By Daniel Neely
A couple of albums in the player this week, the first, “Hurry the Jug,” comes from Leonard Barry, Declan Folan and Shane McGowan, and the second, “All in Good Time,” is Folan’s solo debut which was released last year. Both are finely wrought collections that are worth hearing, particularly if you’re interested in the fiddle and pipes.
Barry (uilleann pipes), Folan (fiddle), and McGowan (guitar) are three musicians whose playing really stands at the top of the game. Regular readers will be familiar with Barry’s work, both through both his solo album “New Road” (2013) and also his work on “Stone Walls & Street Lights” (2016) with the band New Road, a band that featured many of the musicians who appeared on his 2013 album. Barry, who is originally from Kerry, met Folan in London in the early 1990s and the two developed an early rapport. Folan, from Bunninadden, Sligo, is an All-Ireland fiddle player (more on him below) who grew up playing with fellow Sligoman McGowan, one of the finest backers going. (Earlier this year I saw McGowan with BackWest at Keane’s in Woodlawn, and he was outstanding.) Barry settled in Sligo some years back, which not only let Barry reconnect with Folan but also allowed for more time working with McGowan. Together, Barry, Folan & McGowan make a formidable trio, largely because there’s an intuitive familiarity between them that’s borne of long experience.
The first thing one notices about this album is how relaxed the players sound together. The music here isn’t hurried, desperate to reveal the virtuosity of the players. Rather, it’s about savoring the tunes and finding ways to enhance their inborn beauties, which the three musicians do admirably well.
The trio has chosen repertory that really allows them to dig into the music and the sound the pull from their tunes is very full, indeed, largely because they don’t overplay the arrangements or the tempos. “Hurry the Jug /…,” the album’s opening track, is an excellent example of this, as are tracks like “Father Quinn's Favourite / …” and “Waiting for a Call / ….” Each has a “crunchy” sound that makes them easy, rewarding tracks to listen to. Then, there are tracks like “The Garvogue / …” and “The Carousel” (a Folan original) that have subtle touches in their arrangements that help make them memorable. (McGowan’s savvy guitar playing is particularly noteworthy here.) Barry is, of course, a very fine piper, and his solo work on “Green Island / …” and “The Stone in the Field / …” is wonderfully nuanced. There a lot of great stuff to hear here.
Have a listen, I’m sure you’ll agree that “Hurry the Jug” is a warm, rich album of what one might call “pure drop” playing. There’s nothing particularly fancy here, just strong tune selection, unfussy arrangements, and beautiful playing with a sense of shared purpose from three top players. It makes this an album definitely worth hearing; it’d be great to hear these guys live, too.
Folan’s features on “Dave Collin’s Jig / …” and “Kitty Shand’s / …,” however, reminded me I had his “All in Good Time,” an album I received last year and sadly let languish, still sitting on the pile. Wish I’d had a listen earlier, as it’s a stunning album in its own right.
Folan’s solo debut reveals the distinguished fiddler more fully. The album’s liner notes reveal his teachers include the likes of Fred Finn, Peter Horan, Pat Sweeney, Joe O’Dowd, Paddy Ryan, Johnny Henry, Ben Lennon, and PJ Hernon – it reads like a well-stocked record collection. Based on his playing here, it’s clear he did his homework, as he’s not only synthesized whatever teaching he received from these individuals, he’s used it to find his own voice.
As fate (and location, likely) would have it, he’s joined here by “Hurry the Jug” mate McGowan for much of this album, but he brings in several other guests, including Paddy Kerr (bouzouki & bodhrán), Junior Davey (bodhrán), Kevin Brehony & Paul Gurney (piano), and Damien Stenson (flute). On one track he’s recruited a small group of heavies to join him including John Carty (banjo), Michael Rooney (concertina) and Seamus O’Donnell (flute & saxomophone).
Folan has a nicely rounded selection of tunes by composers including Charlie Lennon, Brendan Tonra, John McEvoy, and Johnny Henry, tunes sourced from the likes of Sligo masters like Michael Coleman, James Morrison, and Fred Finn, but some taken from peers like P.J. Hernon, Siobhan Peoples and Murty Ryan. He also includes “The Slatted House,” a lovely tune of his own composition. He brings a beautifully inventive approach to ornamentation and variation in his airing of his tunes, and drive he shows on “Hurry” is very clearly evident here. However, he’s never overly aggressive in his approach. It’s great stuff all around.
So there you have it! “Hurry the Jug” is a great album. Barry, Folan, and McGowan have a superb chemistry, revealed through the lovely tune choices, with the result being a taut album filled with beautiful tuneage. Folan’s “All in Good Time” is a fabulous album as well, and makes for a really interesting complement to the former. It’s similarly high-powered collection, but because its focus is more on Folan’s individual brilliance, it is short some of the refined “band” feel that “Hurry” so richly possesses. It’s a great album regardless and I consider both welcome listening for trad music lovers, especially those interested in a slice of what Sligo’s traditional music scene is about at the moment. For more information, visit barryfolanandmcgowan.com.