By Daniel Neely
Major discoveries, like a new piece by Mozart or a previously unknown sketch by Michelangelo, are examples of things that set the worlds of music and art ablaze. Such discoveries reinforce our admiration for the past and shed precious new light on moments of genius that help define who we are today.
For traditional musicians, the discovery of a new recording of the immortal Sligo fiddle player Michael Coleman (1891-1945), who made nearly 100 sides during the 78rpm era and who has had an immeasurable influence on traditional Irish music ever since, elicits a similar level of excitement. Last week, the Irish Music Archives at Boston College revealed a new recording of Coleman that no one knew existed. A transfer of what was surely a privately made (and now lost) 78rpm disc surfaced on a reel-to-reel tape contained in the recently acquired and digitized “Joe Lamont Irish Music Recordings” collection. It’s brilliant stuff and an important new discovery. To hear this new recording, visit tinyurl.com/NewColeman.
Speaking of archives, congratulations to Liam O’Connor, who was recently named the next director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin. Because O’Connor is a top musician with a strong archival mind, this makes for a great hire. Congrats, Liam! For more information, visit itma.ie.
(Incidentally, folks: if you are in possession of unique sound recordings, films, photos, and ephemera from the past, I implore you to bring them to your nearest Irish music archive. You never know what you might have or what might be in need of archival intervention.)
And while we’re on the subject of things that should be preserved for posterity, I’ve been listening to “Music and Mischief,” the new album from Kevin Crawford, Colin Farrell, and Patrick Doocey, and wow, is it special. A mixture of traditional tunes and modern compositions played with precision, ease, and great imagination, it’s one that will have very strong appeal to lovers of traditional music.
You really can’t go wrong with this superb group of top musicians. A flute player of great renown and extraordinary ability, Crawford is, quite simply, one of the finest musicians in Irish music today. His on-stage banter is the stuff of legend and is one of the defining elements of a Lúnasa show. Farrell (fiddle & low whistle) and Doocey (guitar) have been playing with Crawford regularly for a good while now, not only as members of Lúnasa (both appeared on “Cas,” the band's most recent album), but, especially in Doocey’s case, at the brilliant session that happens at the Dead Rabbit pub in NYC every Sunday – they’re are every bit Crawford’s peers. Farrell (www.colinfarrellmusic.com) is originally from Manchester, England and he’s recorded and performed with top groups, including Flook, Grada, the Michael McGoldrick Band and Creel. He is a stunningly good fiddler who has a pair of next-level solo albums – “On The Move” (2010) and “Make A Note” (2015) – to his name. From Foxford, Co. Mayo, Doocey is considered one of the best guitar players going today. In the past he’s teamed up with flute player Stephen Doherty for “The Foxford Way” (2012), was a guest on his brother David’s album “Changing Time” (2013), and was featured on “The Drunken Gaugers” with Crawford and fiddle star Dylan Foley (2018). These appearances don’t tell the full story, though – he’s a first-call guitarist on the scene.
The music here is just magical. At first blush, listeners will, of course, be reminded of Lúnasa, but really this album reflects the tastes and direction of Crawford, Farrell and Doocey. For example, “Opus 34 Duo in G,” a stunning take on Italian composer Ferdinando Carulli piece originally for guitar might not be all that appropriate to a Lúnasa album, but Crawford does it great justice here. Doocey’s truly outstanding accompaniment rounds out the track perfectly. It’s like Farrell’s solo track (the aptly titled “Colin Solo”) – which features banjo (!) accompaniment from 5-string player Jonny Fulme – has Farrell front and center, straddling the world of Irish and Americana in a complex, fiery way that many listeners will absolutely fall over for. Doocey reveals himself a lovely composer as well. His “Road to Foxford” is a lovely tune, which has the track’s beauty enhanced by Stephen Markham’s sensitive accompaniment on Wurlitzer organ.
There is more traditional-sounding tracks fare, too. Favorites include “Bang Bang” (three well-known jigs), “The Corner House Set” (a Galician tune and a couple of polkas), and “Ceol na Mara,” which features recent tunes written by Lúnasa alums Donogh Hennessy and Michael McGoldrick. These tracks and the others I’ve not listed give the album a lot of depth and variety, and although they echo things you might hear Lúnasa do stylistically, they also what gives the album its own individual identity.
Make no mistake, “Music and Mischief” is one of the loveliest albums of 2019. Each of the three primaries here is at the top of his game and together reveal another dazzling piece of the Lúnasa whole. The playing is strong, the arrangements beautiful and refined, and there’s an ease that rewards multiple listenings. Definitely one for the collection, rush out and pick it up. “Music and Mischief” can be purchased through CD Baby at tinyurl.com/musicandmischief and wherever fine CDs are sold.