Irish accordionist is a masterful musician who is comfortable playing traditional music as well as exploring the musics from various world traditions. On Sacred Earth, Sharon Shanon collaborates with guitarist Justin Adams and kora player Seckou Keita who introduce an African element, incorporating West African sounds and Saharan blues.
There is still plenty of lively and melancholic Celtic music from Ireland and other lands as well, such as the wonderful Frenchie’s Reel that comes from northeastern North America and features the 6 great Shetland fiddlers.
Sacred Earth also features unexpected songs like the nostalgic American country-inspired “He’ll Have to Go” featuring Finbar Furey; an annoying hip hop song; and a great blues track featuring bluesman Greg Guy (Buddy Guy’s son), Australian duo Hat Fitz and Cara and harmonica Majiec Zawarone.
Sacred Earth is a masterfully-crafted album where traditional virtuoso Irish accordion meets the sounds of the globe.
The Breath is a Manchester-based innovative folk band inspired by Celtic music, rock, ambient electronic, and other influences. The group is led by vocalist, lyricist and flute player Ríoghnach Connolly and guitarist and composer Stuart McCallum. They met through MySpace in 2010 when McCallum was looking for a singer.
Ríoghnach Connolly was born in Armagh (Northern Ireland) and is currently based in Manchester. She is known for her work with Afro Celt Sound System and Honeyfeet. Ríoghnach has an extraordinary voice.
Stuart McCallum was born in Manchester. He is an exploratory guitarist, known for his masterful loops and effects. He worked with Cinematic Orchestra and released various solo albums.
The other two members of the original The Breath are drummer Luke Flowers and pianist John Ellis.
The group attracted a lot of attention in 2016 with its debut album Carry Your Kin on Real World Records, recorded in Manchester and at Real World Studios, mixed by Tchad Blake.
Carry Your Kin (Real World Records, 2016)
Let The Cards Fall (Real World Records, 2018)
Master uilleann piper Liam O’Flyn, also known as Liam Óg Ó Floinn, was born September 15, 1945 in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland. to musical parents.
Liam O’Flynn was born into what he described as “a very definite thing.” His father was a schoolmaster and fiddle player and his mother, who played and taught piano, came from a family of famous musicians from Clare.
After a time on the tin whistle and a short period ‘scraping’ at a small violin, Liam finally got started on the uilleann pipes. He had an obvious gift for this most complicated instrument, and was encouraged by all around him, notably by the Kildare piper Tom Armstrong. At the age of eleven, he received master-classes with Leo Rowsome.
In his teens, Liam and his pipes began to attend music sessions in the Kildare village of Prosperous. There, for the first time, he met many of the people with whom he would later make his name and tour the concert-halls of the world. These were musicians like Christy Moore, Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine with whom, in the early seventies, Liam formed the legendary folk band Planxty. One of Ireland’s most important and influential groups, Planxty brought a style, innovation and ‘cool’ to Irish music which was to lead directly to the many Irish musical success stories during the decades that followed.
Behind the innovation and experimentation, Liam O’Flynn always managed to remain true to the great piping tradition. He took his instrument into previously unexplored territory – be it as a member of Planxty, as a soloist with an orchestra or working with artists as diverse as John Cage, The Everly Brothers, Van Morrison and Kate Bush.
Liam O’Flynn was one of Ireland’s greatest musicians . He died March 14, 2018.
St. Patrick’s Day. How exactly did the Catholic patron saint feast day of the the people of Ireland, a relatively small island in the North Atlantic, evolve into a worldwide celebration? With festivities and parades in communities large and small that traverse from United States to Australia from Germany to Argentina from Japan to South Africa, the logical answer of course is the ability of the Irish to pick up and move to wherever the road takes them with all the mitigating factors of migration mixed in like famine, disease and oppression. By why this extravaganza of green? Some might point to mass marketing with promises of barrels of beer, a good time party and a lively parade in those dark days that mark the lull between Christmas and the genuine start of spring. The spread of St. Patrick’s Day by way of the cross pollination of culture seem so reasonable, so rational, so plausible.
