Tag Archives: Irish music

Artist Profiles: Tommy Martin

Tommy Martin

Tommy Martin was born in Dublin, Ireland and currently lives in the United States. He took his first uilleann pipes lesson from Dublin piper Mick O’Brien, a cousin, in 1984 at the age of 12. By 1988 with the great help of Mick’s tuition and guidance he won first place at the Annual Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in the 15-18 age group uilleann pipes competition and again in 1991 in the senior competition.

From his late teens Tommy has been very much involved in encouraging traditional Irish music especially uilleann pipes by teaching younger musicians around Ireland at Tionol and Scoil Eigse.
His professional career started in 1996 when he took a job organizing and playing at Irish music nights in Irish pubs in Hong Kong. This led to more work in Asian cities such as Kuala Lumpur Jakarta Singapore and Tokyo over the following years.

A highlight for Tommy was playing support to Shooglenifty at the Hong Kong Folk Festival in 1996.

Back in Europe Tommy’s talent and experience took him to perform in almost every mainland country. Performances have varied from solo uilleann pipes performances to playing with 5 piece folk bands and have been as diverse as being an uilleann pipes tutor in New Zealand to performing with “Riverdance” in New York to performing with the Chicago Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra.

Tommy is also an experienced uilleann pipes teacher. He has tutored students all over Ireland England New Zealand and now the US. Tommy was teacher of the advanced uilleann pipes class in Na Piobairi Uilleann Dublin up until he moved to St Louis, Missouri in 2003. His first solo CD Uilleann Piper was released in 2000 and Tommy can be also heard on 12 other albums as a guest musician.

Tommy’s second album, Shady Woods came out in December 2005. That month he also toured as a guest with traditional band Teada as they celebrated their Irish Christmas in America tour. Other guests were Grainne Hambly on harp and singer Cathie Ryan.

Tommy now lives in St. Louis, where he now teaches fiddle flute and uilleann pipes. He also makes tin whistles and uilleann pipes.

Discography:

Uilleann Piper (2000)

Shady Woods (2005)

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Screaming Orphans in the Taproon

Screaming Orphans – Taproom

Screaming Orphans – Taproom (The Screaming Orphans, 2017)

Screaming Orphans is a talented all-sister quartet from Donegal, Ireland that plays a mix of traditional Celtic music, rock and pop. On Taproom, the Diver sisters deliver recreations of traditional songs as well as original material.

The band’s sound is characterized by instrumental virtuosity and strong harmony vocals, combining acoustic Irish folk-leaning songs and tunes with rock and pop hooks as well as some bluegrass influences.

The artists featured on Taproom include Angela Diver on bass, fiddle, vocals; Gráinne Diver on acoustic guitar, piano, vocals; Joan Diver on drums, bodhran, vocals; Marie Thérèse Diver on keyboards, accordion, vocals; Scooter Muse on banjo; Eric Rigler on uileann pipes and low whistle; Nick Watson percussion; and Trevor Tanner on acoustic and electric guitar.

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Artist Profiles: John Williams

John Williams

John Williams was born in Chicago in 1967. He is a third generation concertina and button accordion player from both sides of the family. His father Brendan and his grandfather Johnny Williams were noted musicians in their native Doolin County Clare where concertina is most often the instrument of choice. There was no shortage of traditional music around the house as he was growing up. He began playing in sessions around Chicago encouraged by such musical residents as the late Johnny McGreevy flutists Seamus Cooley and Kevin Henry and uilleann piper Joe Shannon.

John developed a maturity in his playing rarely heard in one so young. The adjudicators sensed it in 1989 when they awarded him the Senior All-Ireland championship for concertina making him the first American ever to win that honor. His subsequent summers in Doolin served to widen his repertoire and associate him with some of Ireland?s most respected musicians.

As a founding member of the groundbreaking band Solas Williams received wider recognition playing to sold out audiences internationally and earning two NAIRD (later called AFIM) awards and Grammy nominations for the ensemble’s 1996 and 1997 releases Solas and Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers.

The Irish national broadcasting network RTE has featured Williams as the subject of the radio program The Long Note the television series The Pure Drop and the Christmas special Geantrai.

