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CD Review Blissfully back on the box

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

EAST TO NORTHEAST, by John Redmond. CD #522014, 335 E. 209th St., Apt.

18, Bronx, NY 10467-3552; (718) 231-6617; jrbuttonbox@yahoo.com.

Two of the most celebrated comebacks in the history of Irish traditional music came during the last decade. Boston-born button accordionist Joe Derrane returned on the D/C# in 1994 after a 35-year absence, and Armagh-born fiddler Brendan McGlinchey re-emerged in 1993 after a 16-year layoff.

Though nowhere near as trumpeted as those stuff-of-legend comebacks, John Redmond’s resumption of performing Irish traditional music on the button accordion is no less gratifying. Born in the village of Ballinadaggin, near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, he earned four All-Ireland titles, including three solo, before he stopped playing altogether in 1984. Four years later, he immigrated to America, where friends familiar with his reputation in Ireland finally coaxed him into taking up the button box again in 1994, ending a 10-year drought.

Just how far Redmond has progressed since then can be gauged in "East to Northeast," a self-issued solo debut whose title refers to the journey — personal and musical — he’s taken from Wexford to the Bronx.

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Rooted in the bedrock B/C accordion style of Galway’s Joe Burke and Clare’s Tony MacMahon, Redmond displays a lively touch further brightened by some refreshing, adventurous playfulness. This fun-loving side shines especially in "The Rambling Boys of Tangragee/Pat Burke’s Jig/The Policeman’s Holiday," where he tosses in some nervy impulse ornaments guaranteed to raise a smile.

The tempo of Redmond’s playing is never hurried and, more important, never barters vitality for mere virtuosity. His treatment of "Kanturk Polka/Many a Wild Night/Daybreak/Gan Ainm" is spot-on, each note cleanly executed and then strung together to form a sum larger than the parts, all ably backed by Eamon O’Leary on acoustic guitar.

"Flagstone of Memories/Porthole of the Kelp/Caisleán an Óir," with Patrick Street’s Ged Foley handling triple duty on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, is another standout cut from Redmond. And his playing with fiddler Kevin Burke and guitarist Ged Foley on the jigs "Old Wheels of the World/Connor Bán/Munster Buttermilk," one of four tracks recorded live at Gavin’s Golden Hill Resort in East Durham, N.Y., testifies to Redmond’s undiminished ability to find the right musical seam with performers whose rehearsal is, in essence, the moment itself.

Redmond additionally shows great subtlety and sensitivity in backing "Diamantina Drover" and "All in a Day," two songs sung by Ged Foley with a pub roughness not always easy to digest. Elsewhere, the texture change of Redmond’s accordion and Foley’s Northumbrian pipes in the "The Brown Cow" march and "Lucy Farr’s" fling similarly grates the ear.

But those weaknesses are far outweighed by the strengths of John Redmond’s button accordion playing. What was once lost and then regained often takes on a special, enduring value for musicians like Redmond, and this recording, a no-frills joy, points to a recommitment that’s now unshakable. Lucky for us.

Redmond’s new CD is also available at his weekly Manhattan performances: Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m., at Paddy Reilly’s, 29th Street and Second Avenue ([212] 686-1210), and Sundays, 8:30 p.m., at Doc Watson’s, Second Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets ([212] 988-5300).

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