Category: Archive

On touchstones and ‘common ground’

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Finally, my guest looked at me and stated the obvious: “You realize we’re not arguing about how great this album is.”
That recording was a touchstone for me, and four albums from the Scottish band Ossian during the 1980s formed another. Silly Wizard had more charisma, the Battlefield Band had more endurance, and the Tannahill Weavers had more in-your-face punch. But no trad group in Scotland ever surpassed the combined creativity and virtuosity of Ossian’s “Seal Song” in 1981, “Dove Across the Water” in 1982, “Borders” in 1984, and “Light on a Distant Shore” in 1986. Collectively, they represented the acme of the Scottish traditional music revival during the 1970s and 1980s.
Born in Birmingham but a resident of Clare since 1989, flute, whistle, and bodhran player Kevin Crawford also considers Ossian a touchstone. On his 2001 solo album, “In Good Company,” he refers to Ossian as “one of my all-time favorite Scottish bands” and plays flute (with Frankie Gavin on fiddle) on “The Periwig” reel, learned from Ossian’s “Tae the Beggin'” medley on “Dove Across the Water.”
With Armagh-born, Queens, N.Y., resident Cillian Vallely playing uilleann pipes, Crawford tackles that reel again on flute in “On Common Ground,” an outstanding new duet debut by these Lunasa bandmates. Pipes and flute are heard without backing at the onset of “Teampall an Ghleantain / Fr. Newman’s / The Periwig,” then are joined by the guitar of fellow Lunasa colleague Paul Meehan in a medley bristling with energy and expertise, capped by that last reel’s inexhaustible appeal.
On the album the music of Vallely and Crawford is fluid and full-blooded, with a trace of sharpness to avoid any simpering sweetness. Even their initial twin low whistle playing on the jigs “The Ivory Flute / Straddle the Donkey / Visit to Ireland” incorporates subtle variations and flourishes to keep the musical pot simmering, and the eventual entry of Vallely’s pipes adds to the track’s piquancy.
Both musicians maintain a tempo that’s dynamic without being too fast or too slow, allowing ample opportunity for embellishment and spontaneity in the service of melody. Vallely on pipes and Meehan on guitar start off the jigs “John Feehilly’s / Ned Coleman’s / Dominic’s Farewell to Cashel,” and then Crawford injects flute sustains that extend the regulator action of Vallely until pipes, flute, guitar, and bodhran mesh fully. The deceptively well-conceived architecture of this medley is easy on the ear.
The jigs “Helvic Head / Bill Harte’s” feature another talented guitarist, Donal Clancy, who lays down a sturdy, flexible rhythm on which Crawford’s flute and Vallely’s pipes can confidently rely. Close listening reveals some passages of symmetrical, four-beat regulator work from Vallely to boost variety as he and Crawford skillfully drive the melody along.
“Days Around Lahinch / The Man From Moyasta” are slow reels written by Crawford and played by him and Vallely on low whistles, with Crawford adroitly tucking in accents and ornaments to pique interest.
With Meehan backing him, Crawford takes a captivating flute solo on “The Leading Role / Little Man with the Brown Shoes / Bill Hoare’s,” all reels linked to button accordionist Billy McComiskey through his solo debut, “Makin’ the Rounds,” or the two albums made by Trian, a trio comprising McComiskey, Liz Carroll, and Daithi Sproule. Crawford has told me of his admiration for tunes written by McComiskey, especially on “Outside the Box,” the Irish Echo’s top traditional recording for 2008, and also for tunes by Carroll. The flutist nimbly fleshes out the track with his bodhran playing on the last two reels.
Vallely’s solo is a medley of the slow air “Uirchill a’ Chreagain,” which he plays without accompaniment, followed by the reels “Gorman’s” and “Ta an Saol ar Fad i nGra Liom,” where Clancy joins on guitar. His piping is assured, crisp, and altogether impressive.
Also on the album are a hornpipe-fling pairing of “The Birds / Jim Ward’s,” featuring flute, pipes, low whistle, and the guitar of Clancy, and other tracks of jigs and reels strengthening the allure of the duo’s music made on flat-pitched instruments.
Tasty tunes and terrific playing make “On Common Ground” one of the recording triumphs of this still young year. It is a pinnacle performance from Cillian Vallely and Kevin Crawford, two uncommonly gifted Irish traditional musicians.
The album (cat. no. BOR 001) is available on BallyO Records at www.myspace.com/crawfordvallelymusic. For other information, visit www.ballyopromotions.ie.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese