Zina Lee, here, thinking upon both the death of a man who was one of the innovators of the music I play and of the coming of the first harvest celebrations, the turning of the summer towards autumn.
Yes, sad news. Mícheál Ó Domhnaill is dead. It's far too early; he was far too young. I never met the man, yet he is and likely always will be an inextricable part of the fabric of my life--the impact of his contribution to the Irish traditional music I play was all-encompassing; like his guitar backing, it lifts and carries the music forward, never changing the melody but always putting his own stamp upon it.
Playing Irish traditional music is a part of my life that is always there. The merry times playing with friends, of bringing music to celebrations throughout the year, of sharing the making of this music with others, are a large part of why I play it in the first place.
There's no time that this is truer than the end of summer, a time of harvests and life and the reaping of the crops we've sown earlier.
Spring and summer find us moving outward, into the burgeoning life of the world and our lives, out into the greater life of the world to find our places within it. Autumn and winter bring us back into ourselves even as we move back into our home places, to contemplate our inner lives. Joy and sorrow and pain and love weave themselves in and out of our lives, like rivers and streams wending through the land, bringing water to the earth.
The cycles of the year are always turning, an automatic reminder of the cycle of our lives, from the pale, slender green growth of the spring of our youth into the vigorous summer of our adulthood, turning to the full golden harvest of the autumnal years, and then fading into the quiet white frosts on the black earth in our winter.
My summers are full of playing music at weddings and celebrations, of birds and gardens; all my time spent indoors is flavored with the longing to be outside in the sun--though when I'm outdoors, like Kipling's cat, I'm usually trying to get back into the coolness of the house. But as the year turns towards August, Lammas, Lughnasadh, all of the celebrations of the harvest, of the corn and our bread, of the sun and of the first fruits of our labors, I become more aware of the sweetness of the time we have left; that celebrating every second we have and all those dear to us is important.
John O'Regan has a remembrance of Mícheál Ó Domhnaill: 'Sudden deaths bring a sense of finality. With the news of the death of Mícheál Ó'Domhnaill, who left this world suddenly on Saturday July 8th, 2006 in his Dublin home at the age of 54 from a heart attack, Irish music suffered a substantial loss. Mícheál Ó'Domhnaill is best-known in Irish music circles from his work with Skara Brae with his sisters Tríona and Maighread, and Dáithi Sproule, Monroe with Mick Hanly, The Bothy Band, Relativity, Nightnoise and most recently his collaboration with fiddler Paddy Glackin.' Read John's in-depth Excellence in Writing Award winning look at the life and the music of a man that many of us will miss most dearly.
Paul Brandon poked his head into the Editors' Lounge a few days while we were sampling new ales for the Pub (RHIP) and commented that he 'was going to include a review of the Liam O'Manolia's of the Hothouse Flowers first solo album Rian in there. Do you mind if I tangent off a little into a review of his live show?' Of course, we said 'go ahead' which is how his omnibus also gives a glimpse at a most exceptional concert! Now pass me one of the Merlin's Stouts... Or mayhaps I'll have the Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout next...
Oh, what about his review?, you ask. (Pulling editors away from drinking is not a good thing.) Well, let's just say that he had ideal conditions for reviewing these recordings: 'Subtropical Brisbane in midwinter is a funny place. The days are like the British Summer (without the rain): bright, cool but with a warm sun that can be deceptive. It's the evenings here that I love. The temperature drops and occasionally it might get a whisker cold. The sky is clear enough to be soaked with stars and although it's not remotely in the same league as winters in Britain, Canada or even Tasmania to the south, a lot of people light their heating stoves. And that's where I am right now. Feet up, in my favourite chair, PowerBook on my lap, looking into the flames. Times like this I can almost imagine I am home in Kent. Almost. I even have a glass of Young's Double Chocolate Stout here, next to the stack of CDs and notes I've made. With the exception of my old cat, Wilbur, looking like a giant furry comma on the rug, I'm alone. The fire is banked, the glass full, so I guess I'm ready.' Now go read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review of these recordings -- Jaiya's Firedance, Songs for the Winter Solstice and Beltane, Songs for the Green Time, Full Gael's Traditional Music with Celtic Roots, Liam O'Maonlai's Rian, Liz Carroll & John Doyle's In Play, Casey Driessen's 3D, and Dougie McLean's Inside the Thunder.
