David Granville reviews three new traditional music offerings from the highly respected Copperplate stable: The Factory Turn (Damian O' Brien and Oliver Loughlin); Parish Platform (Rattle The Boards); Rógaire Dubh (Lorcán MacMathúna)
The Factory Turn, Damian O' Brien and Oliver Loughlin (COPP 008)
FOR THEIR first recorded offering as a duet, Leitrim musicians Damian O'Brien (fiddle) and Oliver Loughlin (piano accordion) have succeeded in conjuring up the sort of uplifting mix of quality musicianship, clarity of tone and sheer exhilaration that will delight lovers of traditional Irish music everywhere.
Accompanied on various tracks by Artie McGlynn (guitar), Kevin Brehony (piano) and James Blennerhasset (double bass), the result is a no-nonsense set of tunes - reels, jigs, hornpipes, set dances and waltzes - reflecting both their own background and the wealth and breadth of Ireland's traditional musical heritage.
Altogether, it's the sort of quality you might expect from two young musicians who are steeped in Ireland's rich musical tradition and who have been playing and performing together since they were barely out of short trousers.
Despite their relative youth, O'Brien and Loughlin have plenty of experience under their belt. For the past fifteen years the pair have performed weekly in Cryan's pub in Carrick-on-Shannon and have been members of the renowned Inisfree Ceili Band for a decade.
The Factory Turn is as fine an example as you're likely to get of less meaning more. No frills, just plain musical genius. An absolute delight.
Parish Platform, Rattle The Boards (Doon Productions)
EIGHT YEARS on from the release of their self-titled debut album, Rattle The Boards have come up with another toe-tapping collection of traditional Irish dance tunes and songs.
Based around a nucleus of founder members Benny McCarthy (button accordionist), John Nugent (guitar/vocals), Pat Ryan (fiddle/banjo) and former guest singer John T. Egan (vocals), Rattle The Boards have produced an album that is unashamedly nostalgic in feel.
This time around featured guests include Jon Kenny (vocals), Decky O'Dwyer (trumpet), Donnchadh Gough (bodhran), Des Dillon (harmonica), Paul Ryan (accordion) and Bruno Staelhelin (percussion).
What could so easily have ended up as mere pastiche is anything but. This is entirely down to the excellent quality and vitality of the playing - though you'd hardly expect anything less from an ensemble that features two members of Irish traditional 'supergroup' Danu (McCarthy and Gough) and a bevy of renowned and respected musicians with more ceilis under their belt than you could shake a stick at.
While their unrepentantly backward-looking tribute pays homage to the musical culture of a bygone era it does so in style. Although their approach won't please everyone, you'll need a narrow mind and a cold heart not to find your spirit lifted and your feet tapping.
Sure, the album harks back to a time when virtually the sole purpose of music was to get folk on their feet. But, if these tunes and songs don't get you in the mood the volume's probably not up loud enough - either that or you're under the boards rather than in any position to rattle them.
Rógaire Dubh, Lorcán Mac Mathúna (Mac Mathúna)
LACKING EVEN a basic working knowledge of Irish, it was with some trepidation that this reviewer approached Lorcán Mac Mathúna's collection of sean-nós songs.
As it turns out, I needn't have worried as one of the main objectives of the Rógaire Dubh project has been to make traditional Irish-language songs more accessible to those without a good knowledge of Irish.
MacMathúna has gone about this in a number of ways.
On all but two songs in this collection from Connemara and the three Gaeltachts of Munster he has deliberately eschewed the traditional approach of unaccompanied singing.
Opting instead to work with a mixture of traditional and classical musicians - Mick O'Brien (pipes and whistle), Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (fiddle, hardanger and whistle), Helen Lyons (harp), Jane Hughes (cello) and Conor Lyons (bodhrán), MacMathúna has succeeded in delivering a contemporary twist to the haunting melodies of his traditional sean-nós repertoire.
An accompanying booklet includes translations and notes on the social, cultural or historical context of the songs. It also features a collection of images, reflecting the decay and regeneration of modern urban life and the artist's own city-dwelling background.
Mac Mathúna intention has not been to ignore or subvert 'tradition'. Rather it is an attempt to create musical interpretations which reflect his own influences while pointing to the undeniable fact that the very conditions that responsible for forming that tradition no longer prevail.
Rooted in the traditions of the past, these songs undeniably breath with the life of the present. As Mac Mathúna explains: "The thing about tradition... is that it is a living thing. It must have renewed relevance to each generation that partakes in it..."
No matter what language you speak, the result is both engaging and beautiful.
All of the above albums are available direct from Copperplate Distribution (www.copperplatedistribution.com)or from specialist suppliers such as the Four Provinces Bookshop in London
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2008 David Granville