His album Steam features Dean Magraw and Randal Bays former Solas bandmates Seamus Egan and John Doyle fiddler Liz Carroll as well as Chicago jazz greats Larry Gray on bass and Paul Wertico on percussion.

Outside traditional music John has collaborated on productions with Gregory Peck Doc Severinson Studs Terkel Mavis Staples jazz pianist Bob Sutter bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien director Sam Mendes the London Symphony Orchestra and the Irish Chamber Ensemble. Audiences nationwide recognize Williams from numerous appearances on Mountain Stage A Prairie Home Companion and The Grand Ol’ Opry as well as guest performances with The Chieftains Nickel Creek and Riverdance.

On film he appears as a bandleader music consultant and composer in Dreamworks’ classic Chicago thriller Road to Perdition. Centrally featured in the Academy Award-Nominated score by Thomas Newman Williams’ autumnal Perdition Piano Duet was released on the 22 Universal soundtrack album as performed in the film by stars Paul Newman and Tom Hanks.

In August 2003 Chicago Magazine selected Williams in their annual Best of Chicago issue as one of the city’s finest instrumentalists. He recorded a collaborative album Raven with composer and guitarist Dean Magra.

Discography:

John Williams (Green Linnet Records 1157 1994)

Whistle on the Wind, with Joanie Madden (Green Linnet 1994)

Solas with Solas (Shanachie 1996)

Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers, with Solas (Shanachie 1997)

Steam (Green Linnet 2001)

Raven (Compass Records 2006)

website: www.johnwilliamsmusic.com

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Artist Profiles: Karan Casey

Karan Casey – Photo by Robert Hakalski

As a member of Solas for several years, Karan Casey has been critically acclaimed from Japan to the United States as one of Ireland’s greatest singers.

In 1993 Karan emigrated to New York City and began a jazz degree in Brooklyn’s Long Island University. Making the rounds of the sessions in New York she was asked to join Atlantic Bridge. Later she joined Seamus Egan, Winifred Horan, John Doyle and John Williams to form the group Solas.

The band recorded three albums in just four years, and won NAIRD (former independent record industry association) indie awards for each. They played with Bela Fleck, Iris De Ment, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, The Chieftains, Donal Lunny, Sharon Shannon and Paul Winter while touring extensively in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Karan Casey’s solo career has flourished since her separation from the band Solas. Casey’s voice is among the most beautiful in Irish folk music, and she is a wonderful interpreter of both contemporary and traditional material. Her use of grace notes and vibrato has become remarkably subtle.

Her album Chasing the Sun successfully combines traditional but sharp-tongued songs – such as the epic unaccompanied ballad “Jimmy Whelan” – with contemporary material that reflects Casey’s rising status as one of Ireland’s most politically-charged singers.

Her own compositions reveal increasing confidence and incisive social awareness, not least “When Will We All Be Free”, which attacked Ireland’s policies on immigration.

Karan Casey won awards for ‘Best Folk Album’ and ‘Best Folk Female’ from Irish Music magazine and was nominated for the BBC Folk Awards and the Danish music awards. She has performed on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion on public radio in the United States, and appeared at many prestigious venues and festivals.

Discography

Solas (Shanachie, 1996)

Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers, with Solas (Shanachie, 1997)

Songlines (Shanachie, 1997)

The Words That Remain, with Solas (Shanachie, 1998)

Seal Maiden (Music Little People, 2000)

The Winds Begin to Sing (Shanachie, 2001)

Distant Shore (Shanachie, 2003)

Chasing the Sun (Shanachie, 2005)

Reunion: A Decade of Solas, CD & DVD, with Solas (2006)

Ships in the Forest (Compass Records, 2008)

Two More Hours (2014)

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Artist Profiles: Altan

Altan in 2010 – Photo by Angel Romero

Irish traditional band Altan has had a tremendous effect on audiences and music lovers throughout the world. With their beautifully crafted award-winning recordings, ranging dynamically from the most tender old Irish songs all the way to vibrant reels and jigs, Altan have taken Irish music to some of the best concert halls and festivals throughout the world.

During all this time, there has been the resolute commitment of the band to delivering the beauty of traditional music, particularly that of the Donegal fiddlers and singers, to a wide-range of audiences.