But the Irish in me wants it to be us. The Irish in me wants it to be our storytelling, our music, our dance. Yes, the Irish in me wants it to be the utter surety that “if you knew us, you’d like us,” which I’m not sure if it makes us charmingly likable or just a wee bit obnoxious. Those not quite spring days of March seem a good time for us heathens in the Northern Hemisphere to settle in with a pint against the backdrop of a sweet tune and listen to someone’s Da tell a story that couldn’t possibly be true, but then again it just might. See, I have no doubt that there’s a Irishman out there, right now, that’s looking at a lovely woman and saying, “Ah, Mo stoirín, you remind me of a girl …” before weaving a fantastical tale. Perhaps that’s the real lure of St. Patrick’s Day.
To lure you in further let’s find some music for your St. Patrick’s Day and there is indeed some fine music this year to tempt you.
There’s the standard St. Patrick’s Day fare of Celtic Thunder’s Celtic Thunder X with tracks like “Sons of Light,” “Toora Loora Lay” and “The Wild Rover.” While a little overblown and a bit more commercial pop than I personally prefer, their version of “Lannigans Ball” is lively.
The late 2017 releases of Voice of the Celts and The Voice Within by Dulaman follow along the same vein, but “Dulaman,” “On Raglan Road,” “Sally Brown,” “The Sally Gardens” and Na Ceannabhain Bhana” are worth a listen. Also, Celtic Woman has put out Homecoming – Live From Ireland for Susan McFadden, Mairead Carlin, Eabha McMahon and Tara McNeil fans.
The Gap of Dreams by Altan is certain to set your Celtic heart all aflutter. The stunning bright and beautiful recording is full of the goodness of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh’s vocals and fiddle, Ciaran Curran’s bouzouki, Daithi Sproule’s guitar and vocals, Mark Kelly’s guitar and vocals and Martin Tourish’s piano accordion. They threw in Tommy McLaughlin on keyboards just for kicks. On The Gap of Dreams fans get a dose of “The Gap of Dreams/Nia’s Jig/The Beekeeper,” “The Month of January,” “Nion a’ Bhaoigheallaigh” and “The Tullaghan Lasses/The Cameronian/The Pigeon on the Gate,” as well as “Cumha an Oileain” and the sweetly simple Mark Kelly composition “Port Alex.”
Equally delicious is the third offering Stri by Gaelic singer Maeve Mackinnon. Fans will want to check out this for tracks like “Iomaraibh Eutrom,” “Roisin Dubh,” “Dh’fhalbh Mo Run air an Aiseig” and “O Mo Cheist am Fear Ban.”
Fiddle fans will want to check out From Within by fiddler Eric Ryan-Johnson. This artist self release is packed with goodies like “Jigs: The Beginning/A Boy & His Dad/The Yelping Dog,” “Air: The Farmer of Florence,” “Reel: The Morning Cup,” “Air: February 23” and “Reels: The End Is Near/ Bound to Break.” And if that wasn’t enough sweet Celtic fiddle goodness for you, he’s also got The Wonderful Day on tap with treats like “Hornpipes: The Wonderful Day/The Bee’s Wings,” “Jigs: Knights of St. Patrick/Hast to the Wedding/Father O’Flynn’s,” “Air: Melody for Meredith Keefe,” “Reels: Bag of Potatoes/Blacksmith’s Reel/Castle Kelly” and “Reel: Coffin Ships.”
There’s Celtic Crumble’s Echos of Ireland with tracks like “Carry Me Home,” “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” “The Twins of Ballina” and title track “Echos of Ireland” to tempt fans.
