By Daniel Neely
Shane Meehan is a fiddle player from Carrick-on-Shannon Co. Leitrim (now living in Cork) who recently released his solo debut “’twill do!” Many readers will be aware of the substantial number of solo fiddle albums out there at the moment, but I have to say that this one is among the very best in recent memory. Meehan is a nimble, sophisticated player who not only has great taste in tunes but who has a strong feeling for composition. Each of his talents is brought to bear on this one, and for these reasons I think “’twill do!” is an album that will utterly delight traditional music lovers.
Although Meehan’s fairly young, some readers may be familiar with his name as it’s been floating around the æther for a while. For example, he appeared on “Leitrim Equation 1” (2009) which featured Lúnasa and was a member of the vaunted 2013 senior All-Ireland champion Moylurg Céilí Band. U.S.-based readers in the northeast might remember him from the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, when the Moylurg was over visiting.
Meehan started playing while he was fairly young, his first teacher being his grandfather John Meehan. Over the years, however, he learned from others – including Ben Lennon and Bríd Harper, both of whom provide essays for the liner notes – and he is now quite well known in the trad scene for his distinctive and individual style.
“’twill do!” contains 16 tracks of great solo fiddle. Meehan’s phrasing, variations, sense of rhythm, and tone are all exceptional and make him an exciting player to listen to. He’s joined here by Kevin Brehony and Macdara Ó Faoláin (piano and bouzouki, respectively), who provide rich, transparent accompaniment.
And while the quality of Meehan’s playing gives the album significant interest, it’s really his taste that completes the compelling whole. Meehan has made some truly lovely choices here in terms of tune selection to showcase his superior talent. He’s picked several well and perhaps not so well-known tunes, and to this previously composed material he’s added a good amount of his own work, which ties things together very well as a whole.
Generally speaking, Meehan brings an incisive touch to the more familiar material. He draws inspiration from a number of sources, in particular Michael Coleman (“Old Apples in Winter,” “Tell Her I am,” “Star of Munster,” “Up Sligo,” “The Western,” “Farewell to Old Erin”), James Morrison (“Gráinne Mhaol”), Andy McGann (“Paddy Lynn’s Delight”), and Larry Redican (“Will You Dance?”), and while this translates to some very lovely tracks that remind listeners of the brilliance of the past masters, he manages to sounds like none of them. In fact, his own voice comes through very clearly throughout.
Meanwhile, Meehan’s original compositions, which comprise a significant part of the album, are all quite nice. None of them relies on formulaic patterns, rather each contains something distinctive that stimulates interest without being gratuitous. There are some standouts. Each of the tunes in the reel set “The Man From Newport / …” and the jig set “The Killomud Rambler / …,” all of which are his, is credible and interesting. I also quite like “John’s Cap” (written for his grandfather), “The Corrib in Spate,” “Snowed Under,” and “An Buachaill Cúthail.” Each has something nice about it that sticks in the head.
In the world of Irish music, one often hears about how the music “should” be played, and to this end the liner notes include a blurb from Ben Lennon that includes the following, which I think says something truthful, both about this album and about who Meehan is as a musician. Lennon wrote that “this is an album of quality […] and will appeal to followers in search of something different in a rapidly changing world losing sight of cherished values held dear not alone in our music, but also in other walks of daily living.” His words here get this album more “right” that mine are able – they’re well chosen and as pithy a review as one could find.
So: “’twill do!” is, indeed, a fabulous album. The lilt in Meehan’s music is superb, but really, I find everything about his playing top rate. If you’re into solo fiddle or just great traditional music in general, make an effort to hear this one. It is a very, very fine work and you will definitely not be disappointed. Check it out at shanemeehan.bandcamp.com.