Altan have always believed that Irish traditional music is modern-day music. “Ireland isn’t known for its opera or classical music. What we are known for is our traditional music, our language, our culture. That’s what we can give the world,” says acclaimed fiddler and lead vocalist Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh in 2010 – Photo by Angel Romero

The History

The roots of the band begin with the music and fun of gatherings and sessions in kitchens and pubs in Donegal where masterful music was heard in an environment of appreciation and intimacy; this is the foundation of the band.

The real essence of the band was the music and personality of band founders, Belfast flute-player, Frankie Kennedy, and Gweedore singer and fiddler, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.

As soon as anyone met them and heard their unique music in the early 1980s, whether in a large noisy festival session, or in the small traditional clubs of Dublin and Belfast, it was immediately clear there was synergy at work.

Mairead and Frankie played a mix of old Donegal fiddle music and rare Northern flute tunes. Steadily, the duo grew organically into a band in the mid-1980s. They chose the name Altan, which is a deep and mysterious lake behind Errigal Mountain in Donegal.

Altan was committed to musical excellence and good-natured fun. The band members were some of the best players in the contemporary folk music scene. Altan has always been a band featuring virtuoso musicians. One of the first was bouzouki-player, Ciaran Curran from Co. Fermanagh, a well-respected session and festival musician, nephew of fiddler, Ned Curran. Like all accompanists of the time, Ciaran had created his own style on the bouzouki, and his playing is an essential part of the Altan sound.

Ciaran Curran – Photo by Angel Romero

With the inclusion of guitarist Mark Kelly in the mid-1980s Altan truly became a band. Mark had played other musical styles, and from the very beginning he showed a talent for stylishly incorporating fresh rhythms and chordings to the band’s arrangements. Mark and Ciaran appeared on the 1987 album “Altan”, which, even though not officially a band album, unveiled the Altan’s studio sound.

Mark Kelly – Photo by Angel Romero

The increasing amount of live performances in 1984 and 1985 led Frankie and Mairead to quit their teaching jobs and go professional. Especially influential were short trips to the United States in those years when Altan played concerts in New York, Minnesota, Madison, Portland and Seattle with Derry guitarist, Daithi Sproule, a Minnesota resident, and like Ciaran and Mark, an old friend.

Daithi was one of the first musicians to adapt the guitar to old Gaelic songs (many of which he learned in the Gaeltacht of Rannafast, just a few miles from Mairead’s home in Gweedore). These US concerts, played in clubs and sometimes in noisy Irish pubs, where people were expecting a very different sort of music, convinced Frankie and Mairead that no-compromise traditional music played with passion and vitality could win over any audience anywhere.

In subsequent years, Altan recorded albums for American independent record label Green Linnet, all of which won praises and awards and appeared in the Billboard charts. Alytan’s collaborators on these albums were first-rate: Donal Lunny, Brian Masterson and Steve Cooney in particular made oustanding contributions over the years.

Another friend played with Altan for several years, fiddle maestro Paul O’Shaughnessey, a stunning player with a deep knowledge of Donegal music. The two-fiddle sound became popular, so as Altan toured more and more widely, Paul had to leave due to pressure of work. His place was taken by another great young Donegal fiddler, Ciaran Tourish, a musician with a special love for the weaving of spontaneous harmony and counterpoint around the melodies of the other lead players.

Ciaran Tourish – Photo by Angel Romero

A final element was added to Altan’s sound in the early 1990s. It was another old friend, accordion-player Dermot Byrne, another Donegal musician, who grew up listening to an older generation of Donegal fiddlers, the Doherty’s, the Byrne’s and the Cassidy’s.

Dermot Byrne – Photo by Angel Romero

Sadly, in the early 1990s Altan suffered a devastating blow, when band leader and manager, Frankie Kennedy, at the height of his career as a brilliant and innovative flute-player and just when his and Mairead’s musical dreams were being realized, was diagnosed with cancer.

Through a long illness, Altan, at Frankie’s insistence, continued to tour and perform with Frankie’s participation whenever possible. Frankie died on September 19, 1994. He continues to be a presence and inspiration in Altan’s life and music.

