Chris Stevens, Caitlin Finley and Will Woodson recorded 17 tracks for their CD “The Glory Reel.” PHOTO: ANNA COLLITON
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
I remember the days well – several years back, now – when you’d be playing away at a session and Caitlin Finley or Will Woodson (and sometimes both) would arrive in for some tunes and the craic. Great musicians both, their presence would immediately lift the day and you’d go home happy, having had a good few choice tunes with some great people. Before long, Woodson moved away, and later Finley, which changed the scene in tangible ways. So turns the screw of session life in New York City.
Both found their feet in New England and there, connected with the great Chris Stevens. The three regularly found themselves playing sessions and gigs together regularly, and inspired by the spirit they felt together thought it reasonable and good to memorialize their music in recorded form. The result is “The Glory Reel,” 17 tracks of simply delightful instrumental music that will captivate lovers of the pure drop.
The three are all outstanding musicians. Finley (fiddle) grew up in Philadelphia and learned from Brendan Callaghan, Rose Flanagan and Brian Conway, and over the years has taken the stage with the likes of Mick Moloney’s Green Fields of America and Dylan Foley. She’s is a fierce player with powerful drive and a real student of the old Sligo music, as is evident throughout this album.
Woodson (flute and pipes) has a fascinating background. A graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, he’s a pipe maker who works with the renowned Nate Banton making Scottish smallpipes and Border pipes (bantonwoodson.com) and a musician with a strong rhythmic flow in his music. (For more of Woodson’s playing, check out “The Sunny Hills,” his 2015 album with singer/guitarist Eric McDonald.)
Stevens (piano, melodeon; www.juniorstevens.com) is well respected concertina and accordion player. Based in Maine, he studied with Noel Hill, has a performance degree in piano, and in 2017 was named a Master musician by the Maine Arts Commission.
There’s something very inviting about the sound they share. Part of it has to do with the familiarity of their sources. They’re very clearly playing in the footsteps of influential Sligo musicians like Paddy Killoran, James Morrison and Michael Coleman, but they also claim inspiration from Leitrim flute player John McKenna, the Donegal fiddlers like James Byrne and Mickey & John Doherty, and pipers like Patsy Touhey. And yet, when I listen I hear something beyond these influences that reminds me (at least in spirit) of more modern outfits like the Boruma Trio, or Peter Quinn, Karen Ryan and Andrew McNamara’s “From Camden To Tulla” project.
All the tracks here are noteworthy, mostly because of Woodson and Finley’s seemingly natural affinity for each other’s music. This chemistry is very apparent on tracks like “Drag Her Around the Road / …,” “Molly Bawn / …,” “The Flood on the Holm / …,” “The Fisherman's Lilt / …,” and “My Love She Has Deceived Me / …,” all of which I have strong appeal. (These tracks all feature flute, but Woodson also flashes some nice uilleann piping on a few tracks, including “The Butcher’s March / …” and “The Repeal of the Union /…,” which add nice variety to the overall sound.) Stevens’s sensitive piano work on all of these complements the melody playing with excellent buoyancy and a light feel. All told, it’s a marvelous package.
Finley takes a solo feature on “Paddy on the Turnpike / Jackson’s” and makes outstanding work of it. Woodson’s feature on “Lady Ramsay / Doherty's Trim the Velvet” is similarly engaging, showing off his great tone and lift.
One of the album’s finest tracks, however, is “The Enchanted Lady / The Holy Land / The Sailor on the Rock,” which has Stevens on melodeon and Jackie O’Riley dancing. Great tunes to begin with, but Steven’s box playing is fabulous and adds substantially to the overall sound. (It’s lamentable that there isn’t more melodeon on the album.) The same can be said for O’Reilly’s dancing, which adds a subtle rhythmic dimension that nicely compliments the musicianeering. (O’Reilly’s work is featured on a couple of other tracks, including “Dulaman Na Binne Bui / …,” which I also quite like.)
“The Glory Reel,” which becomes available for purchase this week, is a fabulous album from three of Irish America’s finest. The tempos here are brilliant and their music has some serious bounce going on. The whole album is just very full of life and a pleasure to listen to. Highly recommended to anyone who likes music that is informed by and stays faithful to the tradition. For more information and to purchase the album, visit www.thegloryreel.com.