By Daniel Neely
I’ll start this week by congratulating Mike McHale on his 80th birthday! Mike has been one of the guiding lights in Irish music for decades and this past weekend there was a big to-do to help him celebrate the momentous occasion up at the Shamrock House in East Durham. Reports are of a great turn out with lots of musicians who made a huge session of it and played deep into the night. Good on you, Mike – hope you had a great time of it!
In the player this week is Dan Gurney’s new album “Ignorance is Bliss.” Backed on guitar by the great John Blake, Gurney’s album features humble but sophisticated playing that fans of un-frilled traditional music will go wild over.
Gurney is no stranger to New York audiences. His albums “Four Faced Liar” (2013) and “The Haymaker” (2014) as a member of the Yanks (with Dylan Foley, Isaac Alderson, and Sean Earnest); “Irish Music from the Hudson Valley” (2015) with his bandmate Dylan Foley; and his solo debut with “Traditional Irish Music on the Button Accordion” (2011) have all been critically well-received and are popular among musicians and audiences alike. This new offering will surely enhance his already sterling reputation.
The album is a marvelous bit of work. Gurney plays with a light, easy touch, and his tempos are such that they never obscure the nuances in the tunes or those in his interpretations. This quality is apparent throughout and is best reflected on tracks like “Jimmy Neary’s / …,” “Lord Leitrim / …,” “The Cuckoo’s Nest / …,” “The Woods of Caol Rua / …,” and “The Boyne Hunt / ….” The album also includes som slower tunes, like “Kevin Keegan's Waltz / The Clare Glens” (a waltz and polka) and “T'aimse Im' Chodladh,” which is a beautiful air he learned from the singing of Dolores Keane. These tracks, along with the others, comprise a very rounded selection of tunes and reflect a tasteful selection of traditional tunes and tunes by more contemporary composers.
If all this weren’t enough, the album is beautifully recorded. The tone and reediness of Gurney’s box is brilliantly captured, and it blends with the depth of Blake’s guitar’s sound wonderfully. It has a very intimate quality that puts you right “inside” the performances and really best shows the great rapport the two have.
For those wondering about the title, Gurney takes a moment in the liner notes to briefly explain, writing of his love for the music and the fun he has playing it, but also noting that “when I analyze Irish music too much, I start having less fun.” It’s a heartfelt explanation, and a nice way of acknowledging the myriad ways to engage with this fascinating hobby.
“Ignorance is Bliss” is not only a sweet, eminently listenable album that will appeal to listeners who love the pure drop, it’s also a great lesson in how to enjoy the music. Gurney really appears to relish every note that he plays and it shows in his approach to tempo and ornamentation. There is indeed bliss to be found in his notes, and it’s a feeling that he makes available to others in the listening. Highly recommended! For more information and to buy this album, visit dangurney.net.
Musicians take note! Gurney will be on staff at the Catskills Irish Arts Week this summer (www.catskillsirishartsweek.com). Best to sign up now.
Speaking of Gurney, on June 9 he perform at New York City’s Irish Arts Center as part of “FairPlé Day,” an international collective action around Ireland and the United States that Karan Casey, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Niamh Ní Charra, and others have organized. Put on in support of gender-balance and fair practice in traditional and folk music, “FairPlé: New York” will feature many of the area’s top traditional musicians in a concert that will inspire conversation about equality and celebrate the richness of our music. Look for more on this concert in next week’s column!
Daniel Neely writes about traditional music each week in the Irish Echo.