By Earle Hitchner
KEVIN BURKE IN CONCERT, GLCD 1196 on Green Linnet Records, 43 Beaver Brook Rd., Danbury, CT 06810; (800) 468-6644.
Christy Moore, Arlo Guthrie (two tracks on 1973’s "Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys"), the Bothy Band, a partnership with Bothy Band alumnus Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, another with button accordionist Jackie Daly, Patrick Street, Open House, Celtic Fiddle Festival: These are some of the musical alliances formed by fiddler Kevin Burke over his career.
It’s an impressive résumé, further fleshed out by three solo recordings, two released in 1977-78 and the last in 1984.
This is his eagerly anticipated fourth solo effort, and it is certainly worth the 15-year wait. Recording the album over two evenings last December at the Artichoke Concert Room in Portland, Ore., where he’s lived for two decades, Burke reprises a number of tunes from previous recordings while adding a few new to his recorded repertoire.
Known for his silky, not slick, bowing and deft sliding from one note to another with nary a seam, the London-born fiddler of Sligo parents seems to be wholly in his element on this live recording. Appropriately, he pays frequent tribute to those musicians whose style and taste had an impact on his own playing.
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That is brilliantly apparent on "The Cottage Groves/Maudabawn Chapel/The Beare Island Reel," the first tune of which incorporates aspects of both button accordionist Martin Mulhaire’s standout solo on the Tulla Céilí Band’s classic "Echoes of Erin" LP from 1957 and Clare fiddler Bobby Casey’s rendition.
It’s not surprising that tunes associated with two Sligo fiddling idols of Burke, Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran, would surface here too. "Bonnie Kate/Jenny’s Chickens," two reels cut by Coleman in 1934 and forever linked thereafter, feature some breathtaking ornamentation and descending runs from Burke. "Up Sligo," recorded by Coleman in the 1920s, kicks off a medley of three spirited jigs, backed only passably by Dublin guitarist Aidan Brennan.
"McFadden’s Handsome Daughter," a favorite of Paddy Killoran and also the last commercial recording of fellow Sligo fiddler James Morrison, concludes a set of three reels played with immaculate touch by Burke.
Again he’s accompanied by Brennan, who will make no one forget Ó Domhnaill, Dónal Lunny, Gerry O’Beirne or Arty McGlynn, all superior guitar backers of Burke in the past.
Two of Martin Mulhaire’s colleagues in the Tulla Céilí Band, fiddlers P.J. Hayes and Paddy Canny, are acknowledged through two tracks, "Sean Ryan’s Jigs" and "Roll in the Barrel/In the Taproom/The Earl’s Chair," that they recorded on their classic 1960 LP, "All-Ireland Champions — Violin." Joining Burke on those tunes is P.J. Hayes’s son, Martin, and their fiddling duet nimbly bridges the Sligo and East Clare styles.
One of life’s continuing great pleasures is to hear Kevin Burke play the fiddle outside a larger group format, whether by himself or with a partner (like Hayes) matching his skill, and this recording provides such pleasure in spades. It is a gutsy, galvanizing solo flight by Burke, confirming once more why he’s among the premier Irish fiddlers alive.
There’s a rare chance to catch Kevin Burke in a solo concert on May 7 at 9 and 10:30 p.m. at the Blarney Star, 43 Murray St., NYC; (212) 732-2873.