Music Roundup

Decade album cover.

By Don Meade, Contributor
February / March 2002


This “best of” collection is perfect introduction to Dervish, one of Ireland’s very best traditional music groups. Decade samples tracks from ten years’ worth of recordings by a band that has gone from playing pub sessions in County Sligo to head-lining concerts before stadium-sized crowds in Europe and South America. Dervish is still relatively little known in the U.S., but their new label (Nashville-based Compass Records) may help change that.

Singer Cathy Jordan has a highly flexible voice and a unique style that pulls traditional songs like “The Hills of Greanmore” and “Molly and Johnny” in a decidedly modern direction. The instrumentals from what is now a seven-piece mini-orchestra are fast-paced arrangments that feature fiddle, flute and button accordion with backing on the guitar, mandola, bouzouki and bodhr n (Irish frame drum). (Compass Records)

Fierce Traditional

Fierce and Traditional, album cover.

This is only the third solo recording in the long career of Frankie Gavin, the County Galway fiddle virtuoso who has fronted the traditional music supergroup De Danann since the 1970s. Gavin’s lesser-known talent as a flute player is also well represented on this disc, which includes bouzouki accompaniment from Alec Finn, the only other founding member still with De Danann. County Fermanagh man Brian McGrath, a more recent recruit to the band, provides both piano backing and some sparkling tenor banjo playing on tracks that recreate the wild energy of music recorded on 78 rpm discs in New York by emigrant Irish musicians in the 1920s. Gavin’s brother Se n, an All-Ireland button accordion’ champion in his own right, is heard on some sprightly duet selections. (Tara Records)

It’s No Secret

Cork may be Ireland’s “second city,” but the local traditional musicians need take a back seat to no one on the Emerald Isle. This trio features three excellent Cork-based performers who are all equally talented as singers and instrumentalists. The instrumental tracks by flute player Hammy Hamilton, fiddler S?amus Creagh and button accordionist Con O’Drisceoil include solos, duets and trios, some of which get backing from Cork guitarist Pat “Herring” Ahem. The vocal selections include both old traditional ballads like the Ulster “Sea Apprentice” and several new-made songs. Two comic numbers, the tongue-in-cheek “In Praise of the City of Mullingar” from Creagh and “The Spoons Murder,” a hilarious revenge fantasy from O’Drisceoil, are worth the price of the disc by themselves. (Ossian)

At First Light

Mike McGoldrick, a flute player and uilleann piper from Manchester, England, and uilleann piper John McSherry of Belfast last recorded together when they were members of Lúnasa, a group that made a big splash with a debut recording featuring innovative modern arrangements of traditional and newly composed tunes from Ireland, Quebec, France and elsewhere. The duo were too busy with other commitments to play fulltime with Lúnasa (a group still going strong with new members), but Irish music lovers can only rejoice that they found time for this studio reunion. An eastern European “Doinna” and several stunning duets on low-pitched tin whistles recall Lúnasa’s eclectic repertoire. Co-producer Donald Shaw’s synthesizer keyboard wizardry, plus tasteful bass, guitar and percussion, helped McGoldrick and McSherry craft a disc that adds a glossy modern sheen to music still firmly rooted in the old tradition. (Compass Records)

Forgotten Days

Forgotten Days, album cover.

Uilleann piper Davy Spillane has been known for musical innovation and exploration since his days with Moving Hearts, a fusion band of the 1980s with a lineup that featured electric guitar and saxophone. The featured piping soloist in the original production of Riverdance. Spillane has also recorded several albums of original music that veered in the direction of “New Age” background tracks. For this recording, however, Spillane decided to revisit his traditional music roots in company with Kevin Glackin, one of three fiddling brothers from a prominent Dublin musical family. Accompanied only by the drones and “regulators” of Spillane’s uilleann pipes, the duo produced one of the finest and most soulful recordings of old-time traditional music of recent years, one voted the best of the 2001 in a readers poll conducted by Dublin’s Irish Music magazine. ♦

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