Exquisite Egan CD delivers

By Daniel Neely

I want to start out this week by congratulating Tommy McCarthy and Louise Costello, proprietors of The Burren in Somerville, Mass., who celebrated the pub’s twentieth anniversary last Tuesday. One of the great homes for Irish music in Boston, the Burren holds trad sessions several times a week and host the “Burren Backroom” concert series, which features the finest acts in traditional music. (It yielded the great “Burren Backroom Series Volume 1" CD, which I wrote about here last year.) Twenty years is a good long time for any pub, especially one that does so much for trad music – all the best on the next twenty and beyond! Visit the Burren online at www.burren.com.

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This week in my iTunes I have fiddle player Claire Egan’s new album “Turning Tides.” Egan, who was born in London to a musical family from Ireland and now lives in County Clare, is an award-winning musician and teacher who has a master’s degree from London’s Royal Academy of Music, teaches at festivals like Willie Week, and was influenced by the great London fiddle player Brendan Mulkere. It’s quite a resumé, especially when you add that the album contains testimonials from an august bunch of fiddlers, including Mulkere, Brian Rooney, and John Carty.

But does “Turning Tides” deliver? Indeed it does, and without question. This is an album of exquisite fiddle music. She is joined on various tracks by Jack Talty (piano), Mick Conneely (bouzouki), and Sinéad Egan (guitar and bodhrán; Claire’s sister), who lend harmonic depth to Egan’s great playing, but the show here is really Egan, who proves herself a top flight traditional player.

You can hear the great creativity in her music in a set of reels like “Jenny's Wedding/Fahy's/Last Nights Fun,” where her ornaments and variations are fascinating. However, this track makes it easy to hear how the music breathes in her playing, a feature that conveys a great feeling of humanity. The same features can be heard “Carolan Planxty/ …,” a planxty and a pair of reels, on which the creativity and personality in her music is also particularly apparent.

It’s not surprising that a player of this caliber also plays with great drive. Listen, for example, to how she attacks the jig rhythm on “Con Curtin's Big Balloon / …” or how hard she swings the beat on the reels “Dwyer’s / ….” Both instances are broadly representative of her playing overall, but these tracks I find particularly attractive.

One of the album’s most impressive tracks is “Dark Haired Woman of the Mountain,” a beautiful air she learned from the playing of Clare fiddler Jack Mulkere. Egan’s delivery is powerful, deeply expressive and explores a wide dynamic range – it immediately draws the listener’s ear. Another such track is her take on the famous reel “Castlekelly’s,” which opens with a few bars from J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1. It’s a fascinating choice, rendered beautifully, and makes for a very satisfying juxtaposition.

What stands out to me about Egan’s music is the superiority in her articulation and phrasing. The commanding way she grabs a melody and her approach to ornamentation are both confident and tasteful, and always enhance the phrasing of whatever tune she is playing. The beauty in her fiddle’s tone adds to the enjoyment of listening to her music as well. Her tasteful choice of tunes builds on these elements, as do backers create, who add variety that keeps things fresh throughout the length of the album.

“Turning Tides” is just sublime and certainly one for the collection, especially if you love fiddle music – definitely check it out. Learn more about Egan and this brilliant album at www.claireegan.ie.

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