A concertinist with chops

Perhaps Msgr. Charlie Coen's recent induction into Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann's Mid-Atlantic Region Hall of Fame was on my mind. But I also remembered "An Tr' Is a Rian," a fine album Claire Keville recorded in 2004 with Tyrone native fiddler John Weir and Clare-born harper Eithne N' Dhonaile, his wife. There, as here, can be heard the influence of Msgr. Coen on Keville. His spare, tasteful, turf-redolent style of playing is detectable in hers, and in Keville's liner-note essay for her solo CD she acknowledges "an indelible mark" made on her by the Coen brothers' album, citing Charlie in particular as "responsible for enticing me to play the concertina at age nine."

The early lessons gleaned from Msgr. Coen's gentle, never soft hexagonal-box playing have clearly deepened and widened over time for Keville. Of the 15 tracks on "The Daisy Field," four feature just Keville's concertina with Liam Lewis's fiddle, and six feature just Keville's concertina with Ennis-born Geraldine Cotter's piano. These ten tracks represent Keville at the peak of her considerable talent.

Also serving her extremely well is a predilection for tunes written by Kilconnell, Galway, fiddler Paddy Fahey, all of whose melodies are called "Paddy Fahey's" as a hedge against decoupling composition from composer in posterity. The reels "Paddy Fahey's / Paddy Fahey's" are played by Keville and East Galway-style fiddler Lewis with close symmetry and undulating lift, while the reel medleys of "Paddy Fahey's / Paddy Fahey's / The Daisy Field" (the third tune was penned by Aughrim Slopes Ceili Band fiddler Paddy Kelly) and "Pigeon on the Gate / Paddy Fahey's" are performed by Keville and Cotter with irresistibly fluid grace. ("Pigeon on the Gate" is a traditional tune without a named composer, no doubt proving Fahey's point about naming his own tunes after himself. Take that, "gan ainm" limbo!)

Of the album's remaining five tracks, two feature Claire Keville on concertina with her sister Breda on fiddle and Terence O'Reilly on guitar. Breda Keville, whose own solo album "The Hop Down" was among the impressive releases of 2006, nimbly complements her sister in style and tempo on "The Ireland We Knew / Dogs Among the Bushes" reels and "The Garden of Daisies" set dance.

Though very ably played, the three tracks of harpsichord solos by Claire Keville sound slightly out of place on the album. On "Mrs. Keel," a fairly obscure tune composed by Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738), she explains her selection of harpsichord: "The modal quality of the melody seems to lend itself more naturally to a sparser texture in the accompaniment, more akin to the ancient Irish harp." Additionally adept on piano, whistle, and fiddle, Claire Keville apparently doesn't play harp, so another instrument she does play, harpsichord, must have seemed a good second choice. But with such strong, prepossessing performances elsewhere on concertina, the harpsichord suffers a bit in comparison on the CD.

Enhanced by the fiddling of Liam Lewis and Breda Keville, piano playing of Geraldine Cotter, and guitar picking of Terence O'Reilly, "The Daisy Field" beautifully conveys the concertina soul of Claire Keville. Her taste in repertoire (two tunes played by her stem from Ballinakill flutist Mike Rafferty's own repertoire), arrangement, and execution is faultless on the hexagonal box.

Arriving too late for inclusion in my list of the top 30 trad recordings for 2009, this album from last year is simply too good to overlook. Claire Keville's "The Daisy Field" offers concertina music ever in bloom.

To acquire the recording (cat. no. CKCD002), visit www.clairekeville.com.

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