Irish love songs definitely were as good as poteen for Christopher Conder: 'New Yorker Susan McKeown has been gradually establishing a reputation as a classy and innovative interpreter of Irish traditional song for some time, without ever gaining the breakthrough she deserves. On first appearances, Blackthorn appears to be a rather low key release in her oeuvre, the to-the-point subtitle Irish Love Songs suggesting a straight-up approach. True, nothing on here matches the sheer verve of matching 'Eggs in Her Basket' to a mariachi band or accompanying 'Lowlands' with a Chinese erhu. The emphasis is on the songs, with fairly minimal accompaniment. A mixture of Irish and English language traditionals, the highlights tend to be the ballads, inevitably tragic tales of unfulfilled love that McKeown installs with an anguished beauty. Not always as successful, but a necessary change of tempo are the jauntier numbers like 'D— ’n Dœ' and 'Bean Ph‡id’n,' which have a certain charm but can grate in the wrong mood. A couple more mid-paced songs like 'A Maid Going to Comber' may have made for greater variety.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review here.
A good live recording is always something Cat Eldridge favours: 'The Old Blind Dogs new CD Play Live was recorded in 2004 on the road in Chicago and Tulsa and I believe captures their live feel quite well. as befits a group which was judged Best Folk Band at the 2004 Scots Trad Music Awards. Sadly though, this is the last recording that will feature the line-up of Jim Malcolm (lead vocalist / guitar / harmonica; Aaron Jones (bass, / bouzouki / backing vocals); Rory Campbell (small pipes / whistles / backing vocals); Jonny Hardie (fiddle, mandolin / guitar / backing vocals); and Fraser Stone (drums / percussion) as Jim has decided to leave the group after the completion of their North American tour in the summer of '06. The band's website says that they 'can confirm that the band will continue as a four-piece with Jonny, Rory and Aaron sharing vocal duties. Old Blind Dogs will debut the quartet during their September 2006 tour of the USA.' As I booked the second incarnation of the Dogs -- Jonny Hardie, Buzzby McMillan, Ian Benzie, and Davy Cattanach -- here nearly a decade ago, I can say they survive changes in the band rather well as Jonny's left from those days! Hell, they now on their third label as they started on a Scottish label, KRL, before signing with Green Linnet which has recently been absorbed by Compass Records! So the lads are definitely survivors!'
Scott Gianelli comments 'Merrie Amsterburg first came to my attention in 2000, with her fine sophomore effort Little Steps. Then she more or less vanished for six years, re-emerging only recently with Clementine and Other Stories, a collection of traditional American and Irish standards. It's hard not to think that Amsterburg has been dealing with writer's block, but thankfully her voice remains as strong as before, and her ability to put a good record together has only improved in the intervening years.' Read his review of her new album, Clementine and Other Stories, to see what Merrie's up to now.
Michael Hunter was musing aloud in the Pub that 'Alistair Hulett has sent me a copy of his latest CD Riches & Rags and was wondering if I could do a review for GMR... He has a brand new website and plans to link to GMR from there too.' The new CD is good in part, as Michael puts that he, 'assembled a small cast of musicians whose collective ability to embellish the music without overpowering it, all the time being sympathetic to the material and Hulett's delivery of it, is one of the pleasures of the album.' His review of Riches & Rags is here.
Van Morrison & the Chieftains is a winning combination for David Kidney: 'Irish Heartbeat is an album I have lived with for almost 20 years. I first purchased it on vinyl in '88 and wore the grooves down playing it over and over again. Then in 2003 on vacation in Ireland, my wife and I took the train from Drogheda to Belfast. We spent a couple of hours there, took some wonderful photographs, and had a fine sturdy lunch of sausages and potatoes with a cold Guinness to wash it down. As I thought about the perfect souvenir to remind me of Belfast, it suddenly came to me that I didn't have Irish Heartbeat on CD. I rushed to the closest store, and there it was. More than perfect, this digital version of an essential album has been the most-played title on our playlist since we said farewell to the Emerald Isle.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning commentary for a look at this impressive recording!
