghan was also taken by the lads' recording.

Sean O'Driscoll is a well-known banjoman from Cork, and Larry Egan is a champion young box-player from Wicklow. They are both in fine form on this recording, which also features some tasty accompaniment on bouzouki, guitar and percussion from Sean and others. There's lots of excellent music here, some particularly nice tunes and some distinctive takes on old favourites. The bad news is that the duet playing isn't as tight as you might expect, and at times it seems as if Sean and Larry can't hear each other at all. However, most of the time this is not too distracting, just like sitting at one end of a big session. The solo tracks are absolutely brilliant.

Among the little gems here are the hornpipe City of Savannah, a favourite of mine which is rarely recorded by Irish players, and a fling version of The Cuil Aodha Jig which contrasts nicely with the standard version a couple of tracks before. The slow reel John Henry's is another triumph: I've also heard this as a hornpipe. Sean contributes three of his own tunes, among them a lovely slow air called An Gobán Saor. At the faster end of things, there's a break-neck charge through The Ballydesmond Reel and two great sets of familiar reels to finish with.

Sean's solo includes a nifty little jig of his own called The Muskerry Tram, and a gentle stroll through Garret Barry's Jig. Larry chooses reels by Billy McComiskey ad Charlie Lennon for his solo, a racy four minutes of flashing fingers, with his left hand doing the work of the pipe regulators. Several other modern composers feature on this CD: Finbar and Richie Dwyer, Eddie Kelly, Sean Ryan, and Canadian fiddler Bill Maley. It all adds up to a pleasant mix of tunes in a relaxed session style. Definitely worth a listen. Outside Ireland try www.cic.ie for mail-order.

Alex Monaghan, July 2004

LIVE REVIEW : The Irish Folk Festival, Bern, 17th October 2003

For 29 years Magnetic Music has brought Irish and Celtic music to Germany and Switzerland on “The Road of Tradition” – the motto of this year’s tour. Magnetic Music, a company headquartered in both Reutlingen, Germany and Doolin, Co. Clare, organises tours in Germany, Switzerland and Holland and runs a traditional record company as well. The Irish Folk Festival (TIFF) 2003 included 34 gigs within 38 days. The musicians and accompanying crew work more than six days a week. The concert itself lasts three hours; now add the time to prepare for the gig, to pack up after the gig and the time to get to the next venue. I met some of the guys after the gig and it was evident that their working hours hadn’t finished with the last encore at 11 pm. They had a drink, chatted to me for a while and then they were off to finish their day.

The evening started with Catriona McKay on Scottish harp (the Clarsach) and Chris Stout on fiddle. The two musicians from the Shetland Islands played five traditional sets:

Da Smugglers – Da Bonnie Lass Dat Made The Bed For Me – Da Day Dawn – Da Loon Mountain Moose – Da Hangman’s

Chris’ fantastic fiddle playing and the beautiful, smooth sound of the Clarsach created music so full of melody and rhythm, that no further instruments were necessary. Catriona played the harp with so much feeling and harmony making the Clarsach “swing” and Chris added his passionate Shetland fiddle with skill and perfection.

Da Day Dawn, a song usually played only once a year on the Shetlands on New Year’s day, starts with a smooth and slow air. You fall into the dreamy mood of that special day; you feel everyone’s tired and exhausted. It’s like saying good-bye to the old year and then suddenly the melody becomes more rhythmic. It’s like starting the new year’s challenge, a kind of warm welcome to the upcoming year. It was one of my favourite songs of the evening. Excellent performance by two exceptional people.

Then Eílís Kennedy and band came on stage. Eílís, a singer from the beautiful peninsula of Dingle, was accompanied by Tommy O’Sullivan on guitar, Virginia McKee on clarinet and Aisling Fitzpatrick on cello.

Eílís chose to stick to traditional music as well and surprised the audience with the uniqueness of the instruments and the smooth and vibrant beauty of her voice. Among her set on the evening were: The Bay of Biscay-O, The Flower of Magherally, Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn and The Bonny Light Horseman, which was sung with perfect harmonies and balance by all three women with their beautiful voices; a great performance.

The last gig before the interval was Paddy Keenan on pipes and flute and Tommy O’Sullivan on guitar. Unfortunately Tommy had caught a cold and wasn’t able to sing. No matter!  They gave us a selection of instrumental, traditional reels, which were a great pleasure to listen to. Paddy plays the pipes in the traditional Irish travelling style and his excellent piping together with Tommy’s fine guitar playing made the rather shy Swiss audience start to clap, stomp and dance. For one setg, "Eimhin’s/Cahir’s Kitchen", Paul Byrne, Galldubh’s drummer and percussionist, joined the two playing percussion. This is an old composition by Paddy, going back to his “hippy years”, and it made the audience go really crazy. It was great watching Paddy with his cowboy hat nearly hiding his face and listening to his excellent whistling, which starts with a slow air and increases in intensity ,accompanied by Tommy’s bluesy guitar and Paul’s percussion. Another highlight of the set was Jutland, written by Tommy O’Sullivan and dedicated to the fiddle player Peter Sorenson from Denmark who played in a band named Ashplant together with Tommy.

After a short break, the young band Galldubh, from the Dublin area, came on stage. Six great musicians, who will certainly make their way with their stunning fusion of roots music and jazz: Éamonn Galldubh on Uilleann Pipes and whistles – Carmel O’Dea on fiddle, Paul Byrne drums and percussion (including bodhran), Aideen Curteen vocals and flute, Fionán de Barra on guitar and Eugene Wogan bass and backing vocals. The moment they entered the scene Aideen caught the public’s attention with her direct approach.

