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Loretta Egan Murphy comes full circle with CD

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Loretta Egan Murphy
The Irish who immigrated to America brought so many gifts over the centuries, and one of the most enduring was their love of their own native music which ensured that they would always have a connection to the Old Country.

For Brigid McCaffrey from Leitrim and Jack Egan from Mayo and many other parents, that meant enrolling their daughters Loretta and Monica in music lessons with one of the preeminent teachers in New York back in the 1960s and 1970s, Pete Kelly from Galway, known now more for his Premier Ceili Band in these parts.

Since first taking lessons with the Galwegian music maestro in 1966, Loretta Egan Murphy has taken many musical paths since then. That has all come together with a new CD, Beyond the Watery Lane, which will be launched this weekend at the Fairfield Irish Festival.

Murphy’s entrée into the world of Irish music, like so many children taking lessons from Kelly, exposed her to disciplined learning of tunes and performance along with making friends through the important social bonding of Kelly’s performance troupe, the Shannonaires, who would even tour to Ireland while competing at the fleadhs.

After entering the nursing profession where she still works primarily, she played her accordion and taught music around the New York area and eventually settled in Connecticut where she lives with her husband Jim Murphy and daughters Rose and Maura.

Along the road, she and her sister played the once bustling Catskills circuit that would have music every night of the week during the summer at McKenna’s Irish House (six nights for six hours for $66 plus room and board). 

As young musicians Noel Hill, Angela Crehan Crotty and Mary Bergin would similarly experience the delights of sharing tunes in the Catskills with many of the seasoned New York veterans and teenagers who plied the hills back then in a manner that characterizes the Catskills Irish Arts Week these days.

With her red Paolo Soprani, Murphy pushed and pulled for many New Jersey and Bronx Gaelic League Ceilithe with Mike Flanagan before the nursing work took her to Connecticut and Fairfield County.

She taught at the Gaelic American Club and the New Haven Irish American Community Center and joined up with the Music in the Glen Ceili Band led by Joe Heeran and Pat Stratton.

Over the years Murphy partnered many sessions with the late P.V. O’Donnell (Donegal) and for 15 years at Anna Liffey’s Pub in New Haven with fiddler Joe Gerhard.  She makes regular appearances at Connecticut’s major Irish festivals like the Fairfield Irish Festival (Feile), New Haven Irish Festival and Glastonbury each June and July.

She is also one of the key members of the Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society that got its start in the small upstairs club on Route 1 in Fairfield before establishing the more expansive club on Beach Road with feile funding.

Musicians who have labored as long as Murphy has with music as a sideline always dream of making their own CD and putting a definitive stamp on their music. Her inspiration for the CD Beyond the Watery Lane was two-fold.

The charming title evokes memories of her mother’s homeplace at Corrahopple in Co. Leitrim and the narrow boreen uniting 13 rural families on route to either the Ballinamore or Killashandra main road.
Water springs up at a low point covering it, and with great simplicity and accuracy it is known as the “Watery Lane.”

Also a painter, Murphy carries over her eye for imagery into her music and looked for tunes that would be different and not oft-recorded so a combination of favorite tunes from over the years and researched work were selected.

Although the product of an Irish emigrant household who has spent her life around folks from the other side and immersed in Irish American life, she knew that her accordion solo CD would not be confused with the prevalent Galway sound espoused by luminaries like Joe Burke, Joe Cooley, Kevin Keegan, Sean McGlynn or Joe Madden.

She was an “American” after all, and developed her style over here under her own influences and preferences. 

Furthering her independent path was placing the project into the hands of a veteran musician from the West Coast, John Brennan, with vast experience in rock and roll, blues and performance values to record and produce it as well as play keyboards, guitar and bass.  A different sound was aimed for and achieved for them both.

Fourteen tracks grace the new recording, running the gamut from familiar iconic composers like Turlough O’Carolan (Clergy’s Lamentation) and Ed Reavy (Leddy from Cavan, Reilly of the White Hill/Starry Lane to Monaghan) the prolific Cavan composer who came from not too far from the mother’s homeplace.

Other tunes called out from Murphy’s Irish dance music days, and then others from collections and manuscripts all fully described in carefully produced liner notes.

When making your own CD, one of the pleasures (and logistical challenges) is getting to invite other musicians to record with you and take onboard what you are doing musically.

Murphy was blessed with a great group of musicians who took the challenge, including the aforementioned Brennan, fiddlers Kevin Burke, Sheila Falls Keohane and Jeanne Freeman, uilleann piper Michael Cooney, harpist Deirdre Danaher (a friend and fellow musician from the Shannonaire days and in the interest of disclosure, my wife) and bodhranista, Anna Colliton.

The CD will be launched this coming Saturday as part of the Fairfield County Irish Festival at 6 p.m. in the cultural tent where John Whelan and Jerry O’Sullivan will follow at 8 p.m. and Jameson’s Revenge at 8:45 in the main tent, and then a super session.  

Murphy will also have a Catskills Irish Arts Week (www.catskillsirishartsweek.org) launch as well during the week of July 15-21 in East Durham where she is also teaching the C#D accordion this year.

While a lifetime of tunes may have flowed down this watery lane already and produced this fine CD, the well spring of traditional music from which it sprung replenishes itself all the time, especially for those with an ear and insatiable appetite for it.

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