Larry Nugent’s new CD is entitled “White Island.”
By Daniel Neely
Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs, who broke a 108-year drought to win last week’s World Series. Chicago’s been a great city historically not just for baseball (and other sports), but also, as many readers will know, for traditional Irish music. You can start with Francis O’Neill, its one time police chief, whose work in this music (and that of members of his cohort) is well known. But since his time, there’s been a long and distinguished list of musicians who have called Chicago home, including Isaac Alderson, Sean Gavin, Pauline Conneely, Kieran O’Hare, Liz Carroll, Marty Fahey, Michael Flatley, Jimmy Keane, Pat Broaders, Martin Hayes, John Williams, Seán Cleland, Kevin Henry, Cuz Teahan, Joe Shannon, Johnny McGreevy, Pat Roche and Eleanor Neary, to name but a few.
Another of Chicago’s great musicians is Larry Nugent, who is just out with a new CD, “White Island.” Originally from the village of Lack, Co. Fermanagh, he’s the son of Séan Nugent, a well-respected teacher and composer who was also the leader of the All-Ireland champion Pride of Erin Céilí Band. Although his whole family was musical, Larry distinguished himself early on, competing well in Comhaltas competition as a youngster, and winning two senior All-Ireland championships at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in 1994 and 1995. Nugent arrived in Chicago in 1992 and quickly assimilated into the scene, performing with many of the top names (including Paddy Keenan, Martin Hayes, Arty McGlynn, the Chieftains, and Van Morrison) and at the top festivals (such as Milwaukee Irish Fest, the Glen Echo Festival, the Willie Clancy Summer School, and the International Flute Festival De Cornouaille Quimper) on both sides of the Atlantic.
Named for an island in County Fermanagh’s Lower Lough Erne, “White Island” is Nugent’s fourth solo album, joining “Traditional Irish Music On Flute And Tin Whistle” (1996), “Two For Two” (1998) and “The Windy Gap” (2000). Seven years in the making, this new effort meets the very high musical standard for which Nugent has come to be known, and features twelve tracks of refined, accomplished music.
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Part of what the album has going for it is the remarkable list of artists it boasts of, including Michael McGoldrick (flute), Liz Carroll (fiddle), Jackie Moran (percussion), Matheu Watson (guitar), Steve Cooney (guitar), Pat McManus (guitar), Larry Gray (cello and bass), Cary Novotny (guitar), Fintan McManus (bouzouki), David Curley (guitar), Isaac Alderson (flute), Sean Gavin (uilleann pipes and flute), and Kyle Turner (synthesizer and voice). Each of these musicians brings an individual voice to Nugent’s clear artistic vision and articulates well with the others on the tracks on which he or she features.
However, it’s Nugent who stands front and center here, not only for his superior playing, but for the choices he makes in his arrangements. So while Nugent plays brilliantly on “Donal’s Trip To Old Trafford / …,” the arrangement he’s set is layered and intense and allows his interplay with McGoldrick to really shine. The tracks he shares with Gavin are similarly captivating, although more straight ahead. “Major Moran’s / …” is a flute duet, while “Boys of 25 / …” puts Nugent’s flute with Gavin’s pipes and both are stunning. “Grain An Domhnaigh” is exquisite track. Cooney takes a delicate, harp-like approach on his guitar that is matched well by Gray’s cello and Carroll’s fiddle. Although the tune is a composition of Fintan McManus, it draws on the baroque spirit of Turlough O’Carolan’s music. The same group of musicians appears on “Dancing On Wine Street / …,” a track with a darker and one might say deeper drive in its arrangement and execution. It’s a great track that, like the others, demonstrates Nugent’s many talents.
“White Island” is a groovy, complex album that unfolds with a sense of purpose. Nugent’s playing is expressive and nuanced, but the tight overall sound plays on the camaraderie he shares with his guest musicians and gives each track a very rich sound. Folks who love flute music will dig this album, as will fans of modern trad groups like Lúnasa, Flook, Danù, and others, who will find a lot to love here. Recommended! Visit laurencenugent.com for more information on the artist and how to purchase the CD.
Daniel Neely writes about traditional music each week in the Irish Echo.