Hello, and welcome to the second installment of the Celtic Grooves Imports electronic newsletter, bringing you news of recent record releases in Irish traditional music.
My name is Philippe Varlet and I am a musician in the Washington DC area. I also work at the House of Musical Traditions, in Takoma Park, MD, a music store specialized in folk and traditional music. A few months ago, becaus eof economic pressure from online stores, HMT decided to stop selling CDs (except for local artists). I then made the decision to start my own CD mail-order service to import from Ireland CDs of good traditional music which do no get distributed here. I also carry US-made small label CDs which do not get wide distribution. All of this is to just help make this music more easily accessible.
Although I will be setting up a website in the future, I am just starting and getting my feet wet. Therefore, I thought of sending around this electronic newsletter with reviews of recent releases which I find especially noteworthy. If this duplicates an earlier post of mine, or if for any reason you do not want to receive future issues, please let me know and I will remove your address from my list, with my apologies. If you are interested in seeing the first issue, let me know and I will send it right away.
Feel free to contact me, using this e-mail address or my home phone (301-565-0648), for more information or orders.
--- PROMISING NEW RELEASES FROM IRELAND ---
PHIL CALLERY: FROM THE EDGE OF MEMORY.
MICHAEL CLARKSON: THE FAR SET.
DORDAN: CELTIC AIRE.
MAIRIN FAHY: MAIRIN.
BRENDAN LYNCH: TUNES FROM THE HEARTH.
MAIGHREAD & TRIONA NI DHOMHNAILL: IDIR DHA SHOLAS.
JOHN REGAN: LET DOWN THE BLADE.
*NEW* ELIZABETH CROTTY: CONCERTINA MUSIC FROM WEST CLARE. Kerry had Julia Clifford, Sligo had Kathleen Harrington (nee Gardiner), but the grande dame of Clare music was undoubtedly Mrs. Crotty (1885-1960). Thanks to the extensive remastering work of Harry Bradshaw in the RTE archives, which already yielded the wonderful Padraig O'Keeffe and Denis Murphy CDs, we can now hear Mrs. Crotty's lovely concertina playing in all its glory. There are 31 tracks here (some fairly short), recorded by Ciaran Mac Mathuna in 1955 and 1960, and featuring alongside Mrs. Crotty such eminent players as Paddy Canny, Denis Murphy, Aggie White, Peter O'Loughlin, Michael Tubridy, etc. All of this accompanied by a superb booklet full of notes and photos. As "pure drop" as it gets. Rating: ****
DERVISH: MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT. Dervish has been one of... well, alright, my favorite Irish group in recent years. The powerful instrumental leads, the band's superior choice of material and arranging skills, and Cathy Jordan's voice and delivery are a few of the reasons. So a new Dervish album is always an event. However, since their last one, the fantastic "Live in Palma," the band has undergone some changes. Fiddler Shane McAleer has been replaced by Tom Morrow, who does a good job filling McAleer's shoes, and Seamus O'Dowd (guitar, fiddle, harmonica) has joined the ranks to make this a 7-piece band! As a result, the accompaniment part of the mix has grown heavier, which to my ear is not for the better. There is some experimentation in the chords which also do not agree with me, and Cathy Jordan here and there sounds like a pop singer. But I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, this is a transitional album. Let's just hope that, like Stella, they get their groove back. Rating: ***
*NEW* LIZ DOHERTY: LAST ORDERS. A young fiddle player from Buncrana, Co. Donegal, Liz Doherty was a founding member of the group Nomos and now performs with the all-woman band the Bumblebees. She holds a PhD in music from University College, Cork, for which she researched the fiddle music of Cape Breton. While her Donegal roots are quite obvious in her playing on this solo album (listen to those trebles), her eclectic tastes and repertoire are also well in evidence. There is still a majority of Irish tunes on the album (although most of them are recent compositions), but Cape Breton, Scottish, English, and American tunes are in force. Doherty's main accompanist on the album is guitarist Ian Carr, known for his collaboration with Karen Tweed. His playing here is at times a bit raucous for my tastes. Still, impressive fiddling, foot-stomping music, and lots of obscure tunes for the repertoire hungry. Rating: ***