In 1996 Altan was signed to Virgin Records, the first Irish band of their kind to be signed by a major label. Altan achieved gold and platinum albums in Ireland and toured larger venues, throughout the globe, with tours in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe as well as regular successful U.S. tours.

In recent years Altan has experimented with traditional music, using orchestral arrangements of its most popular pieces. The arrangements have been scored by the highly respected arranger Fiachra Trench and performed with the Ulster Orchestra, The RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and the Royal Scottish Opera Orchestra.

In March of 2010 Altan released Altan: 25th Anniversary Celebration album with the RTE Concert Orchestra, and embarked on an international tour.

In 2012, Altan released Gleann Nimhe – The Poison Glen inspired by a region around Dún Lúiche, in County Donegal, made of deep glens and lakes. The album featured Martin Tourish who would later replace Dermot Byrne.

The Widening Gyre, released in 2015, was recorded in Nashville and explored the influence of Appalachian music on Irish music.

The Band in 2013-2016

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – lead vocals, fiddle
Ciaran Tourish – fiddle, tin whistle, backing vocals
Mark Kelly – guitars, bouzouki, backing vocals
Ciaran Curran – bouzouki, mandolin
Dáithí Sproule – guitar, vocals
Martin Tourish – accordion

Discography

* Altan (Green Linnet, 1987)
* Horse with a Heart (Green Linnet 1095, 1992)
* The Red Crow (Green Linnet 1109, 1992)
* Harvest Storm (Green Linnet 1117, 1992)
* Island Angel (Green Linnet 1137, 1993)
* The First Ten Years, 1986-1895 (Green Linnet 1153, 1995)
* Blackwater (Virgin 41381, 1996)
* The Best of Altan (Green Linnet 1177, 1997)
* Another Sky (Narada 48838, 2000)
* The Blue Idol (Narada 11955, 2002)
* The Best of Altan – The Songs (Virgin, 2003)
* Local Ground (Narada70876-19196-2 2, 2005)
* Altan: 25th Anniversary Celebration (Compass Records, 2010)
* Gleann Nimhe – The Poison Glen (Compass Records, 2012)
* The Widening Gyre (Compass Records, 2015)

Website www.altan.ie

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Splendid Celtic Suites

Máiréad Nesbitt – Hibernia (Cosmic Trigger, 2016)

This is the second solo album by celebrated Irish violinist, composer and instrument maker Máiréad Nesbitt. For over 10 years, Máiréad was the violinist for popular crossover act Celtic Woman. She left the band recently to focus on her solo career.

On ‘Hibernia, Máiréad brings traditional Irish/Celtic music together with classical music. And she does it beautifully. Máiréad also celebrates the anniversary of the rise of Ireland as an independent nation. Hibernia was the name the Romans gave to Ireland.

The format of most of the album is solo violin accompanied by classical orchestra, flute and percussion. The percussion featured includes traditional percussion played by percussionists as well as foot percussion made by a group of dancers.

‘Hibernia’ is divided into various suites, a sort of mini-symphonies composed by Máiréad, Colm Ó Foghlú, and Liam Bates, inspired by the music and dance from the southern province of Munster. Máiréad leads the way with her extraordinary violin, through exquisite slow airs and high-speed reels.

Although the majority of the album is instrumental, Hibernia includes a song To Bring Them Home, written by Liam Bates and performed by tenor Nathan Pacheco. This song portrays the heroes of a shipwreck off the coast of Ireland.

The lineup on Hibernia includes Máiréad Nesbitt on Celtic violin; Karl Nesbitt on flute, low whistle, bouzouki and didjeridoo; Mick O’Brien on uilleann pipes and whistle; Kathleen Nesbitt on fiddle; John Nesbitt on accordion; Seán Nesbitt on accordion; Nathan Pacheco on vocals; Noel Eccles on percussion; Nick Bailey on percussion; The Orchestra of Ireland, leader Kenneth Rice, conducted by Liam Bates; Cashel Set Dancers: Gráinne Uí Chaomhánaigh, Áine Cody, Bernie Sullivan and Coleman Lydon on foot percussion.

Hibernia is an exquisitely crafted Celtic Classical album by the talented and multi-faceted artist Máiréad Nesbitt.