Peter Massey liked Songs From Home: 'I believe this is Steve Byrne's debut album as a solo singer. Steve is perhaps better known for his work with the Edinburgh based Scots-Irish folk song band Malinky. Steve is a self confessed addict to the lyrics and voice of his home in the county of Angus, on the north east coast of Scotland, and who can blame him? Not me. Returning to his Celtic roots on this album, he presents a collection of songs sung in his own dialect, - more about that later.'
Peter garners both an Excellence in Writing Award and a Grinch for this review: 'James Ross is a brilliant pianist -- of that there is no doubt. This album did not raise the spirit in my blood, but maybe it will for you. The performance of Traditional music needs to come from the heart, not from the exam room. It's the absence of passion or feeling that fails to lift this album above pleasant piano background music.'
Then there's what happens when our reviewervisits a local folk club: 'Talking to a friend the other night at my local folk club I just happened to say I had just received a handful of Celtic CD's for review. Ah' he retorted 'they are all from Wales then', he being a proud Welshman and always up for a bit of fun, 'Well no, only one' I said. 'Oh well they can't true Celtic then' he said, knowing that my grandfather came from Scotland and I was going to fight in that corner! This led to a 'fun' conversation between an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, and a Welshman, about what is or is not Celtic music. The net outcome was that 'Celtic folk music' as we have come to call it, is a style of playing, and that in its self, can be divided into many sub-categories. Because of migration, Celtic music is now found all over the world. In this review I compare a few albums, which can all be filed under Celtic.' Go read his look at Mabon's Ridiculous Thinkers (a proper Welsh affair). a Canadian effort in The Muse's Passing Time, another Canadian group as represented by Enter the Haggis' Casualties of Retail, American-Nordic Celtic (!) in Tempest's The Double Cross, and Good Intentions from Shilelagh Law, an Irish pub band from New York.
Jack Merry 'was delighted when two recordings -- Second Sight and Third Rock -- by a group called Hedgepig came in the post this past fortnight as that turned out to be a good thing as well... On its website, Hedgepig says it is a 'a lively Celtic folk-rock band rooted in the Scottish and Irish tradition' which I'd say fits what we review rather well. And any band which names itself after a young hedgehog is welcome at Green Man!' See his review for an explanation of that odd remark, and why we have a hedgehog named Hamish. Really. Truly.
Lars Nilsson in his intro of his Excellence in Writing Award winning reviews notes: 'One of my tutors once described the main goal of his life to be able to retire in a good enough health to enjoy his retirement. In 1986 Ian D. Green did just that, maybe helped by the fact that British policemen have the chance to retire rather early. One of my Scottish friends, ex-policeman, retired at 50. But Ian D. Green did not become an idle pensioner, spending his life on some Spanish beach. Instead he did what many music lovers dream of, he started his own record company. 20 years later that venture, Greentrax Records, is probably the biggest record company concerned with traditional Scottish music. On average it has released 17,5 albums a year over its 20-year-existence. And the pace is faster now than it was at the beginning. Quite an achievement for anyone, let alone someone who apparently stopped working.' Now go read his commentary on three Greentrax recordings -- the three disc Scotland - The Music and the Song, 20 Year profile of Greentrax, Kathleen MacInnes' Og Mhaddainn Shamhraidh, and Chokit on a Tattie: Children's Songs and Rhymes.
John O'Regan was a very busy lad this past month as he turned in five Celtic music omnibuses! First up is Canada's Glengarry Bhoys which says 'offer a slant on the Celtic Rock theme worth mentioning. The Scottish influence on Canadian traditional music comes through many strains such as the fiddling of Angus Chisholm and Bill Lamey and can also be found in the family groups such as the Barra MacNeils and later outfits like Slainte Mhath. While their Celtic-rocking brew has been well appreciated in the Maritimes and US circuits, their early catalogue provides and interesting development and evolution from acoustic folk group to fully fledged Celtic rockers.'
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