By Earle Hitchner
PATTY FURLONG: TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC ON BUTTON ACCORDION, 306 Holt Dr., Pearl River, N.Y. 10965, 914-735-3282, firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been 14 years since the release of "Cherish the Ladies," a Shanachie album featuring some of Irish America’s most accomplished traditional women performers. Among those on that recording is Patty Conway Furlong, a Bronx native who got her start on the button accordion from her late father, Jimmy, and received subsequent tutelage from the late Martin Mulvihill.
Now the three-time All-Ireland champion has released her first solo album, "Patty Furlong: Traditional Irish Music on Button Accordion," and it’s one of the most enjoyable recordings of box music in recent years. Her playing is clean, precise, and buoyant; her tempo and style, steady and controlled. Furlong understands that the race is not to the swift but to the sincere in Irish music.
The pleasure she derives from performing is obvious in every track, and it’s infectious. On the reels "Brenda Stubbert’s/The North Side/Alice’s," the swing and lift she achieves in her playing are almost palpable, and the changes she executes between tunes are spot-on. It’s clear that Furlong knows what she wants to do musically and does it. There’s no trace of temporizing, no coy sliding between notes or sustains of single notes. What you hear is what she is: a devoted student of the tradition, someone who loves it and doesn’t feel the need to transform it in her own image.
And yet, her own warm musical personality suffuses the album, making it all the more special. A member of many ensembles in the past, including céilí bands overseen by Martin Mulvihill and the well-respected New York-based group Atlantic Bridge (in which ex-Solas vocalist Karan Casey once sang), Furlong is a gifted soloist who can play with anyone — including the Chieftains, with whom she guested in 1995. The blend of her C#/D accordion and Brendan Dolan’s flute on the second and third jigs in the "Caherlistrane/Castletown Connors/Fasten the Leg on Her" medley is an utter delight, as is the mix of her box and the banjo of Tyrone’s Frankie McCormick on the "Munster Grass/Coey’s" hornpipes.
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In addition to McCormick and Dolan on this recording are Fiona Doherty on fiddle, Benedict Koehler on uilleann pipes, Myron Bretholz on bodhrán, Donna Long on piano, Mairead Powell King stepdancing in hard shoes, Hilari Farrington on harp, and Zan McLeod on guitars, dumbek, shakers, and synthesizer. Their contributions ably support Patty Furlong on her impressive self-issued solo album, a shining example of how a do-it-yourself attitude can lead to something of lasting, substantial merit.