By Daniel Neely
In the player this week is “From Camden To Tulla,” the new release from Peter Quinn, Karen Ryan, and Andrew McNamara. “From Camden To Tulla” is an album of strong, no-frills traditional music that is entirely built on the brilliance of the players involved – no studio trickery, here. This approach lays a solid foundation and gives this very satisfying album a consistent character from beginning to end.
All the musicians here are, of course, top rate. McNamara (www.andrewmacnamara.com) is a legendary button accordion player from Tulla, Co. Clare. A renown solo performer, he’s been a member of groups including the Tulla Céilí Band and Skylark, and from 1996 he’s led his own band, the Lahawns. Ryan (www.karenryan.net) and Quinn are both based in London. Ryan, a gifted fiddler and teacher perhaps best known for her work in the London Lasses and more recently, Artisan Row, is also the director of the Return to Camden Town festival of traditional Irish music (www.returntocamden.org). Her husband, Quinn, is an outstanding piano player who not only was a longtime member of the London Lasses, but who now also plays in Artisan Row. (Some will remember I wrote about their album “Wild Winds,” a lovely album well worth checking out, back in June. There, Quinn took poems from Joyce’s “Chamber Music” and set them to music, which put a lovely spin on the album and gives a clear indication of his musical breadth.)
The three have a long history of making music together. Indeed, the title is in some ways a callout to the length and scope of Ryan and McNamara’s relationship. We learn from the liner notes that they first met at the Feakle Festival in 1991 and have shared music continually ever since – there’s a real bond there that’s easily heard. This affinity fits in well with the groove Ryan and Quinn already possess from their years of playing together. But it’s the experience the three have accrued playing together over the years, between Camden and Tulla, that ultimately gives this album its very integrated and worn in feel.
Indeed, the album’s quality is so even any notion about what the “best” tracks are will really come down to one’s personal tune preference. It’s actually easier to touch on facets of the playing that stand out than it is to choose one track over another. For example, the great growl Quinn puts into the bounce on “Imelda Roland’s / …” is something that stands out to me. The way Ryan digs into the strings on “Shores Of Lough Graney / …” and gives the tune drive is another. Then there’s McNamara’s nimble phrasing on “O’Rourke's / …” which has drawn my attention on each listen. (Ryan’s entry on the transition is really nice here, as well.) I’m also particularly taken by the way the trio comes together on the set dance “Rodney’s Glory.” The phrasing is brilliant, the playing restrained, and the rhythmic feel superb. This track is an easy listener that was made for dancing.
“From Camden To Tulla” is a beautiful and energetic album. The music here is played lightly, with wonderful bounce and the whole sports a comforting tune selection that stays away from the cloyingly familiar. People who love the Joe Burke/Andy McGann/Felix Dolan albums or the Boruma Trio’s CD “Gléas” (which McNamara plays on and which I not only reviewed very positively but also compared to the Burke/McGann/Dolan material) will be immediately drawn to “From Camden to Tulla.” However, its overall sweetness will draw in anyone who loves traditional music played without needless complication. Two thumbs way up. To learn more, visit camdentotulla.bandcamp.com. To keep up with the band on Facebook, visit facebook.com/camdentotulla.