Tony O’Connell’s “live and well” is a cracker.
By Daniel Neely
The women’s marches that occurred throughout the United States last weekend were important parts to a whole and reflect an ongoing moment of great significance in this country’s history – congratulations to everyone who supported and participated!
The moment’s pioneer spirit brought to mind a groundbreaking group active in New York City from 1933-1935 called the Maids of Erin. Comprised entirely of women, its initial members included Catherine Brennan (violin; a friend of Michael Coleman, she was Andy McGann’s teacher), Mary Conwell Fitzgerald (piano), May Walsh (button accordion), Anna O’Leary (drums), Bessie O’Neill (vocalist and bandleader; she also wrote a column about music for the Irish Advocate newspaper), Helen McTigue (mandolin), and Margaret McTigue (violin), but my research has shown that at least 15 women performed as members of the group at various times. They were a popular act, but never recorded commercially. Unfortunately, memory of the Maids seems to be lost. Is there anyone out there with firsthand connection to or documentation of the band or any of its members? If so, please reach out to me at danieltneely.com.
In other news: I surfed over to Trad Connect (tradconnect.com) the other day and stopped into its “TradRaidió” page (where the finest writers and broadcasters the world over go to find new releases for review and airplay) and came across concertina player Tony O’Connell’s new solo album “‘live and well.” Gracious, is it a cracker.
A resident of Kerry but originally from Glin in West Limerick, O’Connell’s a musician of unremitting talent and achievement. Taking up music at the age of ten, he’s won numerous All-Ireland titles and has three prior albums to his credit, each of them critically hailed: “Rooska Hill” (with Éamonn O’Riordan, 2015), “Rossinver Braes” (with Ben Lennon, 2008) and an eponymous album with Andy Morrow and Arty McGlynn (2005). His playing is noted for its rhythm and variations and a listen to this new one will show why.
His acclaim is justified right out of the box. The album opens with a pair of gripping John Dwyer-composed jigs, “Sunny Hills of Bearla” and “Fox in the Thatch.” There’s joined by Bríd Harper (fiddle) and Arty McGlynn (guitar), both of whom guest on the album, and their ensemble playing here is relaxed and beautiful. It’s an auspicious start that portends the great things to come.
As the album unfolds, several brilliant tracks are revealed. “Gold Ring / Trip To The Quarry / Charlie Mulvihill’s” stands out. The hornpipes “Cronan's / Virginia” are great and include some lovely playing from Trevor Hutchinson (bass). I also love the slide set “Johnny Mickey Barry's / …,” which features a little help from Cyril O’Donoghue (bouzouki). The two airs, “You're The Beauty Of Rossinure Hill” and “Cailín Na Gruaige Doinne” are extravagant and beautiful as well.
O’Connell’s playing on “The Weaver / Greta’s Favourite” is particularly brilliant. The latter is a reel composed by Richie Dwyer reel and is lovely, while the former is a hop jig written by Tommy Potts that O’Connell says he got from the playing of Dublin fiddler Liam O’Connor. I singled out O’Connor’s playing of this tune, which he calls “The Loom,” in my review of his album of the same name. Comparing the two recordings is a study in virtuosic contrast, and not only reveals the greatness of both players’ imaginations, but the brilliance of and nuance in the composition itself.
This is an exceptional album full of character and grace. O’Connell has strong drive and a wonderful lift in his playing and his approach is awash in melodic and harmonic nuance on “live and well.” The guest artists he’s brought in to join him are top tier players who enhance his high standard and contribute to this album’s exceptional quality. This is a must-have for trad fans – definitely one to check out. Learn more at tonyconcertina.wixsite.com/mymusic.
Daniel Neely writes about Traditional Music each week in the Irish Echo.