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Three’s company in Second City

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

BOHOLA, CD #78048 from Shanachie Entertainment, 37 E. Clinton St., Newton, N.J., (973) 579-7763, www.shanachie.com.

Formed less than three years ago, Bohola are a Chicago-based trio who have done something rare and exciting. They’ve challenged our wheel-rutted expectations of how Irish traditional medleys can be assembled and what they can achieve. Plenty of musicians skillfully string tunes together or string tunes after a song, but few can artfully integrate an entire song within an instrumental medley while maintaining a seamless continuity throughout.

Consisting of London-born Jimmy Keane on piano accordion, Milwaukee-born Sean Cleland on fiddle and viola, and native Dubliner Pat Broaders on vocals, bouzouki, and dordan, Bohola have mapped out their music with fearless creativity and meticulous care. They change melodies, tempos, and dynamics purposefully, not whimsically, and the use of improvisation never comes off as mere garnish.

The album’s two longest tracks illustrate all of the trio’s musical attributes. In both “Johnny Doherty’s March/Moving On Song/Peacock’s Feather/Mother’s Delight Reel/Lady Ann Montgomery/Rolling in the Ryegrass” (11-1/2 minutes) and “Lullaby/The Shamrock Shore/Barndance/The Humours of Westport” (almost 13 minutes), the opening tune flows into the song, and the song into the following tune, with an assurance and subtlety suggesting they were meant to be linked. They weren’t, of course, and that is the art concealing art in Bohola.

The only American to win five consecutive All-Ireland titles, Jimmy Keane is the virtuoso in this trio. His playing on “Reagan’s/The Shepherd’s Daughter/Rolling in the Hay/Colonel Rodney” is a tour de force, precise in ornamentation, galvanic in impact. No wonder University of Limerick professor, composer, and pianist Mfche_l + S_illeabh_in once praised him as a “savior of the piano accordion.”

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Though not of Keane’s caliber, Pat Broaders and former Drovers founding member Sean Cleland are like two solid, complementary role players on a winning sports team, and teamwork lies at the heart of this album. (The three, in fact, previously collaborated in ‘ngus, a group also featuring Robbie O’Connell.) The sum here is greater than the parts, and egos are subordinate to both execution and effect.

That effect is often exhilarating. With essentially just box, fiddle, bouzouki, and voice, Bohola have crafted an album of intricate, nearly invisible latticework, relying not on gimmickry and guests but on imagination and vision. What a welcome concept: muse imbuing music. This is as refreshing and revitalizing a sound as I’m likely to hear in 2002.

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