Duo inspired by O’Neill recordings

Wife-and-husband team Alison Perkins and Nicolas Brown.


By Daniel Neely

The St. Patrick’s Day season is once again upon us, and hidden within the sparkly green beer-soaked detritus that hurricane “Shenanigans” will surely leave us with is some music that is really quite wonderful. In the player this week is “All Covered with Moss,” the recent CD from Detroit-based husband and wife duo Alison Perkins and Nicolas Brown. Filled with great tunes and strong playing, it’s a truly lovely album of mostly duet music that gets at the music’s sweetness in the warmest of ways.

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Perkins (fiddle) and Brown (uilleann pipes & flute) are well known players on the U.S. scene and it is nice to see this new album from them. Its liner notes explain that the album’s music was inspired in part by the partnership between uilleann piper Sgt. James Early and fiddler Sgt. John McFadden, two members of the Chicago police force who worked closely with the great tune collector, Chief Francis O’Neill. That inspiration deepened when the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee released a CD containing 32 rediscovered turn-of-the-20th century recordings that O’Neill had made of Early, McFadden, and others which were long presumed lost. Perkins and Brown dug into these recordings, took tunes from them, as well as tunes sourced from O’Neill’s books and some they received from friends, and set out on an interesting course that has yielded outstanding results.

Part of the satisfaction here comes from the mix of instruments. Brown is playing a low-pitched “B” set of pipes, which produces a mellow, bubbly sound that blends wonderfully with the sound of Perkins’s violin. Perkins is a brilliant fiddler who sometimes flashes an aggressive drive. Brown is an excellent piper who incorporates smart, subtle touches in his ornamentation and regulator work to yield a smooth, gentlemanly style. The warmth between the two players and their instruments is complemented by the sensitivity each has for the other’s playing. Perkins and Brown are terrifically responsive to each other and together they make a grand duo and a lovely racket.


The pair’s shared stylistic approach allows each a bit of space for individual expression, which contributes to an overall feel of unity in their music. This is aided by a strong sense of rhythm and lift. These are things that are very apparent on tracks like “The Rambler’s Rest / …, ” “Sergt. Early’s / …” (with Michael Gavin on bouzouki), and “The Dusty Miller / …,” where the music rolls out there with seemingly effortless ease. The same can be said about the version of “Banish Misfortune” they play, and yet while the music is sweet, the unusual setting they play, which comes from one of the early O’Neill recordings, makes the track stand out. The same might be said for the polka track “I Have Two Yellow Goats / …” which I also find particularly nice.

Perkins has a solo feature on “Paddy Fahy’s / …” and Brown on “Brian the Brave / …” and both are lovely tracks. Perkins brings a bit of overall variety to the album by singing “The Gypsies,” a song she’s taken from the singing of Cathal McConnell.

“All Covered with Moss” is a lovely album. The fiddle/pipes combination and the high caliber of playing make it inviting to listen to and enjoy. It also makes it somewhat reminiscent of Nathan Gourley and Joey Abarta’s brilliant “Copley Street,” but although Perkins and Brown share the kind of deep sensitivity to each other’s playing that Gourley and Abarta have, their feel for their music is different, producing a lush and intriguing overall effect. This one’s recommended for trad music lovers who have an interest in a pure drop, beautiful, no frills approach. For more information about “All Covered with Moss,” visit Perkins and Brown’s website at www.pipesandfiddle.com.