Category: Archive

Ceol: It’s a string thing for McManus and Genty

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

What made the latter effort so extraordinary was that McManus, who lived near Edinburgh at the time, couldn’t perform at the Cuffe benefit concert held there because of a scheduling conflict.
Now a resident of Toronto, McManus has released three superb solo albums on Greentrax Records: “Tony McManus” in 1995, “Pourquoi Quebec?” in 1998, and “Ceol More” in 2002. That last one was also reissued on Nashville’s Compass Records. In addition, he recorded “Return to Kintail” with fiddler Alasdair Fraser in 1999.
Tony McManus is that rare acoustic guitarist who can play bagpipe and fiddle tunes with the ornamentation and verve comparable to what we hear from those latter two instruments. He’s also been influenced in his finger- and flat-picking by Gaelic song. But for me, the best test of his talent can be heard on “Ceol More” in his stunning rendition of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” bassist-composer Charles Mingus’s tribute to saxophonist Lester Young.
The late fiddler Johnny Cunningham once kidded McManus that his second solo album should have been called “Pourquoi Bother?” but Johnny, like his brother Phil, always recognized how special a guitarist McManus is. That recording featured a Breton fretless bass player, Alain Genty, who’s performed with Gwerz, Den, Barzaz, and his own group. McManus and Genty initially met in 1996 when they anchored the rhythm section of a 12-piece ensemble, and the two reunited in Paris for a brand-new, full-fledged duet album, “Singing Sands,” now out on Greentrax and Compass.
It may take a slight aural recalibration to feel at ease with the sound of an electric, fretless DNG bass and an acoustic Melville guitar together playing Celtic traditional music, but once you do, the listening pleasures are many and run deep.
Irish tunes can be found on every McManus solo recording, and this new duo CD is no exception. His ability to wring out ringing chords and supple melody lines while rhythmically propelling a dance tune along is evident in “The Hungry Rock,” a three-part jig composed by Liam Kelly and Michael Holmes of the Sligo-based band Dervish. It can also be heard in his playing of Liz Carroll’s “Wissahickon Drive,” “Taimse im Chodladh” that concludes a Breton/Norwegian/Irish medley, and “The Dusty Miller/The Silver Slipper/Willie’s Fling No. 2,” a medley learned from Galway uilleann piper Tommy Keane.
A call-and-response structure between guitar and bass invigorates “Desert Dance,” an Isaac Guillory tune, and McManus’s skill at sustaining rhythmic tension while Genty nimbly plays melody, sometimes with sharply plucked bass notes in short runs, makes the track stand out. The effectiveness of “Da Day Dawn/Christmas Day in the Morning,” a Shetland medley, stems from well how the lulling atmosphere of the first tune smoothly shifts into the quicker cadence of the second tune.
In Alain Genty’s “Le Petit Encrier,” the way the bass yields to the guitar, the guitar to the bass, and the two instruments join together on melody creates an excitement extending the tune’s appeal. “Ton Ma Var/Melen Aour,” two more Genty tunes, almost constitute a jazz mood piece on the album. Introspective and exploratory, it is the CD’s longest cut at 7:23 and ends with Genty’s synthesizer.
Exotica enters with “The Last Dance,” a Greek traditional wedding melody learned from Balkan instrumentalist Nikola Parov, with whom McManus played on tour in Mozaik, a band led by Planxty’s Andy Irvine. This cut is also moody, and its measured tempo sets into relief the intensity of McManus’s guitar picking during a few passages.
Named after a beach in Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula Park, “Singing Sands” is a good title for this CD. It demonstrates how two stringed instruments can interlace with the craft and care of two voices. Tony McManus and Alain Genty each has a distinctive “voice,” and the footprints they left in these sands won’t wash away.
The album is available at www.greentrax.com and www.compassrecords.com.

I’ve had many fond experiences in Irish traditional music and have met many exceptional players, and on both scores I would cite Charlie Lennon as a distinct privilege.
At his kind invitation this past year I wrote an essay for a CD he had a direct hand in, “Within a Mile of Kilty” (Cl

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