Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
It used to be that music lovers could buy albums based on the label that released them and be reasonably assured they’d be getting music of a certain standard. I think of companies like Gael Linn, Claddagh, Topic, Tara, Shanachie, and Green Linnett (to name a but few), whose imprimatur reinforced the standing of important artists and gave consumers the confidence to take a chance on emerging artist or folks they mightn’t yet be so familiar with.
However, with so many artists self-releasing their music (a good thing!), it can be hard to know what’s new and interesting in traditional music, and what isn’t. In this sense, County Clare’s Raelach Records, a small, boutique label run by the brilliant concertina player Jack Talty is a bit of a throw back. In addition to albums by legendary figures such as Tony MacMahon (“Farewell to Music”) and Noel Hill (“The Irish Concertina 3: Live in New York”), its catalog includes brilliant albums by a select group of incredibly compelling younger traditional artists, including banjoist Shane Mulchrone (“Solid Ground”), fiddler Aidan Connolly (“Be Off”), fiddler Claire Egan (“Turning Tides”), and others. Irish music lovers can be confident when they buy a Raelach release that the music will be tip top.
Such is the case with “Dúchas,” Raelach’s newest offering, from button accordionist Damien O’Reilly (www.damienoreillymusic.com). From Corofin, Co. Clare, O’Reilly is a gifted younger player who grew up steeped in the area’s music. He learned from Conor McCarthy, took inspiration from players like Frankie Gavin, Noel Hill and Tony Linnane, and cut his teeth in groups like the All-Ireland winning Inis Og Céilí Band (taught by his brother Padraic, another important influence), and the band Cruinniú (which counted Jack Talty, the album’s producer, and Caitlín Nic Gabhann, who will be very familiar to this column’s readers, among its members), who released their critically acclaimed “Live in Corofin” album in 2006. If that weren’t enough of a resumé, today, O’Reilly is the musical director of Corofin Traditional Festival (corofintradfest.com).
Comprised exclusively of instrumental music played on the button accordion (with a few tracks played on melodeon thrown in for good measure), “Dúchas” is an album that is surprisingly diverse in presentation. Part of this has to do with the selection of tunes O’Reilly brings to the table – in addition to the expected complement of jigs and reels, there are barndances, flings, marches, set dances, slides, and an air. However, O’Reilly has a brilliant supporting cast, which includes Padraic O’Reilly (piano), John Blake (guitar), Caoimhín Ó Fearghail (bouzouki). All of them do a fabulous job of mixing the backing up from track to track and making things interesting over the course.
A few favorite tracks to speak of. O’Reilly’s playing on the jigs “The Maiden That Jigs It In Style / …” and the reels “Iniscealtra / …” is beautiful, especially the tasteful left hand work he employs on the latter. I really like the jigs “The Fog In The Bog / …,” which is delivered on melodeon. He got the tunes on the track from the Mulcahy Family and Willie Clancy, but I what I enjoy is the push he puts into them. (It reminds me of Joe Flanagan’s 1925 solo tracks for Columbia.) I also really enjoy the march set “Lord Mayo / Napoleon Crossing the Rhine,” not simply because Damien does a great job in terms of phrasing and pace, but also for Padraic fine, expressive piano backing. Finally, I also really like the set dance set “An Súisín Bán / ….” O’Reilly’s delivery is lovely and it’s given great lift with the help of Blake’s guitar playing.
“Dúchas” is an exceedingly fine album from a great young player. The album appears to be making the rounds around Ireland quickly at the moment, with a launch in Ennis at Old Ground Hotel, one in Dublin at the Cobblestone, and a recent feature on RTÉ Radio 1. Like anything from Raelach’s catalog, this album is one I think traditional music lovers will want to hear. (This is especially true for fans of the button accordion!) Check it out! “Dúchas” is available through Raelach Records’s website, raelachrecords.com.