Dylan Foley’s latest showcases his prodigious talent.
By Daniel Neely
Last weekend was a big weekend of music. In addition to the array of sessions, it included the big James Keane tribute in Mineola and Martin Hayes and friends at the Irish Arts Center. (Don’t forget Open the Door for Three playing the IAC this weekend. Visit www.irishartscenter.org for info.) I went into it with Dylan Foley’s new album “Deliriously Happy” on heavy rotation, and boy is it a cracker.
Foley’s talent is top level. He’s a four-time All-Ireland fiddle champion and has several distinguished albums to his name, including two with the Yanks (with Dan Gurney, Isaac Alderson, and Sean Earnest),“The Drunken Gaugers” with Kevin Crawford and Patrick Doocey, “Irish Music From the Hudson Valley” with Dan Gurney, “The New York Connection” with Josh Dukes, and “Hup!”, his 2012 solo debut. The music on all of them is just tremendous and each has been warmly received by critics and fans alike. They’re what paved the way to gigs like Joanie Madden’s Folk N’ Irish Cruise, the Austin Celtic Festival, the Catskills Irish Arts Week, features on Irish TV channels RTÉ and TG4, and a tour of Vietnam with Mick Moloney, just to name a few.
But it’s Foley’s wholesome good nature that completes the package. His character comes across in his laugh and in the way he gets along with people, reflecting a strong values-oriented upbringing. It’s very clearly apparent in his playing, too, which brings me to “Deliriously Happy” and the thing that I think makes it particularly intriguing. Earlier this year, Foley’s grandmother Maggie Smyth passed away and in response he prepared and released this album, dedicated to her memory. Not only does its title comes from her favorite saying (“I’m very rich and deliriously happy”), but it was recorded using a fiddle (tuned down to B) that had long belonged to her. It’s a touching gesture that reinforces the kind of person Foley is.
And from that moment of inspiration and grieving came a very fine selection of tunes that comprise an excellent album. From the beginning, Foley’s music presents with superb energy and lift, delivered with a thick and beautiful tone. The disc opens with “Glass of Beer / …” which is makes for a nice start. The tempo is brisk but leaves enough breathing space to really hear the nuance Foley puts into his playing. On “Jack Riordan’s / …” a spirited set of reels (the first composed by Brendan Mulvihill), he takes a similar approach with equally rewarding results. I really dig what he does with “Lord Gordon’s / Green Fields of Glentown,” a set that closes with the Tommy Peoples’s composition that Foley leans very heavily into. Other standouts include John Joe Gordon’s “Enchanted Lady / Holy Land” and “Bride's Favorite / …,” all of which reveal a very powerful and expressive musician doing what he does best.
Foley’s also included some tasty down-tempo tunes, including “Amelia’s Waltz” by prolific composer Bob McQuillen and James Scott Skinner’s “Hector the Hero,” both of which convey great warmth and sensitivity.
In addition, Foley included a single original tune of his own creation, a hornpipe composed with the great singer and multi instrumentalist Eamon O’Leary (The Murphy Beds, The Alt), called “Discontented Man.” It’s a beautiful tune that he’s put with “Crabs in The Skillet” and “Dancing Eyes,” a couple of great jigs that compliment it exceptionally well. This, for me, is one of the album’s finest tracks.
Although this album is very much about Foley, he’s joined alternately by Josh Dukes (12-string guitar, bodhrán) and Matt Mulqueen (piano), both of whom provide outstanding accompaniment. Dukes, who is a longtime Foley collaborator, also engineered the album and did a skillful job in capturing the nuance and intimacy of Foley’s playing.
“Deliriously Happy" is a brilliant album of soulful solo fiddling and a stirring tribute to the life of Maggie Smyth. This isn’t just an album that’ll be staying in my player for quite some time, this is an album that I think will bring even more attention to Foley and his prodigious talent. After all, the people who know his music don’t need to be convinced of Foley’s greatness. He’s not only one of the most highly regarded young players in the United States, but in Ireland as well. (It’s uncanny, every time I’m there it seems his music is among the first that I hear on the radio.) Great stuff, make an effort to buy this one, you won’t be disappointed. To purchase, visit dylanfoley.bandcamp.com. To learn more about Foley, visit www.dylanfoleymusic.com.