“Last Night’s Joy” is Gerry O’Connor’s second solo album.
By Daniel Neely
How’s the season treating you so far? Are you like many, running around frantically, trying to find the right thing for everyone on your list? Well, I’m here to remind you that Irish music makes a terrific gift! But where to find it? It’s not like you can just walk into shops and pick up a few CDs anymore. Fear not, though, the specialty mail order company OSSIAN USA has your back! They’re a U.S.-based small business who should be on point to fulfill your Irish music needs in time for Christmas. Definitely check them out at ossianusa.com.
A couple or great albums in the player to report on this week. First up is Ted McGraw’s new CD “80 Years in the Making.” McGraw is a stalwart of Rochester, New York’s Irish community. A button accordion player whose influences include Frank Murphy (Mayo & Rochester, N.Y.), Jim Finucane (Kerry & Rochester), and Jimmy Shand (Scotland), he was the host of the well-loved “Irish Party House” radio show from 1974-2017, and is a very knowledgeable person about Irish music in general. At 80 years of age he decided (with a bit of perhaps not-so-gentle prodding from fiddle legend Seamus Connolly) it was high time to make a CD and the result is a sweet, unfussy album of straight accordion music.
The loveliest tracks here are those McGraw delivers without accompaniment, including the hornpipes “The Cliff” and “Bantry Bay / Cronin’s”; the polkas “Open House / Denis Doody’s / Dan Mac’s”; and the air (played in hornpipe time) “The Bonnie Lass of Head Lake.” Gabriel Donohue plays keyboard, guitar, banjo, and/or bodhrán on most tracks, lifting the music in the way fans of his fans will recognize and appreciate. Connolly also appears on a couple of the album’s tracks, including “Gan Ainm / She Hadn’t the Thing She Thought She Had / Brosna” and “Fairy Queen,” adding nice depth to an altogether pleasing album. To learn more about the recording, reach out to McGraw directly at [email protected] Check it out!
Then there’s “Last Night’s Joy,” Gerry “Fiddle” O’Connor’s latest solo album. O’Connor, who is not to be confused with Gerry “Banjo” O’Connor (who also appears on this album), is one of the tradition’s top fiddlers. Hailing from Dundalk, he counts John Joe Gardiner among his influences, and has been a member of groups including Lá Lúgh (with Eithne Ní Uallacháin) and Skylark (with Len Graham, Gary O’Briain & Mairtin O’Connor). O’Connor has also been a longtime partner of the guitarist Gilles le Bigot, with whom he’s toured and recorded extensively, including on the 2012 album “Oirialla” which also featured Nuala Kennedy, and Martin Quinn. His career so far has been long and illustrious, with his most recent accolade being Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s 2018 “Ceannródaí” Bardic Award, which recognized his contribution to the traditional arts. “Last Night’s Joy” is O’Connor’s second solo fiddle album after “Journeyman” in 2004.
This is an album for those who love brilliant fiddle playing and outstanding musicianship. The opening track of reels, from which the album took its title, is an auspicious opening. Given to O’Connor by Cathal McConnell, the tunes are unusual, interesting and brilliantly delivered over Niall Hanna’s sensitive guitar backing. “The Hawk and the Hare” features the “Hawk Jig” followed by a Swedish “Hardrevet polka.” It’s a brilliant but daring match that flouts a great rhythmic shift and cool arrangement superbly rendered by O’Connor, who is joined by Séamie O’Dowd (guitar) and Máirtín O’Connor (accordion). “Stereo Connor,” which features O’Connor and the other Gerry O’C on banjo running through some North American polkas, includes some shockingly good playing. I also particularly like “Dads and Lads” a set of slip jigs on which o’Connor is joined by his son Dónal on fiddle and Dermot Moynagh on bodhrán.
“Last Night’s Joy” is a tremendous album from a top tier fiddler. The recording really does a nice job capturing the depth and nuance in O’Connor’s music and I imagine discerning listeners will want to listen to it over and again. It’s a lovely bit of work that traditional music fans will love at any time of the year, but one, too, that would make a fabulous gift for a music lover this holiday season. It can be purchased through www.gerryoconnor.net, OSSIAN USA, or wherever the finest CDs are sold.