Perhaps, a mixed bag of tricks will tickle your fancy. Well, then you might want to try out ARC music’s Discover Celtic Music. There are some real treats here with Aryeh Frankfurter’s “The Morning Dew,” Golden Bough’s “The Wren Boys/Gavin’s Hornpipe/Honeysuckle,” Noel Mclourghlin’s “The Hills of Connemara” and Mary Ann Kennedy’s “Air Leathad Sleibhe.” There’s also Gwyneth Glyn’s “Cwlwm,” Yvon Etienne’s “Si j’ai le courage,” Os Rosales’s “Muineira a Gatuxa” and Sian James’s “Mwynen merch.” Good stuff.
Pure Records has released Avenging and Bright by Damien O’Kane. Don’t let the goofy cover photo of Mr. O’Kane scare you off because this Northern Ireland singer and musician goes down silky smooth like the perfect pint on offerings like “Boston City,” title track “Avenging and Bright,” “All Among the Barley,” January Man,” and “Dancing in Puddles.” Mr. O’Kane’s vocal against piano, guitar and tenor guitar makes for some fine contemporary fare.
Perhaps one of my favorites has to be the Danny Diamond’s Elbow Room. This fiddler extraordinaire has played previously with Slow Moving Clouds and Morga, but on Elbow Room Mr. Diamond wows listeners simply by the shape and breadth of his own solo fiddler’s soul. Whether you’re a newbie listener or a seasoned Irish fiddle devotee, it’s easy to fall under the spell Mr. Diamond weaves on tracks like “Maureen from Gibberland,” “The Pinch of Snuff,” “Watching the Evening Grow,” “The Blackbird” and “Johnny Cope.” This is truly a fiddler’s delight.
The String Sisters have out Between Wind and Water. Irish vocalist and fiddler Mairead Ne Mhaonaigh, Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Annbjorg Lien, the American fiddler Liz Knowles, Shetland fiddler Catriona MacDonald, the American fiddler Liz Carroll and Swedish fiddler and vocalist Emma Hardelin have turned out some fine tunes on Between Wind and Water with jaunty tracks like “The Crow’s Visit,” “Hjaltland” and “Late Night in Forde.” Fans get morsels of sweetness like “Wind and Rain,” “Det bor I mina tankar” and “Mo Nion O.”
Another stunning fiddle recording is An Choill Uaigneach by Theresa Kavanagh. Hailing from Donegal, Ms. Kavanagh dazzles listener with the bright wildness of the fiddle on such tracks as “The Wild Swans of Coole/The Abandoned Meadow,” “Jocelyn’s/Grainne’s Jig” and “The Sword of Light/Secrets of the Willow,” and title track “An Choill Uaigneach” or “The Lonesome Forest” is elegant.
For Celtic fans looking for a little something off the beaten path might want to check out Plantec’s Live at the Festival Interceltique Lorient. These Breton Celtic rockers dole out a ferocious performance on this recording. Full of Breton bombard, guitar and synthesizer and programming, this is a definitive kick in the pants to any sweet version of “Danny Boy.” Recorded at the 2017 Lorient Inter Celtique Festival, Plantec’s Odran and Yannick Plantec and Gabriel Djibril kick some Celtic rock ass with tracks like “Croissant de letiez,” “Speedwell,” “Koun” and “Feulz.”
Another off the beaten path choice might be Celtic Rock Opera series recording “Excalibur IV The Dark Age of the Dragon” with music, lyrics and concept by Alan Simon. If you need a backing soundtrack for your noble quest down the highway or to the grocery store, well, here’s your music. Recorded with the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague, this recording rocks out with electric guitars, drums and keyboards, as well as mandolins, Celtic harps and big bold vocals. It features Moya Brennan (Clannad), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Michael Sadler (Saga),and Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep).
Brona McVittie’s We Are the Wildlife is a lovely contemporary Celtic folk collection. Her sweet vocals on “Where the Angels Wake You,” “The Flower of Magherally“ and “Molly Brannigan” are intimate and mesmerizing. Add in Myles Cochran on “The Vast and Vague Extravagance That Lies at the Bottom of the Celtic Heart” and you definitely have a winner.
