Brenda Castles will be teaching advanced and intermediate concertina at this year’s Catskills Irish Arts Week
By Daniel Neely
Concertina player Brenda Castles is a true globetrotter. Should you ever have the privilege of talking to her, you’ll find that in addition to being great fun in general, she’s been everywhere. No joke, she and her concertina have trekked all over Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, and North America to the point that it’s hard to find somewhere she hasn’t been, and she has stories from each one of her rambles that project a real comfort in adventure. The result of this accumulated experience is her recently released solo debut “Indeedin You Needn’t Bother.” It’s a wonderful album that’s not only full of life, but it’s one that also reflects the breezy, intrepid spirit that she projects in person.
Although now based in Dublin, Castles grew up in a musical family in County Meath. She got her start as a student of Rena Traynor in Kilrush and later studied under Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh, but many others, including Seán O’Laoire and Antóin MacGabhann, gave her direction along the way. She won several All-Irelands in the process and is today considered one of the leading players on the instrument. You can find her playing out in Dublin most nights, but she tours as well, notably with Mick Moloney. Local readers (and perhaps some not-so-local) will be interested to know she will be teaching advanced and intermediate concertina at this year’s Catskills Irish Arts Week – so something to look forward to there.
The album consists of 14 tracks of solo concertina-playing with guitar accompaniment. Accompanying Castles are guitarists Eoghan Scott, Tony Byrne and Paul Browne (each on different tracks), harpist Séana Davey, and bodhrán player Tony Quinn, each of whom plays in a way that complements Castles’s playing brilliantly. Castles’s playing is strong throughout. She doesn’t approach her instrument as a mountain to climb, rather, as earth to walk on. She’s not timid in her dynamics or phrasing, and the overall effect emphasizes the “cool” in her music.
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The tunes on this album are exceedingly well chosen. Lots of really juicy ones to hear, in fact, including several of more recent vintage, by composers including Josephine Marsh, Paddy Fahy, Junior Crehan, Ed Reavy, Vincent Broderick, Charlie Lennon, Paddy O’Brien, Peader O’Riada, Liz Carroll and Cian Loughnne. These are all well-chosen tunes that strike a nice balance between the familiar and the somewhat less so. Tracks like “Fox On The Prowl / …,” “If There Weren’t Any Women In The World / …,” and reveal Castles’s great good taste and a range of her expressive abilities.
Tucked in among the album’s tunes are a pair of Castles’s own compositions, “Burma Banks” and “Indeedin You Needn’t Bother.” The former is a snappy reel named for a diving attraction in the Andaman Sea off Myanmar, the latter, a languid slip jig, named for a quip of her grandmother. Both tunes are strong and recommend well Castles’s compositional skills. (Incidentally, Davey’s harp accompaniment in the slip jig has a kind of “glassy” quality that compliments the concertina’s timbre, adds to the tune’s beauty, and makes for an interesting contrast with the entry of Byrne’s guitar in the second tune, making for a very attractive track overall.)
This is a lovely album. Castles plays with a joyous confidence that is easy to locate in her playing and she’s chosen backers who let this particular quality shine through. And yes, the album is called “Indeedin You Needn’t Bother,” but the title shouldn’t be taken as a lack of a recommendation. Not when the results are this good, anyway – why in the world wouldn’t you? Jump out and pick this one up! For more information, visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/brendacastles.