Category: Archive

Top albums of 2000: the best of the rest

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

Last week you read about the top 10 Irish traditional albums of the year. Here are selections 11 through 20:

11. THE COLEMAN ARCHIVE, VOL. 1 (Coleman Heritage Centre, Gurteen, Co. Sligo): The center’s first release of archival music, informally recorded by mostly South Sligo performers, lacks a studio sheen. But the passion and dedication of the musicians easily overcome the rough production quality of these 34 tracks. Two fascinating rarities are "Martin Wynne’s No. 1," a reel written and played by longtime New York resident fiddler Martin Wynne (1916-1998), and a slip jig performed not on fiddle but on tenor banjo by Larry Redican (1908-1975), member of the famed New York Céilí Band.

12. FONNCHAOI, by Verena Commins and Julie Langan (self-issued): Out of the heady session atmosphere of a past Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy in Miltown Malbay, Clare, emerged this fortuitous partnership. Button accordionist Verena Commins and fiddler Julie Langan have graced Galway City’s session scene for some time now, and the musical communication between the two, honed through regular playing in pubs, translates into studio performances of breathtaking tightness and deliciously sly invention.

13. THE MULCAHY FAMILY (Shanachie): Fluid family music out of Abbeyfeale, West Limerick, with Mick Mulcahy on button accordion and concertina joined by his daughters: 16-year-old Michelle on button accordion, harp, and concertina, and 18-year-old Louise on uilleann pipes and flute.

14. OISÍN MAC DIARMADA, BRIAN FITZGERALD, and MICHEÁL Ó RUANAIGH (Cló Iar-Chonnachta): A marvelous serving of youth, featuring 1999’s All-Ireland senior fiddle champion, Clare-born Mac Diarmada, with Limerick-born Fitzgerald, the All-Ireland senior banjo titlist in 1997, and Monaghan native Ó Ruanaigh on harp. Fiddle, tenor banjo, and harp are an uncommon blend, but the closely observed, refreshingly unfrenetic playing here may make the combination more common in the future.

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15. WITH EVERY BREATH, by John Wynne (UPROS Music): "Martin Wynne’s Nos. 1, 2, and 3," three popular reels penned by and titled after the late Sligo-born fiddler, are given full-bodied expression by Roscommon flutist John Wynne (no relation) with the help of fiddler Terry Crehan and guitarist Paul Doyle. A founding member of the band Providence, Wynne, who now lives in Clare, was inspired and instructed by two of Roscommon’s finest, Kilrooskey flutist Patsy Hanley and Ballinagare fiddler Paddy Ryan, so his Connacht roots show throughout this winning solo debut.

16. THE McDONAGHS OF BALLINAFAD AND FRIENDS (Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann): "The McDonaghs had a wonderful drive and heart in their music," said John Wynne. These 37 tracks testify to that. Paddy McDonagh (1902-1985) played flute and tin whistle, Michael Joe McDonagh (1904-1988) played fiddle, and Larry McDonagh (1911-1984) played flute and fiddle, but only the latter two are heard here. This is gloriously unfussy pure-drop playing by a pair of bachelor brothers from South Sligo, joined at times by friends Tommy Flynn (fiddle), Michael Daly (flute), Paddy Ryan (fiddle), and Tom Harte (bodhrán).

17. THINK BEFORE YOU THINK, by Danú (Shanachie): The septet’s youth — all under age 30 — has created the impression they’re newly sprung. In fact, the band began to take form back in 1995 with Brendan McCarthy, Donnchadh Gough, Daire Bracken, and Dónal Clancy, all good friends in Waterford. Since then, the lineup has changed twice, and the present group — Tom and Eamonn Doorley, Brendan McCarthy, Noel Ryan, Donnchadh Gough, Ciarán Ó Gealbháin, and U.S.-born Jesse Smith – has crafted an album substantially better than the band’s self-titled maiden effort in 1997. You don’t have to think before thinking Danú is one of the most exciting Irish traditional outfits out there.

18. A PIPER’S DREAM, by Brian McNamara (Drumlin): In 1998, "Leitrim’s Hidden Treasure," an album by the talented McNamara family of Aughavas, finished No. 4 in the Irish Echo’s top 10 list. Uilleann piper Brian McNamara, who produced and performed on that 1998 release, adds further luster to the family name with this solo debut. It’s full of tasty tunes played with elegant, egoless dexterity and a respectful appreciation of history. The backing by his sister Deirdre on concertina, Michael Rooney on harp, and Jens Kommnick on guitar leaves the focus where it belongs — on Brian’s pristine piping.

19. A RAKE OF REELS, by John Nolan (JN): The first American ever to win the All-Ireland senior button accordion championship (1982), John Nolan plays Irish traditional dance music with churning power and lift. Nowhere is that more evident than on the title track, an 11-reel, 12-minute-plus tour de force, where he at times displays nimble, spare touches with his bass hand as he drives the melody ahead with his right. He’s also a fine composer, as "The Boogie Reel," "The Twisted Bellows," and "A Tune for Mary" all confirm.

20. TO HELL WITH THE BEGRUDGERS, by Séamus Tansey and Jim McKillop (Sound): A musician not suffering from shyness, Séamus Tansey made a few enemies in Ireland with his 1999 book, "The Bardic Apostles of Innisfree." In it the Sligo-born flutist cast some living Irish musicians in an unflattering light and castigated outside musical influences on the Irish tradition, describing such efforts to "copulate and mongrelize with every culture under the sun" as "bulls–t." But Tansey’s reputation for truculent opinions shouldn’t color an estimation of how inventively he plays the flute here with Jim McKillop, a gifted fiddler from Cushendall, Co. Antrim, who won the All-Ireland senior title in 1976. Accompanied by former Boys of the Lough keyboardist John Coakley, the pair are in fine fettle throughout, performing in a hearty, hard-core style broken only by the synthesizer backing on three slow airs.

Where to find the music

Obtaining Irish traditional recordings can be a challenge at times, particularly with self-issued and Internet-marketed releases, but two very reliable and helpful sources are Custy’s Traditional Music Shop, Francis St., Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland, (ph.) 0656821727, (website) www.custysmusic.com, (e-mail) custys.ennis@eircom.net, and Ossian USA, 118 Beck Rd., Loudon, NH 03307, USA, (ph.) 603-783-4383, (website) www.ossianusa.com, (e-mail) ossianusa@aol.com.

My thanks especially to John O’Connor and Eoin O’Neill at Custy’s and Mary Lou Philbin and Charlie Clarke at Ossian USA for sending so many late releases to me for consideration.

Additional thanks to the musicians, writers, radio hosts, record labels, and others in Ireland, America, Britain, Europe, and elsewhere for posting albums. Winnowing 20 from the more than 200 received isn’t easy and in no way reflects on the quality of many releases not selected.

In my next "Trad Beat" column, I’ll mention a dozen honorable mentions for 2000.

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