By Daniel Neely
Formed in 1983, Buttons and Bows is one of the great groups playing traditional Irish music today. Made up of Séamus McGuire (fiddle, viola), Manus McGuire (fiddle), Garry O’Briain (guitar, mandocello, piano), and Jackie Daly (accordion), the band has an impressive background, having recorded extensively and toured throughout the world, charming audiences and critics everywhere along the way. Buttons and Bows’ recently released fourth album, “The Return Of Spring,” sees the group once again at the top of its game, giving music lovers 14 tracks of powerful and expressive Irish music.
Put the album into your player and they first thing you’ll notice is the group’s lush, beautiful sound. The McGuire brothers articulate brilliantly with each other, and have the kind of wonderful rapport with O’Briain and Daly that only years of playing together provides. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find an impressive and well-heeled collection of tunes that will delight listeners.
The album opens with “Oyster Island,” a lovely Séamus original “written in the style of a French musette.” It’s an auspicious beginning and one that foreshadows a bit of what’s to come, as each musician contributes an original composition to the album. Manus is represented by the sweet, slow “Fort Dunree,” O’Briain provides “Sweet Aibhilín,” a nice waltz, and Daly gives us, “Joe Burke’s Polka,” an appropriate contribution for the Sliabh Luachra man, named after the legendary Galway accordion player.
Speaking of polkas, one of the album’s best and (for me) most interesting tracks is “The Return of Spring / Mountain Pathway.” These are a pair of Sligo (!) polkas that James Morrison first recorded in 1926, that fellow Sligo fiddlers Paddy Killoran and Paddy Sweeney recorded in 1937 (as "The Decca Polka”), and that Sligo’s own Innisfree Céilí Band (www.innisfreeceiliband.ie) recorded for their 2009 album “Music Of North Connacht.” I love these tunes, they possess great melodic depth and brilliant character, and are given a wonderful outing here.
Another great track is “An Ceo Draíochta (The Magic Mist) / The Stafford Dance,” a pair of tunes with a fascinating historical pedigree. The former was taken from “Old Irish Folk Music and Songs,” an important collection of tunes assembled by the eminent historian P.W. Joyce in 1909. The latter, however, comes from an unpublished collection of tunes collected by Stephen Grier between 1845-1883. Tunes from the Grier collection aren’t all that common (for example, you hear them on the McNamara Family’s album “Leitrim’s Hidden Treasure” and on Marie Reilly’s recent recording “Road to Glannagh”), so it’s always nice to hear one of these little gems, especially when it’s played as nicely as this is here.
I am also enjoying the “The Prohibition and the Contradiction” reels, which features a bit of Django Reinhardt-esque style in the guitar backing, and “The Templeglantine Slide / The Gallant Tipperary Boys” which are a pair of tight, lithe little slides that are a fun ride.
“The Return Of Spring" is a tremendous, tasteful, and sophisticated album. The music is well curated and delivered with great artistic nuance and expressive depth from beginning to end. It is another wonderful album from a band with an impeccable track record of excellence – definitely one for the collection. For more information, visit www.buttonsandbowsmusic.ie.
Daniel Neely writes about traditional music each week in the Echo.