*NEW* DEZI DONNELLY: FAMILIAR FOOTSTEPS. In recent years, fiddle player Dezi Donnelly has made a name for himself as one of the brilliant musicians to come out of the Manchester Irish scene. His aggressive, Sean-McGuire-tinged fiddle playing has been featured on a few obscure recordings on the German label Magnetic Music--this includes a duet recording with flute player extraordinaire Michael McGoldrick made after the two won the All-Ireland duet competition as teenagers. Donnelly's style has antecedents in the family. His uncle was the legendary Des Donnelly, also a fiddle player of uncommon abilities, who died tragically young in a construction site accident. Interestingly, this first solo album, while having plenty of zest and brilliance, shows a Dezi Donnelly who puts finesse and subtlety over histrionics. Which is fortunate because Donnelly has a great touch and sense for variation. This is a terrific fiddle recording, which I would recommend to anyone who is interested in Irish fiddle playing. In my mind, it ranks up there with Paddy Glackin fabled first LP. Rating: ****
*NEW* MICK FLYNN: A SINGER'S DOZEN. Amateurs of traditional singing should be interested in this recording of West Clare sean-nos singer Mick Flynn. While all the songs are in English and some of them, like "My Lagan Love," are from the drawing room tradition, Flynn's unique vocal style--which has been compared to the sound of the uilleann pipes--and strong delivery have the unmistakable sound of sean-nos singing. Rating: ***1/2
*NEW* PATTY FURLONG: TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC ON BUTTON ACCORDION. Patricia Conway Furlong is a New York box player who may be known to some of you for her participation in Mick Moloney's 1985 "Cherish the Ladies" tour and the Shanachie LP which was produced then. Patty first learned from her father Jim Conway, then from Martin Mulvihill, and has won several All-Ireland titles. What makes her playing distinctive is that, rather than the B/C style of the Paddy O'Brien/Joe Burke school, she favors the C#/D instrument and the "press and draw" style associated with Joe Cooley. Patty is a tasteful player and her selection of tunes is full of surprises. She is joined on this debut CD by no less than Benedict Koehler (pipes), Brendan Dolan (flute, piano), Fiona Doherty (fiddle), with Zan McLeod and Myron Bretholz providing the accompaniments. A nice first effort. Rating: ***1/2
*NEW* BENNY McCARTHY & AL.: RATTLE THE BOARDS. Rattle the Boards is Benny McCarthy (accordion, melodeon), the current box player with the young group Danu, Pat Ryan (fiddle, banjo), and John Nugent (guitar), with singer Martha Beardmore guesting. McCarthy has a great touch on the box and it is definitely his playing which makes this album, as Ryan's banjo and fiddle playing are somewhat lackluster. Breadmore's voice is pleasant enough. I can't figure out why this CD is so expensive though. Rating ***
*NEW* COLIN NEA: THE PURE BOX. Amateurs of B/C accordion playing will want to grab this one. Colin Nea is from Co. Westmeath and has two All-Ireland Senior titles to his credit (1993-4). It should be no surprise that Nea cites the late Paddy O'Brien of Co. Tipperary as a major influence, and you'll hear it too. The album has 16 tracks of mostly lesser known tunes and recent compositions, quite a few by Paddy O'Brien--he actually fails to credit Billy McComiskey for the reel "The Palm Tree." Nea is accompanied on guitar by Joe Meehan, and joined on six of the tracks by piper Joe Finn and fiddler Aidan McMahon. Rating: ****
