More Reviews of Irish Music

Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin with Patrick Ourceau -- TRACIN - Traditional Music from the West of Ireland Updated January 15, 2004

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Additional Mini-Reviews of Irish Music CDs:

This page contains reviews of CDs that have not made their way to my list of most important Irish CDs, but still may be of interest. Below is a list of all the reviews on this page listed alphabetically by musician/group. (To print this page, make sure your browser is set to print black text!)

(*** indicates album that is particularly highly recommended.)
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(another sky) Altan -- Another Sky (EMD/Narada World, 2000). First, my bias: I think Altan may be the greatest Irish group ever. I own all their CDs and have seen them live about a dozen times. Thus, I was a bit surprised by the choice of material on this CD. As many have noted, this CD has a tranquil, almost languid character. There are slight suggestions of world music! Not only are there songs by Robert Burns, but also by Bob Dylan (with Jerry Douglas on dobro). The song "Ten Thousand Miles" is perhaps better known from Mary Chapin Carpenter, and a very quiet slide guitar from Bonnie Raitt! The group's tight instrumentals are still there. Superb arrangements. Dermot Byrne on button accordion is a worthy addition to the group as can be heard in his masterful playing on "The Dispute at the Crossroad". Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh's singing is as lovely as ever. All lovely, but the album doesn't generate the same level of excitement for me as their earlier albums. Of course, were this CD by any other Irish group, everyone would be commenting on how brilliant it is. This just shows how high Altan has set the bar for itself. (Recommended)
(West of Ireland Album Cover) The Boys of the Lough -- The West of Ireland (Lough Records, 1999) This Scottish/Irish/UK band began touring in 1967 and this is their 18th album! The group currently consists of Aly Bain on fiddle (Shetlands), Cathal McConnell on flute, whistles and vocals (Co. Fermanagh), Dave Richardson on concertina, accordion, mandolin (Northumberland), Brendan Begley on accordion, melodeon, vocals (Co. Kerry) and Malcolm Stitt on guitar and bouzouki (Highlands). They are joined on this CD of Irish tunes and songs by excellent uillean piper Mick O'Brien on a set of Bb pipes (Dublin), and Garry O'Briain (Co. Clare), Ron Shaw on cello and Kathryn Tickell (Northumbria) on fiddle, viola and Northumbrian small pipes. This is a gentle, lovely album of precise, intricate playing. Onee highlight of the CD is the wonderful piping, particularly Tickell's Northumbrian pipes on "Small Coals and Little Money" and Mick O'Brien's very lovely air "My Bonnie Blue-Eyed Lassie" played on a rare set of B flat uillean pipes. The liner notes are excellent. (Recommended)
Kevin Burke - In Concert (Green Linnet, 1999) This is a almost entirely solo album. Solo, I don't find Burke's fiddling particularly exciting, whereas in groups he can be wonderful. I think this album is mainly for other fiddlers who want to learn new tunes or arrangements.
(Winds Begin to Sing) Karan Casey - The Winds Begin to Sing (Shanachie 2001) - Karan, my favorite Irish singer, is back with her second solo album after her superb debut Songlines. The most striking difference in this CD are the spare arrangements compared to Songlines where the tracks included many of her band members in SOLAS. Here, accompaniment is provided mainly by Ted Barnes on guitar and bouzouki, with occasional appearances by Donald Shaw on piano, Michael McGoldrick on flute and Niall Vallelly on concertina. The focus is almost entirely on Karan's singing which in its slightly understated way brings enormous impact to the intense, often political, largely traditional songs she has chosen with several in Gaelic. Not quite as approachable as Songlines, this CD is a very thoughtful, fascinating, poetic and highly effective exploration of human dramas of the heart and war through song both old and new. (Highly recommended)
