Martin Hayes: fiddle, viola
Dennis Cahill: guitar, mandolin, bass

Although I have always admired Martin Hayes' technique and control of his instrument whenever I heard him play, I must confess that I was never a great fan of his music. Too mannered for me, too caricatural in a way of the stylistic traits which are part of his East Clare musical heritage. Never, that is,... until now. From the first few notes of the familiar "Clare Reel," played at the expected reflective tempo, with Cahill doubling the fiddle on the mandolin and providing sparse but carefully chosen harp-like harmonies on the guitar, through the rest of the eighteen tracks on the CD, I felt like, finally, the mannerism was gone, and I was just listening to gorgeous music. Those very stylistic traits which are now very much identified as so many trademarks of Hayes' playing were making sense musically and no longer sounding unnecessarily self-conscious in their application. Most of the tracks feature only one tune, each being like a carefully crafted musical vignette, each with its own special sound. When the first air, "The Dear Irish Boy," comes along, it isn't difficult to believe that Hayes, through his fiddle, "speaks from the heart." By contrast, "P. Joe's Reel," a tune named after Hayes' father who led the Tulla Ceili Band for so many years, sounds positively, and perhaps surprisingly, festive, with its simple pairing of fiddle and mandolin and its quirky syncopations. "The Girl That Broke My Heart" is a wonderful example of how a skilled musician can reshape a well-worn traditional tune and make it a thing of beauty all over again. In the longest medley of the album, which is also the liveliest in tempo, another lovely surprise is the superb setting of "The Pigeon on the Gate" in G Dorian that might come to rival Neillidh Boyle's famous version in the same key. With "Coleman's March," Hayes shows again his ability to completely re-invent a tune, taking an essentially martial melody usually performed with much fanfare, and turning it into a musical whisper full of melancholy. It would be easy to overlook Cahill's contribution because he doesn't attract attention to himself. His accompaniments are not just appropriate in their restraint, they enrich the performances in deceptively simple ways. Incidentally, Martin Hayes was just named Musician of the Year by TG4, the Gaelic television channel in Ireland, at their Gradam Ceoil award ceremony. Welcome back indeed.

Rating: **** 1/2

Price: $16.99Recommended
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1. The Clare Reel
2. The High Jig
3. Reels: Lane to the Glen / Fahy's
4. Air: The Dear Irish Boy
5. Slip Jig: The Night Poor Larry was Stretched
6. P. Joe's Reel
7. Jig: An Rogaire Dubh
8. Reel: Jenny's Welcome to Charlie
9. Reel: The Girl That Broke my Heart
10. Air: The Wind Swept Hill of Tulla
11. Set Dance: The Galtee Hunt
12. Reels: John Naughton's Green Mountain / Welcome Here Again
13. Reel: Mulqueen's
14. Slip Jig: The Booley House Jig
15. Reels: O'Reilly's Greyhound / Palmer's Gate
16. Coleman's March
17. Reels: The New Post Office / The Pigeon on the Gate / The New Custom House
18. Frank Keane's Reel