Category: Archive

‘The New Broom’ bristles with natural beauty

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Since age 69, a time when many other musicians might slow down and bask in their “elder statesman” status, Mike Rafferty has been on a tear of productivity. He has issued three duet recordings with his talented daughter, Mary, who spent seven years as a member of Cherish the Ladies, and released his formal solo debut, “Speed 78,” at age 78. From his vast repertoire, 600 tunes have been compiled and transcribed by Lesl Harker in two books, “300 Tunes from Mike Rafferty” and “Second Wind: 300 More Tunes from Mike Rafferty.” He still plays ceilidhs, still performs in concerts, and still teaches music.
Add all that to his playing on “Traditional Irish Music in America: The East Coast” and “Light Through the Leaves: Traditional Irish Music on Wind Instruments” from the late 1970s, “Fathers and Daughters” from 1985, and button accordionist Joe Burke’s oft-forgotten “The Leg of the Duck” recording from 1992, and what you have is an impressive body of work. (I also have a two-CD recording, made by New Jersey’s Tom Madden, of Mike’s concert with button accordionist Billy McComiskey and keyboardist Felix Dolan on March 28, 2003, at lower Manhattan’s Blarney Star Pub that remains a prize possession of mine.)
A 1991 inductee into Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann’s Mid-Atlantic Region Hall of Fame, Mike Rafferty has joined his good friend, fiddler Willie Kelly, and his son-in-law, guitar and bouzouki player Donal Clancy, on a brand-new album, “The New Broom,” that will certainly strengthen and spread Mike’s reputation in Irish traditional music. An Irish saying that appears in the CD, “A new broom sweeps clean, but an old one knows the corners,” applies to the music made by these three instrumentalists. They play cleanly and thoroughly, and know how to reach into the corners. Leaving velocity to the NASCAR-minded musicians out there, the trio performs at a beautiful, unhurried tempo, with just the right temperament, touch, and what can only be called telepathy.
That impression begins with the opening medley of jigs, “The Maid on the Green / Anthony Frawley’s,” where fiddle, flute, and bouzouki blend so effortlessly that it’s impossible to think of these three instruments as disparate. Kelly, Rafferty, and Clancy let listeners come to the music as if they entered a quiet pub on a rainy, cold day and found, instead of a hearth, this music burning quietly in a snug, swept-out corner.
The trio’s performance of such medleys as “Reilly of the White Hill / Martin Wynne’s” reels, “Dash to Portobello / The Ladies’ Pantalettes” reels (Michael Coleman memorably recorded that last reel in May 1927), and “The Green Fields of Woodford / The Fly in the Porter” jigs is even more captivating. Mike plays “The Green Fields of Woodford” solo on flute with Clancy shading on guitar and dedicates the tune to the memory of button accordionist Joe Madden, his great friend who taught it to him and who died at age 70 this past November 14. Pairing that jig with one composed by Newtown, Tipperary, button accordionist Paddy O’Brien (1922-91), who lived in New York from 1954 to 1962, testifies to how important the contributions of Mike, Joe, and Paddy were and are to Irish traditional music in America. And Willie Kelly’s entrance on “The Fly in the Porter” suggests that a younger generation will not let those past bonds fray.
A lovely pace is maintained throughout the two medleys of hornpipes, “Kilcooley Wood / An Buchall Droite” and “The Honeysuckle / Pound Hill,” and the solos taken by Mike and Willie glisten in their own right. Mike plays “The White Leaf / Larkin’s Beehive” reels and “Barrel Rafferty’s / Cregg” jigs with only Clancy accompanying him on guitar, and his articulate, ever-tasteful playing and unhasty, rounded phrasing on wooden flute remain a benchmark in the Irish tradition. Willie plays the slow air “An Caisideach Ban” and the jig paired with it, “The Cook in the Kitchen,” as well as the reels “Bonnie Anne / The Weeshie Bag of Potatoes” all as strictly unaccompanied fiddle solos, allowing us to savor his lithe, subtly ornamented bowing in pristine form.
We Irish traditional music critics are not supposed to gush over a recording. That would be unseemly. But at the risk of sounding unseemly and downright gushy, I simply cannot get enough of this recording. It is 17 tracks of what Joe Burke calls “the old genuine music of Ireland.” It is music, it is genuine, it is Irish, but it is not old. Nothing this unobtrusively vital and vibrant can ever be deemed old.
Willie Kelly and Donal Clancy represent a younger generation extending a hand of appreciation and respect to the generation represented by Mike Rafferty, who is ageless in his mastery.
Forget the fancy vacuum cleaner with a dozen plastic attachments. Buy this all-natural “New Broom.” It comes with beautiful melodies and playing. It also knows the corners.
This self-issued CD is available at www.raffertymusic.com.

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