(Tears of Stone) The Chieftains - tears of stone (1999, RCA Victor). The good news is that this album is much better than their 1998 "Canadian" album Fire in the Kitchen. The bad news is that pop musicians don't do traditional music as well as those more steeped in the tradition. However, everyone does a pretty commendable job on this album, and if including the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Merchant, Joni Mitchell, Joan Osborne, The Corrs, and Mary Chapin Carpenter succeeds in bringing new audiences to traditional music, the effort was worthwhile. The traditional artists - The Rankins and Natalie MacMaster in particular - shine (big surprise there!), and show just how good traditional music can be. Sinead O'Connor's "Factory Girl" shows off her magic well, and Diana Krall does one heck of a version of "Danny Boy". This album is probably one to get for your traditionally-challenged friends rather than yourself, but it is not bad.
(if ida been here, ida been hee) Craobh Rua - if ida been here, ida been there (KRL Lochshore, 2000). This very fine group from Belfast is not well known in the States, but they have been producing some of my favorite Irish music for quite a while now. There is humor not only in the album titles but the music itself. The group consists of Michael Cassidy on fiddle, Brian Connolly on banjo and mandolin, Patrick Davey on uillean pipes, flutes & whistles, and Aaron Jones (cittern, guitar & vocals), joined by Ray Gallen on bodhran. Craobh Rua do not have all the flash of a Solas or a Dervish, but there is a warm, comfortable feel to this music that is played very well that rings very true. This is a very satisfying album. (Highly recommended)
(Midsummer's Night Dervish - Midsummer's Night (Whirling Discs, 1999) - As those who have heard this young "supergroup" know, Dervish has it all--exceptional musical skill, amazingly tight group playing, terrific arrangements, the brilliant singer Cathy Jordan, and the ability to bring any crowd to their feet. This new CD is nicely balanced with 7 songs (3 in Gaelic) and 7 sets of tunes. None of long talking introductions here that are found on Live in Palma, just straight into the tunes. The caliber of all of the music here is exceptionally high. As usual, the group draws much of its material from its home in the Sligo area. The liner notes, which unfold like the top of a box, deserve mention for the striking original art work based on Ogham tracts from various 7th century manuscripts and for their completeness (in tiny print!). (Highly recommended)
(Otherworld) Lúnasa-- Otherworld (Green Linnet, #1200). Lúnasa burst on the scene last year with their debut CD Lúnasaand an awesome performance at the Plough and Stars. This instrumental group currently consists of Sean Smyth on fiddle, viola and whistles, Donogh Hennessey on guitar, and Trevor Hutchinson (of the Sharon Shannon band) on double bass, joined by new member Kevin Crawford on flute, whistles and bodhran. On this CD, the group is joined by former band members Mike McGoldrick on flute and low whistle and John McSherry on uillean pipes and low whistle. This tends to give the group a more flute/whistle/pipes sound than the typical guitar/fiddle dominated Irish group.

