Celtic Grooves Imports - Newsletter
Issue No. 1, July 1999
Hello, and welcome to the first edition of the Celtic Grooves Imports electronic newsletter, bringing you news of recent record releases in Irish traditional music. Feel free to contact me, using this e-mail address or my home phone (301-565-0648), for more information or orders.




*NEW* BOB ABRAMS: A FOOL'S ADVICE. A delightful new album featuring New England musicians playing Irish traditional music in most convincing manner. New Hampshire resident Bob Abrams, on C#/D box, mandolin, and octave mandolin, is joined by the excellent fiddle player Roger Burridge, Brad Hurley and Sarah Bauhan on flute, David Surette on guitar and octave mandolin, Peter Barnes on piano, and a few others. Except for a set of Norwegian-American waltzes, one of Finnish-American polkas, and a Scottish air (learned from Seamus and Manus McGuire though), the material is Irish and performed Irish-style. The music is well played at a leisurely pace, combining old chestnuts, "The Burnt Old Man" or "The Trip to Durrow" for instance, with rarely heard gems like Paddy O'Brien's jig "The Coming of Spring" (one of my favorites on the album). Abrams' accordion playing is not virtuosic but it is more than competent and it definitely has the right feel and energy--and I happen to be a sucker for that C#/D sound. I had met Roger Burridge in 1979 in Doolin when he was playing the sessions with Davy Spillane and remembered him as a smooth fiddle player, but had not seen him since--until we made contact again a month ago or so via e-mail. I was excited at the prospect of hearing his playing again, and I wasn't disappointed. I got to meet Brad Hurley more recently, but hadn't heard his playing, and that was another bonus. I feel a trip to New Englang coming.... Surette's octave mandolin and guitar accompaniments are tasteful and  support without intruding, which in my book is very good. Peter Barnes's piano work, with its trademark knack for finding unusual harmonies, is the one element here that reminds me most of New England contra music, not in any overpowering way though. Rating: ***

*NEW* THE BOYS OF THE LOUGH: THE WEST OF IRELAND. The Boys of the Lough were never quite an Irish band, although the presence of flute and whistle player and singer Cathal McConnell infused their repertoire and sound with Irishness. And even though the musicians mixed national repertoires and styles, they managed to make it a coherent whole. There was a BOTL sound. The band sounded a bit more decidedly Irish while piper Christy O'Leary was a member, before that partnership dissolved rather dramatically and publicly a year or so ago. If this new CD is any indication, now BOTL doesn't even sound like BOTL. Bain, McConnell, and Richardson are still officially in the band, officially joined by Brendan Begley (accordion)--this man must have a heavy schedule!--an Malcolm Stitt (guitar, bouzouki), and joined on the album by guests Mick O'Brien (uilleann pipes, whistles), Kathryn Tickell (fiddle, viola, Northumbrian pipes), Ron Shaw (cello), and Garry O'Briain (piano, guitar, mandocello)--who also seems to be on every other album made these days. The result is a collection of tracks which are reminiscent of the 1977 BOTL album "Good Friends--Good Music," a hodge-podge of different styles and textures. Not that it's bad music, there are some lovely moments--and much Irish music to boot. But the "official" band members never actually all play together, and there doesn't seem to be an "official" band sound anymore. Rating: ***

*NEW* THE BRIDGE CEILI BAND: SPARKS ON FLAGS. A brand new recording by the several-time and current All-Ireland champion, lead by Co. Kildare flute player Eugene Nolan. Tight playing, as one would expect, fiddle-driven (5 fiddles, 2 flutes, 1 accordion) sound, and interesting tunes, including Jim McKillop's "Reel for Maeve," a Josephine Keegan hornpipe, etc. You may think what you will about the regimented brand of Irish music played by ceili bands, but this is one of the better recordings in this genre--I admit, I still prefer the Kilfenora though... Rating: ***

*NEW* CIAN: THREE SHOUTS FROM A HILL. Cian are Brian Duke (flute), Padraig Rynne (concertina), Tim Murray (vocals, guitar), and Damien Quinn (bodhran). The high-powered playing of Duke and Rynne, the latter in a style reminiscent of Nomos' Niall Vallely, on the well-chosen instrumental medleys is what makes one take notice. While Murray's singing, fortunately confined to only two tracks, is rather underwhelming, his skills as an accompanist as well as Quinn's insistent drumming complement the lead playing nicely. Rating: ****

*NEW* PADDY HAYES & JOHNNY RAY: RETURN TO KILTY. Paddy Hayes is a B/C accordion player from Co. Wexford who now lives in Kiltyclogher. A two-time All-Ireland winner, Hayes has that B/C sound which I tend to associate with Joe Burke, up to the very wet tuning. What distinguishes this album from the rest is that a large number of the tunes recorded are Hayes' own compositions--curiously though, the hornpipe "The Golden Eagle" is attributed to him, even though the tune's inclusion in Ryan's Mammoth Collection is evidence against that claim. The relaxed tempo throughout should make learning the tunes easy. Hayes is accompanied simply on guitar (Ray) and piano (not named). Rating: ***

*NEW* ANDREW MACNAMARA: DAWN. A lovely new album by the accordion player from Tulla, Co. Clare, formerly a member of the Tulla Ceili Band, then of Skylark with fiddle player Gerry O'Connor and singer Len Graham, and more recently the Lahawns (see "Live at Winkles"). MacNamara has a nice way with the tunes, finding lots of nice twists without falling into gimmickry. Understated accompaniments by Brendan Hearty (guitar), Geraldine Cotter (piano), and Tommy Hayes (percussion). Rating: ***

*NEW* NORTH CREGG: ... AND THEY DANCED ALL NIGHT. I first heard North Cregg on one of the "St. Patrick's" sampler CDs put out by this German label specializing in Irish/Celtic music, and I remember thinking I would want to hear more of them. Christy Leahy (accordion) and Caoimhin Vallely (fiddle), with the help of guest Paul Meehan (banjo), play some very energetic dance music to accompaniments of piano, guitar, and percussions. The rock-n-rollish Cape-Breton-inspired piano and the addition of other instrumental textures suggests a comparison with the first Four Men and a Dog album. The surprise comes with the four songs, four by the band's singer and guitar player John Neville and one by Bill Staines, all of them in an idiom quite remote from that of the instrumental tracks. Not that the songs are bad or badly performed--Neville's "The Wobbling Man," a song about alcoholism and abuse, is quite affecting--but my ear has a hard time making the transition. Still these guys can make tunes move; I may just have to learn how to program my CD player... Rating: ***1/2

*NEW* COLM O'DONNELL: FAREWELL TO EVENING DANCES. The label that recently brought us Kevin Henry's delightful CD "One's Own Place" strikes again, this time with a beautiful recording by Co. Sligo flute/whistle player and singer Colm O'Donnell. Colm was introduced to US audiences when he performed with Kevin Henry at the 1998 Milwaukee Irish festival, and James Fraher and Connie Scanlon of BogFire must be congratulated for taking a chance and producing this CD. But I'd be very surprised if it didn't get more rave reviews a smashing success. Colm's flute and whistle music is one of the sweetest you'll ever hear, whether he plays an old tune or one of his excellent compositions. His performance of his own air "An Tonn Amplach" (The Hungry Sea) is achingly beautiful. If that weren't enough, Colm's traditional-style singing in Gaelic and English as well as his lilting are no less than remarkable. His rendition of the classic "Cunla" allows him to combine these talents to great effect. His singing of classics like "The Boys of Barr Na Straide" or "A Stor mo Chroi" is stunning. Brian McGrath and Shane McGowan, on piano and guitar respectively, add just the right touch with their unobtrusive accompaniments. And this is a generously long CD with 18 tracks. What a treat! Rating: ****

*NEW* PAUL O'SHAUGHNESSY: STAY ANOTHER WHILE. Paul is well-known as a former member of Altan, current member of Beginish, and a terrific fiddle player in the Donegal style. This new release testifies to the latter, Paul delivering one terrific highland, Donegal reel or jig after another with insistant bow strokes and crisp triplets. With the able assistance of Frankie Lane (guitar, dobro, mandolin, bass), he almost manages to sound like Altan (of the early days) all by himself, on the reel tracks especially. His rendition of the epic piping jig "The Gold Ring" gives serious competition to Frankie Gavin's classic version of it from the first De Danann LP. Fans of energetic Irish fiddle playing and DOnegal music should enjoy this thoroughly. Rating: ****