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Artist Profiles: Brian Finnegan

Brian Finnegan

Brian Finnegan is a renowned tin whistle and flute player from Armagh, Ireland. He is one of the most technically inventive and imaginative of flute and whistle players to have emerged from Ireland in recent years. Brian’s well-recognized abilities in traditional Irish music are often blended with folk music from other traditions.

He was a founder member of Upstairs in a Tent. He later formed the hugely popular, ground-breaking Celtic band Flook. Flook recorded three highly acclaimed studio albums, Flatfish, Rubai and Haven. Their album Rubai was voted Folk Album of the Year and Brian was voted Male Musician of the Year by LiveIreland.com and the Irish American News. Collecting awards and a huge fan base wherever they toured, Flook were crowned BBC Band Of The Year 2006. They disbanded in 2008.

Brian Finnegan traveled and toured through India and Eastern Europe. This experience had a deep and profound effect on his talent as a composer, hinted at early on with the release of his first CD,‘When The Party’s Over’ in 1993. In 2008 he was commissioned by The Sage Centre in Newcastle Upon Tyne to compose a piece for the opening of ‘The Eighth Bridge’, a major art installation across the river Tyne.

He has toured and recorded with many artists including Cara Dillon, Kate Rusby, and Russian group Aquarium. Celtic Connections 28 premiered his northern big band, The Singing Tree; thirteen performers, musicians, singers, poets and dancers, all from the northern counties of Ireland.

In 2010 he toured the West Coast of the United States and Ireland with guitarist William Coulter. Brian and William met at the Boxwood flute camp in Nova Scotia during the summer of 2008, where both were teaching. A concert was in the works and the musicians enjoyed playing together so much they talked about the possibility of touring as a duo.

Brian’s album, ‘The Ravishing Genius Of Bones’ was released in March 2010 and coincided with the formation of his new quartet called Kan. The band includes guitarist Ian Stephenson and drummer Jim Goodwin and fiddler Aidan O’Rourke.

Discography:

Flook! Live! (Small CD 945, 1996)

Flatfish (Flatfish Records 2CD, 1999)

Rubai (Flatfish Records 4CD, 2002)

Haven (Flatfish Records 5CD, 2005)

The Ravishing Genius Of Bones (2010)

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Artist Profiles: Boys of the Lough

Boys of the Lough

The first of the full-time professional Celtic bands to arise on the international scene, Boys of the Lough, now occupy a unique position of respect in the world of traditional music. They have completed sixty-four tours of the USA and their performances and recordings are spread over five decades.

The Boys have established a reputation for technical brilliance and integrity in their performance of Irish and Scottish music. A ready wit and sense of fun enliven their onstage performance while their original arrangements and dynamic interactions between the two major strands of the Celtic tradition keep the music always bright and fresh.

The group was formed in 1967, featuring Cathal McConnell, Tommy Gunn of Fermanagh and Robin Morton from Portadown. Since the first tour in 1967 the Boys have traveled extensively in their mission to gain traditional music a wider audience and respect. Their warm and vital performances have won them friends from the village halls of Scotland to international concert and festival stages, establishing a precedent that many others have followed.

The music of the Boys of the Lough ranges widely through the fiddle, flute, piping and vocal traditions of Ireland and encompasses the fiddle music of Kevin Henderson’s native Shetland and also Scotland and North America. Although sometimes melodically complex and difficult to play, the music remains at all times easily accessible to the listener through the compelling dance rhythms, which give it such life. Contrast this with evocative slow airs and beautifully structured songs, some in the Irish language. Add the range of tone colors available from the band’s acoustic instruments and it is easy to see the great appeal of their lively performances.

Forty years into their musical travels, the Boys of the Lough currently boast one of their strongest line-ups yet, comprising Cathal McConnell, Dave Richardson, Brendan Begley, Kevin Henderson and Malcolm Stitt.

