By Earle Hitchner
THE OLD FIRESIDE MUSIC, by Mike and Mary Rafferty, Larraga Records LR093098, 229 Baldwin Ave., Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604; (201) 288-4267 (CD, $15; cassette, $10; add $3 for postage).
It’s been almost four years since "The Dangerous Reel," one of the Irish Echo’s top recordings for 1995, made by the outstanding father-and-daughter duo of Mike and Mary Rafferty. This new, eagerly awaited follow-up will only burnish their reputation for playing Irish traditional music with singular skill and feeling, stripped of artifice yet full of artful touches throughout.
Mike’s flute and Mary’s button accordion blend with effortless punch on the reels "Follow Me Down to Galway/Follow Me Down to Carlow," backed on guitar by Donal Clancy, son of Liam Clancy, and the match of Mike’s flute and Mary’s tin whistle on "Dinny Delaney’s," a hornpipe and reel medley, is equally impressive.
Two of the three tracks on which Mike is featured as a flute soloist, "The Hard Road to Travel/Shanks Mare" and "Barrel Rafferty’s/Paddy Murphy’s," reflect the deep-seated musical influence of his native Ballinakill in East Galway. "Barrel Rafferty’s," learned from and named for his father, and "Paddy Murphy’s," titled for the late great Limerick fiddler, are done without accompaniment, and the stark beauty inherent in each melody comes through with unhurried power in Mike’s playing.
Another unexpected pleasure of the album is "The Stack of Wheat" hornpipe lilted by Paddy Rafferty, who’s joined by his brother Mike on flute. Years back, both appeared on Joe Burke’s "The Leg of the Duck" recording, and here the brothers combine for a lilt-and-lift rendition that is a total delight. Kathleen Glynn, Mike and Paddy’s sister, adds to the album’s family connection with the song "May Morning Dew," backed by Mike on flute and uilleann pipes.
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With her dad, Mary Rafferty expertly performs "Tip Toe Home," a reel she wrote that appeared on last year’s "Threads of Time" album by Cherish the Ladies, of which she’s a member. Mary also forcefully steps out solo on three tracks: "Bonnie Scotland/The Midnight Hornpipe" and "Ashplant/The Merry Harriers," both done on accordion, and "Doherty’s/The Dunmore Lasses," which she plays on tin whistle.
Recorded in Connecticut and Galway, "The Old Fireside Music" fondly recalls a time of house dances and parlor playing in Ireland. There are no bells or whistles here, no studio tricks or "enhancing" electronics. It’s the pure drop — straight, no chaser, to borrow the great Thelonious Monk’s phrase. Free of filigree, the album is an utter marvel, crafted by two gifted instrumentalists who together know how to bring listeners back to the home and heart of the Irish tradition.