SHASKEEN: TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC FOR SET DANCING VOL. 2 (Corofin Plain Set, North Kerry Polka Set, Newport Set)
SHASKEEN: TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC FOR SET DANCING VOL. 3 (Connemara Jig Set, Two Hand Dance (Highland Fling), Clare Lancers, Derradra Set)
SHASKEEN: TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC FOR SET DANCING VOL. 4 (Plain Set, Fermanagh Set, Cashel Set, Leitrim Set, Shoe the Donkey)
The famous Galway-based dance band Shaskeen has added three more CDs to their series of music for the sets. The no-nonsense, straightforward performances of Shaskeen are very well suited for this sort of thing, and to me sound much more interesting musically than the Matt Cunningham material. It's not so much of a surprise when you learn that no less than Charlie Harris (accordion, replaced by Patsy McDonagh on Vol. 4), Eamon Cotter (flute), and Geraldine Cotter (piano) join founding members Tom Cussen (banjo) and Benny O'Connor (drums) on the recordings. Fiddler Maura O'Keeffe is also a guest on Vol. 4. Good dancing music. Rating: ***

VARIOUS: FAREWELL TO IRELAND. A 4-CD set of classic recordings from the 78 era, compiled by Ron Kavana, err... actually borrowed from anthologies released previously by yours truly, Harry Bradshaw, and others. I have to admit it is nice to have all of these in one place, but I would have much preferred to see a new collection with as many rare recordings as one could find--there are still quite a few out there (or in my collection). Even the old photographs in the accompanying booklet have all been shown before. On the other hand, the notes do add a few interesting tidbits to the sum of knowledge on performers of that era. As it is, there are only two tracks with which I wasn't familiar, those by Maurice McSweeney's band, and Kavana's documentation of them is frustratingly vague. Still, the material is well presented, the four CDs are in a sturdy slip case, and the price is just about half what you'd normally pay for four CDs. If you don't have any recordings of the "ancestors," Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran, Patsy Touhey, John McKenna, William Mullaly, the Flanagan Brothers, and so many others, this is a nice introduction. Rating: ***


SEAMUS CREAGH & AIDAN COFFEY. Seamus Creagh may not need much introduction. Although not from the Cork/Kerry area originally, Creagh's name is associated with that music ever since he and accordion player Jackie Daly made that classic 1977 duet album (now available on CD) from which so many people learned their first polkas and slides. Creagh has found another worthy accomplice in Aidan Coffey, previously the box player with De Dannan. Interestingly, the pair is accompanied on the CD by bouzouki player Sean O'Loinsigh whose style is very much derived from that of De Dannan's Alec Finn. There is some Kerry music here, including a lovely set of polkas from Johnny O'Leary, but the material is quite varied. Rating: ***1/2

DAMP IN THE ATTIC: I WAS... FLYIN IT. Many thumbs up to the recent album by Damp in the Attic, a band made of Ennis stalwarts P.J. King (accordion), Martin Murray (fiddle, mandolin), and Cyril O'Donoghue (bouzouki, vocals, guitar), with guest Colm Murphy (bodhran). Very nice stuff, especially the instrumentals, although O'Donoghue does a very decent job on songs like "Glencoe," "Dobbins' Flowery Vale," and "Lovely Willie." Martin Murray is not quite as impressive a fiddler as he is a mandolin and banjo player, his tone being a bit harsh; but the combination with King's accordion works well. The selection of tunes is very interesting too. As Siobhan Peoples puts it in the intro, "The only fault I have [with the album] is there's too many tunes to add to my 'must learn list'." It's pretty much all traditional, except for a few new compositions (very much in traditional style though)--the reel "Damp in the Attic" composed by King is fantastic--and one track of French Canadian tunes which sound very Irish in fact. I'd say this one is for the "must have" list. Rating: ****

JIMMY NOONAN & FRIENDS: THE CLARE CONNECTION. This is not exactly a recent release, it first came out in 1993, but I found out about it only a couple of months ago... Jimmy is a lovely player on flute and whistle, and his friends, from the Boston Irish music scene and beyond, are no less than Tommy McCarthy Sr. (pipes, concertina) and Jr. (fiddle), Louise Costelloe (accordion, banjo), Seamus Connolly (fiddle), Jimmy Connolly (nice sean-nos singing), and Martin O'Malley (guitar, vocals). I found O'Malley's all-syncopated guitar backup a bit distracting and self-indulgent--less would have been better in this case--but the music is still most enjoyable. Nice selection of familiar and not-so-familiar tunes, and a few good songs too. ***