The set-list:

• Coleman’s (Jackie Coleman’s, Ormond Sound, Phyllis’s Birthday)

• Star of the County Down

• Midnight Paddlers / Dark Horizon (two jigs written in St.Malo, France)

• Cruiscini/The Dunmore Lasses

• Lilt (The Flowers of Red Hill)

• Herbie's/Jig (dedicated to the man in the Receptionist)

• Rakish Paddy/Jim Donahue's/The Moose

• Run

• The Donegal Reel/Hairy Dog Leaf/Albert Road (Carmel got the first tune from listening to two great northern fiddlers, Tara Connaghan and Maebh O’Hare, the second tune is from Limerick flute player Francis O’Connor and the third from banjo player Paul Meehan, Armagh )

• Kerrin's/Contradiction

• Well Fed Reel/Fruit Pastille Reel (two classics of the Galldubh set-list)

Aideen from County Limerick with her beautiful and jazzy voice brings soul and passion to the traditional songs as well as to their own compositions and you are instantly jamming away with her. Éamonn’s pipes are a blast to listen to and he doesn’t have to dread comparison with well known and established pipers. Carmel, a pretty young woman from County Clare who is currently reading Music and Irish language at the University of Cork plays the fiddle with passion and perfection. Fionán, according to Éamonn the best guitar player of the band, is certainly more than that, an excellent guitar player who comes from Dublin. Paul is the “rhythm machine” of the band – drums, bodhran, different kinds of percussion and sometimes dancing along while playing, and last but not least Eugene who contributes with his “driving” bass to make the sound of Galldubh irresistible.

I can’t say at what time they called the other musicians on stage for the encore (I was just clapping my hands, stomping my feet, dancing …. you know what I mean).

Then started the highlight of the evening: 13 excellent musicians on stage and giving the audience such a blast, no one could stay put. They played and impromptu session, including an excellent version of "Óró Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile".  Needless to say, it was a blast: Aideen and Eílís on vocals and flutes (Aideen flute and Eílis tin whistle), Virginia playing percussion as well as Paul – all four of them dancing along on the left side of the stage with Aisling playing the cello (not dancing along though), Eugene playing the bass and Fionán playing the guitar in the background, Paddy and Éamonn in the centre with breathtaking pipes, to their right Catriona on harp and the two fiddlers, Carmel and Chris, with Tommy on guitar on the right side of the stage. The audience couldn’t help jamming along and didn’t want them to stop, but after three hours of the most beautiful music the gig ended.  Time for a drink and a chat to the musicians ... a grand night!

Adolf Goriup, January 2004

LIVE REVIEW : Karan Casey and Band, Waldshut, Germany, 14th November 2003

The Band:

• Niall Vallely plays concertina and low whistles with brilliant rhythmic and melodic skill. Niall is an indispensable part of Karan’s band.

• Robbie Overson plays guitar with feeling and passion, with no tricks or treats, just fantastic musicianship. He and Paul Meehan also support Karan’s singing with perfect harmonies and balance.

• Paul Meehan is an excellent enrichment to the band. Technically as brilliant as Robbie, he delighted the audience with his sensitive and vibrant guitar and mandolin playing.

• Karan Casey is one of the best Celtic voices I’ve ever heard. Hearing the wide range of her vocal skills you understand why she has received so many awards for her work: Karan is equally at home with gently whispered love songs, hauntingly beautiful traditional songs and powerful songs dealing with contemporary issues.

Karan opened the gig with the beautiful Distant Shore, which deals with emigration. Several times she talked about contemporary problems and dedicated “King’s Shilling” to Messers Bush, Blair and Hussein. The beautiful “When Will We All Be Free” was dedicated to all politicians saying no to emigration.

As it’s a promotional tour for “Distant Shore” most of the songs like “Another Day” and “Song of Lies” were from the new album. Nevertheless Karan sang several songs of her second album “The Winds Begin To Sing” during the first set. These included the previously mentioned “King’s Shilling”, the beautiful love song “Where Are You Tonight I Wonder” and John Spillane’s “Buile Mo Chroí”.

Karan and Robbie then left the stage to Niall Vallely on concertina and Paul Meehan on guitar, who gave a stunning performance of “Muireann’s Jig” and the reel set “The Old Bush/Birds In The Bush/Malfunction Junction”. All of these feature on Niall and Cillian Vallely’s excellent CD “Callan Bridge” with Niall on concertina, Cillian on uilleann pipes and low whistle and featuring Donal Clancy on guitar, John Doyle on guitar and bouzouki, Paul Meehan on guitar and Caoimhin Vallely on piano.

The last song before the interval was the superbly played “Ballad of Accounting”, my personal favourite. This song, as well as the two encores, “The Diggers” and the final “One I love”, which was chosen with the care of a goodnight kiss, figure on Karan’s first album “Songlines”

The second set, which started with Karan’s solo “Weary of Lying Alone”, continued where the Ballad of Accounting had left off. "Curra Road", "Tim Evans" and "The Four Loom Weaver" were Karan’s choice of the more rhythmic songs, contrasting with the beautiful ballads “Quiet Of The Night” and “When Will We All Be Free?”.

Karan then left the stage once more to Paul and Robbie who played the amazing “Maguire and Patterson” an instrumental, written by Robbie for guitar and mandolin. The last two songs, before Karan and the band left the stage were “Edward” and “Song of Choice”, the latter stressing that people are responsible for casting votes and therefore the outcome of elections. (This dates from Karan’s time with Solas).

The audience didn’t want to let them go and the encores were played to frenetic clapping from a devoted audience. Karan had really cast a spell on us during the evening she and her brilliant musicians deserve a thousands thanks for a fantastic performance.

Adolf Goriup, January 2004

setstats 1