By Daniel Neely
As you read this, the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is raging away in Ennis, Co. Clare, and if it’s anything like last year’s Fleadh, it’s going spectacularly. As I write, however, the Fleadh’s start is still a couple days away, but before I know it I’ll be catching a plane over and I cannot wait! (The New York Céilí Band is ready to compete in Sunday’s Céilí Band final, after all!)
Indeed, the 2016 Fleadh was a complex and diverse affair, largely because its organizers have a confident and unwavering vision for how traditional music is best presented. And it appears as though this year the organizers will have outdone themselves in putting together a week that features the best in lectures, céilithe, and concerts from the likes of Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill, Frankie Gavin, Mary McNamara, the Boruma Trio, Chris and Francis Droney, Breaking Trad, Socks in the Frying Pan, Lúnasa, and much more. I’ll be excited to try to catch all of it I can (in addition to the extreme amount of moment-to-moment craic the week has to offer).
It should be utterly amazing. By this time next week, though, the Fleadh will be over and I’ll be looking forward to 2018, when the Fleadh will be held in Drogheda, Co. Louth. I’m certain the next local arrangements committee will maintain the high – indeed “magical” – standard for which the event is known. Keep yourself updated at fleadhcheoil.ie.
Hey, speaking of Lúnasa, band frontman Kevin Crawford has a fabulous new album out with fiddle player Dylan Foley (dylanfoleymusic.com), and guitarist Patrick Doocey called “The Drunken Gaugers.” Launched at this year’s Catskills Irish Arts Week (which was quite an event in itself), “The Drunken Gaugers” is a superb album of well-hewn, straightforward traditional music from three musicians who have top-notch bona fides.
Crawford is, of course, a household name in the music. Known best for his work with Lúnasa, he has a long and distinguished curriculum vitae of groups and artists with whom he’s performed. Many New York readers will know Foley not only from the session scene and Catskills Irish Arts Weeks past, but from his great band the Yanks – he is one of the finest fiddlers in America and certainly the most genial among them. Of the three Doocey is perhaps the least well-known. However, many will recognize him from Lúnasa (with whom he tours). Indeed, he’s no stranger to the music, growing up in Mayo having played over the years with some of the finest musicians out there, including Sharon Shannon, Liz Carroll, Téada, Buille, Cathal Hayden, Karan Casey and many others.
The three have put together a cracking selection of tunes. The album opens with “The Broken Windscreen,” a lovely trio of mid-tempo reels on which the three musicians reveal a stunning musical rapport that foreshadows what’s to come. Tracks like “Step it Out Joe,” “The Drunken Gauger,” and “Dandy Bash” (all of which feature a mix of older and newly composed tunes) expand on the first track’s impressions are lovely to listen to. I especially like the arrangement on “The Hare’s Paw” – it’s smart and well executed.
My favorite track, however, is “An Giúdach Fánach.” It opens with Foley alone playing a tune called “Máirtin O’Connor’s.” He takes it at a slow tempo, his feel and tone breathtaking. The pace picks up slightly with Doocey’s entry, and then again with Crawford’s entry on whistle. With the tune change (“Moving in Decency”), the tempo and intensity picks up even more. Things move along handily until track comes to a boil with the switch into the third tune in the set, “An Giúdach Fánach,” a wonderful Crawford original. Of them all, this track seems to explore what this trio is capable of most effectively.
Each musician is also given a solo feature, Crawford with “Adam’s Apple,” Foley with “Ratholdran Castle” and Doocey with “An Ciarraíoich Mallaithe.” As one might expect, Crawford’s track is excellent. On it, he plays whistle and projects a joyfulness that listeners won’t help but find inviting. Foley’s track, in contrast, has a more serious tone. He pulls brilliant music from the fiddle, relying on sophisticated phrasing, ornamentation and double stops. Doocey is simply a gem of a guitarist. The feel and harmonic choices he brings to the album are superb throughout, but both things are especially apparent on his solo track, which is a decisive statement and demonstration of his considerable abilities.
For fans of what might be called the pure drop, “The Drunken Gaugers” is essential listening. Crawford and Foley are exceptionally fine musicians and have excellent chemistry as melodic partners. They benefit greatly from Doocey’s sensitive guitar backing. Incidentally, the chemistry they share was likely perfected through the considerable time the three have spent together playing in New York City music spots like Swift’s and the Dead Rabbit, and consequently the album has a very cool “New York right now” feel to me. Overall, the music here is bold and very balanced, and is quite satisfying to listen to. It is an album that will have broad appeal to anyone who loves traditional music, and even those who might not yet – definitely check it out. Learn more and listen to select tracks at thedrunkengaugers.bandcamp.com.