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Music Reviews: The Latest in Irish and Irish-American Music

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How to Tune a Fish • Beoga

An exciting new release from Compass Records, How to Tune a Fish by Beoga is sure to be a lively hit amongst long-time trad fans and newcomers alike. Eamon Murray’s presence on the bodhran is a dominant one. Trad music is by its nature very percussive, but Murray, a former All-Ireland champion player, demands more than just toe tapping. On the title track he downright steals the show, no easy task in a band of two button accordions and a fiddle. 

Beoga is a five-piece band, very appropriately named (‘beoga’ is Irish for ‘lively’) who met at an All-Ireland Fleadh. The five accomplished players turned heads in 2004 with their debut album and will certainly have heads bobbing with this follow-up.

With perfectly woven arrangements and an electric chemistry, How to Tune a Fish is a tongue-in-cheek album packed with life and energy. Tapping into the always welcome bluegrass crossover in “Home cookin,’” Beoga never seems to falter in their vacuum-sealed-tight playing. None of the quintet waiver, but each steps forward to shine on various tracks throughout the album, creating a true ensemble record.

Voices & Harps Moya Brennan and Cormac de Barra

Cormac de Barra has long been the premier name mentioned among a sadly scarce breed: the Irish harpist. De Barra has played with many of Ireland’s best including The Chieftains and Julie Feeney. With roots in Cork, he is a studied and creative harpist, and his partner on this record, Moya Brennan is a fellow harpist and vocalist widely known as the “First Lady of Celtic Music.”

These two Celtic powerhouses come together for their aptly named album, Voices & Harps. The curt name of the album speaks to the very acoustic and sparing production choices throughout the album. And while the album has a simple feeling to it, as though the listener is seated in the room with the band, the intricacies of these expert players’ arrangements and skill of play is, as always, astounding. Brennan’s voice leads many vocal journeys into traditional Irish songs, flawlessly in the track “A Seanduine Doite.”

The album is a must have for any Irish-speaker or lover of the rhythm and beauty of the Irish language. Brennan’s performance of the classic “Taim Breoite Go Leor” is breathtaking and with added harmonies, it is stunningly tragic. De Barra is no vocal slouch himself. Lending harmonies to most of the record, he takes the reins on the haunting “Bean Duch A’ Ghleanna” and does it more than justice.

It is so rare that any piece of music gives the harp its fair dues and this album is entirely dedicated to it. Voices & Harps is a showcase of one of the most underrated and diverse instruments in the Irish trad genre.

Legacy Of A Quiet ManSinead Stone & Gerard Farrelly

Any fan of the classic film The Quiet Man is familiar with that haunting melody which frames the unforgettable shots of Maureen O’Hara. The song,“The Isle of Inishfree,” was written by Dick Farrelly in 1950. Now more than a half century later, his son, pianist Gerard Farrelly, has released it again with exquisite vocals by Sinead Stone.  Legacy of A Quiet Man offers a new take on the song, and the entire album, arranged and produced by Farrelly as a tribute to his father, is filled with familiar classics.

Stone, whose vocal presence is both solid yet vulnerable, performs all the songs spectacularly. (The duo played at Maureen O’Hara’s induction ceremony at the Irish America Hall of Fame at the Dunbrody Famine Ship in County Wexford in July, and were a huge hit.) In addition to “The Isle of Inisfree” other highlights on the album are “When Today is Yesterday” and “The Gypsy Maiden.” The latter is one of the few up-tempo songs on the album, which is a welcome change of pace as much of the delicacy of the album lends itself to tear-jerking moments. Overall, the album is an emotional journey and as a tribute to father from son, it feels very personal.

Celtic Rose • Hayley Griffiths

After an award-winning debut album, Hayley Griffiths has released her sophomore collection of Celtic songs. The classically trained singer has toured worldwide with Riverdance and Lord of the Dance as the lead female vocalist in the hugely successful shows.  Now residing in Dublin, the Surrey-born vocalist’s long affair with Irish music runs deep. She manages to reinvent classics like “Danny Boy” and “Galway Bay” into a genre which best fits her vocal styling. 

The theatrical album is a testament to her background on the stage. Griffiths shines most on her rendition of “You Raise Me Up,” the tune made famous by Josh Groban. It is the only track, which very distinctly strays from the Celtic undertone of the record but is a welcome stray. Griffiths is touring Holland and Japan this fall, followed by a UK tour in 2012.

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