Cream always rises to the top and if some of the latest recordings in my letter box are any indication that is also true in the traditional Irish music business.
Even with the declining CD sales environment, Irish artists continue to produce exceptional music that is meant to appeal to their loyal fans and also reach out to new audiences where they are to be found. It will come as no surprise that musicians like Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Kevin Crawford, Cillian Vallely and Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh have once again proven their mettle on their latest CDs that have been released recently.
Following up on the impressive maiden CD In Play released in 2005 by the tasty tandem of Carroll and Doyle is their second recording called Double Play for Compass Records based in Nashville.
Carroll, who hails from Chicago’s South Side, has a string of impressive accomplishments, including a senior All-Ireland fiddle championship at 18 and later a National Heritage Fellow Award for her artistic endeavors, including many of her own compositions in Irish music, a member of the band Trian (with Billy McComiskey and Daithi Sproule) and one of the pioneering women who made a professional career out of Irish music.
Doyle was a Dublin blow-in to New York from a musical family who arrived in the Big Apple just in time to catch the last commercial wave as a founding member of the supergroup Solas in the mid-nineties. Doyle produced Carroll’s last album under the Green Linnet label, "Lake Effect," and they started to perform together and found a real simpatico while also inspiring one another as a duet act.
This latest recording gives ample evidence of the creative spark, imagination and just plain joy that their music produces today as one of the finest acts out there on the road. Thirteen sublime tracks, including many of their own compositions, provide a thoughtful musical conversation from two artists at the top of their game who genuinely enjoy traveling on the road while growing more popular and more influential year by year.
Carroll’s knack for reinvigorating old tunes while churning out exciting new ones in the tradition, including some exquisite airs like “Lament for Tommy Makem” and “Nearby Long Ago” on this current album, have increased her reputation and demand around the world.
Doyle’s brilliant producing and arranging skills initially brought out the best in both of them, but now the act has evolved very much into a mutual admiration and equal partnership scenario.
Doyle also has a real flair for dusting off songs from the folk canon and layering them with a contemporary sound both vocally and musically with his lush accompaniment.
The track “Down at the Wakehouse/ The True Love of My Heart” pairing is a perfect example of this. "Double Play" is a delightful listen from start to finish and vividly captures what makes this performing couple so special.
Carroll and Doyle will have the honor of performing at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional luncheon in Washington, D.C. on St. Patrick’s Day, with special guests President Barack Obama and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and many other Irish and Irish American guests.
They are beginning a Midwest tour and also have some dates as part of Cherish the Ladies “Irish Homecoming” tour coming up in April (more about that down the road). More details are available here
Another duo often seen together are flute player Kevin Crawford and uilleann piper Cillian Vallely, but the pairing usually perform with each other after their main act, Lunasa finishes up a tour and the two lads can go off on their own spraoi for more intimate gigs and workshops.
Owing to the successful mating of these talented musicians, a new CD aptly named "On Common Ground" has emerged as an independent project on Bally O Records funded by both the Arts Council of Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (Crawford lives in Clare while Vallely comes from Armagh).
Twelve tracks grace this new effort, and it is very clear that these boyos enjoy playing with one another and share a high regard for their fellow musicians who inspired them and with whom they have shared many a stage in their own extensive careers before they teamed up together when Vallely joined Lunasa a decade ago.
Carefully selected tunes with good liner notes flow fluidly throughout the album, reflecting many of the musical influences that formed them as individual artists who have much in common these days.
Crawford shines on his own in his solo track starting with a Carroll tune, “The Leading Role,” followed by McComiskey’s “Little Man with the Brown Shoes” and also “Bill Hoare’s Reel” from McComiskey’s 1981 jewel "Making the Rounds." Vallely, whose family has played a seminal role in piping and Irish music in the north of Ireland for years, shows why he is one of the most respected pipers playing today and in great demand for workshops.
His solo spot begins with the air “Uirchil a Chreagain,” which was the first one he learned from his parents Brian and Eithne Vallely at the Armagh Pipers Club before tearing into reels.
Guitar accompaniment is handled by their stellar Lunasa mate Paul Meehan, and Donal Clancy appears on five tracks with equal aplomb. Thirty-three tunes are played in lively and enjoyable fashion on the flute, pipes, low whistles in a style that won’t have you thinking it’s Lunasa lite, but rather two masters sharing an awful lot of common ground.
More information and CD orders can be found at www.ballyopromotions.ie
as well as at their upcoming gigs later in the month.
Crawford, Vallely and Clancy will be in Portland, Maine on Wednesday, March 25 (207-8319529), Boston on the 26th (781-560-4402), Middletown, Connecticut on 27th (860-983-7963), Rockaway, New Jersey on the 28th (908-813-8617) and finally Tuftenboro, New Hampshire on the 29th (603-651-9859).
Back in January, Altan’s founding member and primary vocalist Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh left some copies of her limited distribution CD "Imeall" behind in the modest manner in which has characterized her long career since she and her late husband, Frankie Kennedy, first hit these shores over twenty five years ago.
Ni Mhaonaigh has stayed true to her Donegal roots and, in fact, five years ago returned to them so she could expose her daughter Nia to the Gaelthacht and the everyday flow of the Irish language and ethos.
Growing out of that was also more time for reflection on charting her own course as the long extended tours to the U.S. that once was more lucrative territory for the bands like Altan abated. The move home to her native Donegal allowed her and Nia to spend more time with her father Francie Mooney in the last days of his life, and also to collaborate on other pursuits that were difficult to fit in when Altan was actively touring abroad.
Nearby neighbor Manus Lunny had a recording studio at home on Gola Island, so Mairead was able to spend some time piecing together material that exhibited a well-rounded artist with a special passion for the Irish language and its preservation and appreciation. Mairead’s fiddling is a key component of this record and is enhanced by the use of the hardanger fiddle from Norway. She even includes two tracks with her Scandinavian String Sister colleague Ann Bjorn Lien.
Along with Lien and Lunny (actually, both Manus and Donal appear on the CD), Jim Higgins, Graham Henderson, Michael McGoldrick, Tim Edey, Triona Ni Dhomnaill all contribute to various tracks of this gorgeous new recording that was officially launched in Dublin in mid-February.
The Irish word Imeall can be translated as the “edge” or “horizon” and suggests that Ni Mhaonaigh is on a personal journey that we are privileged enough to join, and perhaps there is no more appropriate time than the present to return to our roots and realize that some of the richest things around us have nothing to do with currency exchange or commerce.
Copies of the CD can be ordered through www.mairead.ie
, and when all 3,000 copies are in circulation downloaded from the website as well.