There’s a lot of great new music this month from Irish artists with decades of experience and those just starting out.
The first up is from legendary family The Fureys. Well worth a shout for the name alone, Finbar Furey has his first CD release in the U.S. in six years, and it’s a gem.
As lead singer and uillean pipe player for The Furey Brothers, a band he shared with brothers Eddie, George and the late Paul, Finbar’s multi-instrumentalism and haunting vocals were a standout part of the Irish music diaspora of the 1970’s. The group’s breakthrough came as the opening act to the Clancy Brothers tour of the U.S. in 1969, and from then on they became headliners, being voted “Act of the Year” by England’s hugely influential DJ John Peel in 1972.
The Fureys’ innovative sound of pipes and guitar was in fact initially barred from Ewan McCall’s folk club in London as it was not traditional to combine those two instruments, an example of the great McCall occasionally having an English stick up his backside (no letters please, I’m English). The sound, of course, was subsequently taken up all around, from Planxty to Riverdance. And as with so many great players I’ve mentioned in the past, the Fureys come from an all-embracing musical family.
“Our parents started us off in music when we were very young — my father (Ted) played the fiddle and the pipes; my mother played melodeon and five-string banjo. She was a wonderful singer as well. We lived and breathed music,” Finbar writes in the introduction to his new CD "Finbar Furey" on Cosmic Trigger records.
By way of introducing the collection of songs on the CD, he says, “This collection of songs are memories from things I’ve seen, places I’ve been, people I’ve spoken to, laughed with, cried with, drunk with, played music with. [They are about] life, love, deceit, loneliness, joy and happiness, and I hope they bring back memories to you and that we can share that moment in time.”
The songs, old and new, are a powerhouse of singing that contains echoes of Johnny Cash and even the later Bob Dylan, but as much as anything, they are the soul mate of another Irish treasure, Sean Tyrrell, in that they have a depth and passion only those singers that know their native land inside out can achieve. With musical accompaniment from the likes of Frankie Gavin on fiddle and all the Fureys on guitars, this is essential listening.
In 2003, Finbar’s song “New York Girls” was chosen for the soundtrack of "Gangs of New York" – look for Finbar with a handlebar mustache in a cameo appearance singing the song.
With the passing of the baton, Finbar’s daughter Áine offers up her first U.S. solo release, "Cross My Palm," also on Cosmic Trigger records.
From the opening track “Sligo Fair” we are in the presence of something very special here, an achingly beautiful voice with supreme control. Áine moves effortlessly from dark to light ballads, accompanied by strings or acoustic guitars, percussion and bass, always tastefully arranged, with minimal reverb. From traditional to the contemporary likes of John Prine’s “Hello in There” and Edie Brickell’s “Circle,” Áine recalls the likes of Judy Collins, Nanci Griffith, Linda Thompson and, keeping it in the Irish family, Mary Black.
Speaking of family, Áine’s brother Martin has a couple of delicate and harmonious compositions here in “Walk Gently” and “Water’s Edge.” Martin Furey currently performs with the highly successful High Kings, a quartet of virtuoso performers and singers, and also, with Áine, makes up the duo Bohinta, whose albums have enjoyed great acclaim. I’m guessing a large part of the overall sound of Cross My Palm is due to the producing talents of Barry O’Briain. Indeed, much of the subtle layering and sound quality is created by Barry’s own multi-instrumental playing of guitars, mandocello and keyboards. His own album, "Carolan’s Dream" on Gael Linn Records, is a masterpiece.
Between Barry’s production, Martin’s compositions, some fine string players and of course Áine, "Cross My Palm" is one of the great surprises and treasures this year. Áine is hoping to tour the East Coast of the U.S. soon – look out for her!
Guitarist John Doyle and fiddler Liz Carroll
Another example of production values all wrapped up with musical talent, is guitar virtuoso John Doyle. His latest offering is a new CD with master fiddler Liz Carroll. Entitled "Double Play," this is the second from this duo, following "In Play." When I reviewed "In Play" a couple of years ago, I noted a somewhat difficult “listening curve” in absorbing the complex Carroll compositions.
With "Double Play," the pair have overcome any such difficulties, with much more textured accompaniments (organ provided by Compass’s resident keyboard genius John R.Burr) and varied set list.
Indeed, there are some great new tunes from Liz; one truly great set includes a tune titled “Lament for Tommy Makem” in honor of the late Tommy. John contributes fine instrumental compositions, but also adds his voice, with three tracks that include the powerful Ed Pickford song “A Pound a Week Raise.”
John admits to being drawn to songs of oppression and injustice, as his two solo albums will attest. I’ve no doubt that the production gang at Compass Records, led by John and Liz, quite deliberately set out to make a more accessible album and they have more than managed that in this brilliant release.
Congrats also to the pair for their recent performance at President Obama’s St. Patrick’s Day reception. And while we’re at it, congratulations also to Alison Brown, co-founder, with her husband Garry West, of Compass Records. Compass celebrates its 15th year in the business this year, no mean feat for an independent label, and brings us the likes of Solas, Lúnasa, Martin Hayes and of course all things John Doyle.
Alison is also a famed banjo player, and her latest CD "The Company You Keep" debuted at number eight on the Billboard bluegrass chart this month, so a great year so far for her and Compass records.
Mad River Records' new releases
In the last few months the occasional batch of CDs has landed on my desk from a new label, Mad River Records. Its an eclectic mix of World music that includes a lot of Irish/Celtic.
The label was founded and is headed up by Chris Teskey, an 18-year chief operating officer alumnus of Green Linnet Records. His musical know-how has attracted a lot of international talent in a short space of time, and one of his tenets is that downloads needn’t be in competition with CDs, there’s plenty of room for both. As a result, all of his artists are available not only on CD but also instant download at the Web site, www.madriverrecords.com.
There’s Malinki, a Scottish/Celtic band whose album "Flower & Iron" I reviewed in Irish America magazine, along with accordion firebrand David Munnelly; the stunning Irish-language singing Aoife Ni Fhearraigh has re-recorded and released "Loinneog Cheoil" on the label, and American-Irish band Bua offers "An Spealadóir," a rousing mix of songs and tunes from all-Americans who sound like they’ve whiled away many Irish sessions here and abroad.
Indeed, the sleeve-notes are by Liz Carroll, wishing Irish-music lovers everywhere the pleasure of hearing Bua. Instantly!
What a great note to end on.