Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
A well-kept desk is a model study in in tectonic flows. Piles accumulate and as things move around, as they do, other piles are formed. In the process, things are uncovered and others things disappear. Such was the case last week: as I was shuffling things around I uncovered flute player Fergus McGorman’s “Sweeping the Cobwebs Out of the Sky,” an album I’d long intended to listen to but hadn’t seen for quite some time. I considered it lost, but it’s reappearance was welcome, made better when a cursory glance at the liner notes revealed testimonials from James Kelly, Matt Molloy, and Séamus Tansey and musical contributions from Paddy McEvoy (piano), Ruairí McGorman (bouzouki), and John Blake (guitar). A stellar cast, to be sure. With what seemed like a complete lack of chaff in its execution and presentation, my expectations this album were high. Into the player it went!
Now based in Athlone, McGorman grew up in County Meath in a highly respected musical family. His parents Catherine McEvoy and Tom McGorman are flute players with Roscommon roots who are well known in the world of trad music, as is his uncle, fiddle player John McEvoy, and it’s from them that McGorman inherited much of his knowledge of and reverence for the music, but he’s done much of his learning on his own the old fashioned way, at sessions and in concerts with the best musicians around.
As “Sweeping the Cobwebs…” shows, McGorman has learned the music well and is a top-shelf musician in every way. His playing both on the titular “Sweeping The Cobwebs Out Of The Sky / Come Along With Me” and on “The Boys Of Ballymote / The Knights Of St. Patrick,” for example, is superb. On both jig sets, one can hear the great, very powerful drive in his playing, supported by light, bouncy piano backing. The same can be said about on the album’s opener, “The Gentle Dentist / The Haymaker,” as well as on “The Green Fields Of Glentown,” and “The Moving Clouds.” McGorman goes to town on each of these lovely reel tracks with great intensity and tasteful insight. It’s inspiring stuff.
McGorman shifts gears on the Carolan tune “Dr. John Hart,” putting his robust playing in a different light. His thoughtful phrasing and careful phrasing bring out the tune’s inherent beauties. He’s complimented here with smart bouzouki backing, which is lovely to listen to. He takes a similar approach on the slow air “Johnny Seoighe,” where he articulates the melody in a very lovely, very lyrical way.
“Sweeping the Cobwebs Out of the Sky” is an absolutely gorgeous album. I think traditional music lovers in general will dig it, but I think it’ll have special interest for flute players especially. McGorman is a powerful musician with a distinctive tone and a sophisticated, very personalized approach to rhythm and ornamentation, all of which he mobilizes with great style. His tune selection is that of a highly cultivated and engaged musician who has a strong connection with the tradition and sets this album apart. It’s just outstanding overall. (In fact, the only thing I might be missing here was a taste of McGorman’s virtuoso concert slide whistle playing, which I’d read all about on “The Drone” website. Shame – perhaps next time!) “Sweeping the Cobwebs Out of the Sky” is available online at Custy’s Music, www.custysmusic.com. It’s one to check out!