*NEW* VARIOUS: THE MOUNTAIN ROAD - TUNES POPULAR IN SOUTH SLIGO. A great new production from the Coleman Heritage Center in Gurteen, Co. Sligo. Pure drop music by such renowned "Coleman Country" players as Peter Horan, Philip Duffy, P.J. Hernon, Deirdre Collis, Paddy Ryan, Seamus Quinn, Colm O'Donnell (see also his solo album), and many more. Thirty tracks of great Sligo music, with occasional piano accompaniments. A companion book is also available and I will be selling either the CD or the book & CD set. Rating: ****
*NEW* VARIOUS: A NEW DAWN - UILLEANN PIPING, ANOTHER GENERATION. Those familiar with the 1978 Mulligan LP "The Piper's Rock," which introduced pipers like Davy Spillane, Robbie Hannan, Gabriel McKeon, Maire Ni Ghrada, etc. when they were still in their teens, will be happy to hear that P.J. Curtis (together with Gabriel McKeon) has come up with an updated version. The brilliant young pipers on this anthology are: Mikie Smyth, Darragh Murphy, Louise Mulcahy, Eliot Grasso (from Baltimore), Ciaran O'Briain, and Conor McKeon. The playing, unaccompanied throughout, is of the highest caliber, and the diversity of styles and timbres is sure to keep the listener's attention. An outstanding new CD for lovers of Irish piping. Rating: ****
--- RECENT CD REISSUES ---
BEN LENNON & AL.: DOG BIG AND DOG LITTLE. A nice album featuring the well-known Leitrim fiddle player with Seamus Quinn (fiddle, accordion, piano), Gabriel McArdle (concertina, vocals), and Ciaran Curran (cittern), now available on CD.
MICHAEL TUBRIDY: THE EAGLE'S WHISTLE. Classic "pure drop" 1978 album by the Clare flute, whistle, and concertina player.
--- OTHER CURRENT FAVORITES ---
BOB ABRAMS: A FOOL'S ADVICE (Melodeon Music). A delightful album featuring Abrams on box and other New England musicians playing Irish traditional music in most convincing manner. Rating: ***
THE BRIDGE CEILI BAND: SPARKS ON FLAGS. A recent recording by the several-time and current All-Ireland champion, one of the better recordings in this genre. Rating: ***
CIAN: THREE SHOUTS FROM A HILL . High-powered playing on concertina and flute, with guitar and bodhran accompaniment. Rating: ****
SEAMUS CREAGH & AIDAN COFFEY. Seamus Creagh, of Daly and Creagh (1977) fame, has found another worthy accomplice in Aidan Coffey, previously the box player with De Dannan. Lovely stuff. Rating: ***1/2
ANDREW MACNAMARA: DAWN. A lovely album by the accordion player from Tulla, Co. Clare, formerly a member of the Tulla Ceili Band, then of Skylark. MacNamara has a nice way with the tunes, finding lots of nice twists without falling into gimmickry. Rating: ***
JIMMY NOONAN & FRIENDS: THE CLARE CONNECTION. Lovely playing on flute and whistle, with help from his friends from the Boston Irish music scene. Nice selection of familiar and not-so-familiar tunes, and a few good songs too. Rating: ***
NORTH CREGG: ... AND THEY DANCED ALL NIGHT. This band plays some very energetic dance music, mixed in with contemporary songs which sound a bit out of place. Still these guys can make tunes move. Rating: ***1/2
COLM O'DONNELL: FAREWELL TO EVENING DANCES. A beautiful recording by this Co. Sligo flute/whistle player, singer and lilter. And a generously long CD with 18 tracks. What a treat! Rating: ****
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. Let them "trace" for you. Rating: *****
PAUL O'SHAUGHNESSY: STAY ANOTHER WHILE. Terrific fiddle playing in the Donegal style. Fans of energetic Irish fiddle playing and Donegal music should enjoy this thoroughly. Rating: ****
MIKE & MARY RAFFERTY: THE OLD FIRESIDE MUSIC. A most enjoyable recording of traditional music from East Co. Galway, by two of its best contemporary representatives. Rating: ****
SLIABH NOTES: GLEANNTAN. Matt Cranitch (fiddle), Donal Murphy (accordion), and Tommy O'Sullivan (vocals, guitar) have made another terrific recording. Highly recommended. Rating: ****
JOHN VESEY: SLIGO FIDDLER. 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. Rating: ***1/2
Copyright Philippe Varlet 2002