Discography:

The Boys of the Lough (Trailer Records, 1973)
Second Album (Trailer Records, 1973)
Live at Passim’s (Philo Records, 1974)
Lochaber No More (Philo Records, 1976)
The Piper’s Broken Finger (Transatlantic Records, 1976)
Good Friends … Good Music (Transatlantic Records, 1977)
Wish You Were Here (Transatlantic Records, 1978)
Regrouped (Flying Fish, 198)
In the Tradition (Topic Records, 1981)
Open Road (Topic Records, 1983)
To Welcome Paddy Home (Philo Records, 1985)
Far From Home – Live (Shanachie Records, 1986)
Farewell and Remember Me (Shanachie Records, 1987)
Sweet Rural Shade (Shanachie Records, 1988)
Live at Carnegie Hall (1992)
The Fair Hills of Ireland (Lough Records, 1992)
The Day Dawn (Lough Records, 1994)
Midwinter Night’s Dream (Blix Street Records, 1996)
The West of Ireland (Lough Records, 1999)
Lonesome Blues and Dancing Shoes (Lough Records, 2002)
Twenty (Lough Records, 2005)
Rising Fawn Gathering, with Norman Blake (Western Jubilee Recording Company/Plectrafone Records, 2009)

www.boysofthelough.com’

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Acclaimed Irish Folk Musician Padraig Duggan Dies at 67

Pádraig Duggan (left) with Clannad.
Pádraig Duggan (left) with Clannad

Pádraig Duggan, Irish musician, songwriter, and co-founder of much-admired contemporary folk music band Clannad, died in Dublin on August 9, 2016 at the age of 67. He passed away in Blanchardstown Hospital from a recurrent illness.

Pádraig Ó Dúgáin (Duggan) was born on January 23, 1949 in Gweedore, County Donegal in the Northwest of Ireland. Pádraig and his twin brother, Noel played music from early childhood. Padraig player guitar and mandolin.

After playing in dancehall bands in their youth, Pádraig and Noel, joined their niece and nephews, Moya, Ciaran, and Pol Brennan, to form Clannad in the early 1970s. Clannad became one of the most famous contemporary Irish folk music bands of all time, combining Celtic folk music, ethereal vocals and pop.

In the 1990s, Pádraig and Noel toured widely with Pan-European Celtic band Norland Wind.

Pádraig and Noel released a recording of traditional songs and ballads in the Irish language together with self-penned songs in English titled Rubicon in 2005. The album included Moya Brennan, Finbar Furey, Orla Fallon (Celtic Woman), and Norland Wind’s Thomas Loefke and Kerstin Blodig.

“Padraig Duggan was a truly gifted musician, with extraordinary skills on both the guitar and mandolin. As a founding member of the Irish folk group Clannad, Padraig beautifully blended the traditional sounds of Ireland’s musical past with contemporary pop music, helping to push the Celtic sound into the mainstream. Not just bandmates, Clannad were also family members, and their deep Gaelic roots and ethereal stylings shined on more than 15 full-length albums, including the much-celebrated Landmarks, for which they won the GRAMMY for Best New Age Album for 1998. We have lost a cherished artist and our sincerest condolences go out to Padraig’s family, friends, and collaborators,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy.

Pádraig Duggan is survived by his wife Jan.

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Contemporary Bagpipe Masters from Brittany

Pevarlamm – Deltu (Paker Prod, 2015)

Pevarlamm showcases the talent of one of the finest bands in the Breton music scene. The band is led by virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and composer Konogan an Habask. He plays bagpipes, bombard, uilleann pipes and low whistles.

Deltu is a fascinating voyage through the various European cultures connected to Celtic music. Pevarlamm perform original pieces inspired by Breton traditional music and jazz as well as folk tunes and dances from Bigouden and Pourlet in Brittany and other parts of Atlantic Europe: Ireland, Galicia (Spain) and Asturias (Spain).

The album lineup includes Konogan an Habask on bombard, binioù, uilleann pipes, and whistles; Elsa Corre on vocals, kayamb (flat percussion instrument from the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean), pandereta (Galician tambourine); Gabriel Faure on violin, mandola, and viola d’amore; Jérôme Kerihuel on drum set, dohl, and percussion; Thibault Niobé on guitars and bouzouki; and Erwan Volant on bass. Guest musician: Patrick Péron on Hammond organ.

Deltu is a superb Celtic music album beautifully-crafted by Breton masters Pevarlamm.

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