20 July 2008

CD Reviews: Some Traditional Irish Music

I obtained a little stack of CDs from the artists' consignment table at Catskills Irish Arts Week recently. I think some of our readers (if we have any left with our infrequent posting schedule) are interested in Irish music, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on my latest acquisitions.

Sliabh Notes: Along Blackwater's Banks (Ossian Publications)
Sliabh (pronounced like "sleeve") Notes consists of fiddler Matt Cranitch, accordion player Donal Murphy, and singer/guitarist Tommy O'Sullivan. The band gets its name from the region of Sliabh Luachra in the southwest of Ireland which is known for its distinctive repertoire of slides and polkas and the set dances that go with those tunes. Sliabh Notes are joined by some guests, including Kevin Burke, Steve Cooney, and Matt Molloy. There are three songs, one slow air, and nine sets of dance tunes on the CD. I didn't find the CD as thrilling as I find Sliabh Luachra-style playing to be in person--somehow the energy just didn't come across. It's ok, but not a must-have unless you're already a Sliabh Notes fan.

Fingal: Fingal (New Folk Records)
This is the group's first recording together. The band has exactly the same line-up of instruments as Sliabh Notes, but with very different players: James Keane on accordion, Randal Bays on fiddle, and Daithi Sproule on guitar and vocals (his first name is pronounced like "DA-hee"). The CD has four songs, two slow airs, seven tracks of tunes, and two mixed tracks--one is a song followed by a reel, the other is a slow air followed by a pair of reels. The trio has a nice dynamic, and the tunes are solidly played and interestingly arranged. Unfortunately, Daithi Sproule's singing, which is delightful in the quiet back room of a pub, falls a little flat in recording. His voice is light and pleasing, and it's always nice to hear good Irish-language singing, but I find him mesmerizing in person, and the recording fell short of that. Maybe my expectations were too high in that respect. Still, Fingal's maiden voyage is a success--I would definitely recommend it.

Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola: Flame of Wine (publisher unknown)
Lasairfhiona (pronounced something like "Lahss-er-EE-na," I think) is a relatively young singer from the Aran Islands. Four of the tracks are in English, and ten are in Irish. Unfortunately, singing in Gaelic does not equal singing in the sean nos style; Lasairfhiona's vocal style is more in the vein of Enya and Emer Kenny, although her accompaniment involves fewer synthesizers, and to my great puzzlement, some big-name instrumentalists (Mary Bergin on whistles and Johnny McDonagh on bodhran). Despite her impressive back-up, I find the recording to be lacking in taste, and I can honestly say that I know a dozen amateur singers that have better voices (and more stage presence). She sings like a breathless school-girl, although she is clearly at least in her mid-twenties, and if you're expecting anything like traditional Irish singing, don't buy this CD.

Kathy Ludlow, Mary Coogan and guests: The Big Ship Sails (Trutone)
This is a recording of nursery rhymes and songs for children. There are 38 tracks on the hour-long CD, and every one of them is a gem. It is easy to tell that Kathy and Mary have many years' experience working with children. The playing and singing are of very high quality--there was no stinting just because the songs are simple or made to appeal to children. A lot of folks of my generation missed out on traditional children's songs (not me, thanks to Wee Sing tapes), and I'm glad to know that people like Kathy are still working to make sure that this generation of children don't miss out. Many of the songs here are familiar, but some of them are new to me--I didn't know "First Comes a Butterfly" or "The Fox and the Goose," for instance. If you like folk music and have kids, you absolutely MUST buy this CD. Even if you don't have kids, buy it anyway--the innocent joy of this music will keep you thoroughly entertained on your morning commute.