One such CD, “Seanchairde” (“Old Friends”), came my way courtesy of the guitarist on it, Derry-born, Minnesota resident Daithi Sproule, a member of Altan. He first e-mailed me to ask if I had the album, and when I e-mailed back “no,” he tucked it into the U.S. mail.
The recording features the husband-and-wife duo of Belfast native fiddler Dermy Diamond and County Down-born flutist Tara (nee Bingham) Diamond. I met both for the first time in late December 1998 when I gave a lecture on the late Frankie Kennedy at the Lakeside Centre in Dunlewy, Donegal, one of the sites for the annual Frankie Kennedy Winter School. Previously I had heard about the Diamonds from Frankie, his wife Mairead, and Daithi, and in 2000 I heard the Diamonds’ music separately (Dermy played with uilleann piper Padraic Mac Mathuna, while Tara played with a group for a house dance) on “Lamh ar Lamh” (“Many Hands”), a two-CD release intended to benefit Mater Misericordiae Hospital for Cancer Research.
At the 2007 Frankie Kennedy Winter School, old friends Dermy and Tara Diamond and Daithi Sproule performed together in Ionad Cois Locha, providing the spark to make this trio CD. Recorded in Minnesota and mixed in Dublin, “Seanchairde” is Irish traditional music played with a natural ease and sense of proportion. It is tunes for the sake of tunes and camaraderie. No fustian agenda or theme will be found here. The album is meant to draw you in slowly, inexorably, in a tidal pull of appealing melodies and beautiful playing, and it succeeds on all fronts.
Two medleys of jigs especially stand out: “Up and About in the Morning / An Rogaire Dubh” and, with Tara switching to whistle, “Shandon’s Bells / Condon’s Frolics.” They exude great lift, touch, and communication, with an unmistakable layer of joy on top. And that joy proves infectious.
Swing infuses “The Belle of the Ball / If There Weren’t Any Women in the World,” barndances recorded for Columbia on April 14, 1936, by Sligo fiddler James Morrison, who titled the second tune “Hayes’ Favorite.” The trio plays them with a lively, steady, by no means metronomic tempo ideal for stepping out onto the hardwood.
In Donegal, highlands are 4/4 tunes performed faster than strathspeys but slower than reels, and Tara Diamond on flute negotiates to perfection the slippery tempo of “Maggie Pickens” as a soloist before she, her husband, and Sproule join on a second highland, “Barny Bhrianai’s.” Her one outright flute solo is on “Paul Ha’penny / The Plains of Boyle,” hornpipes played flawlessly and, for the most part, straightforwardly.
Dermy Diamond delivers a tender fiddle solo on the “The Parting Glass” air, which segues immediately into the two-reel medley of “Miss McGuinness / The Stony Steps” performed briskly by all three instrumentalists.
Polkas are far better known from Kerry and Cork than they are from Leitrim and Fermanagh. Nevertheless, two Fermanagh polkas learned from fiddler Mick Hoy, “The Return of Spring / The Mountain Path,” are played by the Diamonds and Sproule at a smoothly executed tempo that’s customarily slower than the polkas found in Sliabh Luachra.
In 1989 Altan opened their album “Horse with a Heart” with a four-reel medley in which only the first three tunes are formally identified: “The Curlew / McDermott’s / Three Scones of Boxty.” The unnamed fourth reel was actually called “Little Katie Taylor,” composed by Limerick-born flutist Paddy Taylor for his daughter. Those last two reels, with an overt nod to Altan, are played by the trio with admirable precision and pace.
Continuing the recent, resurgent popularity of Turlough O’Carolan’s “Madame Maxwell” (see last year’s “The Green Fields of America” and Brian Conway’s “Consider the Source” albums) is the trio’s own alluring rendition of the venerable, baroque-flavored melody.
Rounding out the recording are the reels “Danny O’Donnell’s / The Cedars of Lebanon / The Milliner’s Daughter,” “The Boy in the Boat / The Boy in the Gap,” and “The Lady on the Island / The Sailor on the Rock,” and the jigs “The Humors of Glynn / The Cordal / Paddy Taylor’s” and “The Woods of Old Limerick / Statia Donnelly’s.” Again, the playing is exemplary.
Dermy and Tara Diamond and Daithi Sproule may be old friends, but their sound never ages. “Seanchairde” is proof. It’s two Diamonds decidedly not in the rough of accompaniment from Daithi Sproule. Playing with an unforced flair throughout, all three musicians can expect to gain a new friend with every new listener of this splendid album.
Thanks, Daithi, for the heads-up. What a treat.
To acquire this self-issued album (cat. no. 3-Scones-2008-001) or further information, visit www.3scones.com.