This CD is a bit less high energy than their first CD. However it is filled with lovely, intricate playing. This is a very fine, original Irish group that is playing terrific music. (Very highly recommended)

(album cover) McNamara Family --Leitrim's Hidden Treasure (Drumlin Records). Readers of Irish Music magazine voted this album the best traditional music album of 1998. It is 70 minutes of instrumental music from Co. Leitrim played very well by three generations of one family. There is an unhurried quality in this playing that will appeal particularly to the more traditional and those who think the bands that cater to festival crowds play the music too fast. It's not that they can't move along at a nice pace when appropriate in a reel, it's just that speed often shows off the musician at the expense of the music, and that is not a problem here. The family members play uilleann pipes (2), flute (2), fiddle, concertina, guitar, piano, and hammered dulcimer. This album will appeal particularly to those whose tastes run toward the more traditional. The extensive liner notes provide detailed notes on the tunes themselves. (Recommended)
(Myriad) Gerry O'Connor - Myriad (Compass Records, 1999) O'Connor is to the banjo what Tony McManus is to the guitar - an artist who is taking the instrument to new heights within traditional music. This all-instrumental album has five traditional sets of tunes and seven written by O'Connor. The latter have a wide variety of arrangements from the jazzy 'Temple Bar Jam' with trumpet to 'Indian Storm' which has a Native American feel to it. However, O'Connor never strays too far from a traditional sensibility, the music is all very tasteful, and always the banjo playing is remarkable and sparkling. O'Connor also plays the fiddle and guitar on this album and is accompanied by the likes of Stephen Cooney and Manus Lunny. (Recommended)
(Blackbirds & Thrushes) Niamh Parsons - Blackbirds & Thrushes (Green Linnet, 1999). For those waiting for an entirely traditional album from this very fine Irish singer, your day has come. Niamh is a superb practitioner of traditional sean nos singing, as you may have noticed from her singing with Arcady and her two previous albums. Here, it is more of the pure drop, most of the 12 songs (10 in English, 2 in Gaelic) done a capella or with a minimun amount of very tasteful accompaniment that never overshadows the singing. Higlights are Niamh's glorious version of "The Water is Wide" with terrific piano accompaniment by Seamus Brett--it give me goosebumps--and the Gaelic song "Fear a Bhata". Extensive liner notes with full lyrics. (Highly recommended)
(Live from Patrick Street) Patrick Street- Live from Patrick Street (Green Linnet, 1999). Patrick Street has been a premiere traditional group for the last dozen years. The combination of Kevin Burke on fiddle, Jackie Daly on button accordion, Andy Irvine on vocals, bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, harmonica and mandolin, and Ged Foley on guitar and fiddle bring both skills and experience to the music. On the instrumentals, they play together very well and the music is jumping. I am not a big fan of Irvine's voice, but he does a fine job with the songs here. This album is a nice mix of tunes and songs done well, but lacking the passion of groups like Solas, Dervish and Altan. (Recommended)
(The Words That Remain) SOLAS -- The Words that Remain (Shanachie 78023, 1998) Once again for Solas: ugly album cover and beautiful music inside. Voted album of the year in 1998 by readers of Irish Music magazine. This album represents a more exploratory effort than their previous two albums. The opening track is a Woody Guthrie song "Pastures of Plenty". There is also an unusual duet with American folk singer Iris de Ment on a fast version of Peggy Seeger's "Song of Choice", both singers sounding quite different than I'm used to hearing them, but that's not a bad thing. Bela Fleck joins on banjo on two tracks. The album seems to feature Seamus Eagan's sparkling playing on banjo, mandolin, and guitar as well as on low whistles, flute, etc. more than Solas' previous albums. The instrumentals are played with the tight quality we have come to expect from Solas, and Karen Casey's singing is as strong as ever. I prefer the tunes on the previous albums, but this album is an interesting mix of traditional and exploratory. (Recommended).
(The Hour Before Dawn) SOLAS-- The Hour Before Dawn (Shanachie 2000). This is SOLAS' first recording since singer Karan Casey left to pursue a solo career, and her presence is sorely missed. Replacement Deirdre Scanlan has a pleasant enough voice, but lacks the edgy dramatics of Casey's singing. The album has a couple of Gaelic songs which are fine, but also includes in English the poor song choices of "I Will Remember You" (co-written by Seamus Egan) made famous by Sarah McLachlan and the sappy "Last of the Great Whales" (and I'm a whale lover). Even the instrumentals seem to lack the excitement of Solas' previous CDs. SOLAS' first three CDs were among the most exciting music of the last decade. This CD doesn't rise to the same level.
(Heart of Ireland) Various - Heart of Ireland (Music Club, 1998) An interesting sampler with a focus on Gaelic singing and Gaelic-influenced playing. This album focuses on many, lesser known musicians --remarkably there is not a single musician on both this and the Joyous Noise CDs. What you get here is 16 tracks (55 minutes) of Clannad, Carl Hession, Dolores Keane, Buttons & Bows, Tríona ní Dhomnhnaill, John Doherty, Seán Ryan, Paddy Keenan, Jackie Daly.

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