Aoibheann and Pamela Queally.
By Daniel Neely
Earlier this year, sisters Aoibheann and Pamela Queally, from Kilmaley, Co. Clare, released “Beyond the Bellows & the Bow,” an album of concertina and fiddle playing that draws on “the rhythmic and melodic style of the Clare tradition.” I only recently got my hands on a download, and in my listenings was delighted to find a thoroughly enjoyable album with a clear stylistic vision for how traditional Irish music should be played. I think readers of this column will dig it and ought to take a moment to have a listen.
Aoibheann (concertina) and Pamela (fiddle), a pair whose intuitive sense of each other’s music is clear throughout “Beyond…,” play with a relaxed intensity that is thoroughly enjoyable and will charm fans of the west Clare style. Their musical grounding includes the influence of Clare folk like Martin Hayes and Tim Collins (and their neighbor Mike Cahill, to whom the album is dedicated), but also Galway people like Fergal Scahill and the Kane sisters. From them, they’ve distilled a groove-oriented approach, compounded on much of the album through their use of a low tuning.
“Beyond…” includes a number of very fine guest backing musicians, including Eoin O’Neill (bouzouki), Gearóid McNamara (piano), and Shane Creed (guitar), each of whom adds subtle depth and rhythmic nuance to the tracks on which they appear. It’s gentle backing, all of which suits the music. All-Ireland button accordionist (and Queally cousin) Nuala Hehir appears on a single track and briefly brings a more stentorian element to the sisters’ overall sound, which provides a nice momentary contrast. (Great tunes on that one, too.)
I was particularly taken by several of the tracks here. I found the album’s opener, “Lads of Laois / Dinny O’Brien’s / Pat Touhy’s” a really lovely airing of some great reels. I was also drawn very heavily to the intensity of “9th of July/ Paddy Fahey’s / New House,” a set of grand jigs composed by Sean Ryan, Paddy Fahy and Paddy O’Brien, respectively. Great choices and well delivered. Similarly, I love their take on “Master Crowley's/ Sweeney's Buttermilk/ Maghera Mountain.” The pacing is wonderful and allows the tunes to really breathe. Each sister takes a bit of a solo feature as well, Aoibheann on “Singing Stream” and Pamela on a fabulous setting of “Pigeon on the Gate.” Both tracks gives the listener to have a close listen to each woman’s individual style, which is rewarding.
Overall, the selections are very thoughtfully presented. What I really like is that in addition to more traditional fare the sisters have included tunes by the likes of Niall Vallely, Liz Carroll, Jerry Holland, Caitlín Nic Gabhann, Mick O’Connor, Finbarr Dwyer, and others. It shows a great awareness of what’s happening with the tradition at the moment and respect for the music’s intellectual life.
The Queally sisters have done something quite interesting with “Beyond the Bellows & the Bow.” The music they’ve put down here has a bold tone and they take the tunes at a beautiful, relaxed pace that reflects well their influences and stylistic heritage. It’s clear they absolutely revel in the sound and feel of this old style playing and I think it would be accurate to describe the music the make as the sort that washes over a listener. But there’s also a certainty of vision here, which I think is when young musicians are at their most compelling because it allows them to paint a more evocative picture of place in a way that will be looked back upon at some point down the road in the right sort of way. Great stuff, definitely check it out. To hear the album and to purchase, visit thequeallysisters.bandcamp.com.