By Daniel Neely
There aren’t many albums these days containing music that sounds like a warm turf fire feels. This, however, is precisely what Ronan Browne (pipes & flute) and Peter O’Loughlin’s (fiddle & flute) new album “The Legacy” delivers. Containing 24 tracks of the greatest sort of traditional music, the music on “The Legacy” is played with a great sense of majesty and a superior lilt.
Browne and O’Loughlin have recorded twice before: “The South West Wind” (1988) and “Touch Me If You Dare” (2002). There is a stylistic consistency between the three albums that rewards the sensitive listener. However, it seems that on “The Legacy,” the musicians have dug in in a different way. The tempos are slower, but the groove cuts deeper, and seems to leave a wider trench. It’s very satisfying to hear.
The two make an exceptional duo. Browne grew up with music all around him. His grandmother was the great singer Delia Murphy and he was raised around and learned from piping greats Willie Clancy, Tommy Reck and Séamus Ennis. In addition, he credits Johnny Doran, Denis Murphy and Tommy Potts as having formative influence on his music; it’s easy to hear their imprint in Browne’s music.
But the experience with the music’s undisputed masters and the knowledge he accrued from having played with them so extensively led Browne to some important, more modern projects that brought this music to wider audiences. For example, he played pipes for the original Riverdance when it premiered on Eurovision in 1994. He was also a member of the Afro Celt Sound System in its early days, when audiences had a thirst for that sort of intercultural musical fusion. He’s worked in TV, on several films (including “Rob Roy,” “The Secret of Roan Inish,” and “Gangs of New York”), and has contributed to theatrical productions, like the Abbey Theatre’s production of “The Playboy of the Western World.” Currently, he’s a member of the group Cran with Seán Corcoran and Desi Wilkinson (www.cranmusic.com).
(A quick word about Delia Murphy: in 2013, Brown released “If I Were A Blackbird: Early Recordings 1938-1941,” a reissue selection of Murphy’s original recordings. It’s a lovely production and one I’m not sure many know about, but it’s very nicely done. The transfers of the original 78rpm recordings sound brilliant and anyone who has ever been touched by Murphy’s music should looking into buying the CD. Learn more at www.deliamurphy.com.)
O’Loughlin is one of the true living legends and many are lucky to know the man’s music first hand through the Willie Clancy Summer School, where he is a perennial teacher. Born in 1929 and raised in County Clare, O’Loughlin grew up immersed in music. He learned not only from his father, who played fiddle, flute and concertina, but also from several local musicians. As his music matured, he found himself playing in several well-known céilí bands (including the Tulla and Kilfenora), making a mark at fleadhanna with folks like Paddy Murphy, and recording with a number of important musicians. Indeed, his best known album (thus far, that is) is the truly legendary 1959 lp “All-Ireland Champions” (more recently re-released as “An Historic Recording”) which featured Paddy Canny, P.J. Hayes, and Bridie Lafferty. It is an astonishingly complete document and one that every fan of traditional music should own.
The music on “The Legacy” is powerful and present. While the tunes here are all very familiar, the magic is in the execution: the two musicians play with an intimacy that only years of playing together provides and they do it on instruments that sound breathtaking. Browne’s playing a “flat set” of uilleann pipes, which are pipes that are pitched below the more common set in standard concert “D” and which and possess a deeper, mellower sound, and O’Loughlin has tuned down fiddle to match, which gives it a biting richness. The combination yields a ragged, old-fashioned, drone-forward sound that is supremely inviting and which some suggest sounds close to what music in the home might have sounded like in the nineteenth century.
Adding a bit of variety to the mix is fiddle player Tierna Browne (fiddle), who joins in on nine tracks. Her playing is fantastic and complements the album’s high musical standard.
Ultimately, “The Legacy” is a lovely, enveloping CD of straight traditional music that is dripping with warmth. The ease with which the two play is intoxicating and the music they make will make you feel good. Definitely recommended! For more information, visit www.ronanbrowne.com.
Daniel Neely writes about traditional music every week in the Irish Echo.