Irish Accordion & Concertina Music

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Updated: June 29, 2000

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Under construction!!!! Don't miss Nial Vallely when he is touring here with Karen Casey later this summer

Accordion Music:

Where to start? Here are two albums that are an excellent place to start:

(Big Squeeze) The Big Squeeze (Green Linnet, 1988) This is a good sampler from the pre-Sharon Shannon era featuring the playing of Joe Burke, Phil Cunningham (a Scot thrown in for good measure), Jackie Daly, James Keane, Jimmy Keane, Billy McComiskey, Sean McGlynn, Paddy O'Brien, and John Whelan.
(Spellbound) Sharon Shannon -- Spellbound- The Best of Sharon Shannon (1999, Green Linnet). This collection of 21 sets of tunes starts out fittingly with "Blackbird" which when released in 1992 almost instantly became the best recognized accordion tune in Ireland. Sharon's playing is unique and beautiful, and she has the great gift of inspiring others playing with her to their best. Almost 3/4 of these tunes have appeared on her earlier 3 albums, so if you have those, you don't need to purchase this. This CD is not a bad way to get introduced to this sensational musician.

There is an embarassment of riches among the current crop of Irish accordion players. There are so many great players. And their styles are so varied. It is a feast indeed. Here is just a small sample:

(Sharon Shannon album)

Sharon Shannon -- Sharon Shannon (1991, Philo). 5' tall Sharon is a phenomenon, combining a completely unreasonable amount of talent with an enthusiasm for the music that is legendary. This album rocketed to the top of the Irish charts where it stayed for months, and may be the most recognized album in Ireland. Sharon likes good tunes wherever they come from and one set may slide from a traditional Irish tune to Cajun, French-Canadian, American, or even Portuguese tunes in a way that works wonderfully. This is largely due to her very dance-oriented approach to the music. The lilt and "lift" of Sharon's music is unmistakable. Her second album, Out the Gap tends to bury her gifts behind saxophones, snare drums and other misplaced instruments. However, her third album, Each Little Thing, returns to more traditional arrangements, and although it still has too much accompaniment for my tastes, it lets Sharon's extraordinary talent on button accordion, fiddle and tin whistle show through, and has lots of energy.

If you get a chance, see the video about her described below!

(Each Little Thing)

With Friends Like These album cover

James Keane -- With Friends Like These (1998, Shanachie 78015). Friends like Tommy Peoples, Paddy Glacknin, Matt Molloy, Liam O'Flynn... Keane, originally from Co. Dublin has lived in the U.S. for many years. But the love of the music that brought him four All-Ireland championships on button accordion is clearly evident here. He has a beautifully fluid, rippling style quite different from Sharon Shannon's, Joe Burke's or many other great button accordionists. A wonderful album.

Keane's newest album- Sweeter as the Years Roll By (Shanachie 78031, 1999) is also quite special. Tthe key ingredients are the enormous amount of heart that shines through this collection of Keane playing with a variety of younger musician friends of great skill, and Keane's own extraordinary, lively, expressive playing. There is a smoothness, a rare energy, phenomenal skill, and a wit to his playing that makes it all very special. And if the first 12 tracks haven't won your heart, Keane's version of the slow air "Paddy's Rambles through the Park" will take your breathe away. Very thorough and nice liner notes. (Very highly recommended)
(Sweeter as the Years Go By)
(DAWN album cover) Andrew MacNamara - DAWN (1999, self-produced). MacNamara, a Co. Clare native, now living in Galway, is one of my favorite button accordionists. You may be familiar with his playing on The Lahawns Live at Winkles. This album features MacNamara more, with quiet, but tasteful accompaniment by Brendan Hearty on guitar, Geraldine Cotter on piano, and Tommy Hayes on percussion. MacNamara's playing here is brilliant.
(The Bucks of Oranmore) Joe Burke. The Bucks of Oranmore. I arrived at the Fleadh Cheoil a few years ago and showed my temporary roomates the long list of Irish albums I owned. They lept up in horror, screaming "Not enough Joe Burke!", raced to their duffle bag, and immediately gave me a Joe Burke tape as if the act was emergency medical treatment. Now, I understand their concern for me. Joe has been an irrrepressable source of joy wherever he shows up. There is a happiness to his exquisite playing, his mischieveness, and constant smile than makes him one of the most loved figures in Irish music.
(Josephine Marsh album cover) Josephine Marsh - Josephine Marsh (1995 Tara Music). Josephine must have been very young (18?) when this album came out. Here, this Co. Clare native plays rather shyly, but with a fresh, wonderfully skilled touch. I have seen her at the 98 and 99 S.F. Irish Music Festivals, and she now plays with more boldness. However, with careful listening, the playing on this album is very lovely.
Dermot Byrne has received the attention his playing deserves since joining Altan. And his playing certainly is up to the very high standards of that supergroup.( I believe he has a solo album out, but I haven't heard it.)
(Come to the Dance) John Whelan -- Come to Dance (Narada 1999) Whelan was 7 time all-Ireland button accordion champion. He is better known for his music that explores the boundaries of what can be considered traditional while leaping from tabletop to tabletop. But here, in this album, it is straight traditional material. Whelan is obviously good, but his traditional style doesn't seem to have a personal voice as do the other players listed here.
(We Won't Go Home til Morning) Brendan Begley (Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich- We Won't Go Home 'Til Morning (Kells, 1997)
(Return to Inis Moore) Joe Derrane - Return to Inis Moór (Green Linnet 1995).

Concertina Players

(Album cover) Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin -- Traditional Music from Clare and Beyond Gearóid is not only a master of the concertina, he has a deep reverence for the tradition from which it springs and the older musicians who have so lovingly passed it down to the next generation. The 18 pages of superb liner notes give an excellent overview of the music in Co. Clare. Available from Celtic Crossings, 1557 Sloat Boulevard, Box 179, San Francisco, CA 94132
(John Williams)

John Williams-- John Williams (1995, Green Linnet) This Chicago-based player was the first American concertina player to win the Senior All-Ireland championship. Williams has had a solo career and been a key factor in the success of Solas's first two albums. Now the proud father of twins, his traveling has been limited, but his music isn't.. This album features him on concertina and button accordion.

  Nial Vallely from the group Nomos. Nomos as a group doesn't excite me, but Vallely's concertina playing is exquisite.


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