Chulra, The Golden Ace Inn, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (July 27, 2003)

Chulra, Down The Back Lane (Shanachie, 2003)

There couldn't have been much more than thirty people in the audience when I saw Chulrua, but then the room couldn’t have held many more. Though crowded, the small venue had its positive features. The view of the performers was very good, as there was little distance between them and the audience. Pat Egan (guitar, vocals), Tim Britton (uillean pipes, whistle, flute, mandolin), and Paddy O'Brien (button accordion) sat in a row along the wall, in handshake distance of the listeners. The sound, too, was terrific with minimal amplification - the guitar was plugged in, and there were microphones for the voices (and flute and whistle), all running to a single speaker set atop a nearby piano. Short a stand, O'Brien laid his microphone on the piano, retrieving it whenever he chose to speak. The accordion and uillean pipes were not amplified, but could be heard clearly.

The trio opened with a set of lively "reels named after people". Egan sat hunched over his guitar, coaxing out rhythms. O'Brien looked around the room while his fingers darted across the buttons. In the middle, Britton seemed to be in constant motion, rocking back and forth, foot tapping, as his fingers and elbows worked the pipes. Chulrua's performance took place on a night when the venue normally hosts a session. Most of the audience members were session regulars, so when Britton introduced a set of tunes by asking if anyone did not know what a slip jig was, not a hand went up. Britton smiled and said, "Cool!" Chulrua's first set was energetic, and the audience, although mostly seated, was always moving.

In contrast, the second set felt more sedate; the tunes played tended to be slower, and there was less movement among the listeners, as though the audience was worn out from the vigor of the first set. Although more placid, it was no less musical. Egan sang a tale of unsuccessful gold prospectors in New Zealand ("This is a happy song; it only has one minor chord"), and O'Brien was featured on the American hymn "Wayfaring Stranger". The performance ended with a driving set of reels "to get back on track" that raised the adrenaline level in the room.

As one local piper remarked, "That’s the stuff!" Yes, indeed.

As soon as I got into my car, I popped Chulrua's newest release, Down The Back Lane, into the CD player. It seemed oddly familiar; I'd heard many of the selections earlier in the evening. The timbres of the accordion and uillean pipes blend together remarkably well to produce a full sound, supported rhythmically and harmonically by the guitar. The dance tunes are energetic, but unlike in the live performance, not to the point of exhaustion. The opening set of slip jigs and the closing set of reels are particularly tasty. O'Brien's version of "Wayfaring Stranger" is included (the arrangement makes me think of a funeral march), and paired with the Bill Monroe composition "Crossing The Cumberlands". Britton's expressive piping shines on the slow air "Dark Loch na Gar". Egan has a soulful tenor voice, and it's heard on four tracks. Two of these are especially noteworthy. "One Day In Sligo" has an odd incomplete feel, a disquieting minor jig melody that sticks in the head. Possibly my favorite cut, "The Drover" is a poem by Padraic Colum that Egan set to music, a haunting melody that mesmerizes. Down The Back Lane is a lovely second effort from this group.

[Tim Hoke]

Not sure how to pronounce Chulrua? You can find out on their Web site.