Dan and dylan

Foley, Gurney pay tribute to mentors

“Irish Music from the Hudson Valley” is one of the finest albums

of instrumental Irish music in recent American memory.

By Daniel Neely

Two of Irish America’s greatest young musicians, Dylan Foley and Dan Gurney, have released “Irish Music from the Hudson Valley.” It’s a deeply satisfying album of instrumental music that features playing of the highest caliber. More than that, though, it is a celebration of the community and the place in which Gurney and Foley grew up, and of the people from whom the two learned about the music and its traditions.

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Foley and Gurney are well known to the traditional music community. Many will remember Foley as the 2014 Senior All-Ireland Fiddle Champion. Indeed, as I write, Foley is back in Sligo teaching at Scoil Éigse and preparing to compete for the Senior Ceili Band title with the New York Ceili Band. Gurney, a distinguished musician in his own right, is the mastermind behind the online broadcasting platform for artists, Concert Window (www.concertwindow.com) and has been busy of late launching the company’s innovative new app, “Concert Window Broadcaster.” The two have been playing together for decades and make a truly formidable pair.

I spoke recently with the now NYC-based Gurney about the inspiration for the album. “More than anything else,” Gurney explained, “it’s a tribute to Mike McHale and Father Charlie Coen,” the duo’s mentors, both of whom are legendary figures in the music. “The only reason why we play is because Mike and Father Charlie moved upstate and put amazing time and effort into organizing sessions and concerts at places like the Rhinecliff Hotel. They nurtured a community in the Hudson Valley and helped develop an intense interest in Irish music in the area over time. They deserve an incredible amount of credit.”

Gurney spoke in particular about their influence on the album’s tune selection. “Although we learned some of tunes here directly from Mike and Father Charlie, their work at the Rhinecliff exposed us to many great musicians – people like Joe Madden and Seamus Connolly – who played great tunes as well, many of which show up here.” Indeed, there are lots of cool tunes on the disc, including “Paddy Kelly’s,” “The Slieve Aughty March,” “Humors of Rahey,” to name a few – just wonderful stuff to hear.

Taken as a whole, the music on the album is extremely strong. Gurney and Foley display impressive technical skill individually, but the great richness in their duo playing is special. For me, the key to this album is the music’s easy swing: everything here is played at just the right tempo and with a perfect lilt. The music is exactly how you’d want it to be.

Joining Gurney and Foley here are a couple of major names in traditional music backing, Alec Finn (De Danann) and Brian McGrath (Four Men and a Dog, At The Racket). Gurney got to know McGrath when he lived in Galway many years ago. The two met through Powell’s Four Corners Music Shop where McGrath often put on CDs of the old masters (folks like Michael Coleman), which drew Gurney’s ears. The two collaborated on Gurney’s 2011 solo album “Traditional Irish Music On The Button Accordion,” where they showed good chemistry playing together.

Foley met Finn at the Augusta Irish Week several years back as the staff musician for Finn’s accompaniment class. Being great admirers of Finn’s music, Foley and Gurney both thought it would be a great idea to have him in on a few tracks. Since McGrath knows Finn well, he was able to facilitate his involvement. Ultimately, Finn and McGrath make lovely contributions here and add to the album’s overall success.

It’s no exaggeration to say that “Irish Music from the Hudson Valley” is one of the finest albums of instrumental Irish music to come out of the United States in recent memory. Foley and Gurney are top players who went into the studio with a sense of purpose and were able to realize their musical vision with great conviction. The results are spectacular! The Hudson Valley’s Irish community should be very, very proud of these world class players and of what they’ve achieved here. “Irish Music from the Hudson Valley” is available through CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com) and all reputable vendors of Irish music.

Daniel Neely writes about traditional music in the Irish Echo each week.