Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Starting off this week with news of an album Lúnasa fiddle player Colin Farrell has made with flute player Dan Lowery and guitar/bouzouki player Alan Murray, which is attracting significant attention. It features ten tracks of very high intensity instrumental trad music that will be sure to get the feet tapping, but what folks need to know is that proceeds from the album will be donated to Furever Bully Love Rescue (www.facebook.com/FureverBullyLoveRescue), a nonprofit organization in Orlando that specializes in rescuing and providing medical attention to special needs dogs and dogs in crisis. The hear the album and use your purchase to donate to this worthy cause, visit colinfarrellband.com/music.
In other news: in the player this week is “Solid Ground,” the outstanding new album from banjo player Shane Mulchrone. Mulchrone, who comes from Ballina, Co. Mayo, is a banjoist that should attract immediate attention from trad music lovers, especially those of the “pure drop” variety, for his outstanding musicianship and love of tradition. These are things can be found on his album in spades and make it one of the best banjo records in recent memory.
The thing that recommends Mulchrone’s music most is the great life he is able to put into it. I find his approach reminiscent to that of folks like John Carty, Angelina Carberry and Pauline Conneely, in that all of them seem to treat ornamentation and variation as things that are in the service of rhythm rather than the other way around. Like these other banjoists, Mulchrone plays with a deep tone that suits the subtle beauty in his music. The bright character and lovely lilt there are things that many listeners will find quite attractive.
The album features lots of great tracks. One of its finest jig sets, for example, is “The Geese in the Bog / …,” which includes interesting tune versions sourced from recordings held by the Coleman Archive in Co. Sligo. “Sadhbh Ní Mhongaile / …” is another impressive track of jigs; the very controlled double stops that accent the rhythm in the second tune give the track great character and are among the many things there that do. “Miss Walsh’s / …” is a lovely excursion into jig time as well.
The album also includes some tasty reel tracks. “Doherty’s” (a version of “Killarney Boys of Pleasure”) is dark and warm and has has a nice drive to it, aided by Noel O’Grady’s excellent bouzouki playing. “Paddy Joe Tighe’s,” named after the great gentleman originally from Arderry, Aghamore, Co. Mayo now based in Ballyhaunis, kicks off another delightful set of reels that captures the niceties of Mulchrone’s playing well. Here, Talty’s piano playing adds a strong drive that really propels the track. “Paddy Moran's Down The Meadow” / …” is also quite nice. Played with no accompaniment at all, Mulchrone’s sense of rhythm is on full display and he uses it to accentuate his well placed ornamentations brilliantly.
It’s not all jigs and reels for Mulchrone. One of the album’s tracks, “Fowley’s Mazurka / …” contains a mazurka and waltz played on tenor guitar. There’s a schottische track, “The Boys of Knock / …,” on which he’s joined by Heather Cole-Mullen on melodion; and a track of barn dances, “O’Flynn’s Fancy / …,” both of which are terrific. Mulchrone even chances an air, “Cuaichín Ghleann Néifinn.” Airs are rarities for banjoists (perhaps for good reason), but Mulchrone has done something rather remarkable here by leaning on the extra-musical qualities of his banjo to create an atmosphere appropriate to the melody. (It kind of reminds me of how Cormac Begley leans on his concertinas sometimes to achieve similar effect.) Here, it’s the sympathetic overtones his banjo produces as he plays that become part of the overall delivery and “make” the track. This sonic quality is reinforced when Talty enters as a drone using a bass concertina halfway through. It’s extremely nice stuff.
Ultimately, “Solid Ground” is an excellent album that I think every banjo player should own. Mulchrone’s playing is tasteful and inventive, and his sound is brilliant. But Mulchrone also shows great appreciation for the tradition in the way he’s struck a fine balance between contemporary oral sources and smartly curated historical ones. This is something that I think recommends this album to the traditional music community more broadly. Definitely recommended! “Solid Ground” is out through Raelach Records, a small but powerful outfit that has issued great albums by Noel Hill, Tony Mac Mahon, Aidan Connolly, Claire Egan, Jack Talty, and others. For more info, visit Raelach’s website, raelachrecords.com.