If atmospheric and ethereal is what you are looking for you might want to check out the Irish harpist Aine Minogue’s In the Name of Stillness Celtic Meditation Music. Ms. Minogue set us a serene loveliness from opening track “In the Name of Stillness” and through tracks like “Home of Belonging,” “In the Name of Solitude” and “Quiet Absence.”
Mary Ann Kennedy has An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World out on the ARC label. The Scottish singer has tracks like “Seinn, Horo, Seinn,” “Sith na Coille,” “Iain Againn Fhin” and “Air Leathad Sleibhe” on tap for listeners.
If Ulileann pipes, bouzouki, bodran, fiddle, flute and cello are on your wish list for the season, then you might want to take a listen to John McSherry’s The Seven Suns. A 2016 release that some how passed us by is bold and infectiously delightful. With tracks like “Dance of the Siog,” “The Atlantean,” “Sunrise at Bealtaine,” “The Golden Mean” and “The Cloghogle,” Mr. McSherry, along with fellow musicians Sean Og Graham, Niamh Dunne, Michael McGoldrick and Sean Warren, will have you and yours feting until the wee hours.
Another 2016 out on the Compass Records label that somehow also passed us by that is well worth a listen is Doolin‘ by the band of the same name. Doolin’ is a fine time and rollicking good fun with tracks like “Mary’s Jigs,” “Sailing Across the Ocean,” “The Road to Gleanntan,” “Wind Her Up” and “The Galway Girl.”
There’s also The Irishman’s Finest Collection by John Duhan. Starting out his career at the age of 15 as the front man for Limrick’s 1960s rock group Granny Intentions, Mr. Duhan would later turn to his own writing and solo recordings like The Voyage, Just Another Town and To the Light, as well as having some of his songs recording by heavyweights such as Christy Moore, The Dubliners and Mary Black. On The Irishman’s Finest Collection, Mr. Duhan lays bare the Irish soul by way of tracks like “Just Another Town,” “The Voyage,” “All I Need” and “The River Returning.”
Should musicians like Irla O Lionaird, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes and Thomas Bartlett mean anything to you then you should drop whatever bit of nonsense you are doing and run around in a circle of delight. A bit of girlish screaming and arm waving wouldn’t go amiss either. If you hadn’t guessed these five musicians have out on the Real World label The Gloaming Live at the NCH . And let me say this recording is lovely, lovely and even more lovely. Be prepared to be entranced by the opening fiddle lines of “The Booley House,” through the sweet charms of Iarla O Lionaird’s vocals on “Cucanandy” and “The Sailor’s Bonnet” to the very Celtic magic of “The Pilgrim’s Song” and “The Rolling Wave” and all the way to the very end of “Fainleog.” You want this CD. You need it. Your very connection to all that expresses the sweetly joyful sorrowful Celtic soul depends on it.
Recorded at Dublin, Ireland’s National Concert Hall, The Gloaming Live at NCH is breathtakingly good, so good it’s hard not to feel a little giddy over this elegant work of voice, piano, Hardanger d’Amore, guitar and fiddle. You don’t even need to think about, just get it.
Finally, let me say that in regards to St. Patrick’s Day that I’m glad to know that we Irish aren’t hoarders of the holiday. There’s enough Irish to go around. That frothy pint doesn’t care a whit if you are saint or sinner. The fiddle tune doesn’t care if your are ferocious or feckless. You could be fool or faerie folk and you would still be welcome for what the Irish call comhaltacht – fellowship. So, settle in and listen to some good music and maybe somebody’s Da will tell you a story.
Ballycotton started at the beginning of 1996 with a temporary band called Glakijamus. Three members this stayed together: Matthias Jakisic (fiddle), Alexander König (bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, guitar) and Harald G. Binder (percussion). They played Irish, Spanish Russian Folk standards and gave themselves name Ballycotton after small fishing village in South Ireland. A few months later Alex, headed to Liverpool (England) to join the Paul McCartney School. A substitute had be found. Gernot Strauß (guitar) was chosen.
