Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Jerry O’Sullivan, the acclaimed uilleann piper from Yonkers, is known for his work with Green Fields of America; through solo albums like “The Invasion” (1987), “The Gift” (1988) and “O’Sullivan Meets O’Farrell” Vols. I & II (2005 & 2010), and from the more than 90 albums on which he’s been a guest artist.
Indeed, O’Sullivan’s name is synonymous with piping in New York. It’s his stock-in-trade. So who knew he was such a talented flute player?
Turns out, O’Sullivan’s basically hidden his flute playing skills in plain sight for years. But that’s changed with the release of “The Killasser Flute / An Fheadóg Mhór Chill Lasrach,” his new album of flute music. With 23 tracks of impressive instrumental work and a fascinating booklet to go with it, it’s a release that merits the community’s attention.
As one might imagine, the album’s genesis involves a bit of a story. In 2017, O’Sullivan was at a house session with family and friends in Dunmaynor, Killasser, Co. Mayo, the home place of his grandparents, when, out of nowhere, the Killasser-based flutemaker Michael Cronnolly (www.mandeirishflutes.ie) gave him one of his fully keyed flutes in the standard key of D. O’Sullivan was honored and stunned by the most generous gift. It was a feeling that was matched some days later when Cronnolly made him the gift of another flute, this one in the key of F. To repay these acts of kindness, O’Sullivan pledged to record an album using his new instruments. This promise yielded “The Killasser Flute,” which celebrates the music of the area, with a particular focus on the memory of the Killasser Flute and Drum Band, of which Cronnolly’s father was a member. Prepared in anticipation of Killasser’s All Saints Church’s 150th anniversary, the album accrues additional meaning as a loving gesture of faith, as O’Sullivan recorded it at his own expense and will donate all proceeds from its sale to the church.
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O’Sullivan’s playing here is unfussy and relaxed and he’s dug out some really great tunes, especially if you like marches. The Killasser Flute and Drum Band’s influence on the album has translated to a large number of them and there are several nice ones, including “Clare’s Dragoons / A Nation Once Again,” “A New Song on the Rocks of Baun / The Three Flowers,” and “Do Bhois-sa Lá bPort Láirge / Gurteen Cross” (which are actually polkas but played here in march time).
Speaking of polkas, there are some good ones here as well, including “Thady Stenson’s / Kate Neachtain” and some really great reels, including “Granny’s Rare Reel / John Burke’s Reel” (which come from Alan Morrisroe and Paddy Joe Tighe, great Mayo men, both) and “Paddy Sean Nancy’s.”
There are also a few compositions of O’Sullivan’s here, including the slow waltz “Mary Hanley’s Tune” and the reels “The Killasser Reel / The Tiernunny Lasses.” These tunes are very, very nice and add a little modern polish to an album that reflects very heavily on tradition. Each is written with a personal connection to Killasser in mind and sound entirely native to the project. They are a touching way to build on Killasser’s musical heritage.
The album is presented in an attractive DVD-style box and includes an expansive booklet that provides extensive track notes by O’Sullivan, a short note about O’Sullivan by Mick Moloney, biographies for each the album’s guest musicians (Gabriel Donoghue, piano, organ, guitar, bouzouki; Jim Kersey, drums and percussion; and Steve Wickins, bodhrán), and a section on the history of the Killasser Band by Micheál and Maureen Murphy.
“The Killasser Flute” is a thoughtful, wonderfully executed tribute to the music of O’Sullivan’s family’s ancestral home, recorded by one of its sons on an instrument made in the area. The playing is absolutely lovely and would certainly do Killasser, his family and his flute playing mentors – people like Jack Coen and Mike Rafferty, and Kevin Henry – quite proud. Fans of O’Sullivan’s will want to hear this one, as will anyone with Mayo roots, as it’ll be a sound of home. The historical pieces in the book are an additional bonus for history buffs.
The album can be purchased in Co. Mayo at the post offices in Swinford, Foxford, and Geesala; at the Gateway Hotel, O’Connell’s Chemist, Moore’s Supermarket, and Mellett’s Newsagents, all in Swinford; and at The Turf Shed in Killasser. For those unable to make the trek across the Atlantic, it is available from O’Sullivan directly by emailing him at [email protected] or wherever fine CDs are sold.