GEAROID O'HALLMHURAIN & PATRICK OURCEAU: TRACIN'. A superb CD, definitely one of the best of the year, by Clare concertina player Gearoid O'hAllmhurain and French-born fiddler Patrick Ourceau, whose command of the East Clare idiom is simply stunning. First off, the combination of concertina and fiddle is one of the best in the business--for proof, if needed, I refer you to the all-time classic Noel Hill and Tony Linnane duet record. Gearoid and Patrick play incredibly tightly, and with great soul, in that seemingly nonchalant, unhurried, bluesy way which one associates with the music of East Clare and East Galway--yet without the posturing of certain other fiddler from that area. Their repertoire pays tribute to all the great players of the area, Canny, Hayes, Fahy, Cooley, Kelly, etc. Gearoid and Patrick have surrounded themselves with stellar accompanists as well, Felix Dolan, his son Brendan, and Barbara MacDonald Magone on piano, and Eamon O'Leary on guitar. In fact, the CD is so satisfying on so many levels, from the great music to the exquisite artwork, the record notes which are as captivating as a summer novel, the wonderful old photographs of those who came before and who are the subject of much of the "tracin'," musical and otherwise. Rating: *****

MIKE & MARY RAFFERTY: THE OLD FIRESIDE MUSIC. This is at least as enjoyable as the Raffertys' previous offering "The Dangerous Reel." For those who don't know, Mike Rafferty is a flute player and piper from Ballinakil, East Co. Galway, now living in New York, and his daughter Mary, an accordion and whistle player, currently tours with Cherish the Ladies. The music of East Galway is typically unhurried, "nice and easy with lots of feeling," writes Mary. There are old and new tunes--one by Joanie Madden and one by Mary Rafferty in particular--but all are played with that unmistakable quality. Among the old tunes, some are played in unusual East Galway settings. Also featured on the record are the lilting of Mike's brother Paddy and the singing of his siter Kathleen Glynn, who sings "May Morning Dew" over an accompaniment of pipe drones and flute. The accompaniment by Donal Clancy and Gabriel Donohue, although generally not overwhelmingly so, is sometimes intrusive. Gabriel Donohue's djembe drumming on the reels "Tip Toe Home/Eddie Maloney's" sticks out like a sore thumb. On the other hand, his touch of acoustic bass on "Mike Flynn's" does complement the music nicely. Overall, a lovely album. Rating: ****

SLIABH NOTES: GLEANNTAN. Sliabh Notes is Matt Cranitch (fiddle), Donal Murphy (accordion), and Tommy O'Sullivan (vocals, guitar). The trio recorded their first album a few years ago and called it "Sliabh Notes"--those who know Cranitch's recordings "Take a Bow" and "Give It Schtick" will recognize his brand of puns--and, like for Altan and Smokey Chimney before them, the title of the album has become the name of the band. This is a mostly instrumental album, with lovely solo and duet playing by the two leads. Lots of great polkas and slides from Sliabh Luachra, which music is the focus of attention--Gleanntan (found as Glountane in English) is Padraig O'Keeffe's hometown. There are are also some marvelous tunes with other origins: "The Miller's Maggot," one of my favorite jigs, the old Ballinakill classic "Lady Gordon," Josie McDermott's "The Baltimore Salute," and Joe Liddy's brilliant "Palmer's Gate." Cranitch, known for his playing of slow airs, plays a wonderful "Aisling Gheal." Singer Tommy O'Sullivan also does a great job with the two songs, Tony Small's "The Welcome" and Jimmy McCarthy's "The People of West-Cork and Kerry." Several guest musicians, among whom Steve Cooney (guitar, bass, percussion), John Larkin (banjo), and Johnny McCarthy (flute), bring added variety to the instrumental texture. The whole is well produced and presented. Highly recommended. Rating: ****

JOHN VESEY: SLIGO FIDDLER. This is a treasure of a 2-CD set, compiled from private recordings of the great Ballincurry fiddle player who lived in Philadelphia and made an LP for Shanachie in the 1970s. The sound quality is surprisingly good, and the music is terrific. Other musicians playing with Vesey on some of the tracks include Co. Sligo flute player Eddie Cahill (also featured on a 1970s Shanachie LP) and fiddler Martin Wynne. A few tracks are from a live radio show and the introductions are a lot of fun to listen to. The record was produced by Tom Standeven, a well-known figure in American piping, who made most of the recordings between 1954 and 1975, and who plays piano on many of them. Rating: ***1/2

Copyright Philippe Varlet 2002