He fit so well into the band that after Alex returned, Gernot also stayed. The quartet chose to create original music: Irish Folk with a lot of its own modern folk influences. In November of 1996 Ballycotton started to record its first CD Joanna’s Wedding, which was released in February of 1997. That same year, the first international tour led Ballycotton to Germany and Holland, playing mainly as street musicians or in pubs for food an accommodation.
As a Christmas present, Ballycotton’s label released the Maxi-CD My Little Drummer Boy featuring the original song by David Bowie and Bing Crosby and a song from the Ballycotton album Fairytale.
In 2005, the band released the concept album “Eyla.”
Usher’s Island is a new superband that brings together some of the greatest contemporary Irish folk music musicians. Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle have played with the most iconic Irish and Irish American bands: Planxty, Bothy Band, Lunasa and Solas.
The majority of the compositions on Usher’s Island are traditional songs and tunes rearranged by the band, along with a handful of originals by Usher’s Island members.
The way the album was made connects with Irish tradition as well. Mike McGoldrick bought a cottage in County Galway, western Ireland that had been used by musicians in the past to hold sessions. McGoldrick turned it into a recording studio for three days.
Throughout Usher’s Island the listener is treated to fascinating storytelling songs and delightful ensemble pieces with superb instrumental interaction and superb solos weaved in. Irish music at its best.
Personnel: Andy Irvine on vocals, mandola and harmonica; Dónal Lunny on vocals, bouzouki, baritone bouzouki, bodhran and keyboards; Paddy Glackin on fiddle; Mike McGoldrick on wooden flute, low whistle and uileann pipes; and John Doyle on guitar, bouzouki and vocals.
Usher’s Island features masterfully-crafted Irish music with dazzling acoustic interplay and exceptionally expressive vocals.
Solas is the most important Irish music band based in the United States. The group plays fiery instrumental medleys for which they’ve become famous as well as evocative songs.
In September 2005 Solas performed a very special 1th anniversary concert in Philadelphia proving that even after a decade they were still as fresh and edgy as ever. 2006’s live CD release Reunion: A Decade of Solas vividly captured what many described as a once-in-a-lifetime show.
In 2008, Deirdre Scanlan replaced original vocalist Karan Casey, who left to pursue a solo career. From Nenagh County Tipperary Deirdre is an All-Ireland champion vocalist whose solo debut in 1999 Speak Softly confirmed her status as one of Ireland’s most accomplished singers.
About Solas’ founders:
Born in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, Seamus Egan won All-Ireland championships on flute, tin whistle, mandolin and banjo, and wrote a score for the Irish stage show Dancing on Dangerous Ground.
New York fiddler Winifred Horan is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music and was a member of both Cherish the Ladies and the Sharon Shannon Band.
Dublin guitarist and singer John Doyle performed previously with Susan McKeown and the Chanting House and has recorded with Eileen Ivers, James Keane and Liz Carroll.
From Callan County, Kilkenny, Mick McAuley plays button accordion concertina low whistle and also sings for Solas whom he joined in 1997 after touring and recording with Niamh Parsons and Ron Kavana.
In 2010, vocalist Niamh Varian-Barry from Cork replaced Mairead Phelan as lead singer of the band. In 2013, Niamh was replaced by Noriana Kennedy.
Matt Tighe – Matt Tighe (Greentrax Recordings, 2017)
Matt Tighe is an excellent fiddler from South London in the UK. On his self-titled album he delivers an impressive set of original and traditional tunes highlighting his talent as a fiddler. The selection ranges from lively tunes and dances to mesmerizing slow airs.
On most of the tunes, Matt Tighe uses a fiddle and rhythm guitar format although a fuller ensemble featuring piano, percussion, bass and concertina also appears in some of the pieces. There is also great interplay between the fiddle and concertina on “Cronin’s” and the piano on “Clancy’s.”
