On “Reelin’ in Tradition,” their third album together (“The Mulcahy Family” and “Notes From the Heart” came out in 2000 and 2005, respectively), the Brosna, North Kerry-born Mick Mulcahy on C#/D, B/C, D/D#, C/C#, and D button accordions joins daughter Lucille on uilleann pipes and D and E-flat flutes (she also plays whistle but not here) and daughter Michelle on harp, concertina, fiddle, and piano (she also plays accordion but not here). Their repertoire on this new CD is largely familiar, but their playing is more impressive than ever.
Accompanied by Cyril O’Donoghue on bouzouki, the opening track of “Mullingar Races / Coen’s Memories / Jim Donoghue’s” reels brims with pace, precision, and passion. Featuring Mick on accordion, Louise on flute, and Michelle on concertina, fiddle, and piano, it is an ideal blend of performance polish for a studio recording and visceral music for dancing.
Of the 16 tracks on the CD, six are medleys of jigs and another six are medleys of reels, all performed with irresistible dynamism. The changes between reels in “The Pullet / The Boys of Portaferry / The Dunmore Lassies” sparkle with spot-on control from Mick on accordion, Louise on flute, and Michelle on fiddle and concertina, accompanied by O’Donoghue on bouzouki and Tommy Hayes on bodhran. Louise’s adroit solo flute playing, backed by Michelle on harp, propels the reels “Down the Broom / The Bush in Bloom,” while Michelle’s buoyant concertina playing, backed by herself on piano and O’Donoghue on bouzouki, keeps the reels “Devanney’s Goat / The Flax in Bloom” bobbing along.
Without accompaniment, Louise on uilleann pipes and Michelle on fiddle duet on the jigs “Hughie Travers / What Would I Do If the Kettle Boiled Over?” and the reels “The Sailor’s Jacket / Wexford Lasses.” Featured on “A New Dawn,” a 1999 album of promising uilleann pipers, Louise is now a fully recognized force on Ireland’s arguably most demanding instrument, and Michelle nimbly weaves her fiddle lines with the melody, drones, and regulator counterpoint provided by Louise. Those two tracks are outstanding.
Four other tracks are also without accompaniment: the hornpipes “The Home Ruler / Jerry Daly’s” and the polkas “Captain Moonlight’s Army / Tom Billy Murphy’s / Johnny O’Leary’s,” which are accordion, flute, and concertina collaborations that absolutely glow, as well as the slow air “Mountains of Pomeroy” and the jigs “Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part / Martin Hardiman’s,” Michelle’s superb harp solos.
My only quibbles are with some inaccurate information in two track note statements: “Jerry [O’Brien] came from Youghal,” and “Joe Derrane, the accordion player, would have learned a lot of music from him,” Martin Hardiman, “a musician who lived in Boston.” O’Brien actually came from Kinsale, and Derrane actually learned the second jig from a different musician in Chicago during a post-concert house party sometime between the late 1940s and early 1950s.
On this CD, proud papa Mick Mulcahy seems content to allow his daughters to shine. But he puts his own strong solo melodeon stamp on the jigs “Kitty Lie Over / Connie the Soldier,” backed by Michelle on piano and Hayes on bones, even though the bones playing is too low in the mix and thus sounds a little like expiring crickets.
Throughout this recording, the performances of Mick, Louise, and Michelle Mulcahy are, without exception, exceptional. Mick has been a lauded leader on the accordion since at least the mid-1970s, while his versatile and virtuosic daughters (Louise is 26, Michelle is 24) have only burnished the family’s musical reputation. The three albums made by these three musicians over the past nine years constitute a luminous achievement not limited to the happy accident of common blood. This would be a summit accomplishment for any Irish traditional trio today.
“Reelin’ in Tradition” finishes with Clare dancers Aidan Vaughan, Paddy Neylon, Deirdre Comber, and Tina Walsh battering the floor to the last two reels in “Maids of Castlebar / Toss the Feathers / Lucy Campbell,” followed by clapping and cheering. I found myself doing the same.
This standout new album (cat. no. CICD 180) from the Mulcahys is available from Clo Iar-Chonnachta, Indreabhain, Connemara, Galway. Visit www.cic.ie.