Tighe is deeply influenced by of County Clare in Ireland and the Scottish music he was exposed to at the Cambridge Folk Festival and Glasgow.
Occasionally, Tighe treats the listener to beautifully-crafted fiddle overdubs that are best enjoyed with a good sound system or headphones.
Personnel: Matt Tighe on fiddle, octaive fiddle, and harmonium; Tad Sargent on bouzouki, guitar, mandocello, bodhran, piano and harmonium; Chris O’Malley on piano and harmonium; James Lindsay on double bass; Luke Daniels on button accordion; Brian McNeill on concertina; and Jock Turner on shaker.
Overall, an outstanding Celtic music album by a talented young fiddler.
Inspired by Irish parents and encouraged by the thriving traditional music scene in his home town of Manchester, England, multi-instrumentalist Michael McGoldrick began playing Irish music at the age of 8. By the age of 15 he already had already won numerous All-Ireland Championship and became well-known as a member of influential Manchester-based Celtic rock band Toss the Feathers. He later performed with leading Celtic and folk music acts Capercaillie, Flook, Lunasa and Kate Rusby.
On Fused, McGoldrick teamed up with members of Capercaillie and Flook to create a sound that borrows as much from ambient trance as it does from traditional Irish music. Guests on the record include Karan Casey formerly of Solas and Karen Matheson and Manus Lunny of Capercaillie.
In 2010 he performed at Celtic Connections with the Future Trad Collective along with Ian Fletcher and Andy Dinan. The band released a self-titled album in 2011.
Live at the 32 Club with Toss the Feathers (1988)
Rude Awakening with Toss the Feathers (Magnetic Music, 1993)
Columbus Eclipse with Toss the Feathers (Magnetic Music, 1989)
Awakening with Toss the Feathers (1991)
TTF’94 Live with Toss the Feathers (1994)
The Next Round with Toss the Feathers (Magnetic Music, 1995)
Flook! Live! with Flook (Small, 1996)
Morning Rory (Aughgrim Records, 1996)
Lunasa, with Lunasa (1997)
Otherworld with Lunasa (Green Linnet GLCD12 (1999) Fused (Vertical Records, 2000) At First Light, with John McSherry (Vertical Records, 2001) Wired (Vertical Records, 2005) Aurora (Vertical Records, 2010) Future Trad Collective (Vertical Records, 2011)
Live, with John McCusker & John Doyle (Vertical Records 2012)
Acclaimed Irish musician Dónal Lunny will receive a Folk Alliance International Lifetime Achievement Award a during a special ceremony held during The ExChange, a Micro-Conference that is taking place this week, September 19-21, 2017 in Ireland.
A lifelong musician, Lunny has been at the vanguard of the Irish traditional music renaissance for over five decades. He was a founding member of various essential Irish bands such as Planxty, The Bothy Band, Moving Hearts, and Coolfin. He continues to maintain a busy international recording and performing career with Mozaik, Triad, ZoDoMo, Usher’s Island, and Atlantic Arc Orchestra.
Lunny holds the unique legacy of popularizing the bouzouki (a Greek instrument) in Irish music and has produced some of the most significant albums of the “Trad.” music revival since the 1970s.
Recording and production highlights include work with Kate Bush, Paul Brady, Elvis Costello, Indigo Girls, Sinéad O’Connor, and Clannad. In 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music from Trinity College Dublin and was also made a member of the 250-member national Aosdána, honoring his outstanding contribution to the creative arts in Ireland.
Lunny has written music for many films and theater productions, and he continues to divide time between composing, performance, production, and teaching.
FAI commissioned a special edition, Lifetime Achievement Award documentary short-film, honoring Dónal Lunny. The film will be shown at the event Thursday and followed by a short performance with longtime collaborator Paddy Glackin.
View the film:
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